Pennacook - Wôbanaki, circa 1660 - 1712

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.

Wattanummon - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

1660 - 1704

image name: Wattanummon.jpg

Wattanummon tried to steer a course of peace between his people and the English
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Wattanummon's People and Home

Wattanummon's life begins at Pawtucket, the "little falls" at the bend in the river Merrimack, between the mountains and the great sea. By English reckoning, the year is about 1660. The great chief Passaconnaway has encouraged Native peoples from Pawtucket, Pemigewasset, Saco and Pequawket to move near to Pennacook, among the Penôkoiak, the "people living at the falling bank," near the eroding slope of Sugar Ball Hill in what would become Concord, New Hampshire. The English often confused the names of these people and places, thinking that Wôbanaki peoples changed their names with every move. (1)

Wattanummon's grandfather often spoke about how the people traveled seasonally, from village site to planting ground to hunting camp, across a familiar landscape, where every place had its own distinctive name. Just south of Pawtucket is Wamesit, the flat planting land that served as a "meeting place for all." North is Namaskeag, the "fishing place." Nokomes, his grandmother, carried the boy north one spring, when the oak leaves were the size of a mouse's ear, to the broad intervales at the bend in the Quinneticook, to see the place where the peoples of Pennacook and Cowass came together to plant skamon (corn).

Traditions are Passed On

Wattanummon's uncle taught him how, and when, and where to hunt in the mountains and lakes, set weirs and spear fish in the waters, collect medicinal plants, and gather edible roots, nuts and berries. Wattanummon heard stories about Azeban and Skonk, and all their misadventures at hunting. Uncle always said that, after learning the names and the hunting songs, memorizing the trails, listening to the stories, and practicing the skills taught by the elders, one could survive anywhere. Wattanummon also learned to use the paskihiganal, the guns provided by the English traders. His closest relative at Pawtucket was the one whom he always called Numpannum, meaning "my sister."

The Pawtucket always mixed with their neighbors, visiting, trading, hunting, or coming together in larger groups for seasonal ceremonies and communal activities. Far-reaching alliances connected Native families and communities throughout Wôbanakik, where both men and women serve as powerful leaders. Over time, Wattanummon and his kin shifted back and forth between Pawtucket and Pennacook, Cowass on the Quinneticook River, the the English mission village at Wamesit, the Arosaguntacook village on the St. Lawrence and various French missions.

The Great Sickness

For three full generations, the Pawtucket people were assaulted by plagues and inter-tribal hostilities. The first sicknesses, carried by the traders, came in the 1580s. The northernmost Wôbanakiak, the Mi'kmaq, whom some called Tarrantines, raided Pawtucket, stopping only when another wave of ktsi akwamaldzijik, a "great sickness," like the earlier typhus, smallpox, influenza, and diptheria, washed over the people like a flood, leaving scores of dead. No amount of medicine, sweat bathing, or prayers worked against these plagues and those few who survived were weighted down with the memories of their dead relatives.

Making Alliances Against Attacks

In 1628, an English trader, Christopher Levett, offered trade, guns, and military assistance, in exchange for a bit of land near the mouth of the river. (2) Passaconnaway said that trade with the English would protect the people from war with the English, and he said that the English papers reserved "Liberty of making use of our old Planting Land, as alsoe ffree liberty of Hunting, fishing and fowling." (3)

In the late 1640s, the eastern, central, and western Wôbanaki peoples began banding together against the Maguak, or Mohawk, "man-eaters" (Kanienkehaka), who sent warriors east after captives, scalps, and wampum tribute. Fortified villages were built – one at Squakheag where the Sokoki peoples lived, one at Sugar Ball Bluff, and one at Pocumtuck. In 1650, the Jesuit missionary, Father Gabriel Druillettes, encouraged the Pennacook to join the Sokoki, Pocumtuck and Mohican in making war against the Iroquois. (4) Our English neighbors in New England refused to offer any assistance against further Iroquois attacks. (5) For nearly a decade, the Mohawk raided our territory at will. In 1664, a large group of Connecticut River Valley Indians left Pocumtuck and moved north to Pennacook.

During times of war, families were often sent away from the fighting, and it had always been the custom to offer hospitality to neighbors, cousins, and extended kin from elsewhere in Wôbanakik. The abundant resources, strong leadership, and relative isolation made Pennacook territory a desirable refuge.

