Podunk - Wôbanaki, circa 1618 - circa 1700

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Chauk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Founding of Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


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Chauk was a Podunk Indian man who developed a close relationship with English fur trader John Pynchon.
Illustration copyright Pamela Patrick White.

Chauk (1) was a young man of only 13 winters in 1631, when the Podunk sachems Waghinnicut, Arramament, and Natawanute chose to invite the English to Podunk (2). Not all of the sachems agreed with this decision — some believed that the English still carried the plague in their pockets. Stories had come to their ears of the troubles that the Wampanoag sachem Ousamequin (3) had in maintaining peaceful trade and alliance with the English strangers at Plymouth, after the plague had taken Patuxet. (4)

But Waghinnicut's good talking convinced the Podunk people that the English could serve as a buffer, and as allies, against the Pequot downriver. The English also had goods to sell in exchange for furs, so the Podunk could stop paying wampum to the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) for the privilege of trading with the Dutch on the Mahicannituck (Hudson River). Instead, the English could ship their knives, cloth, and other trade goods directly up the Quinneticook (Connecticut) River to Podunk. Besides, the hunting here was so good that there would never be an end to the furs available to trade.

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As a child, Chauk witnessed a dramatic transition as Native canoes and Dutch and English boats brought fur trade and conflict up the river.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Chauk was eager to see the Bostoniak, but Waghinnicut chose others to carry the message to Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop. Among them was Jack Straw, an Indian who had been taken captive by the English as a child; after years in London as a servant to Sir Walter Earle, he now spoke that language as well as any Englishman. Straw helped to explain the Podunk's offer to the Governor: a gift of 80 large beaver skins every year, and as much corn as they liked, if the English would only agree to start a settlement in Podunk territory. The Governor fed the messengers well, but he declined the offer, and refused the gifts. (5)

Chauk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Founding of Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Trading at Springfield

Trade and Trouble Come to Podunk

The Dutch traders were not so shy. In 1632, the Pequot allowed a group of Dutch West Indian traders to settle at a place the Dutch named Kievit's Hook at the mouth of the river, in Quinnipiac territory. The following spring, Jacob Van Curler signed a treaty with the Pequot sachem Wapigwooit, who had claimed the southern parts of the river by conquest. Van Curler built a trading post at Hartford, and named it "House of Good Hope."

After the Dutch arrived, Waghinnicut and Natawanute renewed their request to the English, but the great governor Winthrop was so afraid of the Pequot that he had declared the Connecticut River to be "not fit for plantation, there being three or four thousand warlike Indians" living there. (6)

That year, Good Hope turned out to be just as dangerous as the southern parts of the river. The Pequot ambushed many of their enemies who came to trade there, and the Dutch, in retaliation, killed Wapigwooit. Tensions had been steadily increasing ever since the Mohegan, who were once one with the Pequot, had split to seek an alliance with the English. Wapigwooit's son, Sassacus, was now at war against his own cousin, the Mohegan sachem Uncas. (7)

The Podunk tried to ignore these troubles, while still reaching a hand out to the English. After the Governor of Massachusetts Bay refused the offer a second time, the men of Plymouth colony decided to expand their reach. In September of 1633, Chauk witnessed the arrival of the first English on the river, when William Holmes sailed right past the Dutch fort at Hartford to build an English trading post at Matianock, now Windsor. Waghinnicut, Arramament, Natawanute, and all of the Podunk sachems stepped forward to smoke the pipe with the English. William Bradford of Plymouth wrote that the Pequots "were much offended" when the English "brought home and restored the right sachem of the place, called Natawanute." (8)

Soon, English men, women, and children began traveling overland to settle in and around Podunk territory. The nearby Wangunk sachem Sequasson "was so taken in love with the coming of the English" that he sold a vast tract of land around Hartford and west into Tunxis territory. (9) William Holmes settled in the town of Wethersfield, founded in 1634 at the broad meadows of Pyquag.

The English seemed to be far safer neighbors and allies than the Dutch, at first. Chauk, as a strong young man of 15, offered his services as a runner for the traders, transporting furs and trade goods to both Indians and English settlers. Once they recognized how trustworthy he was, he was also allowed to transport slaves and horses. (10) The English often spoke to Chauk in broken phrases with wild gestures as though he was too stupid to understand. Even after he became a pretty good speaker, he would sometimes pretend to be ignorant, so they would talk more, and so he could learn more English words.

