Pocumtuck - Wôbanaki, circa 1653 - circa 1736

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.

Weetanusk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Peskeompskut | Legacy | About This Narrative |


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Weetanusk, a young Wôbanaki woman whose fate was representative of many Connecticut Valley Natives during the 17th-18th centuries.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Weetanusk always called her grandmother by the name of Nokomes, meaning "my grandmother." (1) She knew that Mashalisk was an important woman. First, she was her grandmother. Then, she was the mother of her father, Wattawaluncksin, who had brought her there to live. (2)Mashalisk was at the center of every seasonal gathering, and the Pocumtuck women would all look to her before they made any important decisions. The men would look to her as well, in a way that was different from the way they looked to the other sachems for guidance. They gave her the title Massaliskwa — a name that means "great woman" — and that title eventually took the place of her original name. She was a sunksqua, one of the many sachems who looked after the needs of the people. It took some explaining for Weetanusk to understand that a person could be physically small, and yet also be called large. Whenever her grandmother spoke, it seemed as though everything slowed down to listen. When she laughed, it sounded like water falling. They say when Mashalisk was young, she could run down nolka (deer) faster than an arrow could catch him. Weetanusk decided that her grandmother was a good model of what a girl might hope to be.

Coming to Live with Mashalisk

Weetanusk was only five years old, and did not yet have a personal name when she came to live with her grandmother, in the place beside the Quinneticook (Connecticut) river, east of Pemawatchuwatunck (the Pocumtuck Range). Her family still called her by her child name of Nuncksquassis, meaning "little girl." Her father, Wattawaluncksin, brought her there one spring, around Namassack kesos (fishing moon). (3) Within a few hours, her grandmother had decided that she would be called Weetanusk, a name that used to be carried by one of her ancestors, a proud woman who would not back down from anybody.

Wattawaluncksin's decision to leave his daughter with Mashalisk came about after one of his trips downriver, when he got into trouble in the trading settlement at Agawam, now Springfield. Mashalisk did not know, until years later, that Wattawaluncksin had gotten drunk one night, and broken all of the windows in John Pynchon's farmhouse, after feeling that he was cheated in a trade. When John Pynchon, who was also the magistrate, brought the young man into court, he imposed a heavy fine of 24 fathoms, which Wattawaluncksin refused to pay. Pynchon finally released the sunksqua's son, because he did not want to jeopardize the trade with other Indians upriver. (4)

As Weetanusk later told her grandmother, when Wattawaluncksin came back stinking of the Awanigiak (strangers), it scared her to smell him, and so she took her bedding outside the wigwam to sleep. After two nights of not talking, Wattawaluncksin crossed the river and asked Nigawes, his mother, to make room in her lodge for the young girl. No explanation was necessary. Mashalisk acted like it was a bit of a hardship, in order to save Wattawaluncksin's pride, but her heart was dancing. She had always loved the girl, and hoped that she could learn to carry the stories, as her foremother, the now-gone Weetanusk, had done. After Wattawaluncksin left, Mashalisk told her granddaughter a story about how, one cold winter, segonk (skunk) moved into her lodge to stay warm, and how he smelled better than the Awanigiak. Weetanusk's mind was full of pictures, of old women, and Englishmen, and skunks, and Wattawaluncksin in his abazolagw (canoe), paddling away from her, all mixed together. After that, the two laughed for a long while, picturing a whole village full of segonkiak (skunks), dressed in Englismoni (English) tall hats and long coats, admiring each other's odors.

Mashalisk walked with Weetanusk down to the river, lifted a little water in her hand, and whispered a little prayer, spemkik takik (to sky and earth), before she turned to speak to her granddaughter. She told Weetanusk that Wattawaluncksin had cared well for her, in the time since his wife had passed over, three winters ago. She also said that he was a smart man, and a good son, to bring a small girl here to help Mashalisk remember the old ways. Weetanusk understood, now, why her grandmother needed her. Her heart already missed her father, but Mashalisk reassured her that Wattawaluncksin would bring his furs here after Pahquitaqunk kesos (fall harvest moon), when it was time to go downriver to trade.

