Wampanoag Indians

The Wampanoag Indians are natives of Southeastern New England. They inhabited the areas now known as Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as offshore islands Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket for thousands of years. The Wampanoag made up several dozen villages and numbered around 12,000 individuals during the start of the 1600s.

Their main diet consisted of the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. They were called this because they were compatible with each other, able to be grown at the same time in the same soil. They also ate fish and wild game. Women primarily did the farming and gathering of shellfish, berries and nuts. While men were responsible for hunting and fishing. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 epidemics and war with neighboring tribes had devastated the Wampanoag population, only several thousand remained.

The first native to greet them was Samoset, a visitor of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Indian and a member of Abenaki sachem tribe. Samoset had learned English in interactions with English fisherman. A few days later, he introduced Squanto to the Pilgrims. Squanto was a Wampanoag who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain during earlier interactions between native people and Europeans. After gaining his freedom, he returned home. Squanto lived with the Pilgrims and acted as intermediary and interpreter between colonist and natives until his death. The Wampanoag chief Massasoit signed a peace treaty with the pilgrims and as part of an agreement with them gave them over 10,000 acres of land.

It was also through the Wampanoag Indians that the English colonists were able to survive in unfamiliar lands. During the first winter almost half of the Pilgrims starved to death, the Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims how to grow and harvest native food. A year later, in the first Thanksgiving celebration the Pilgrims harvested their first crop and shared the food with the Wampanoag. Food eaten at the first Thanksgiving included deer, fowl and corn.

The feasting and friendship however, would not last and with the arrival of Puritan colonists, relations began to sour. The new colonist considered the native people savages and began to convert them to Christianity. Before Pilgrim interference, the Wampanoag celebrated Mother Earth and all creatures in existence. After the death of Massasoit his oldest son, Wamsutta, became leader of the tribe. His reign was short-lived and after a visit to the colonist, he mysteriously died on his way home leading the Wampanoag to believe he had been poisoned.

Metacomet then became leader and went to war with the Pilgrims. Metacomet like his brother had been given an English name by the Pilgrims at the request of his father. Called Phillip, he gained the support of other tribes and King Phillip's War began in 1675. The resulting war lead to slavery for some Wampanoag Indians and their near extinction. By the time the war ended only a few hundred Wampanoag remained and Metacomet was shot by the Pilgrims.

The original language of the Wampanoag is no longer spoken. Today they speak English through current efforts are being made to revive their original language, which is a dialect of the Algonquin language. Today their are believed to several thousand individuals of Wampanoag descent.

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