The first time Chauk received a cast-off article of clothing — an old linsey-woolsey waistcoat — as a gift from William Holmes, he was reminded of how fine Jack Straw had looked in his English clothes. Chauk soon acquired a checked linen shirt and patterned neckcloth, which he enjoyed wearing above his deerskin loincloth and leggings. Chauk also took a liking to English foods, particularly peas porridge, bread and cheese, but he found English houses, smelling of cattle and curds, to be miserable places compared with the open air of a wigwam. He took sick once, and his body was covered with oozing sores, after spending a fortnight sleeping in barns during a journey delivering furs to Boston. The cow pox left him in a fever for three nights but he soon recovered, with only a few scars left to tell the story. (11)

Chauk's relatives and neighbors, however, were not so lucky. In February of 1634, Dutch traders reported that a great plague of smallpox had taken nearly 1,000 Indians at Woronoco. The Dutch must have, indeed, carried the disease in their pockets, for the pox hit Podunk next, killing Natawanute and many others. Bradford wrote: "those Indians that lived about their trading house there [Windsor], fell sick of the small pox and died most miserably." (12) The disease followed the tracks of the traders across New England and into Mohican and Kanienkehaka lands in New York. Thousands of Native people died; those who survived were too weak to bury the dead, and shunned the places where the death had been the worst. Some of the Puritan English believed that "it pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness," thus clearing the land for Christian settlement. (13)

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As English settlements moved into Native homelands, especially along the Quinneticook (Connecticut River), Native and English lifeways existed side by side. Some Native people made extra income by trading furs, and by ferrying people and trade goods on the river.
Courtesy of Yale University - Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

In the aftermath of that epidemic, more English poured into the valley from Watertown, Dorcester and Newtowne in eastern Massachusetts. Among the new settlers was a man named William Pynchon, from Roxbury, in Massachusetts Bay, who arrived in 1636, hoping to make his fortune in fur trade and land speculation. Pynchon and eight other families settled just 20 miles upriver, at Agawam, which was soon renamed Springfield. Within a few years time, fields of rye, oats, barley, and wheat, gardens of English root vegetables, and orchards of fruit trees were thriving, feeding English people, cattle, swine, and chickens. The English also planted seeds they got from Native people — indigenous maize, or corn, crops, along with beans and squash. (14) Pynchon encouraged a number of Agawam Indian families to continue living just across the river from the English town, believing that "friendly Indians" could serve as a buffer against hostile Indians.

Sachem of Podunk

Over the course of his young life, Chauk saw his people diminish from many thousands to a few handfuls, but he was determined not to leave his homelands. After hearing about William Pynchon's goals for trade in the valley, Chauk decided to travel north to meet him. Using the English language he had mastered, he boldly introduced himself, and offered his services as a friend to the English. When Pynchon asked if the young man was any relation to the late Natawanute, Chauk responded by touching his chest, saying "nisachem," meaning "my sachem." Pynchon brightened at the news, and, calling his companions round him, announced, "By faith, good fellows, we have among us a Podunk sachem, and a fine new one at that!"

Chauk carried trade goods and furs for Pynchon, just as he had for Holmes, and his calm, friendly manners endeared him to many of the English. During his visits at Springfield, Chauk developed a friendship with William Pynchon's son, John, a bright 10 year old who was as eager to learn Algonkian as Chauk was to learn English. John showed him the use of the quill pen, and taught Chauk to sign his name the way the English pronounced it — Chaque — instead of using the totem mark he been given as a child. (15) Chauk grew to be fluent in English, but John Pynchon never achieved perfect Algonkian. (16)

As a Native man fluent in both English and Algonkian languages, Chauk's service as a translator was often more useful than his work as a runner. He carried messages west to Tunxis, south to Quinnipiac, and north to Nonotuck. He reported on English talk for Arramement, one of the few surviving Podunk sachems. He even enjoyed visiting the Pequot, who had just concluded a new peace with the English. The Pequot sachem Sassacus denounced Chauk as an "Englishman's dog," and Uncas of the Mohegans praised him as the "Englishman's friend," but Chauk of Podunk thought himself a free man, answerable to no one.

Winter Hunting at Pocumtuck

After the deep losses during the plague years, Native hunters in southern New England began pooling their efforts, forming inter-tribal hunting parties to harvest deer, bear, beaver, and other animals for food and furs. Chauk had no uncles left to teach him hunting, and no sisters to make his moccasins, but he was determined to keep hold of traditional ways, and not depend too much on English goods. For two winters he had set out north, hoping to find men to teach him tracking, but his reputation as Pynchon's man did not endear him to the Nonotuck and Pocumtuck. He was, however, allowed to pass through their territory without concern, with whatever he could catch and carry.

