The Treaty with Massasoit

The Treaty with Massasoit


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After the Pequot War (1636-1637), the New England colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and New Haven realized the need to form a military alliance to defend against their common enemies. After much debate, they formed the New England Confederation on May 19, 1643.

Over the subsequent years, the New England Confederation fought the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Pocumtuck and Narragansett Indians during King Philip’s War. The Mohegan and Mohawk tribes, however, fought for the English.

At the time of the pilgrims' arrival in Plymouth, the realm of the Pokanokets included parts of Rhode Island and much of southeastern Massachusetts. [5] Massasoit lived in Sowams, a village at Pokanoket in Warren, Rhode Island. He held the allegiance of lesser Pokanoket sachems. In 1621, he sent Squanto to live among the colonists at Plymouth. [6]

Outbreaks of smallpox had devastated the Pokanokets, and Massasoit sought an alliance with the colonies of New England against the neighboring Narragansetts who controlled an area west of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. Samoset was a minor Abenakki sachem (sagamore) who hailed from the Muscongus Bay area of Maine, [7] and he learned to speak English from fishermen who plied those waters. Massasoit sent him to approach the colonists to find out whether their intentions were peaceful.

Massasoit forged critical political and personal ties with colonial leaders William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Stephen Hopkins, John Carver, and Myles Standish, ties which grew out of a peace treaty negotiated on March 22, 1621. The alliance ensured that the Pokanoket s remained neutral during the Pequot War in 1636. [8] According to English sources, Massasoit prevented the failure of Plymouth Colony and the starvation that the Pilgrims faced during its earliest years. [8]

Some tension continued between Massasoit and the colonists when they refused to give up Squanto, whom Massasoit believed to have betrayed him. This was resolved in March 1623 when Massasoit was gravely ill and Edward Winslow nursed him back to health. [9] After his recovery, Winslow reports that Massasoit said, "the English are my friends and love me. whilst I live I will never forget this kindness they have showed me." [10] In return for their kindness, Massasoit warned them of a plot against them. He had learned that a group of influential Massachusett warriors intended to destroy both the Wessagusset and Plymouth colonies, and he warned the Pilgrims in time.

The alliance came under other tension in later years, as the colonists expanded into new lands in order to support their growing colony. Massasoit sold a tract of land 14 miles square to Myles Standish and others of Duxbury in 1649 to alleviate tension and maintain the peace. The sale took place atop Sachem Rock, an outcropping on the Satucket River in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Massasoit had five children: son Wamsutta, who was born between 1621 and 1625 son Pometecomet, Metacomet, or Metacom son Sonkanuchoo and daughters Amie and Sarah. Soon after his death, Wamsutta and Pometecomet went to Plymouth and asked the Pilgrims to give them English names. The court named them Alexander and Philip. Wamsutta, the eldest, became sachem of the Pokanokets on the death of his father. [11] He died within a year, and his brother Metacom succeeded him in 1662. [12] Amie married Tispaquin and was the only one of Massasoit's five children to survive King Philip's War in 1676.

Roger Williams fled the Massachusetts Bay Colony to avoid arrest and deportation for religious reasons and stayed the winter of 1635–36 with Massasoit, who gave him land along the Seekonk River the following spring. Governor Winslow advised Williams to move his settlement to the other side of the river because his current location was within the bounds of Plymouth Colony. Williams did so and founded Providence Plantations, which later became part of the Colony of Rhode Island. [13]

The half century of peace that Massasoit so assiduously maintained collapsed soon after his death. Wamsutta broke away from his father's diplomacy and began an alliance with Connecticut Colony.

Massasoit was humane and honest, kept his word, and endeavored to imbue his people with a love of peace. He kept the Pilgrims advised of any warlike designs toward them by other tribes. [11] It is unclear when Massasoit died. Some accounts claim that it was as early as 1660 others contend that he died as late as 1662. He was anywhere from 80 to 90 at the time. [11]

Wamsutta died suddenly within a year of his succession, and Massasoit's second son Metacom became sachem of the Pokanokets and chief sachem of the Greater Wampanoag Confederacy. He believed that Wamsutta had been murdered at the hands of the Colonists, and this was one of the factors that led to King Philip's War, one of the bloodiest wars in Colonial American history.