Weetanusk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Peskeompskut | Legacy | About This Narrative |

Trading at Springfield

Traditional Skills and New Tools

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Illustration copyright Pamela Patrick White.

Two winters passed before Weetanusk was allowed to meet the traders. She pestered her grandmother, and was always told, that, as soon as she was able to paddle in a straight line to Wequamps, the head of the beaver, at the base of the Pemawatchuwatunck (Pocumtuck Range), she could go downriver. When the girl was not on the water practicing her paddling, she was on land, fussing over the abazolagw, pulling up spruce roots to repair the stitching, or boiling up pine tar for patching.

When the leaves began to turn, Weetanusk wished she was out with her father, helping him to track for nolka (deer). Mashalisk had to find excuses to send Weetanusk off to her aunts and cousins, so that she could learn other skills. During one of those visits, her aunt Netannikwan showed Weetanusk the cloth that her husband had brought back from the trading place. She set out pins and needles, and scissors, and showed the girl how the steel tools could make holes far smaller than a bone awl, in cloth that seemed far more fragile than deerskin. There was some rough cloth, they called it duffel, that was the color of mud, but then Netannikwan brought out some finer cloth, tightly woven, from sheep's wool. The red was the color of fresh blood, and the blue was as dense as the sky before sunset, finer even than Mashalisk's coat. (5)

Wattawaluncksin came by at least once every moon, and stayed for longer times during the fishing season, and during the festivals. He brought fresh meat from nolka (deer) and mooz (moose) every fall, and Mashalisk taught Weetanusk how to tan and prepare the hides. The sachem Chauk came to visit Mashalisk after one of his trips over the western mountains, and brought Wattawaluncksin a new paskholigan (gun) from the Dutch traders. Now, Wattawaluncksin was out hunting tamakw (beaver) throughout the year, not just in the traditional time, after the early spring breakup. (6) The trade with the English was increasing, but instead of coming up to Pocumtuck, the English often preferred that the Pocumtuck deliver their furs to Northampton and Springfield. (7)

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Deerskin Moccasins c. mid-17th century. After European traders arrived, Native clothing became a creative blend of traditional Native designs with European clothes and trade goods. These brain-tanned deerskin moccasins, made by an unknown Native artisan in the middle Connecticut River Valley, are decorated with traditional motifs in porcupine quills, silk ribbon and glass beads. Collected by Mathew Woodruff sometime between 1636-1682.
Courtesy of Historic Northampton, Northampton, MA. Photo by Marge Bruchac.

Pocumtuck Raids on the Mohegan

The time spent fighting outside the valley often took men away from the hunting. Despite all the talk of war, the Pocumtuck felt safe. There had been an attack by the Mohegan from Connecticut, a few years back, but now, the Mohegan sachem named Uncas was not able to make his way back to Pocumtuck, thanks to the alliance with the Narragansett and Tunxis. On one occasion, Uncas sent wampum to the Pocumtuck, via John Pynchon, as a peace offering. It was such a small amount that the Pocumtuck answered "as the wampum is but little...so they say but little." On another occasion, Onapequin was so offended "proud speeches" that he threw the wampum back in the messenger's faces. (8) The Mohegan, and the Connecticut English kept demanding that the United Colonies should attack Pocumtuck, but John Pynchon, who needed the trading, refused. (9) In fact, when the English demanded wampum as payment for various offenses, the Pocumtuck would often begin planning another raid.

Weetanusk was with a group of Pocumtuck girls one day when the men came back from a southern raid. Onapequin's wife asked the girls to help with stringing some of the loose wampum (shell beads) taken from the Montauk into fathoms, six-foot long strands, for trading with the English. (10) As they worked, the women told the girls some of the war stories that the men had brought back with them.