In the winter of his 18th year, while returning from a hunt empty-handed, Chauk was caught in a blizzard as he struggled down the surface of the frozen Quinneticook near Pemawatchuwatunck (the Pocumtuck Range). The weaving of his pack was falling to pieces, his clothes were poorly fit, and to make his awkwardness worse, the young man's snowshoes had frozen solid to his feet after a partial fall through the ice.

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Rivers like the Pocumtuck and Quinneticook made for easy traveling in warm weather. The going was more dangerous in winter weather, however, when a fall through the ice could be deadly.
Photo copyright Allison Bell.

A young Pocumtuck woman, Keewatuway, was busy setting a snare beside the river when she heard heavy breathing, mixed with the sound of rawhide snapping against the icy crust. She half expected to see a wounded moose from the groaning noise, but was startled to see it was a man, dropping in his tracks from exhaustion. She ran across the frozen river to help him, throwing off her outer fur robes when she got there. Keewatuway wrapped the shivering Chauk in the warm furs, cut his snowshoe lacings off his feet, and then, making a sled of the snowshoes, lashed him aboard so she could drag him to a warmer place.

Chauk was so weak that Keewatuway's family took him in. The aunts found it very amusing that Keewatuway had gone out hunting rabbits and captured a man. Chauk proved to be good company, and helped with the work as he got stronger. Keewatuway's sisters spent the better part of that winter making new snowshoes and moccasins for this young man who clearly needed a woman to make his hunting gear. He had few of the skills that a young Native man should have been taught by his male relatives, but he was full of amusing stories from living with the English. (17) By spring, Keewatuway had agreed to travel south with Chauk, out of her own curiosity to see the English for herself. She promised her aunts that she would quickly return if any troubles came.

During the next full moon, when the ice was breaking up, Keewatuway's cousin, the Pocumtuck war sachem, Onapequin, returned home from his northern travels. He railed at the aunts for letting his young cousin go away with a stranger. "But listen," they told him, "this stranger is great friends with the English, who will send us good trade." Onapequin, who was well aware of the cost of dealing with the English, was not convinced, but he had no say over his cousin's choice of partners.

When they reached Podunk, Keewatuway and Chauk set right to work cutting saplings for a new wigwam. Chauk tried to help, but Keewatuway insisted that she preferred to work alone. Besides, any Wôbanaki woman knew that homes belonged to the women who built them. If Chauk ever mistreated Keewatuway, all she would have to do would be to put his moccasins — or his English shoes — outside the lodge, and that would be the end of it.

The Pequot War

To the south of Podunk, inter-tribal tensions were increasing. The Mohegans were now allied with the Narragansett and English against the Pequot. In April of 1637, the Pequot boldly killed 9 English, and captured several girls, from Wethersfield, right under the noses of the Podunk. In retaliation for these and other outrages, Captain John Mason orchestrated an attack on the Pequot Fort at Mystic. On May 26, 1637, 90 English soldiers, with more than 200 Native allies, burned the Pequot fort, killing hundreds and enslaving the survivors. (18)

In the aftermath of the attack, the colony of Connecticut outlawed the use of the name "Pequot." They forced 200 Pequot men and their families to move in with the Mohegan, Niantic and Narragansett tribes, and sent some Pequot to work as servants of the English. (19) The Connecticut colony then levied an annual fine against these tribes of a fathom of wampum, per year, for every Indian man living in their community. (20) The same wampum fine was levied against the Pocumtuck to cover the cost of the Pequot War, but there is no record that they ever paid it.

Around this time, William Pynchon began cultivating a friendship with the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), in hopes of luring them away from the Dutch trade. The Connecticut colony leaders feared Pynchon's meddling, and charged him with stealing furs that were meant as gifts for Connecticut from the Kanienkehaka sachems responsible for murdering seven Pequot sachems. Pynchon claimed innocence, since it was "their ordinary time in the time of snow in the beginning of Winter to trade their skinns & a greate parte of this was such skins and not fitt for a gift to grate Sachims" such as the leaders of Connecticut. Furthermore, he said, "the Mohawks did much love the English: and would be in friendshipp with them, & destroy all Pequotts that came in their way." (21)

Famine in the English Colonies

After that long summer of war, English crops died in the fields for lack of water and loss of hands to harvest them. The following spring, famine hit the English settlements around Hartford and Windsor. Settlers and livestock were in such dire need of food that John Mason tried to threaten Indians to give corn to the colonists, but they barely had enough to feed themselves. (22) The Connecticut Court forbade any English settlers from going upriver to purchase corn from the Pocumtuck, fearing that those Indians might take advantage of this desperate need. (23)