Statues of Massasoit by sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin stand near Plymouth Rock, outside the Utah State Capitol building, on the campus of Brigham Young University, at the Springville Museum of Art in Springville, Utah, and in Kansas City, Missouri at the corner of Main Street and Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd. In Massachusetts, both Massasoit Community College and Massasoit State Park [14] are named for him.

The Real History of Thanksgiving: Massasoit, the Wampanoag, and an Unsteady Alliance

One man drove the real history of Thanksgiving more than any other, though he was not English. Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag nation, deserves far more credit in the history of this event than he is typically given. Though English sources refer to him as a king, in truth, he was the most powerful leader in a confederacy of Wampanoag villages. These villages came together when necessary, though other leaders, as noted by English commentators, proved jealous of Massasoit’s position.

It was Massasoit who reached the first treaty with the English, indeed he seems to be the one who proffered the accord in the first place. Through this treaty, which lasted several decades, the Wampanoag found respite, for a time, and the English laid their roots.

In the years proceeding that fateful feast at Plymouth, Massasoit must have looked around at his nation and his people and been filled with fear. Disease spread into his homeland from European colonies farther south in Virginia, and farther north in Quebec. Family, friends, and neighbors fell sick. While some no doubt recovered, the vast majority of the Wampanoag nation did not. If Massasoit walked amongst his people, he would have found bodies lying unburied, birds picking the bones clean. “Thousands of them died,” an Englishman, William Bradford later recounted. “They not being able to bury one another, their skulls and bones were found in many places lying still above the ground, where their houses and dwellings had been. “ 1

Current estimates place the death rate among the Wampanoag at 90% between the years 1616 and 1619. 2 Long thought to have been smallpox, recent research has yielded evidence that the plague may have, in fact, been leptospirosis, also known as 7-day fever. 3

Eventually, though population levels never returned to where they had been, whatever contagion had razed the Wampanoag nation seems to have subsided. History would soon, however, deal Massasoit and the Wampanoag another blow.

The Wampanoag had long been surrounded by European colonists, actively trading with the settlers of New France, and had received European visitors to their shores for over a century. But, in 1620 English colonists made the first permanent European settlement at Plymouth. The land they found, however, resembled more of a graveyard, than the thriving community it had once been.

Records kept by Bradford, tell of the horrors that the Wampanoag endured. After journeying forty files from Plymouth to visit Massasoit, the colonists, “found his place… the soil good, and the people not many, being dead and abundantly wasted in the late great mortality which fell in all these parts about three years before the coming of the English, wherein thousands of them died.” 4

Fortunately for Massasoit, the English colonizers who washed up on shore aboard the Mayflower proved completely inept. Having lived largely in cities in England, and then the Netherlands, prior to traversing the Atlantic, few, if any, of the ‘Pilgrims’ had the wherewithal to hunt or farm. And, when they did happen to catch a rabbit or deer, butchering the animal presented its own challenges. Austere folk, the Puritans, desperately trying to survive, often turned to the age old Christian tradition of fasting to appease God. 5

Massasoit no doubt knew of the English settlers’ condition. William Bradford, recalling the early days of the Plymouth colony, wrote of how “the Indians came skulking about” the settlement. Most likely serving as Wampanoag scouts, these men would have reported to Massasoit on what they had seen. Watching from a safe distance, Wamponoag scouts would have noted that over the course of two or three months, during the hardest parts of the New England winter, half the English settlers died. Overcome by “the scurvy and other diseases” brought on by the arduous task of crossing the Atlantic, only 50 or so of those who came ashore in the Mayflower still drew breath when spring arrived. 6

What the colonists lacked in knowledge, experience, and numbers, they made up for in guns and powder. Again, while we can’t know what Massasoit was thinking, as he left no written records, English powder backing up his warriors could very well have seemed like the best of a bad situation. The Narragansett, the largest nation in New England at the time and enemies of the Wampanoag, had not suffered the same devastating effects of the 1616 plague, protected by their geographical isolation from white settlers. 7 In comparison to their traditional foe, the starving English colonists seemed like no threat at all.

