Nonotuck - Wôbanaki, circa 1604 - circa 1704

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Umpanchela - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Attack on Peskeompskut | Legacy – Pemaquansett alias Umpanchela | About This Narrative |


image name: umpanchela.jpg

Nonotuck sachem Umpanchela traded with John Pynchon of Springfield, and over time signed deeds to land that became the English towns of Northampton, Amherst, Hatfield, and Hadley
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Umpanchela was born at Cappawonk, a village site set on a terrace above the Cappawonganick (Mill River), in 1604. Nonotuck peoples had always traded furs and other raw materials with their Pocumtuck and Sokoki neighbors to the north, Woronoco to the west, and Agawam to the south.

By the time Umpanchela was a young man, during the 1620s, the Nonotuck had started trading over the western mountains (the Berkshires), into Mohican and Kanienkehaka territory, for Dutch goods, including cloth, knives, guns and ammunition. In 1633, after word came that the Dutch had set up a truck house on the Quinneticook (Connecticut River), about 40 miles south of Nonotuck, people began going downriver to trade. Umpanchela's skill at hunting, combined with a gift for diplomacy, led him to become a recognized leader. His interest in foreign languages, and his curiosity about the Dutch and English, led him to begin working as a go-between for Native men who feared being cheated by the traders.

Dutch Trade at the House of Good Hope

In April of 1631, the Podunk sachem Waghinnicut, who was at war with the Pequot, had invited the English at Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colony to send traders to the Quinneticook, offering corn, beaver, and fertile land. Governors John Winthrop and William Bradford initially declined the offer. The Dutch, on the other hand, were eager to extend the reach of the fur trade, and had already been exploring up the river. They hoped to increase their personal profits, and perhaps resolve inter-tribal tensions, by encouraging free trade with all comers.

On June 18, 1633, Dutch West India Company traders, led by Jacob Van Curler, signed a treaty with Wapigwooit, also known as Tatobem, the Pequot sachem who claimed the southern Connecticut River by conquest, and paid him with duffel cloth, axes, kettles, knives and a sword blade. The Dutch set up a fort at what is now Hartford, Connecticut and named it the "House of Good Hope." Podunk, Tunxis, and other Native peoples were invited to return to areas from which the Pequots had driven them out. It was agreed that the Dutch fort would be "free for purposes of trade to all nations of Indians: it was to be a territory of peace: the hatchet was to be buried there: no warrior was to molest his enemy while within its bounds." (1)

Good Hope was not as safe as the Dutch had promised. Despite the treaty, the Pequot killed some of their enemies who came to the trading house. The Dutch eventually retaliated by killing Wapigwooit; his son Sassacus became principal sachem in his stead. The Connecticut River tribes seemed to be profiting from the trade with the Dutch, but the Pequot Nation was losing power. The Mohegan, an eastern branch of the Pequot under Sassacus' rival and cousin, Uncas, had already left to seek an alliance with the Narragansett, and were becoming fast friends with the English. (2)

English Trade at Matianuck / Windsor

In the summer of 1633, the Podunk sachem Natawanute renewed Wahginnicut's invitation to the English, but Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop declared that the area "was not fit for plantation, there being three or four thousand warlike Indians" living close by. (3) On September 26, 1633, the Plymouth colonists decided to intercept the profitable fur trade by building an English trading post at Matianock, renamed Windsor, just seven miles above Good Hope, near the Tunxis (Farmington River). William Bradford wrote that the Pequots "were much offended" when the English "brought home and restored the right sachem of the place, called Natawanute." (4)

It was far easier for Nonotuck, Agawam and Woronoco people to transport furs by canoe downriver, than to carry them west over the mountains to the Dutch trade post on the Hudson River. Trade went well until February of 1634, when four starving Dutchmen came back from Woronoco to report that a great plague of smallpox had taken nearly 1,000 Indians. (5) Smallpox hit the Indians around Windsor as well, killing Natawanute and most of his people, and then spread across southern New England and into New York. The emptiness in the aftermath of that epidemic attracted English farmers to the rich farmlands at Hartford, Windsor, and Pyquag, renamed Wethersfield. The new settlers included William Pynchon from Roxbury, in Massachusetts Bay.