On one of her many trips upriver to visit her family at Pocumtuck, Keewatuway brought the news of this famine to the ears of the sunksqua Mashalisk, who agreed to discuss it in council. A few weeks later, William Pynchon was able to negotiate a deal with the Pocumtuck Indians, who had corn to spare, and were willing to sell it at the low rate of 5 shillings a bushel. In the spring of 1638, 500 bushels of corn, loaded into 50 dugout canoes, was carried downriver to relieve the starving settlements in Connecticut. (24)

When the canoes passed by Podunk, Chauk and Keewatuway stood on the banks of the river to watch her female relatives paddle past. Keewatuway's sisters, aunts, and cousins had all agreed, along with the sunksqua Mashalisk, that feeding the enemy might be a good way to bring about peace.

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Wobanaki women constructed baskets, snowshoes, snares, and nets that were crucial tools for hunting and food gathering. English settlers came to depend upon these same tools, and also relied heavily on maize, grown by Native women, for survival.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

On their way back north, Keewatuway's relatives stayed for several days at Podunk. They were pleased to hear that, not only was she happy with Chauk, but she was expecting a child to arrive soon. The sisters and the younger aunts went back to Pocumtuck, but the eldest aunt waited for the child to be born. Keewatuway's first child, a strong, long-legged boy, was given the name of Chauk's departed uncle, Nauwaton. Keewatuway's aunt claimed to be so frail that she couldn't travel; in truth she couldn't bear to leave her favorite relative. A few years later, age overtook her, and she passed over, just after Keewatuway's second child, a girl named Neesa, was born.

Trading with the English in Peacetime and Wartime

Over the next decade, Chauk often brought his children, Nauwaton and Neesa, along on his trips upriver. His friendship with William and John Pynchon, like his command of the English language, allowed him unique insights into the English ways. Every arrival of new goods at the trading house became an excuse for Native peoples from many different communities to meet and exchange news, in full sight of the English traders. The Engish might understand a few words of the Indian talk, but they rarely grasped all the subtleties of inter-tribal diplomacy.

The Podunk tried to maintain a neutral stance, with increasing English settlements and the threat of war all around them. In August of 1643, the four New England colonies — Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven — joined forces, forming "the United Colonies of New England" to deal with the Indians in peace and war. (25) The English Colonies were fickle allies to the Indians. They offered no assistance when their oldest friend, the Wangunk sachem, Sequasson, was beset by the Pequot. When the Narragansett sachem Miantinomo rose to Sequasson's defense, the United Colonies ordered Uncas to kill him. The Connecticut River valley Indians who had survived the plague now questioned the wisdom of those sachems who had first invited the English to settle on the river, two decades past.

By 1648, old Arramement of Podunk was white-haired and pock-marked from plague but still very much alive, and he had seen enough of English trade and Mohegan treachery. He and Tontonimo agreed to join the Pocumtuck sachem Onapequin in a new alliance with the Niantic and Narragansett against the Mohegan. That year, more than a thousand Native allies met at Pocumtuck to make plans. A fort was built at Pocumtuck for storage of food, trade goods, weapons and ammunition. Rumors spread that the Mohican and Kanienkehaka might even join the alliance. (26)

Chauk attended that war council with his Pocumtuck wife Keewatuway, but the more war talk he heard, the more he grew fearful that his friendship with the Pynchons might endanger his wife's kin. So, he and Keewatuway chose to walk away from the council. The Pocumtuck war sachem, Onapequin, quietly followed his cousin and her husband down to the Quinneticook; as they paddled away, he casually tossed a stone in the ripples following the canoe. Chauk never noticed, but that stone sent a shudder through Keewatuway, for she knew that Onapequin despised men who turned away from war.

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During the 17th century, Europeans' demand for beaver pelts, and Native peoples' willingness to trade them, lured European colonists into Wobanaki territory. By mid-century, the depletion of the beaver population due to over-hunting left many Native people deep in debt with fur traders.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA. All rights reserved.