Seeing an opportunity, Massasoit and the Wampanoag sent an emissary in the early spring, most likely selected for his ability to speak “broken English.” Bradford recorded this man’s name as Samasett, and told of how he acquainted “them with many things concerning the state of the country in the east-parts where he lived… as also of the people here, of their names, number and strength of their situation and distance from this place, and who was chief amongst them.” 8

During the first of several visits by Wampanoag parties, Samasett and his cohorts, which included Tesquantum, laid the groundwork for a more formal political parlay, and “made way for the coming of their great Sachem… Massaoit.” Having made up his mind that they needed the English, and the English needed them, Massasoit crafted a treaty with the governor of the Plymouth colony. The terms of the treaty, as recounted by an eye witness, Edward Winslow were six-fold: 10

1. That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people.

2. And if any of his did hurt to any of ours, he should send the offender, that we might punish him.

3. That if any of our tools were taken away when our people are at work, he should cause them to be restored, and if ours did any harm to any of his, we would do the like to them.

4. If any did unjustly war against him, we would aid him if any did war against us, he should aid us.

5. He should send to his neighbor confederates, to certify them of this, that they might not wrong us, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.

6. That when their men came to us, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them, as we should do our pieces when we came to them.

And the alliance, though born of mutual necessity more than amity, received its share of tests. In one of the chapters of his Relation or Journal of the Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth, Edward Winslow described how “the Narragansetts had spoiled some of Massasoit’s men, and taken him.” Fearing what “ what was become of our friend Massasoit,” the English, Winslow in tow, “set out ten armed men.” Marching into Narraganset territory, the English aided their Wampanoag allies in brining Massasoit home. 11 The alliance had proven its worth.

About a year after the Wampanoag and Puritans reached their agreement, the feast that Americans would one day call the first Thanksgiving took place. While the fanciful histories American children are taught in schools tell us the Pilgrims invited their saviors, the Wampanoag, to sup with them in mutual celebration, nothing could be further from the truth. While the Wampanoag, and men such as Tisquantum (or Squanto) assisted their new allies in farming and hunting, the Puritans viewed their native allies as savages, people living in the woods, without knowledge of god or civilization.

Despite lacking an invitation, Massasoit and his people appear in the records the English left of the feast. And though it did not go off as later generations would portray it, this ‘first Thanksgiving’ started with a bang. Writing of the event, Winslow recalled 12 :

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms…

Still considering Plymouth their land and believing the Puritan occupants only remained there due to the Wampanoags’ good graces, Massasoit must have been startled by the gun fire coming from the village. Their allies were either under attack or making war on the Wampanoag — neither of which could stand. The Wampanoag sent a party to Plymouth. Winslow remembered how “many of the Indians” appeared in the village, “and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men” now mingled amongst the colonists.

Realizing no threat existed, the shots having been fired in celebration, Wampanoag warriors “went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantain and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others.” 13 The feast was on.


In his best-selling book titled Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick wrote: “When the Mayflower arrived at Provincetown Harbor in November, it was generally assumed by the Indians that the ship had been sent to avenge the attack on Dermer. In the weeks ahead, the Pilgrims did little to change that assumption.”

A Pilgrim landing party raided a buried supply of corn seed, ripped through a gravesite and fled from the beach under a hail of arrows. The scouting party, sailing up the coast, found a spot with a harbor, fresh water and a hill for a fort. They then started to build homes.

The settlement at Plymouth had inadequate provisions, and 52 of the 102 who arrived on Cape Cod died by spring. Squanto, who had learned to speak English, befriended the Pilgrims. He then helped establish a treaty with Massasoit Ousamequin of the Pokanoket Wampanoags.

But Corbitant, sachem of the Pocasset tribe of the Wampanoag, challenged Massasoit’s treaty with the Pilgrims. The treaty seemed like a straightforward military alliance. However, it actually undercut long-standing tribal legal tradition, according to Paula Peters, a present-day activist for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.

An 1873 lithograph depicting the expedition against Nemasket led by Standish and guided by Hobbamock.

The Pilgrims dispatched Myles Standish to a village called Nemasket with less than a dozen men. His mission: to kill and behead Corbitant, who escaped. Later, the Narragansetts, also unhappy with the Pilgrims, sent Plymouth Plantation a bundle of arrows wrapped in a snakeskin, a threat. Standish ordered construction of a palisade fence surrounding their homes, and beefed up other fortifications.

