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

Tradition of the White Men

As there seemed no possible way to settle the dispute about the origin of Coatuit Brook, another warrior arose to tell a story, and then everybody sat quite still and listened.

"Off to the south," said the speaker, who was young and handsome, and had a very winning smile as he looked about him, "and across from Buzzard's Bay, is the island of Nope. It is a queer old island, full of caves and hillocks. There are high cliffs at the west end, formed of blue and yellow, red and white clays, which glitter and shimmer in the sunshine. A long time ago, there dwelt near the west end of this island a good-natured giant who was very fond of a joke. Some people say that this giant Moshup lived near the brook that was plowed by the great trout, but it was on the island of Nope that he lived.

"Moshup was so big that when he caught whales by wading into the sea, he tossed them out as boys do black bugs from a puddle.

"He was taller than the tallest tree, and larger around than the spread of the hemlocks. Faults he had, but they were really very little ones. He was cross to his wife, but he drank nothing stronger than water, and never ate more than a small whale at one meal. He smoked too much tobacco. That was his greatest fault.

"He exacted one-tenth tribute of all the whales and finbacks which might be taken on the island, and all of the porpoises caught in the frog month. Scarcity he bore with composure, but if he were cheated; if the poorest fish were sent him; or a halibut hidden; or a finback were sunk with a buoy attached to it; or a fin of a whale was buried in the sand, he straightway fell into a great rage, and the Indians paid dearly for their roguery.

"To tell the truth, it was not to their interest to cheat Moshup. He often directed them to a fine school of blackfish. He foretold storms, and thus saved many fishermen from a watery grave. He had the reputation of being very kind-hearted, for he assisted young people in their courtships. And if a father said, 'it shall not be,' there was Moshup to say 'it shall be,' and the father always changed his mind.

"When the women of the island were given to scolding, Moshup had a knack of taming them, and, taking it all together, Moshup was a great favorite with the Indians while he was young. But as he grew old he grew cross. It is said he would beat his wife for nothing, and his children for a great deal less.

"He exacted a half of a whale, instead of a tenth, or took the whole of it without asking the leave of anybody.

"Instead of helping marriages, as he had once done, he now prevented them. He set friendly families by the ear, and created frequent wars between the tribes on the island of Nope.

"Then he frightened the wild ducks with such terrific shouts that the archers could not get near them; he cut the traps set for the grouse. In short, Moshup became very troublesome, indeed.

"It was no use fretting. He was firmly seated on their necks, and there was no shaking him off. But in the end, his harsh ways unpeopled his neighborhood, and Moshup and his family had the west end of the island to themselves.

"Now, in the south part of Nope lived the sachem, Niwasse. He was very wealthy in ponds well stocked with perch, clams, oysters, and wild fowl, and in swamps full of terrapin, and he had a beautiful daughter. She was very tall. Her hair was long, and glossy as a raven's wing. Her step was light and graceful. She drew the bow like a warrior, and her father's wigwam was full of suitors for her hand. But she laughed at all their presents of conch shells and eagle feathers, for she already loved a young warrior on the other end of the island. And as no one could persuade her father to consent to their marriage, there was nothing else to do but go boldly to old Moshup, and lay the whole matter before him. The lovers arrived at his lodge at a lucky hour. A school of whales had just foundered on the rocks, and he had just had a present of some excellent tobacco; so he determined to help the unhappy pair.

"He put a few hundred pounds of tobacco in his pouch, and set out on the journey with the young warrior on his shoulder, and the maiden in a litter formed by one of his arms. He reached the sachem's lodge in a twinkling. 'Why can not these charming young people wed?' he roared, as he stooped to look in at the doorway. The father stammered out something about the youth's poverty. He was not celebrated. He had won only three scalp locks. 'Is that all the trouble?' roared the giant, 'What must the young man have to win this maiden?'

"A great deal of land-he must have a whole island,' answered Niwasse. 'Good. Follow me!' said Moshup, drawing great columns of smoke into his mouth, and blowing it out through his nose. 'Follow me.'

"So the sachem followed as fast as he could, and a large crowd hurried after him to see what the giant would do.

"Now Moshup never did anything by halves. He went to a high cliff and sat down. He filled his pipe with tobacco, kindling it with a flash of lightning. He bowed once to the rising sun, twice to the north star, blew three times in a conch shell, muttered some strange words, and fell to smoking at a great rate.

"Thunder rolled, lightning flashed, rains poured down. Voices were heard puffing and blowing as of men in great labor. The watching crowd heard a hissing sound, like live coals dropped into water—Moshup had emptied his pipe.

"And behold, when the mists cleared away, there was a beautiful island, the ashes from Moshup's pipe! The happy pair upon whom he bestowed this island named it Nantucket, which is the name it bears to this very day.

"As for Moshup himself, this kind office seemed to restore his good nature, and for many years it was the golden age on the island of Nope.

"But there is an end to all things. One day a queer canoe, large enough for Moshup himself, sailed around the island, borne on white wings and gliding along without a paddle in sight.

"There were men in the giant canoe whose faces were white like the snow, whose eyes were blue like the sky; and their hair grew allover their cheeks and chins and swept down to their waists. But they were as small as common Indians, and Moshup laughed as he waded out in the sea to upset them. Boom! Boom! Boom! came loud thunder, straight from the side of the vessel.

"Moshup turned and fled in frantic haste from the island. He leaped across the channel which divides it from the mainland, and was never again seen in the Land of the Bays."



Before the loud applause for this fine tale had died away, an old warrior arose, and, when there was silence', said he had heard of these men with white faces. They had once been seen by the Narragansetts who dwelt across the bay. He said he had the story from his warrior father, who had heard it from a Narragansett slave.

A great vessel with widespread wings had floated up the bay. It was much too big for the men who were in it, for they were really no larger than common Indians.

But these Palefaces were a mighty race of men. They held the thunder in their hands, and sent it roaring in thick clouds from the sides of their canoe. Their eyes were blue, and they were clothed from head to foot in armor which shone like the sun.

They came on land and stayed among the Narragansetts for half a moon. They wanted furs, and traded the most beautiful strings of wampum for a common deerskin, and the sharpest, most cunning knives, for a pack of beaver-skins. They were not shrewd traders, and were cheated right and left by the Indians, but they were a mighty people with their thunder; and everybody was afraid to go near their camp.

At last their great canoe flapped its wings, and sailed away, and the Palefaces carried off with them a young Indian boy, the son of a chief. There was no hope of getting him back. No one dared go near the vessel. What became of the lad was never known, and there was sorrow and lamentation over his loss, for he was an only son. It was a long story before the narrator had finished. There were many grunts and ugh's! and hi's! and ho's! before he ended. Then it was the universal opinion that the Narragansetts had manufactured the story.

Now, it was easy for the people of Massasoit to discredit any boasting story which their hated rivals across the bay might tell; and they really did not believe that a word of this which they heard was true.

But you and I know that a ship from France put in at Narragansett Bay in the month of April, 1524. This was written to Francis I. by the sailor Verrazzani, who told the king all about the half-naked Indians that had surrounded his ship with their canoes, and gazed in wonder at the armor which he wore.

I think, too, we may guess that the strapping Moshup, if there ever was such a jolly old giant, was frightened off the island of Nope, or Martha's Vineyard, by the Norsemen, who, it is said, visited all that region in the Land of the Bays about the year 1001.