Despite threats of inter-tribal warfare, William Pynchon and his son John, now 22 years old, continued a brisk business in the fur trade with Native peoples from communities throughout the valley. They were smart enough not to meddle with the Nonotuck and Pocumtuck, and advised the United Colonies to do the same, noting that "they must be esteemed as an Independant free people." (27) The Pynchons were also smart enough to notice that hunting had slowed due to dangers on the trails and competition in the north. So, they began extending credit to Indians who came in empty-handed, in exchange for the promise to deliver furs in the future. (28)

Mohegan Raid on Podunk

During the next decade, Onapequin's alliance was spread too thin to hold. The Mohican pulled back from their friends in the Connecticut River valley, staying close to their Kanienkehaka neighbors. Those Kanienkehaka sharpened their weapons, and sent warriors across the valley as far east as Pennacook and Penobscot. Uncas continued attacking Indians who refused to submit to the English, so Onapequin joined Ninigret of the Niantics in raiding the Mohegan and the Long Island tribes. (29)

With all these war parties crossing paths, the Podunk held their peace, hoping these troubles would pass. In 1652, old William Pychon went back to England, and John took over the Indian trade. The Pynchons had suggested to the United Colonies that friendly Indians should be identified by a piece of white cloth woven into their hair, so they could not be mistaken for enemy Indians. (30) When Keewatuway learned this, she sold a few fresh muskrats to John Pynchon in exchange for several yards of the whitest linen she could find. Pynchon's wife advised Kewatuway and the other Podunk women to leave this cloth in the sun to bleach even more for a few days, before tearing it into lengths to be woven into their familys' braids. (31)

In 1656, in defiance of the United Colonies' orders, Uncas's warriors hit Podunk, torching wigwams, stealing corn stores, and driving people off. Chauk was returning from a trip to Springfield, when he saw the smoke twisting around the bend in the river. When he reached the shore, he saw rows of canoes with their bottoms smashed out. His son, 17-year-old Nauwaton, was running towards him, trade axe in hand, ready to leap into Chauk's canoe to chase after Uncas' men. Nauwaton's strip of linen had been torn out of his hair, and was now knotted around the handle of his axe. Chauk tackled his bloodied, agitated son to the ground, holding him down while he asked, over and over, "Where are Keewatuway and Neesa?" By the time 15-year-old Neesa came to untangle the two men, Chauk knew the answer.

The Mohegan, like the English, couldn't tell one strange Indian from another, even with linen in their hair. He learned that during the attack, when several Podunk women were seen running from the burning wigwams with guns in hand, they were shot on the spot. In the aftermath of that attack, many Podunk people moved west, to Tunxis, but Chauk convinced Nauwaton and Neesa to stay with him, and build a new home, near the trading post, close to where Keewatuway was buried.

Pocumtuck Troubles with the Mohegan

The following year, the Pocumtuck sachems Onapequin and Massapetot, with the assistance of men from Woronoco and Narragansett, coordinated a massive attack on Uncas in his home territory, resulting in many deaths and captives. In May of 1657, the Massachusetts Bay Colony Commissioners wrote "we are apt to think Vncas may be in fault," so there was just cause for war, "but seing the Pacomtuck Indians haue had so great a victory ou him, & kild so many of his men, we think they may well rest satisfyed." (32)

The Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies ordered companies of armed Indians to avoid the English towns, and promised shelter to any Indians fleeing from their enemies. (33) Uncas pleaded to the United Colonies to help him make peace, and he was advised to send a large quantity of wampum to the Pocumtuck. Uncas sent some low-quality wampum north with some English emmissaries, but Onapequin was insulted by the small payment offered for the deaths at Podunk. An interpreter for the United Colonies reported that Onapequin was furious, "throwing an axe, horne and the wampam att him charging his men to kill theire horses; and afterwards endeauoring to strike one of the English Messengers with a gun." (34)

Onapequin then struck out at Uncas and everything in his path, fueling his rage with English rum. He raided an English house in Wethersfield, stealing bushels of corn from the same settlers whom the Pocumtuck had saved from starvation 20 years earlier. Onapequin then swung by Podunk, and took his late cousin Keewatuway's children captive, forcing them to go with him to Pocumtuck territory, where they would be safer. Nauwaton, who lusted after war, and Neesa, who missed her aunts, needed little persuading. When Chauk tried to stop them, Onapequin knocked him out with a swing of his canoe paddle.