One incident had to do with goats. This was an old joke at Pocumtuck. Back in 1654, the year before Weetanusk was born, Governor John Winthrop had lost hundreds of goats from his farm on Fisher's Island at the same time as the Pocumtuck and Narragansett were raiding Montauk. After many letters, it became clear that the Englishmen who stole and sold Winthrop's goats had blamed the Indians for the loss. (11) The Pocumtuck girls laughed when Onapequin's wife declared that the Mohegan and Montauk people were now so afraid of the Pocumtuck that they wished they could hide behind the Englishmen's goats, but even that was no longer possible.

Travel Downriver to the Trading Place

In the early spring of 1660, when Wattawalucksin showed up with no furs for the trading, he was concerned that Mashalisk would be disappointed, but she showed no concern. Many of the men had been off to war instead of hunting. The women said that all of the extra activity downriver was scaring the game upriver.

Mashalisk had promised Weetanusk that this year, after her seventh winter, was the time that she would take her downriver, and so they would go, fresh furs in hand or not. They rolled up their winter bedding, and loaded it into the boat between them. Mashalisk put Weetanusk at the front of the abazolagw, so, she said, the girl could help her find the way. Mashalisk could have traveled downriver more quickly on her own, but she stretched the trip out to two days, to allow Weetanusk time to rest. The girl was strong as well as stubborn, and so Mashalisk pretended to be weak sometimes, and watched as Weetanusk adjusted her speed, to take advantage of the currents of the river.

When they slept on shore at the halfway point, they ate the dried fish and pounded skamon (corn) that had been stored there, and Mashalisk left some pemmican behind for other travelers. The weather was warm enough that they only needed a small brush camp and little covering for sleeping, and never bothered to build a fire. In the starlight, Weetanusk watched a family of otters dippling in and out of the water, and sliding down the mud near the shore.

Weetanusk watched the shore closely, as they passed by Nonotuck, where a new English settlement had established itself, but she saw no Awanigiak (strangers) until long after they had passed the rushing waters called Chicopee, and came near to Agawam. When Mashalisk spotted an Englismoni (English) man walking along the shore, she tapped Weetanusk on the shoulder. When the girl turned to look, the grandmother was smiling, with her hand over her nose.

At the Trading House

By the time they reached the trading house, Weetanusk's arms were so sore from paddling that she could barely hold up the beaver skin bundle. John Pynchon, the Englismoni trader, was not as good a speaker of the Native language as some of the other traders but Mashalisk well understood him, and translated for her granddaughter. John Pynchon was busy exchanging words with Umpanchela, who was already there when they arrived, but he stopped his talk to tip his hat to Mashalisk, and to bow towards Weetanusk. Pynchon and Umpanchela were looking at a paskhigan (gun) that Wattawaluncksin had been admiring, and talking about the future of the beaver trade next season. (12) Pynchon smiled at Mashalisk, but she wondered what trading scheme the man had in mind for her son.

The trading house was full, with cloth, furs, ribbons of all colors, shining copper pots, black iron axes, knives, guns, and tools that the Native peoples had no names in their language for. There were abazenodak (baskets) made by Mashalisk's female cousins, piled high with skamon, alongside wooden slabs made into boxes, and great cloth bags, all filled up with things. Weetanusk saw some blue cloth like the fabric that her aunt Netannikwan had shown her, and she was transfixed.

Mashalisk had told Weetanusk that they had an important trade to make, but the only tamakw fur they had to trade was last winter's bedding. Since she knew her grandmother was depending on her, Weetanusk decided to make the old worn furs look so valuable, that it would seem to Pynchon that she was unwilling to part with them. That way, they could make a good bargain. Her gaze was still fixed on the blue cloth when Mashalisk startled her by draping an English coat like hers, in a child's size, around her shoulders. (13)

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Wampum beads were traditionally used for personal adornment, tribute, and ceremony, but during the fur trade, they had begun to be used as currency.
Historic Northampton, Northampton, Massachusetts. Photo by Marge Bruchac.