Agawam Becomes Springfield

By 1636, when Umpanchela was thirty-two years of age, the English had started buying land at Agawam (now Springfield, Massachusetts). Umpanchela had married as a young man, but his first wife, a woman from Agawam, was taken by one of the sicknesses that came with the traders. He followed a common Algonkian practice by marrying his wife's sister, and agreeing to look out for the rest of their family. When Umpanchela first met with William Pynchon and his sub-traders, he paused to consider whether continued trade with the English would be a blessing or a curse.

News had come upriver, from the Agawam people, that the English living at Springfield were not to be trusted. Although their numbers were small - no more than 20 families - their desire for land was great. The Agawam had been hit hard by the smallpox in 1634, and several sachems, Commucke and Matanchan, acting on behalf of Cuttonis and his mother Kewenusk, had agreed to trade a small plot of meadow land on which the English could settle their village, in exchange for ready trade. (6) A sub-trader named Joseph Parsons, who had started learning the valley language, assured the Agawam that he would look after their interests. Like most of the men in Springfield, Parsons owed his home and job to the patronship of William Pynchon. (7) By 1640, Pynchon, who was a Magistrate as well as a fur trader and land broker, started calling Agawam people into court for various offenses against English laws. The Agawam were told that they could not move or expand their cornfields, and stakes were put up, even on the swampy lands, to keep them out. (8)

Nonotuck Independence and Nonotuck Deeds

Pynchon, however, knew better than to meddle with the Nonotuck, whom he recognized as an "Independant free people." For a decade, the trade had proceeded virtually without incident, in part because Umpanchela and other sachems had let slip the information that the Nonotuck regularly paid wampum tributes to the Kanienhekaha (Mohawk), in return for freedom to trade with the Dutch at Albany. (9) The younger men bragged that it would take but one word to bring Kanienkehaka wrath against the English. Governor John Winthrop was eager to extend English settlements up river, but William Pynchon wrote that the Nonotuck were "desperate Spirites, for they have their dependence on the Mowhoaks or maquas who are the Terror of all Indians." (10)

Even so, in September of 1653, the Nonotuck began bargaining away their independence. Several of the sachems, including Chickwallop, alias Wawhillowa and Paquahalant and Wullether's wife Awonunsk, encouraged by Wutshamin, made what they thought was a good bargain with Pynchon. In exchange for 100 fathoms of wampum, ten coats, and other gifts, they signed a deed for a parcel of land on the west side of the Quinneticook, including Cappawonk, extending nine miles westward to the headwaters of the Westfield River. Chickwallope was particularly pleased that the agreement required the English to plow land for the Nonotuck cornfields. (11) Umpanchela was outraged. The speculators for Northampton, including Joseph Parsons, began laying out plots for houses.

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At the height of the European fur trade, wampum was exchanged as a form of currency.
Historic Northampton, Northampton, Massachusetts. Photo by Marge Bruchac.

Inter-tribal Wars and Alliances: Pequot, Mohegan, Narragansett

During the 1630s, inter-tribal and international tensions, complicated by the trade competition between the English and Dutch, began to shift against the Pequot. In November of 1634, the Pequot agreed to pay four hundred fathoms (six foot lengths) of wampum to the Colony of Massachusetts Bay and Narragansett to conclude a peace which lasted only two years. On May 26, 1637, 90 English soldiers, with more than 200 Narragansett and Mohegan allies, burned the Pequot fort at Mystic, selling the survivors into slavery. Sassacus fled to Kanienkehaka territory, where it is said he was killed for the wampum he carried. In the aftermath of the slaughter, other tribes were forced to pay vast sums of wampum to the English colonies for various offenses, or be threatened with the same fate as the Pequots. (12)

During the 1640s, the Pocumtuck and Nonotuck entered into an alliance with the Narragansett and Tunxis against their common enemy, the Mohegan, who threatened towns in the upper Connecticut River valley. Some sachems, like the Pocumtuck sunksqua Mashalisk, tried to avoid war; others, like Onapequin, were eager to carry it out.