On September 18, 1658, the Massachusetts and Connecticut colonial leaders met to discuss this series of events. They were willing to excuse Onapequin's refusal of Uncas's wampum, noting that he was drunk at the time. They knew the Pocumtuck and Mohegan were determined to fight each other, and were concerned that the English settlements not get entangled in inter-tribal disputes. They sent a message to "therfore lett the Pocomtucke Sachems vnderstand how ill wee Resent these Inquiriouse [injurious] passages as alsoe theire takeing away the Baskett of corne att Wethersfeild and the Children from Chawquatt." They asked the Pocumtuck to attend a meeting at Hartford, to settle the matter. (35) John Pynchon and others pleaded Chauk's case to the United Colonies, arguing he was "a peacable Indian liveing neare the English and hath not bine engaged in any warr or quarrells this twenty yeares." Furthermore, everyone knew the Podunk people had pledged neutrality, saying they only "desired to liue peacably without takeing pte with one or other." (36)

Onapequin and the other Pocumtuck sachems replied at length to the Commissioners' concerns, in a letter conveyed by John Pynchon. They asserted "that it was all theire desires that peace and frindship betwixt themselues and the English should still continew...if any of theire men had done them wrong they would make Satisfaction to the English." They saw no reason "to come to the meetings of the English Sachems," since "they doe not send for the English Sachems to theire meetings." (37) They apologized for the rash actions of "some of our men that are younge and follish." They explained that they had recently entered into a new alliance with the Kanienkehaka and Mohican, and would not go to war without them. Furthermore, they noted their mistrust of English translators, and requested "that if any Messengers bee sent to vs from the English they may bee such as are not lyares and tale carryers, but sober men." (38)

By 1659, the United Colonies Commissioners had persuaded most of the Podunk Indians to return to Windsor and Wethersfield. Chauk was among those who agreed to attend Mr. Pierson's religious meetings, and refrain from Native religious practices and labor on Sunday, which the English considered the Lord's Day. (39) For months, he continued sending messages to Pocumtuck, asking after his children, but the only answer he ever received was that they were in good health. A more traditional man might have understood that his children naturally belonged to their mother's kin, but Chauk felt bereft. (40)

Chauk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Founding of Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Founding of Deerfield

The World Turned Upside Down

During the 1650s, Chauk had carried a dizzying array of messages, goods, and furs for John Pynchon, and watched the English settlements march their way up the Quinneticook. Springfield, settled in 1636, was the oldest; Longmeadow began in 1652, Northampton in 1654, Hatfield in 1658, and Hadley in 1659. Each had only a few hundred residents, so they did not yet outnumber the Indians.

Some of the most savvy of Pynchon's trading partners, like the Nonotuck sachem Umpanchela and the Pocumtuck sunksqua Mashalisk, however, were falling deeper into debt for beaver furs that were in increasingly short supply. They began to sign away parcels of land. Some of these deeds clearly reserved Native rights to hunt, fish, plant, and set up wigwams on the land that was transferred, but others seemed to be strategic choices to give up small areas near the river for limited English settlement. The sachems, living in the midst of a vast Indian territory, may have reasoned that there was still plenty of room to spare. (41)

Meanwhile, John Pynchon was maneuvering to establish a new trading post at Housatonic, halfway between the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers, hoping to lure the Mohican and Kanienkehaka fur trade away from the Dutch. In February of 1662, he hired three men to build the truck house, and Chauk helped to stock it with cloth, wampum, rum, shot and gunpowder. (42)

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Native people from many different communities met at the truck houses where fur traders exchanged both goods and information. Traders like John Pynchon never hesitated to manipulate existing inter-tribal differences to ensure the best trade for the English.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Relations with the Kanienkehaka were a delicate matter, made more so in 1663 after a Sokoki attack devastated the easternmost of their villages. The Kanienkehaka threatended to retaliate against all the Connecticut River valley Indians, but John Pynchon volunteered to intercede. On July 28, 1663, he sent a letter to the Dutch Commissioners at Albany: "This is written to your Honors at the request of the Indians of Agawam, Pajassuck, Nalwetog, Pocumtuck, and the Wissatinnewag Housatonic, to inform their friends, the Dutch, that they are very much put out, because the Sowquackick Indians had killed and murdered some of the Maquaas [Kanienkehaka (Mohawks)]. . . As to the other Indians of the Caneticot [Connecticut] River. . . further down, they deplore it exceedingly, repudiate the deed, and swear at the Sowquackick; because they have killed the Maquas. . .the Southern Indians of Pacomtuck and Agawam and farther South assure, that they will remain friends with the Maquaas and hope, that they will live in peace with them. (44)

On October 22, 1663, the Kanienkehaka chief Cajadogo responded to this letter by sending a war party against the Sokoki. (45) Several hundred Kanienkehaka and Seneca died in the attack on the Sokoki fort. (46) The Dutch then tried to broker a peace, and suggested sending wampum to secure the release of Kanienkehaka prisoners. The Kanienkehaka agreed that "war is now inconvenient to them and they prefer to live in peace." The Mohican, however, feared that the Kanienkehaka might continue fighting. The Mohican said that a failed attempt at peace would "make us liars and deceivers; you must do no harm to the Northern savages, as you have threatened this day, but live like brothers in peace." (47)

