Pocumtuck - Wôbanaki, circa 1591 - circa 1676

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources. Some narratives necessarily contain invented, yet plausible, scenarios and personal attributes. Please see About This Narrative to learn more about how this person's narrative was created.

Mashalisk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Legacy | About This Narrative |


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A Pocumtuck sunksqua from the east side of the Connecticut River, Mashalisk tried to negotiate peaceful trade with the English.
Illustration copyright Pamela Patrick White.

For the Pocumtuck people, the Quinneticook (Connecticut) river provided many of the necessities for life. At Namassack kesos (fish moon) (1), when the shadbushes started blooming, and the wobamagwsizak (shad) (2) and mskwamagwak (salmon) swam past the wigwams on their way north, young men would run to call people to gather their fish spears and nets and meet at Peskeompskut. By Squanni kesos (corn moon) when the the fields were well-drained, skamon (corn) was ready to be planted. In that time, the bakwaaskok (cattails) growing in the shallows at the bend of the river would offer fresh shoots; later in the year, their long leaves would be woven into new mats to line and cover the lodge. In a fine cedar swamp in the shallows of Sawwatapsketchuwas (Sawmill Brook), the women would gather ash for baskets, and find medicines that preferred the swampy places.

At Pahquitaqunk kesos (early fall moon), the river would be filled with abazolagwal (canoes), when the other sachems would bring their families together for the festival. Then, the elders would choose which young ones would spend the winter with them, to be trained as healers, hunters, and leaders. Not long after came the full moon of Pepewarr kesos (fall frost), the time when young men would follow the nolkak (deer) and moozak (moose) over the mountain, to gather winter meat and furs. The tamakwak (beaver) lived at many of the little ponds up into the hills, and could often be seen swimming upriver to build a new home.

Mashalisk, a Pocumtuck sunksqua lived in a place beside the river, on the east side, with a small hill and waterfall behind, where the soil was just fertile enough to grow a few small crops. There were broader, flatter planting grounds across the river, but a few of the skamon (corn) planting hills fit well there, in between the rocks, just enough work for one woman and one small child. In the years since the river brought the people that Mashalisk called Awanigiak (strangers) to Agawam, her family did much trading. Her son, Wattawaluncksin, was grown, but she was not alone. Her granddaughter, who she called, affectionately, Nuncksquassis (little girl), had just been given a new name - Weetanusk. The young girl was determined to follow the older woman's every step, and so Mashalisk promised to take her downriver to the trading place after the ice broke up on the river, when the men were back from the later winter hunting and had beaver skins to spare. From Mashalisk's homesite, it was easy to set into the water of the river, and follow the current south.

Mashalisk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Legacy | About This Narrative |

Trading at Springfield

Mashalisk, like the other sachems in the valley, was very familiar with the English traders who supplied English goods to many of the Indians. But since the traders came, it seemed that none of the Native hunters were ever satisfied. The seasons seemed to have been all turned about, with people traveling the river in all directions, and hunting at all times. Many of the sachems had taken to wearing fine wool coats, much like the traders themselves wore, but there was more arguing among them. There were fine English goods in every wigwam, and Indian corn in every English house, but there were fewer beavers, and there was more drink.

Trading Fur and Corn for Cloth and Wampum

Mashalisk's granddaughter, Weetanusk, was a strong girl, and stubborn. Some might say that seven winters is too young for any Wôbanaki girl to go to the trading house, and walk among the Awanigiak. But she paddled hard to get there, even at the easy stretches when the Quinneticook offered to carry them on the current. She stood beside Mashalisk with a fierce silence. Her grandmother knew the beaver furs were heavy in her arms, but the girl would not put them down. She had her eyes, and her mind, fixed on all the brilliant colors of English cloth that lay folded on the shelves of the trading house.

William Pynchon and his son John had been kind to Mashalisk when they first met, so many winters ago. The old man held out a length of wampum as tall as himself (6 feet), and promised many more such fathoms if she would send more hunters to him with their beaver furs. He gave her a fine blue wool trade coat, from the fur of the English sheep, as a token, he said, of his regard. The Pocumtuck sachems agreed to trade with the Pynchons and two others—David Wilton and Joseph Parsons. These men were living near Nonotuck and were said to be good speakers of the Native language. (3)

The Pocumtuck sachems could be seen parading about in their fine English coats, and many of the women traded in their doeskin dresses for cloth garments. They traded furs for pins, needles, cloth, ribbons, buttons and bells, and sent much of these materials to friends in other places, following the trails of old, inter-tribal gift and trade networks. (4) At Pocumtuck, Nonotuck, and Agawam, many had started planting extra fields of skamon to sell to the English, or to trade for English goods and food.