English Treachery

John Eliot, a Puritan minister, offered to set up a safe village at Wamesit for those Pennacook who would convert to Christianity. But then, in 1675, the Wampanoag, Narragansett, Nipmuc, and Connecticut River valley peoples joined together to fight against the English, during Metacom's Rebellion, or King Philip's War. Passaconnaway's son Wanalancet led Wattanummon and many others through northern Pennacook territory to safety at Cowass. The English Captain Samuel Mosley, suspicious of the sudden travels away from the fighting, sacked and burned the village at Pennacook. Lieutenant James Richardson rounded up the Christian Indians at Wamesit, and seven frail elders were burned alive. After these incidents, the Pawtucket, Pennacook and Wamesit all refused to return to Massachusetts colony, and took in yet more refugees.

In July of 1676, Wanalancet negotiated a peace treaty with all the Native groups between the Merrimack and Androscoggin Rivers, and arranged for 400 Indians to meet with Major Richard Waldon at Cocheco in September. Waldron said he would grant amnesty to us, but he seized 200 "strange Indians" who were believed to have helped Metacom. Eight were hung at Boston, and the rest sold into slavery in Barbados. Many of the Pennacook and others relocated farther north, but Wanalancet and Wattanummon stayed behind, until a war party came to escort them to to St. Francis.

The Wôbanakiak never forgave Waldron's treachery. In 1678, a Kennebec sachem, Diogenes Madoasquarbet, wrote to the Governor at Boston, "We love you but... because there was war at naragans Narragansett you com here when we were quiet & took away our gons & mad prisners of our chief sagamore & that winter for want of gons several starved." (6) In 1689, a Pennacook war party sacked the house at Dover, torturing and killing Waldron and 23 others, and taking 29 captives.

In 1690, a treaty was signed at Sagadahoc, and in 1692, Wanalancet and Wattanummon met with colonial officials in Dunstable, Massachusetts to proclaim their friendship to the English. Wanalancet, now an old man in his 80s, stayed in Dunstable under the protection of his old friend, Colonel Jonathan Tyng. Wattanummon, who had several English friends, tried to lead in a peaceful way. But the English could not be trusted, and two Kennebec leaders were assassinated in 1696. When Wattanummon learned that an old acquaintance, Pasco Chubb, was responsible, he personally guided the war party to Chubb's door.

English and French Diplomacy in Pennacook

Back in 1676, when Governor Andros had first offered refuge in a new village called Schaghticoke, in eastern New York state, many Connecticut River valley Indians relocated. The French tried to entice the Pennacook to move north, but many stayed on in their original homelands, a large territory that was, as yet, mostly unknown to the English. In 1700, they were joined by a group of Nipmuc refugees from Wabbaquasset, near Woodstock, Connecticut. (7) Soon afterwards, diplomatic preparations began for the meeting that would be called the Great Peace at Montreal in 1701.

When hundreds of northern New England and Canadian Indians gathered for an April 1700 council at Winnepesauke, one Pennacook chief declared that "he had the longest bow that was ever in New England; it reached from Penobscot into the Mohawk country." (8) Wattanummon met with the Massachusetts governor to reassure him that he and his kinsmen, George Tahanto, also known as Sagamore George, did not intend to participate in an alliance with the French and Iroquois. The two sachems requested freedom to travel as they pleased among the English settlements, while agreeing to obey the laws of Massachusetts.

By April of 1703, there were no Pennacook to be found trading in the English settlements. Jonathan Tyng went searching for Wattanummon, but was told that he and Sagamore George Tahanto had gone to Canada. In June of 1703, Wattanummon and Tahanto, along with the Pequawket chief Atecouando, attended Governor Dudley's peace conference at Casco. The English were worried about war with the French, and Samuel Penhallow even accused Wattanummon of delaying negotiations so the French could seize the Governor. The meeting ended peacefully, but the Penobscots had already sent word to Montreal that the English war with France had begun. When a party of French and Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) fighters arrived in Maine, they convinced the Wôbanakiak to join them in attacking the English. In preparation for hostilities, Pennacook families were sent to safe villages in the north.

The English Attack Pequawket

In July of 1703, Wattanummon's sister, who was then living at Pequawket, warned their English friend Jonathan Tyng that attacks were pending in three locations — in the east, on the Merrimack, and on the Connecticut River. (9) Within the next few weeks, over 130 English people were killed or captured between Wells and Casco.