On May 22, 1664, a small embassy of two Dutch, three Kanienkehaka and three Mohican men came to Pocumtuck sachems to discuss peace. The Pocumtuck convinced 36 Sokoki sachems to end their war with the Kanienkehaka. Wampum was given, tobacco was smoked, and the emmissaries were assured that the Kanienkehaka captives were "treated well, not as prisoners, but as visiting friends." (48) The Kanienkehaka promised to send the sachem Saheda over the mountains with wampum on their part to seal the peace. On June 21, however, Saheda was killed on his way to Pocumtuck. (49)

In July, Cajadogo reported to a Dutch court at Fort Orange (Albany) that "the English had told the Northern fight or kill the Dutch and Maquaes and the English have threatened, if you do not do as we tell you, we shall kill you." (50) He blamed Saheda's murder on two Englishmen, but John Pynchon denied this charge, claiming, "I heard Lieut. Wilton and Mr. Clarke of Hadley say they did persuade the Pocumtucks to accept of wampum and to make peace with the Mohawks [Kanienkehaka], but they refused to harken." (51)

Just two months later, on September 8, the Dutch capitulated to the English, and the colony of New Netherlands suddenly changed hands. On September 25, 1664, Col. George Cartwright signed a new treaty at Fort Albany with the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) and Mohican, in which the English agreed to refuse all future assistance to Sokoki, Pennacook, Pocumtuck and other Eastern Indians. By way of explaining this sudden change, the treaty pointed to the fiasco at Pocumtuck, noting: "That the English do not assist the three Nations of the Ondiakes [Sokoki], Pinnehooks [Pennacook], and Pacamtohookes [Pocumtuck], who murdered one of the Princes of the Maquaas, when he brought ransomes & presents to them upon a treaty of peace." (52)

The following winter was exceptionally bitter, with freezing rain and heavy winds closing the passage over the mountains between Albany and Pocumtuck. In late January of 1665, during a clearing in the weather, a large war party of Kanienkehaka set out on the eastward trail. They destroyed the Pocumtuck fort, scattered the food stores on Pine Hill, and drove families living on the west side of Pemawatchuwatunck to run for their lives. Onapequin and his family were taken and killed. The Kanienkehaka later claimed those deaths were a mistake. Chauk's son, 27-year-old Nauwaton, died beside Onapequin.

John Pynchon notified Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop that the survivors were fleeing east and south, to Quaboag, Nonotuck and Agawam, or north, to Sokoki. Winthrop was pleased to have finally broken the power of the Pocumtuck, and mused "now they have revenged upon Onopequen," the Kanienkehaka "might hearken to peace...may be by the mediation of the English." (53)

Flight from Pocumtuck

Chauk's daughter, 26-year-old Neesa, was one of those who fled south after the Kanienkehaka attack on Pocumtuck. She and one of the aunts had thrown as much wampum as they could carry into the canoe, and went straight to Pynchon's truck house, hoping to purchase food for the other refugees. Pynchon was gone, but Chauk was there, tending the stores. Neesa barely recognized her father — he was only 48, but the years had carved deep furrows in his face and bent his frame. Keewatuway's sister turned her back on this man, having never forgiven him for taking her sister away. The insult hurt, but Chauk quietly filled baskets and bags with corn, peas, root vegetables, and salted meats. He loaned the women a cart to carry these goods, and did not enter this transaction into Pynchon's book.

Neesa spent several days distributing food to the Pocumtuck refugees. In the end, she insisted that Chauk pay Pynchon with the wampum they brought, so he could not be accused of theft. Then, she announced her intent to return to Pocumtuck, and invited her father to come with her. Chauk suddenly realized that Pynchon would soon be looking to purchase land, and that perhaps, through Neesa, he could arrange a deal that might protect them and the other Pocumtuck. His heart filled with pride at the wisdom of these thoughts.

Sachem of Pocumtuck

The Kanienkehaka attack was devastating, but it did not depopulate Pocumtuck. Those who survived recombined their families. Over time, many refugees returned. Chauk's trading abilities and his age enabled him to gain a fair measure of respect. He was the eldest member of a small family group that included his adopted brother Wapahoale, his daughter Neesa, his daughter's husband, Wequanock, and their children. It was in this role that he presented himself to his old friend John Pynchon as a "Sachem of Pacomtuck."

image name: chaukdeed.jpg

On February 24, 1667, a Native man named Chauk, or Chaque, signed the first deed for Native land in Deerfield. Although the deed identifies him as a "Pocumtuck sachem," the primary documents reveal that Chauk was a Podunk sachem and long-time friend of Pynchon, who may not have had original rights in the land. Click here for more information.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. All rights reserved.