Indian Corn and English Peas

Mashalisk remembered the time she was at the trader's house when the Agawam women came to him, all asking for peas. They were falling all over themselves to trade for this food, which is somewhat mealy, but Wawwapaw's wife, Coes' daughter, Tomiskhog's wife and Jackco's sister-in-law all walked out of the trader's house carrying bushels of peas, and trusted their men to supply furs to pay for it all. Some of the women promised to trade next year's harvest of skamon for English peas. When Mashalisk told her granddaughter this story, Weetanusk asked why they no longer liked their own food. (5) The Nonotuck sachem Umpanchela had begun bragging that, like Chickwallop, he had also made a bargain with Pynchon so the English would plow his fields for him. Knowing that the English are never free with their time or money, Mashalisk was suspicious. (6) Perhaps Umpanchela hoped that the time the English men spent plowing fields, that would produce corn for trade, would offset the cost of English trade goods.

Onapequin Leads in Making War

Some of the English men living near the Nonotuck people, at the place they now call Northampton, were busy stringing wampum for Pynchon. The Montauk on Long Island were hard pressed to supply enough of it for all the trading, now that the English themselves were also trading with it. (7) The Pocumtuck sachem Onapequin swore that he would make war again at Montauk, to demand the wampum that is owed to the Pocumtuck and Narragansett, so that none of the Wôbanakiak would have to buy it from the English.

The women had grown tired of all this war talk. Mashalisk remembered how bold the Pocumtuck warriors were, twelve years earlier (1648), when more than a thousand allies met at Agawam, and the Narragansett men came upriver to help build the fort at Pocumtuck. The Muheconnuck (Hudson Valley Mohican) had considered allying with the valley tribes, but withdrew their support on the advice of the Maguak (Kanienkehaka Mohawk from the Five Nations Iroquois), to whom they felt subject. William Pynchon sent messengers to the colonial leaders, and tried to dissuade Onapequin from war. That year, the Pocumtuck women managed to convince the men to wait until after the autumn harvest before they launched another attack against the Mohegan of Connecticut. (8) This year, none was willing to wait to make war.

Some young men who came back from the western hunt last year with the scalps of Maguak instead of deerskins, were more than ready to join Onapequin in starting another war. The Narragansett men came every few years with wampum, asking for another alliance, and word came from over the hills that the Housatonic might now be ready to go against the Maguak. (9) The men in the villages were turned now in many directions. One of them was Wattawaluncksin, who Mashalisk feared was becoming like a white man.

Hunting with Guns and Trading for English Coats

It is harder to stalk when carrying a paskhigan (gun), but many Pocumtuck men had come to depend on their paskhiganal (guns) for the hunting. Pascallacome got his twenty years ago in a raid on the Dutch, when he was a young man. He then traded it back and forth to Pynchon so many times, in trust for coats and wampum and animals that he had not yet hunted, that the old women said the paskhigan owns him rather than the other way around. (10) Weetanusk's father, Wattawaluncksin, asked Mashalisk to look at the new guns that Pynchon was selling to his white traders, and said he was determined to have one. Rumor was that Pynchon had already sold such a gun to Umpanchela. If Pynchon would not sell it, Wattawaluncksin said he would sing it out of his hands.

Wattawaluncksin had always been skilled in hunting, but now he was hunting trouble. The year that he first tasted rum with Wilton and a man he called Scott, he nearly drowned in it. Late in the night, old William Pynchon caught Wattawaluncksin singing and throwing rocks at the windows of his Springfield farmhouse, and would have jailed him were he not Mashalisk's son. She feared that Pynchon might yet demand payment for that offense. (11)

Then, during one spring moon, Wattawaluncksin set his mind to have a coat as fine as the one that William Pynchon gave Mashalisk as a sunksqua. When he could not trade for it, he borrowed it, and John Pynchon asked him to make a mark in his book. That coat was danced away at the summer gaming, and Umpanchela agreed to cover the cost of another one when he brought his own furs in after the snow.

This all came to Mashalisk's mind, and ears, when she brought Weetanusk into the traders' house, and John Pynchon asked if all of her kin would now be wanting coats. Then he laughed, and offered her a good trade, a single fathom of wampum for a child's coat. (12) Mashalisk carefully drew a length of wampum out of her pouch, handed it to Pynchon, and accepted the coat, which she laid about Weetanusk's shoulders. Pynchon recorded the trade in his book. Then, Mashalisk nodded at the young girl. Weetanusk looked the trading man square in the eye as she carefully unrolled the old, worn beaver robes that had been well-used for their winter bedding. Just as Mashalisk had predicted, John Pynchon took out a shorter length of wampum, measured it against Weetanusk's own height, and handed it to her, in exchange for a few old furs.