By June of 1654, when Umpanchela reached fifty years of age, he was invited by Onapequin, one of the Pocumtuck war sachems, to attend a large gathering of valley Indians at Springfield. There, the Niantic sachem Ninigret offered wampum to those who would join him and the Narragansett in an attack on Long Island, to collect wampum from the Montauk. (13) In 1656, Uncas, the Mohegan sachem, attacked Nonotuck, killing some of the Native people who lived closest to the English. In 1657, the Pocumtuck and Narragansett petitioned the leaders of the United Colonies to allow them to take revenge against Uncas.

The Nonotuck sachems were concerned, knowing that the Springfield English were close to the Connecticut English, who were, in turn, allied with Uncas. Umpanchela arranged another deed with the town of Northampton on July 20, 1657; the Nonotuck may have hoped that these documents would secure a permanent truce with the English. It is unclear from the records whether the Nonotuck people intended to fully part with the land in question, since Cappawonk was "sold" on at least three separate occasions. In one transaction, on September 28, 1658, Umpanchela complained to the Commissioners that he had been underpaid, and demanded an additional 14 shillings. (14)

On December 25, 1658, Umpanchela signed off on yet another deed, this time for Hadley, Amherst, Belchertown and Shutesbury, along with Chickwallop (alias Wahillowa) and Quonquont (alias Wompshaw). Umpanchela used a second name, Wonscom, on this deed. Many Native peoples used several different names or aliases during the course of their lives, to mark family connections, titles, or accomplishments. In this deed, the Native signers were careful to reserve one particular plot of land for a cornfield, and also to "reserve libertie to Hunt Deare, fowle & And to take fish, Beaver or Otter," set up wigwams, and gather wood on all of the lands being sold. (15)

Umpanchela - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Attack on Peskeompskut | Legacy – Pemaquansett alias Umpanchela | About This Narrative |

Trading at Springfield

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Illustration copyright Pamela Patrick White.

In 1660, the year when Umpanchela, sachem at Nonotuck, turned fifty-six years of age, he and his brother Etowomp got themselves into debt with the fur trader John Pynchon. Umpanchela had been one of the first Nonotuck men to trade with William Pynchon at Springfield in the 1630s. Now William's son, John Pynchon, and his sub-traders Joseph Parsons and David Wilton, encouraged Umpanchela, as one of the older hunters, to act as a broker for younger men. For the past six years, their harvest of beaver pelts from the winter hunt had been steadily increasing, from only twelve pelts in 1654 to 440 in 1659. (16) Umpanchela and Etowompe managed to keep a steady supply, even during the wars against Uncas, but in the winter of 1659/1660, they were only able to secure 80 pelts. John Pynchon assured them he could offer them credit against the next winter's hunt, so they could be assured of receiving the trade goods that were desired.

Exchanging Beaver Pelts for English Cloth

The beaver pelts had purchased English cloth, needles, buttons, scissors and thread that Nonotuck and Pocumtuck women used to create clothing, after discovering that their worn beaver robes would also fetch a good price at the traders. (17) English coats had also come into fashion among the sachems, who wore them as a badge of status. Umpanchela, in one series of transactions between 1659 to 1660, purchased fifteen coats, which were distributed to his relatives or allies. Pynchon and Parsons charged a considerable markup - between 60-70% above cost - on most goods sold to the Indians.

Some historians suggest that men like Umpanchela elevated their status within their own communities by making strategic trades and accumulating wealth, but the new goods they obtained were always redistributed through existing Native gift and trade networks. There was a change in the nature of material goods, and there may have been some change in value and volume, but in most cases, trade goods, like cloth in place of leather, or steel knives for flint knives, simply sustituted for other items already in use. New technologies, such as guns, were used to accomplish familiar goals - hunting or warfare. There is ample evidence, however, that voluminous trading, and English legal and accounting systems, directly contributed to Native debt and loss of land.