Then, Mashalisk nodded, and Weetanusk remembered what she had been told to do. While still trying to look reluctant, the girl unrolled their winter bedding out onto a table in front of John Pynchon, and then stepped back to wait for his response. The big man smiled, and then he took, from out of one of his boxes, a long strand of wampum shell beads, several hundred of them, on a cord. He measured the cord of beads against the girl's height, and then laid the strand around her neck, and said two words in the Englismoni talk that she would never forget, "Good trade." Weetanusk thought the Englismoniak must be crazy, to trade so much hard-won wampum for a few old furs.

Weetanusk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Peskeompskut | Legacy | About This Narrative |

May, 1676

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Illustration copyright Francis Back.

In the midst of the morning, when the sky was just turning from black to blue, Weetanusk woke up smelling smoke. She looked out of the wigwam to see burning, everything was burning. As she looked around in the dawning light, people were scrambling to turn over the abazolagwal (canoes) on the bank, the wigwamol (houses) were all burning, paskhiganal (guns) were echoing off the rocks, and there was no one she recognized in the smoke. Even the fish racks were burning. She grabbed the young child that had been sleeping beside her, and ran out of the wigwam (house), with guns blasting on every side.

The day before the attack, the river was so thick with mskwamagwak (salmon) that the people could almost walk across their bodies to the other shore. In the midst of the attack, the only red in the river was blood. All the nuncksquassisiak (young girls) were screaming "Maguak (Mohawk)," but Weetanusk could not believe that anybody would attack the safe place, the fishing place. (14) As she ran past a soldier in the smoke, she realized that these were Englismoni (English) paskhiganal exploding into every wigwam.

Trying to Find a Safe Place

The attack at Peskeompskut was the first battle that Weetanusk had ever experienced at close range. She remembered how, back in 1663, her grandmother, Mashalisk, had counseled the Pocumtuck men against further fighting. The sunksqua had asked the women to stop making moccasins (shoes), so the men would have to either go barefoot to war or not go at all. Onapequin and Mashalisk had disagreed on whether to trust John Pynchon, who had carried so many messages for the valley sachems. Onapeqin believed that all the akwighiganal (letters) sent by the English were making the inter-tribal warfare worse. For example, after the Sokwakiak had attacked the Kanienkehaka, Pynchon sent a letter to the Dutch at Albany, declaring that the Pocumtuck, Agawam, and others were "very much put out, because the Sowquackick Indians had killed and murdered some of the Maquaas." Within months, word came to Pocumtuck that the Sokoki fort had been destroyed. (15)

After the attack at Sokoki, Atiwans and a number of other Sokoki peoples, including many who were so wounded that they had to be carried, moved with their families to Pocumtuck. The Pocumtuck men and boys were eager to hear their stories. Tamakwont, the young man who would later become Weetanusk's husband, had just passed fourteen winters, and was determined to make war against those who had killed his friends and cousins. Even though a peace meeting had been arranged with the Maguak, Mashalisk brought Weetanusk away from her aunt Nettanikwan's place, telling her that it was safer to stay on the east side of Pemawatchuwatunck when the men were looking for war.

The English had been trying to get all the peoples living on the east side of the mountain to move to the west side, nearer the Pocumtecook (Deerfield River), and nearer the Pocumtuck fort. Mashalisk refused. After hearing that two Kanienkehaka sachems had been killed during the peace meeting at Pocumtuck, Mashalisk called many of her relatives to join her on the east side of the mountain, and young Tamakwont came with them. In early February of 1665, when the Maguak of the Iroquois Confederacy attacked the fort at Pocumtuck, many people in the valley were killed, including Onapequin and his family, but the Maguak never crossed over the mountain to Mashalisk's side. Weetanusk thought maybe they were afraid of the sunksqua.

Just a few months after the attack, English surveyors came and started claiming lands along the Pocumtecook. The sachem Chauk claimed that his Englismoni friends were settling a trading post, and that they had agreed to let all the Pocumtuck live there under protection. Just six years later, the town had grown so full of English houses and cattle and fences that there was little room for Pocumtuck people beside the Pocumtecook.

