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

An Exchange of Visits

When the long, dreary winter was over and joyous spring had come, nature seemed to whisper glad tidings to the sad-eyed Pilgrims. The snow melted away into babbling brooks, the trees put forth green leaves, the little wild flowers dotted the hillside and peeped from among the mosses of the forest, while the songs of many strange birds filled the air with music.

The Pilgrims had not yet seen an Indian in their village, but one day a tall, handsome Indian came boldly into camp and called out, "Welcome, Englishmen! Welcome" Englishmen! He said he was Samoset, and had learned English of the fishermen in the north.

He said they were on a spot where, four years before, the Massachusetts Indians had dwelt; but this tribe had all been swept away by a great plague, except about a hundred warriors. The Wampanoags, whose king was Massasoit, were their nearest neighbors, and they, too, had suffered from the plague, so that of more than three thousand warriors only five hundred remained alive.

Samoset seemed very intelligent, and the Pilgrims soon saw that he would be of service in making treaties of peace with the tribes, and acting as interpreter.

When he took his leave, they presented him with a knife, a bracelet and a ring, and he promised to come back again and bring some friends, who would trade in beaver-skins.

A few days after his first visit, Samoset returned with several Indians, to trade some skins for trinkets; but, as it was Sabbath, the Pilgrims would not buy their skins, and told them to come some other time. Very soon after, Samoset came again in company with Squanto, who was one of the Indians stolen by Captain Hunt. He had escaped from his slavery in Spain, and returned with some English fishermen to his old home on Massachusetts Bay, only to find that all of his friends were dead with the plague. In vain he searched for his dear ones along the rivers and through the hills of the beautiful country. Skulls and bones lay bleaching in the sun; here and there were wigwams falling to pieces with decay, but there was no trace of any of his people, and at last the heart-broken Indian gave up his vain quest and sought a place among the warriors of Massasoit. He now came with Samoset to bring word that the great sachem, Massasoit, was on his way to Plymouth, and wished an interview with the governor. And sure enough, our old friend Massasoit soon appeared on a neighboring hilltop. He looked much older than when we saw him last; but his bearing was that of a true king of the forest. He was painted a dark red and wore skins and a necklace of bear's teeth; and a long knife swung on his bosom fastened by a string. His companions were all painted, some red, some black, some white and yellow; some wore skins and some were without clothing.

He did not hasten with a smile of welcome as we would expect him to do, when we remember how eagerly he once watched for the coming of the white men.

Squanto had told him that these white men were a powerful people, who dwelt across the morning waters, in palaces of marble; that their numbers were as the sands of the sea, and that they had the plague buried under their storehouses, and could send it forth upon any people they pleased. So whether he and his warriors might be kidnapped, or stricken with disease, or received with the kindness of brothers, was a great question in the mind of Massasoit, as he came over the brow of Strawberry Hill with sixty of his followers. He remained standing in the distance until Edward Winslow was sent out with Squanto to meet him. Winslow bore presents to the chief, and told him that King James, of England, saluted him as a brother with peace and love.

Now Massasoit was pleased with the gifts and this greeting; but he was very cautious.

He said that Winslow should remain as a hostage with his warriors, while he and a few trusted followers were at the audience with the governor.

They were conducted across the brook, which ran between the hill and the town, by Captain Standish and six musketeers in full armor, to the largest building in Plymouth. Here rugs and cushions were placed upon the floor on which to sit. Governor Carver soon entered, with drums beating and trumpets blowing, and greeted the sachem with great ceremony.

The two sat together on a rug. Massasoit trembled and seemed much impressed with the splendor of his reception.

There was a feast and a smoke. Then the first treaty made in New England was signed, in which pledges of peace and good will were exchanged. All offenders should be given up to be punished. If the English engaged in war, the Wampanoags would aid them; if the Wampanoags were attacked, the English would help them. These were the terms of a peace which lasted for fifty years, and Massasoit returned to his lodge at Sowams, well pleased with his visit.

Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn. Seven houses were soon finished, besides the large town house, and the Pilgrims began to feel so encouraged that when the Mayflower returned to England, not one of the Colonists went back with her. They had adopted New England as their home.

Scarcely had the good ship departed, bearing greetings and sad messages to the friends in London, when Governor Carver died. This new sorrow was felt deeply, for the noble man had been loved by all.

Then William Bradford was chosen governor. He remembered that the Indians had never been paid for the corn which the Pilgrims had taken from the pits when exploring the coast. So he sent Edward Winslow and Squanto to Massasoit to find out the owners of the corn, that they might be paid; and it was also their mission to tell the chief it was impossible to feed so many Indians as now came to Plymouth to make friendly visits.

When the messengers arrived at the lodge of the chief, he was not at home, but his wife and children were there and received them kindly, though they glanced with fear at the muskets and stood very near the door as if ready to flee at every movement.

When Winslow saw Massasoit coming in the distance, he fired off his musket in salute, and then presented him with a coat of red cotton trimmed with lace, and a fine copper chain. Massasoit put on the coat immediately, hung the chain about his neck, and was so delighted with these gifts that it was a long time before business could be transacted. His wife gazed on him in admiration as he strutted about the wigwam.

Then he summoned many tributary chiefs to meet Winslow, and told them they must remember that he was Massasoit, sachem of thirty villages, and it was his wish that they make treaties of peace and commerce with the white men of Plymouth.

All the warriors agreed to do this. Who could resist such a magnificent sachem in scarlet coat and glittering chain?

Now Winslow stayed three days and nights in the lodge of Massasoit, and the truth must be told of this visit, even at the risk of casting doubts on the good housekeeping of the hostess. When it was time to sleep, Winslow was invited to share the bed with Massasoit and his wife.

The bed was several planks raised a few inches from the ground and covered with skins. He was put at the foot of the bed and two warriors lay down beside him, and what with the snoring and crowding of his four bed-fellows, and the biting of the fleas and lice, he hardly slept a wink.

Food was also scarce just at this time, and the chief was greatly grieved and shamed that he could not better entertain his white brothers.

But great good came of this visit to Massasoit. Friendship was cemented with several new tribes, and a trading-post was established at Sowams, so that there was soon a well-worn path between a merchant of Mount Hope Neck and the settlers in Plymouth.

Now when you hear the word merchant you probably think of great warehouses down by the busy wharves, where vessels are coming in and going out all day long, and of long salesrooms lined with shelves of goods, with messenger boys flying in every direction, clerks busy and smiling, and bookkeepers writing in huge leather-bound volumes. But this merchant on the Taunton river, with whom the Pilgrims traded, had a very different way of transacting business.

His shipping was the slender canoe, hid down on the bank among the bushes, his warehouse, a wigwam of skins on the hillside, and his shelving, baskets of willow.

He had a large assortment to sell, and was kept busy all the year round.

He traded his stock for English wares, and then sold these to more remote Indians, who were ignorant of their worth. Thus he often made double profit.

In winter he had mats, baskets, brooms and wild turkeys, the skins of beavers, otter, mink, bears, moose, deer, raccoons, and many other fur-bearing animals which filled the forests of New England at that time.

In summer this merchant had all kinds of fish to sell, and strawberries, whortleberries, raspberries, blackberries, sassafras and grapes.

In autumn he had a supply of cranberries, venison and tobacco.

In exchange for these things the Pilgrims gave nails, chests, fish-hooks, water-pails, hatchets, glass bottles, beads, iron pots, woolen blankets, cider and whiskey.

But they soon refused to traffic in whiskey. The Indians had a diseased appetite for the "fire water," and would not stop drinking until they were intoxicated. If there were not enough liquor to make all in a company drunk, they would draw lots, and some drank while the rest sat about watching the carousing of their more fortunate friends. So the good people of Plymouth quit selling whiskey.

They would not sell muskets, either, for fear of their lives, and made a law forbidding the sale of any firearms to the Indians.