Agreements for transfers of Native land, and the signing of deeds, were often conducted before the Springfield Commissioners, with several witnesses and officials present, and a formal exchange of wampum and other payments or gifts. A presumably accurate record of Umpanchela's original agreements to part with land is contained in the pages of John Pynchon's Account Book. The account beginning on September 23, 1659 and ending on September 14, 1660 indicates what items "Umpanchela the Indian sachem & owner of the land at Norwotog hath taken up of me towards pay for his land which he promises to Sell." The list includes cloth, knives, stockings, 15 coats and several pair of breeches, valued at a total cost of 300 fathoms of wampum. (18)

Umpanchela's trading record, like those of other Native individuals, also offers a glimpse of family relationships. Umpanchela's brother Etowompe delivered beaver and purchased goods on Umpanchela's account, and also signed several deeds. On December 25, 1660, Wattawalluncksin, son of the Pocumtuck sunksqua Mashalisk, secured a red coat, a white shag coat, and a new knife, on the promise that Umpanchela's wife would bring another knife to pawn, and that Umpanchela would pay for the other goods. Since Native peoples often married across tribes, it may be possible that Mashalisk was a cousin to Umpanchela or his wife, and that he, as an uncle should do, looked after her son. They were also neighbors, in that one of Umpanchela's deeds included lands at Wequittayag, an area of Hatfield just south of Pemawatchuwatunck (Pocumtuck Range). (19)

Trading for Guns and Liquor

Native people in the Connecticut River valley regularly purchased guns, powder and shot from Dutch traders in the Hudson River valley. (20) Although the New England colonies had strict restrictions against selling guns to the Indians, Umpanchela purchased at least two guns from Pynchon, one on April 13, 1660 for six fathoms and two hands of wampum, and another on December 16, 1660, recorded only as a final payment of two fathoms. Umpanchela was apparently planning to bring back beaver to pay off his debts and avoid parting with land, since, on the second occasion, Pynchon wrote "If I am not pd in Bever when he comes from Heakeg Sokoki all his land is to be mine." (21) Like Mashalisk's son Wattawalluncksin, and like many other Native peoples, Umpanchela found liquor to be an unavoidable hazard. In the camraderie of the trading house, liquor was often offered to Native hunters to make the trade go smoothly. Joseph Parsons, the trader who dealt directly with the Nonotuck, also kept an "Ordinary," or tavern, and so had a ready supply of wine and liquor. On August 23, 1660, Pynchon fined Umpanchela "2 fadam wampum for your being drunk." (22)

Umpanchela - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Attack on Peskeompskut | Legacy – Pemaquansett alias Umpanchela | About This Narrative |

Attack on Peskeompskut
May, 1676

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Illustration copyright Francis Back.

During the attack at Peskeompskut, the Nonotuck sachem Umpanchela found himself lying in the ruins of the fishing village with an English bullet lodged in his back. After the soldiers ran past him, thinking him dead, he half ran, half crawled to a place under the falls, and waited there as fish, canoes, and bodies all went tumbling through the waters. It was Namassack kesos, the spring fishing moon, in 1676. Umpanchela had seen seventy-two winters, and had participated in many wars, but he had never seen such blood and devastation. The bullet was embedded in a thick muscle, and thankfully, had missed bones and organs, but with no-one to lift it out, he was trapped there with his thoughts and his pain. With the English guns firing so furiously, and with flames coming out of every wigwam, he wondered how many would survive.

Memories of the Nonotuck Fort

Umpanchela remembered back to his youth, to the first year he saw the traders coming up the Quinneticook river, and wondered why he had trusted the English for so long. As an elder sachem, he had retired from brokering furs for the Pynchons, and had long since given up signing deeds. Before leaving Nonotuck, in 1664, he had helped negotiate the building of a Native fort near the English village. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and David Wilton and Joseph Parsons had personally assured Umpanchela and Chickwallop that they would look out for the safety of the Nonotuck people. But John Pynchon's rules were far too strict, especially after the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) attack, when Pocumtuck refugees came streaming in and Pynchon's men forced them to leave. (23)

In June of 1666, after the Kanienkehaka had killed and scalped two Nonotuck woman, Umpanchela had gone to Piscataway, to secure the aid of the Pennacook in making war against the Kanienkehaka. The Governor of New France saved them the trouble, when he sent 600 soldiers from the Carignan-Salières regiment, with 100 Algonkian and Huron allies, to burn the eastern Kanienkehaka villages. (24) That fall and winter, Nonotuck and Pocumtuck men had freely hunted in the Hudson River valley without fear.

