Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton

Massasoit, the King

Massasoit was chosen king after the death of his father, and many tribes came to his lodge to pay him tribute.

Now Massasoit was not so proud and haughty as his father had been, for he had seen the shining armor of the white men, and his own powers seemed mean and little when he thought of the thunder they held in their hands.

He chose as his capitol seat a beautiful spot near Narragansett Bay, called Sowams, where the town of Warren, Rhode Island, now is.

The Indians did not build houses, dig wells, plant orchards, fence in pastures and make some one place a home for themselves and their families as long as they lived.

They dwelt in tents, their water was from the springs or running brooks, they had no flocks and no orchards, and because it was easy to move, they were always moving. And so they were divided up into little bands, and every pond and waterfall, and neck of land, and almost every hill, had its own tribe under its own chief.

But all these petty chiefs, from the Cape of Storms to the east side of Narragansett Bay, including the island of Nope, Nantucket, and the many other islands dotting the sea along the coast, were under tribute to Massasoit, king of the Wampanoags. It required great skill to rule over so many different clans, but the young king was wise in council and brave in war; and he was so generous that other sachems in the Land of the Bays, who had been at war with his father, came to Massasoit to bury the hatchet.

"Let us dig up yonder oak," said one, "and bury our hatchet beneath its roots." "Nay," said another, "the strong winds from the northwest might one day lay the mighty oak in the dust. Let us lift up yonder high mountain whose peak reaches to the sky, and bury our hatchet beneath it."

"Ah," said another, "who of us has the power of a Manitou that he can remove a mountain from its base? Yonder is the lovely bay of Narragansett. Let us throw our hatchet far out beneath the smiling waters, that it may never again sever the bonds of our friendship." And so the flint hatchet was buried far out in the sea, and these nations dwelt at peace with one another.

But across the bay on the west were the hated Narragansetts, who would not bury the hatchet; for they could not forget the ancient feuds of their fathers.

In 1602 an English ship, under command of Bartholomew Gosnold, sailed to the Cape of Storms, and many small skiffs were let down from its high deck to cast nets into the sea. The fishermen made such draughts of codfish that they called the place Cape Cod. Five of them came ashore, but only for a day, and Massasoit did not see them, because it was late for the fishing season when he and his warriors were in the habit of going into camp on the Cape of Storms.

Gosnold soon embarked for Nope, the giant Moshup's island, which he called Martha's Vineyard. He sailed all around Martha's Vineyard, then landed to explore it, and found it was covered with forests; fruits furnished food, and flowers delighted the eye at every turn; the honeysuckle, the wild pea, the eglantine and roses filled the air with perfume. Young sassafras, which brought a great price in England as a medicine, promised the fortune of a gold-mine; while the deer which bounded through the leafy glades, and the beaver with villages on every stream, made the fishermen think that this land was, indeed, a paradise for hunters and trappers.

After passing the beautiful cliffs on the west end of the island, they discovered a little lake, and in the lake a rocky islet. Nothing could be better for a colony than this, they thought, and so they built a storehouse and fort on the islet, and surrounded it with a high palisade as a defense against the Indians, should they prove hostile. Then they brought their fishing boats from the ship, and began to feel much at home in the new world.

Soon an Indian chief came with fifty warriors to make them a friendly visit, and Captain Gosnold presented the chief with two knives and a straw hat. The warrior did not seem to regard the hat, but the knives made a great impression. He whittled and shaved everything he could lay his hands on, and in the end his leggings were a sorry sight, with the slits and gashes made by the magic knives.

The white men gave their guests a feast of roasted crabs and broiled lobsters, and served scallops with mustard, which nipped their noses and caused them to make such wry faces that everybody laughed. After this a brisk trade was carried on with the Indians, and, in a few weeks, the ship of Gosnold was loaded with furs and sassafras, and the captain prepared to return to England with his cargo; he picked out the bravest of his men to remain in the fort and collect another cargo, while he was absent on the voyage. But when the sails of the ship were set, the hearts of these men failed them. They dreaded an attack from the Indians, and all embarked for England. And so only a fort, which was soon overgrown with rank weeds and clambering vines, remained to tell of the settlement planted in the Land of the Bays by Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602.