Mashalisk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Legacy | About This Narrative |


No One Sachem Rules All

Mashalisk was one of many sachems, some of them women, who tried to negotiate a productive trading relationship with the English while preserving traditional lifeways and territory. One observation that is key to understanding the fur trade and power dynamic in the Connecticut River valley is the fact that no Native community had a single leader. Both inter-tribal and international diplomatic relations relied upon individual charisma and personal trust. There were many sachems (more than 35 at Sokoki, for example) who represented various extended kin groups in each community, in a flexible political structure where individuals and families were free to move independently, while still cooperating on issues of larger concern. As William Pynchon observed, "There are several Small Sachims of Quabaug, & in all neer places [Pocumtuck, Nonotuck, Agawam] there are other small Sachims, no one Sachim doth Rule all..." (13)

Negotiating for Peace, Setting Up for War

Back in 1663, when Onapequin was so full of fury, Mashalisk had counseled the Pocumtuck men against futher fighting. John Pynchon had offered to carry a message to Albany, that would, he said, put an end to the fighting. Onapequin had never trusted Pynchon, but Mashalisk persuaded him to wait for an answer. She only learned afterwards that, while he was encouraging peace with the Pocumtuck, Pynchon's message had also encouraged the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk)to attack Sokoki. (14)

After the attack at Sokoki, Atiwans and a number of other Sokoki peoples moved with their families to Pocumtuck. When word came that the Kanienkehaka wanted peace, Mashalisk stayed away from the peace meeting, having foreseen that the two Maguak peace ambassadors were in danger, with tempers running so hot. The English traders, David Wilton and Joseph Parsons, encouraged the families living east of the mountain to resettle beside the Pocumtecook (Deerfield River), but Mashalisk refused.

She foresaw the devastation of the attack on the Pocumtuck fort, that came in 1664/5. Now Onapequin and all his family were dead, and Mashalisk wished that he and the others had listened to her counsel. (15) Two of the known individual leaders whose names appear in John Pynchon's records, Chauk and Mashalisk, both clearly survived the attack on the fort. It is likely that a significant number of Pocumtuck people survived the attack, since it was virtually impossible for Wôbanakiak to carry on all of their seasonal subsistence activities – hunting, fishing, gathering various foods, medicines, and building supplies – from inside a fort. Indian forts seem to have been used to stockpile supplies, and gather for military preparations, but it is doubtful that they ever took the place of villages.

Signing Deeds While Reserving Rights to Land

Two years after the attack, Chauk signed over a large tract of land to John Pynchon in 1667, but he reserved "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." (16) The fact that a large group of Pocumtuck people removed to Schaghticoke in 1676, but then returned to Deerfield in 1691, reflects their intent to continue making use of the traditional liberties agreed upon in this deed.

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This is the deed signed by Mashalisk in 1672. Click here for more information.
Copyright Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. All Rights Reserved.

Six years after the attack, after having watched the Englismoniak (Englishmen) swarm into Pocumtuck territory like so many fish in the river, or like so many rats in the market streets of Springfield, Mashalisk became too weak in spirit to fight any more. The Deerfield settlers allowed her to stay in her homeplace by the river only after she signed her name to John Pynchon's papers. She was assured that she could henceforth come and go as she pleased, with new English neighbors who would behave themselves.

In 1672 and 1674, Mashalisk signed over land on both sides of the Connecticut River, in the present-day towns of Deerfield, Leverett, Montague, Sunderland, and Wendell, to pay off her family's debts for wampum, coats, and sundry items, and her son's offenses in the English court at Springfield. Wattawaluncksin had, years earlier, been fined for breaking the windows in Pynchon's farmhouse, and levied 24 fathoms for the offense, in addition to signing over land. The deed transacted in 1674 with Mashalisk indicates that Wattawaluncksin who was, by then, deceased, had incurred other debts with Pynchon as well. Like many Native men, he was likely caught short-handed when the beaver population plummeted. There are no further records of Mashalisk in recorded history.

Mashalisk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Legacy | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Mashalisk was a historical Pocumtuck woman who lived on the east side of Pemawatchuwatunck (the Pocumtuck Range). Given the fact that she was a primary signatory on deeds in the region, it is likely that Mashalisk was a sunksqua, a female sachem. She and her son, Wattawaluncksin, traded furs to the English traders William Pynchon and his son John Pynchon at Springfield. She is pictured in the trading scene, circa 1660, signing for a purchase with John Pynchon. Other characters in the scene include the Nonotuck sachem Umpanchela, the Native man named Chauk or Chaque, and a fictional character, Mashalisk's young granddaughter Weetanusk. 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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