In retaliation, New England increased the bounty for Indian scalps to 40 pounds. Colonel March attacked the Pequawket village in late fall, taking six scalps and six prisoners. Jonathan Tyng's son led a winter raid, and collected five scalps. Among the dead were several women, and word spread that two of them may have been Wattanummon's sister and wife. Wattanummon ceased his efforts at negotiating peace with the English and joined Hertel de Rouville, along with at least 30 other Pennacooks, in planning a raid on Deerfield.

Wattanummon - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704

Wattanummon, born at Pawtucket, and recognized as a Pennacook sachem or sagamore, joined Hertel de Rouville's raid on Deerfield two months after the English attacked the village of Pequawket, killing and scalping Native people from Pawtucket and Pennacook. He was accompanied by 30 to 40 other Pennacook warriors, including George Tahanto, when they joined up with the Kanienkehaka, French and Wendat at Cowass, on the upper Quinneticook River. Like many of his kinsman, Wattanummon was a fluent speaker of English and some French, in addition to his Native tongue.

Between 1692 and 1703, Wattanummon had tried to negotiate peace with the New England colonial towns. His efforts followed in the footsteps of Passaconnaway and Wanalancet, Pennacook sachems who tried to steer clear of overt conflict, while shifting people between safe zones. Pennacook territory, with its abundant resources, had absorbed numerous refugees from other Native towns in central and northern New England. Their efforts at peace were often frustrated by English treachery, including a particularly devastating attack by Major Waldron during a peace conference in 1676.

In 1703, Governor Vaudreuil of New France wrote that the Abenakis had come to him, requesting help in a raid of revenge against the English. Wattanummon, as a prominent Wôbanaki leader with experience in negotiating with colonial authorities, was likely among that delegation.

During the attack on Deerfield, Wattanummon joined in the assault on the Reverend John Williams's house, breaking down the front door with an English-forged tmahigan, a steel trade axe. He searched the house for preserved foods that could be easily carried as provisions on the march, and then handed them off to the other Pennacook men. He claimed Stephen Williams, the 10-year-old son of John Williams, as his personal captive.

Wattanummon - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

The March
February 29, 1704

When the war party reached the Deerfield River, Wattanummon and the other raiders began preparing their captives for the march north. Stephen Williams later recalled that Wattanummon "took away my English shoes and gave me Indian ones in the room of them which I think were better to travel in." (10) Many members of the war party had come prepared with extra winter moccasins with which to outfit captives for travel. During the first days of the trek, Wattanummon held back whenever the wounded prisoners were killed. Wattanummon fished Stephen out of the river more than once, when the boy stumbled and nearly drowned. They walked twenty to twenty-five miles miles a day.

image name: moccasins.jpg

The Native warriors, having brought many winter moccasins, were well prepared to take captives. Click here to link to the artifact page for more information.
Courtesy of Ken Hamilton.

Wattanummon could communicate quite easily in English, and he appears to have preserved Stephen from being taken or killed by other allies. He might have thought he could get a good ransom for this son of the well-connected Williams family, or he may have sought to adopt the boy to replace a family member killed or captured in the English raid on Pequawket. As Pennacook sagamores, or sachems, Wattanummon and George Tahanto were obliged to look after the warriors traveling with them, and meet in council with the other allies. There was some potential for dispute, given that some captors had five or six prisoners, where others had none. When the prisoners were redistributed, Wattanummon kept only Stephen Williams.

Wattanummon planned to meet up with his extended kin in the mountainous north country of Wôbanakik, where both English and French were unlikely to venture in winter. It was already well past the time that families would have set up their camps for the winter hunt, but Wattanummon hoped that the northern hunt had been as successful as the southern raid. Once he reached the hunting territory, even if people had moved on, there would be a cache, buried under the snow, with a few provisions and some indication of where the best hunting might be.

Wattanummon - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Parting Ways
March 8, 1704

When the parties separated, at the place now called "White River Junction," the Rev. John Williams was taken northwest with most of the other captives, while Wattanummon, with Williams' son, Stephen, and a young Wôbanaki boy, headed north on the Quinneticook. They went at a fast pace, traveling from dawn to dusk, subsisting only on yokeg, parched and ground corn mixed with maple sugar, to stave off hunger until they reached the hunting camp.

Wattanummon was determined, during this trek, to do whatever was necessary to keep young Stephen alive, in the chance that the value of this boy, as an adoptee, or as a source of ransom money, might repay the loss of Wattanummon's relatives. Each morning and evening, he parceled out three portions of yokeg from his traveling pouch. When Stephen first tried to gulp down the dry mixture, Wattanummon stopped him, and cupped a handful of river water to his lips, demonstrating how to wet the food. Wattanummon thought to himself that maybe later, when they reached camp, he would tell Stephen the story about gluttonous Azeban, choking on crayfish.