Treaty of the Pilgrims with Massasoit

Dates / Origin Date Issued: 1885 Library locations The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection Shelf locator: PC AME-162 Topics Massasoit, 1580-1661 United States -- 1620-1629 Pilgrims (New Plymouth Colony) -- 1620-1629 Men -- New England -- 1620-1629 Treaties -- 1620-1629 Calumets Genres Conjectural works Notes Content: Written on border: "1885." Physical Description Wood engravings Extent: 9 x 12 cm (3 1/2 x 4 1/2 in.) Type of Resource Still image Identifiers NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17168602 Barcode: 33333159308119 Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 94faf7a0-c52f-012f-a12b-58d385a7bc34 Rights Statement The copyright and related rights status of this item has been reviewed by The New York Public Library, but we were unable to make a conclusive determination as to the copyright status of the item. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use.

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Chief Massasoit Facts: Family and Legacy

  • Massasoit had five children: &ldquoMoanam&rdquo, or Wamsutta, who was born sometime between 1621 and 1624 Pometecomet, Metacomet, or Metacom a third son, Sonkanuchoo and two daughters, one named Amie and one whose name is unrecorded.
  • Soon after the death of Massasoit, Wamsutta and Pometecomet went to Plymouth and requested the Pilgrims to give them English names. The court named them Alexander and Philip. Wamsutta (Alexander), the eldest, became sachem of the Pokanoket on the death of his father. Wamsutta died within a year, and his brother Metacom (Philip) succeeded him in 1662.
  • When Massasoit died, his son Wamsutta (Alexander) became his successor, but when Wamsutta also died in 1662, Metacom (Philip) succeeded him. Of Massasoit&rsquos five children, the only child to survive King Philip&rsquos War in 1676 was his daughter, Amie, wife of Tispaquin.
  • Massasoit was humane and honest, never violated his word, and constantly endeavored to imbue his people with a love of peace. He kept the Pilgrims advised of any warlike designs toward them by other tribes.
  • It is unclear when Massasoit died. Some accounts claim that Massasoit died as early as 1660 others contend that he died as late as 1662. Very likely, Massasoit was anywhere from eighty to ninety years old at the time.

Massasoit, A Lustie Man

As leader of the Wampanoag tribe, Massasoit practiced shrewd diplomacy. He viewed the Pilgrims as potential allies against the Narragansetts, his enemies in the region. A great plague had killed many of his own people.

Massasoit would have been about 40 when he paid that first visit to Plymouth. Pilgrim Edward Winslow described him as:

…a very lustie [strong] man, in his best yeares, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech.

He dressed as his followers did, except for a great chain of white bone beads around his neck and a little bag of tobacco. He had painted his face dark red and oiled both his head and face so he ‘looked greasily,’ wrote Winslow.

Winslow volunteered to go with Squanto and Samoset to meet Massasoit. He brought with him a gift: a pair of knives and a copper chain with a jewel in it. To Quadequina he brought a knife and a jewel ‘to hang in his ear.’ He also brought liquor, biscuits and butter, all of which the Indians accepted.

Who did the pilgrims make a peace agreement with?

Read, more elaboration about it is given here. Considering this, who helped negotiate peace between the natives and the pilgrims?

Massasoit wanted to parley with the Pilgrims, for he wished to have trade and peace with them. The Pilgrims welcomed the Indians' overtures. They had arrived in the New World nearly four months before and had a rough go of it.

Subsequently, question is, who was the chief that signed a treaty with the Pilgrims? Massasoit

Keeping this in consideration, what was the treaty between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims?

According to, the peace treaty between Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag Nation, and the leaders of Plymouth Colony, acting on behalf of King James I, was signed on April 1, 1621, less than a month after first contact was made between the settlers and members of the indigenous nation.

How did the Pilgrims interact with the Native Americans?

The native inhabitants of the region around Plymouth Colony were the various tribes of the Wampanoag people, who had lived there for some 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. Soon after the Pilgrims built their settlement, they came into contact with Tisquantum, or Squanto, an English-speaking Native American.

Watch the video: The Treaty with Massasoit