On Febrary 24, 1667, two years after the Kanienkehaka attack, Chauk signed over a large tract of land to Pynchon, for the use of the English settlers from Dedham. The deed included parts of present-day Deerfield, West Deerfield, and Cheapside, along "ye further side or upper side or North side of Pacomtuck River, & so a little way up Pukcommeag (Green) River, & then leaving Puckomeagon river, runs off to ye hill Sunsick (West Mountain) westward: All ye land fro the Hill Sunsick on ye westward & downe ye River Pacomtuck." (54)

Chauk explained the terms of the deed, since neither Wapahoale nor Wequanock were fluent in English. He had carefully reserved specific rights that would ensure their long-term residence and survival at Pocumtuck, including unlimited "Liberty of fishing for ye Indians in ye Rivers or waters & free Liberty to hunt deere or other wild creatures, & to gather walnuts chestnuts & other nuts things on ye Commons." (55) Many Indians were suspicious, fearing that the English would nonetheless cheat them for the price of their furs, take their land, and crowd them out. Chauk assured the Pocumtuck that he would protect them against any conflict with the English. Chauk made the same promise to Pynchon.

Chauk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Founding of Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


Chauk remained at Pocumtuck, and he was living near the Pocommegon River, around the place now called Petty Plain, when the first English settlers arrived. Although the Pocumtuck fort was long gone, from Petty Plain he could look to where it had been, near a place that came to be called Sachem's Head, near the confluence of the Pocumpetook and the Quinneticook, below the falls at Peskeompskut.

By the 1670s, the English settlement at Pocumtuck was thriving, and the fears of the Pocumtuck people increased. They no longer feared Kanienkehaka raids, but Native peoples all up and down the river had stories of English insults and abuses. The English settlements had taken the best lands along the river, and the settlers were multiplying like flies. Native people were being hauled into court for various offenses; some, like the Nonotuck sachem Chickwallope's son, were wrongly accused and executed. Some Native families started leaving the valley, seeking refuge with their sometimes allies, the Mohican, and their old enemies, the Kanienkehaka. (56) Others went north, among the Abenaki.

When Metacom's Rebellion, otherwise known as King Philip's War, swept through the valley, Chauk convinced his family to stay clear of the struggles, haunted as he was by the ghosts of past wars. Neesa dreamed a warning that kept them away from the falls during the fishing season, on May 19, 1676, when the massacre happened. (57) Neesa also dreamed of a westward journey. Just ten days later, Governor Andros of New York sent word that Native peoples from the valley could live safely under his protection at the refugee village of Schaghticoke. (58) So, when a large group of Pocumtuck people decided to move west, Chauk, Wapahoale, Wequanock, Neesa and the children went with them.

Fifteen years later, in December of 1691, as a frail man of 73, Chauk returned to Deerfield with his extended family. They set up their wigwams just to the south of the English settlement, beside the Pemawatchuwatunck, hoping to make use of the rights secured in the deed of 1667. (59)

Chauk crossed paths with his old friend John Pynchon only once, very near to the place where Keewatuway had rescued him from the river so many years past. The trader was riding in a canoe paddled by one of his servants, a young Native man from Agawam. Pynchon looked right at Chauk, standing on the shore of the Quinneticook in his blue English coat, but his eyesight must have failed him, for there was no show of recognition.

Chauk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Founding of Deerfield | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

The Connecticut River valley Indian named Chauk (also spelled Chawk, Chaque, Chaquatt, and Chawquatt) appears in the 17th century historical record only a few times. He was at Podunk when the first English settlers arrived, and was one of the few Podunk to survive the 1634 smallpox epidemic. In 1658, the Pocumtuck sachem Onapequin raided Podunk and took two of Chauk's children captive. Chauk unsuccessfully petitioned the colonial authorities for their return. Nine years later, in February of 1667, after Onapequin was killed in a Kanienkehaka attack, Chauk signed the first deed giving Pocumtuck land to John Pynchon, writing his name as "Chauque" (the original document is in Memorial Hall Museum). The historical events described in this narrative are real and are footnoted. The details of Chauk's life are fictionalized, except for the instances noted above. In the trading scene circa 1650, Chauk is shown in the background, with a raised hand, arguing over the price of some trade goods. This narrative was written by Marge Bruchac.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.

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