Stephen Williams, the Protestant minister's son, had no need to fear that his captor would try to convert him to Catholicism. Wattanummon had little patience with European religions, having been shocked at the ease with which the Christian people of Chelmsford had slaughtered the "praying Indians" at Wamesit. He refused to live at the Catholic mission village of St. Francis, where the priests taught both young and old to replace their Native beliefs with stories about European lands and European gods. Stephen did notice that, at some stopping places, Wattanummon paused to smoke a little tobacco, and quietly speak a few words.

Wattanummon - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


As they traveled, Wattanummon watched Stephen carefully, testing the boy's strength, will, and sense of direction, varying the pace, and breaking new trails. At some of the more difficult passages, Wattanummon acted stern with his captive, in part to keep Stephen from dwelling on his separation from his own family. Stephen was strong for an 10-year-old, but would he make a good adopted Wôbanaki? When Stephen got lost, and loudly called out for help, Wattanummon quickly stifled the boy. Then a Wôbanaki boy travelling with them patiently taught Stephen how to make the call of a wild creature, like the wolf, rather than human sounds, when in the hunting territory of Ndakinna.

Wattanummon recalled the way he had always struggled to keep up with his uncle's long stride. His young captive was clearly new to using ogemak (snowshoes), but he was reluctant to admit how much he was struggling. While preparing to leave camp one morning, Wattanummon was busy tightening his snowshoe bindings, and admiring the fineness of his sister's handiwork on the the rawhide lacing, when an image of his sister's death leapt into his mind. Stephen, who was taking a welcome rest on some hemlock boughs, was startled by the sudden sternness with which his captor jerked him to his feet and pushed him forward onto the trail north.

When they reached the first camp, Wattanummon left the two boys behind while he went hunting. A Wôbanaki girl brought them some dried moose meat, and guided them to a second camp, upriver, where they found two other Deerfield captives, Deacon Hoyt and Jacob Hix. Wattanummon passed Stephen into the hands of his brother's family, and left camp. During that winter, Wattanummon's kin treated Stephen more like a son than a captive. The Native women tended his sore feet, outfitted him in new deerskin clothes, and even cut his hair in a traditional Pennacook style, one side long and the other short. During the months spent hunting moose, bear and beaver, Stephen learned a few words and phrases in Alnobaiwi, the Wôbanaki language, and gained some skills at following a track.

Hoyt and Hix were used as slaves, and by late spring, when Wattanummon returned, Hoyt was dead, and Hix was weak from starvation and exposure. Young Stephen Williams was alive and healthy, having been well-fed with meat from the winter hunt, and wild plants. Wattanummon planned to rendezvous at Cowass, for the spring planting, but word came that a family there had been killed by English raiders. So, once the mud cleared from the trails, they took another hard trek, with heavy packs, to Canada, arriving at Chambly in August. Stephen was allowed to visit the French fort at Sorel, where he was nearly enticed away from his captor. When they reached St. Francis, Wattanummon handed Stephen into the care of his fellow sagamore, George Tahanto, and refused to accept any ransom money. Saying that he had no patience for French Catholicism, Wattanumon headed south to Albany for some trading, before making the long journey back to Pennacook.

Wattanummon - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


In April of 1712, Wattanummon was living near the confluence of the Pemigewasset and what would later be called the Baker River, with eleven other Pennacook and Cowass men and their families, when they were ambushed by a group of provincial volunteers from the Connecticut River valley. Captain Thomas Baker, along with Stephen Williams' brother, Lieutenant Samuel Williams, and 29 militiamen stole a large quantity of furs and killed nine Natives, including a man they identified as "Walternummus." (11) The Wôbanaki survivors fled to Pequawket.

Wattanummon - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Captivity | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Wattanummon, a Pawtucket/Pennacook sachem or sagamore who captured young Stephen Williams, is one of the few Native participants in the 1704 raid on Deerfield who is mentioned by name. Wattanummon was born around 1660, and apparently died during an attack on a peaceful encampment of Abenaki at Cowass in 1712. This semi-fictional narrative weaves the known events of his life in with traditional beliefs and other events in order to offer insights into the many communities of Wobanakiak who were involved in wars against the English settlements. 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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