Recalling the Outbreak of Metacom's Rebellion

For decades, John Pynchon kept trying to arrange peace with the Mohawk, but the valley Indians remained suspicious of English intent. Then, in 1675, the news came that the Wampanoag, Narragansett and Nipmuc had started a rebellion - Metacom's Rebellion, also called King Philip's War. Nonotuck women began warning their English friends, after a Nonotuck man, Wabacullet, bragged that he had participated in the attack on Brookfield. Major John Pynchon tried to force the local Indians to give up their guns, but when Captain Thomas Lathrop was sent to the Nonotuck fort at Hadley, he found it deserted. A month later, on September 19, Captain Lathrop discovered the Nonotuck, and their guns, when he was ambushed at Muddy Brook, later called "Bloody Brook."

When the snows came, not long after, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Nonotuck, Agawam, Woronoco, Sokoki and Pocumtuck allies made a winter camp near the Hudson River, hoping to secure Kanienkehaka assistance against the English. The Kanienkehaka and Mohican, however, drove them out. When spring came, the warriors started ranging the Connecticut River valley, while the elders, women and children were sent to the safe place, at Peskeompskut, with men like Umpanchela to guard them. All these memories hung suspended in Umpanchela's mind and heart, as he hid under the falls.

Umpanchela - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Attack on Peskeompskut | Legacy – Pemaquansett alias Umpanchela | About This Narrative |

Legacy – Pemaquansett alias Umpanchela

There is no record of Umpanchela in the years after Metacom's Rebellion, and it is not known if he died there. If he survived, he would have been 100 years old in 1704. There is no record of what happened to the many coats and trade goods he brokered with Pynchon, although some English trade goods, including knives, buttons, brass, bullets and beads, have been found in Nonotuck graves.

Around 1695, a younger man appeared in the colony records who may have been Umpanchela's son or grandson, an eighteen year old named Pemaquansett who also used the alias "Umpanchela." He was said to be "sometime residing in Hatfield," in the territory where the elder Umpanchela, along with Chickwallope and Quonquont, had so carefully reserved rights to hunting, fishing, setting up wigwams and gathering wood.

In 1696, Pemaquansett was out hunting with three other Native men near Kunckwatchu (Mount Toby) when they discovered Richard Church of Hadley, hunting in what they still considered Indian land. Mahqualos and Mahweness apparently killed and scalped the Englishman; Wenepuck and Pemaquansett fled the scene. All four were arrested, interrogated, and tried in the Northampton Court. Indians from Hatfield testified, and it was agreed that the two older men should be put to death for Church's murder. They were executed on October 23, 1696, but in May of 1697, Soquons, sachem at the refugee village of Scaghticoke, testified that another man had confessed to the murder. As a compromise, the Massachusetts General Court released Wenepuck and Pemaquansett.

As a direct result of this incident, John Pynchon argued that Indians could no longer be trusted to live in the Connecticut River valley, and the Massachusetts General Court agreed, issuing a formal declaration that all Indians living north of Springfield were henceforth to be considered hostiles. After that declaration, many more Nonotuck, Pocumtuck, and Sokoki relocated to safer places at Schaghticoke and points further north. (25)

Umpanchela - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Attack on Peskeompskut | Legacy – Pemaquansett alias Umpanchela | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Umpanchela was a sachem at Nonotuck or Norwottuck, the Native territory that became the English settlements of Northampton, South Hadley, Hadley, and Amherst. His trading account with John Pynchon, cited in this narrative, is one of the largest recorded with any Native hunter. He signed a number of deeds, sometimes using the alias Womscom. We know that he and his brother both traded with Pynchon, that he was fined for being drunk, and that he transferred land for numerous trade goods, including 15 English coats. This partially fictionalized narrative incorporates the historical record of his encounters with William and John Pynchon and other traders with other events affecting the lives of Nonotuck people at the time. 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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