When Weetanusk reached her nineteenth year, she and Tamakwont were married, and they built a new wigwam near to Mashalisk. That same year, Mashalisk, growing more fearful of her long-held trust in Pynchon, agreed to sign her name to a deed, with the assurance that and her family could stay in their homeplace that was in land that the English had not yet settled. Two years later, Weetanusk's father, Wattawaluncksin, died, and Pynchon convinced Mashalisk to sign a second deed. (16)

Turning Their Minds to War

In 1675, when the leaves were turning, Weetanusk's husband Tamakwont turned his mind to war. When a large group of Pocumtuck, Nonotuck and Sokoki men went off to winter camp with Metacom (King Philip), he went with them. Then the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) and Mohican chased them out of the camp at Hoosic, claiming that they had made their own peace with the English. There was little fighting with the English that winter, so the men made another winter camp in the western mountains (Berkshires).

When spring came, Metacom asked the Sokoki, Pocumtuck and Nonotuck women to look after the families – old people, mothers, and children from Wampanoag and Narragansett and Nipmuc – who had fled from the English in the southern territories. Hundreds of them came to the fishing place at Peskeompskut, where all tribes, even old enemies, respected the rights of all to fish, in a place where there had never been any war. Mashalisk, who was now very frail, was not at the fishing place during that Namassack kesos (fishing moon). She had stayed downriver, at Pocumtuck, in her wigwam, for the first time in anyone's memory, and had promised to help sing the fish upriver to the falls.

But now, in the midst of all the fire and smoke, hundreds of these elders and their relatives were lying dead, and more were drowning as they tried to escape via the river. As Weetanusk ran from the fire and bullets, she thought she heard her grandmother's voice, sounding a painful lament.

Weetanusk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Peskeompskut | Legacy | About This Narrative |


Weetanusk, as a young woman of 23 when Peskeompskut was attacked, was lucky to have survived at all, given that so many, including her children and most of her immediate relatives, died there. Native men who had been scouting to the north of Peskeompskut routed the English soldiers, killing many of them as they tried to head back south, including Captain Turner, for whom the place would later be named, "Turners Falls." Weetanusk left the child, one of her young cousins, with one of the Wampanoag women who had lost her baby, and went back to help bury the dead. The Pocumtuck and Sokoki women packed what little provision could be found for the few Wampanoag, Narragansett and Nipmuc refugees who had survived the attack. With the help of some of the young men, many made the trek home to find other safe places among their kin, in communities across central and southeastern New England. Many went north to Cowass and other Wôbanaki villages, to wait out the fighting.

Weetanusk could not find her grandmother, Mashalisk, when she returned to the homesite beside the river, east of Pemawatchuwatunck, and there was no sign of where her grandmother had gone. Her father Wattawaluncksin had died several years earlier, in 1674, and Mashalisk had signed two deeds to pay off the family's debts to John Pynchon. After several weeks of searching for her grandmother, with fighting still raging through all of the valley towns, Weetanusk finally left a cache of supplies at the wigwam, and joined up with a group of refugees from Sokoki and Nonotuck who were heading west. They traveled towards Schaghticoke, where Governor Andros of New York had said that he might promise the Connecticut River valley Indians a safe haven, in the northern part of Mohican territory, if they were willing to live under the protection of their former enemies, the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk of the Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy).

Weetanusk - Prologue | Trading at Springfield | Peskeompskut | Legacy | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Weetanusk is a fictional character, created to be a granddaughter to Mashalisk, a historical Pocumtuc suncksqua, female sachem, who lived on the east side of the Pemawatchuwatunck, the Pocumtuck Range, and who deeded land to John Pynchon in 1672 and 1674. She is the daughter of Wattawaluncksin, Mashalisk's son, whose debts to Pynchon contributed, in part, to the loss of Pocumtuck land. 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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