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


The colony at Weymouth had caused the plotting among the Massachusetts, which Massasoit revealed to Winslow.

The Indians had welcomed the Weymouth men to Boston Bay because they loved and respected the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and were glad to have a trading station near them.

At first, the fishermen paid double prices for corn, fish and furs, and everything went swimmingly, on the shores of the beautiful bay.

But it was not long before they began to show what rascals they were.

They wasted their own provisions, and then hunted out the hiding-places of the corn belonging to the Indians.

They hid themselves about the camps, and, when the squaws were not looking, filched the succotash as it cooked in the pots, cut down the dried venison, and robbed the wigwams of strings of pumpkin and squash.

When winter came on, they found themselves without food, and in the midst of bitter enemies. The shell-fish, in the clustering islands of the bay, were covered with broken blocks of ice; the acorns, on the "blue hills" to the west, were hidden under the snow; there was no game abroad; and so these wretched fishermen sat about the fire, in their cold cabins, through many dreary weeks. Some starved to death, others froze to death, and the few that survived till spring scattered about the forest, grubbing through the snow for groundnuts; one, in trying to gather shell-fish, was so weak from hunger, that when he was stuck in the mud, he could not pull himself out, and the tide washed him into the sea.

In the end, they became servants to the Indians, and cut wood or fetched water for a cup of corn.

And so the Indians scorned them, and called them "Paleface squaws," and began to plot to kill them, and then march against Plymouth, which was twenty-five miles to the south.

One of the traders overheard their talk, and, without saying a word to his companions, for fear they might betray him, made up his mind to seek aid from the people of Plymouth.

He was weak from want of food, he did not know the way through the wilderness, and he very well knew he would lose his life, if he were seen going toward Plymouth, for every path was guarded to prevent communication between the two colonies. But desperation lent the poor man courage, and very early in the morning he took his hoe and went digging about in the snow, as if in search of nuts, until he reached the Indian wigwams. No Indians were about; they were still fast asleep.

Then he ran with all his might, going through the brambles and around the snow which lay in the hollows, that his footprints might not be seen.

The sky was clouded, and during the day he could not see by the sun in what direction he was going; but at night he was guided by the north star and staggered on, with the wolves howling about him.

At last, on the third day, the gates of Plymouth came in sight.

Meanwhile, Edward Winslow had returned from his visit to Massasoit, and told of the plots against Weymouth.

The Pilgrims were in great distress when they learned of the plots of the Massachusetts, with whom they had hoped to keep peace.

They knew that the fishermen at Weymouth were to blame for the trouble; but it was now too late to talk about that. They must find some way to defend themselves. There they were, a few feeble men, women and children, shut in between the cruel sea and the still more cruel forest. There seemed little escape from the tomahawk of the savages, if they wished to strike the blow.

Winslow and Standish


Then, too, a ship had, not long before, brought the news of a massacre of white men in Jamestown, Virginia, in which more had perished than were now alive in Plymouth.

It seemed their duty to fight for their lives as best they could.

So they gathered in the meeting-house on the hill, and had just agreed to make a sudden attack and seize the leaders of the hostile tribe, when the foot-sore messenger, from Weymouth, fell, fainting, at the gate of the town.

He told his story, and they decided to act at once. Miles Standish was placed in command of the expedition, and set off in a shallop, with eight of his men and the same guide who had been with Winslow at the bedside of Massasoit.

They bore themselves as traders, in search of furs. Through the ice and surf, in the dreary weather, they reached Boston Harbor.

There lay the ship Swan at anchor, with no fishermen to be seen. They searched through the blockhouse and the miserable little cabins of the settlement, but no one was stirring.

They were greatly frightened, for they thought they had come too late. They fired off their muskets in the direction of the forest, and soon some stragglers came in sight, who had been out in a vain quest for food.

Standish gave them corn, and when he told them of their danger, they were thoroughly alarmed, and promised to obey all his orders.

Now, the Indians thought the white men had only come to trade in furs, and they had grown so accustomed to jibe and jeer at the "squaw whites" that they continued to do so. The chief, Pecsuot, who was a giant fellow, danced around Standish, boasting how 'he could make mince-meat of him, if he wished. The chief, Wetuwamet, sharpened his knife in his presence, felt its sharp point, and told of what wonderful things it could do at the throat of the white man.

But the wise Standish bore all these taunts without a sign of displeasure or suspicion. He acted quite as if he thought the Indians had come to trade in furs.

Finally, Wetuwamet and Pecsuot, with some attendants, walked into the room where Standish and his men were.

The time, agreed upon, had come: The door was shut. The little captain seized the giant Pecsuot; and each of the others grappled with an Indian. Not a war-whoop was sounded by the amazed Indians. Each determined to fight it out. The struggle was terrible; the clash of weapons, the hoarse breathing of the wrestlers, and the groans of the dying, were all that was heard in the room.

In the end, every Indian was killed but one, and he was taken prisoner.

Then Standish hastened to the village wigwams for the rest; but the alarm had been given, and only women and children were there.

The Indian boys were frightened out of their wits at the approach of the party, and seeing that the women were always spared, they ran about screaming "Neesquaes! neesquaes!"  "I am a woman! I am a woman!"

The soldiers now started in pursuit of the warriors. They had many skirmishes, in which several Indians were killed, and they drove the fugitives from swamp to swamp, until they had fled out of the country.

Then the little band of eight men returned home without the loss of one, bearing the ghastly head of Wetuwamet, which they hung on the battlements of the fort, as a warning to his tribe.

This seems hardly what we would expect from Christians, yet we must remember that, three hundred years ago, it was the custom to cut off the heads of enemies and expose them to public view. But for all that, this cruel act seems unworthy of the Pilgrims, who, we are accustomed to think, were better than others of their time. Their beloved pastor, Robinson, when the news had crossed the sea to Leyden, wrote: "How happy a thing had it been, if you had converted some before you had killed any!"

The Pilgrims agreed that if they did not kill a few, they would have to kill many; for other tribes would soon join the Massachusetts, and it was thought even possible that Massasoit might break his pledges; though if they had known this great chief from his childhood, as we do, they would never have doubted him for a moment.

The Massachusetts tribes never recovered from their defeat. Between the plague and the Pilgrims, they were reduced to a mere handful of warriors, who flitted through the forests like the ghosts of their former proud race.

At last, because they were afraid to come themselves, they sent a squaw to Plymouth with offerings of peace, and soon after a treaty was signed which was kept for many years.

As for the colony at Weymouth, some went south to Plymouth with Standish, others packed what little they had and sailed in the Swan to the fishing stations along the bays on the coast of Maine.

And this was the end of the first colony of Weymouth.

Hardly had the Pilgrims come to see how sweet peace was again, when a new danger beset them.

The summer sun poured down its hot rays for six long weeks without a drop of moisture. The earth turned to dust, the brooks ran dry, the leaves on the trees curled and withered, and the corn that had come up, wilted and turned yellow.

The people were in great distress; but they still had faith that God would not desert them. They gathered into the meeting-house and prayed earnestly for rain. A few Indians who chanced to be present, heard what they were praying for, and rose from their seats to stand in the door and watch the effect of the prayers on the sky. Black clouds began to appear overhead, and soon the rain poured down in torrents.

The drooping blades of corn revived. The trees put forth new leaf, and all nature joined the patient Pilgrims in a song of praise.

The news of these Christian prayers spread among the Indians along the coast, and did much to restore the good name which the white men had lost through the bad behavior of the traders at Weymouth.

But while the young corn was flourishing in the fields, the supply of old corn became smaller and smaller day by day, until it was reduced to a pint, and the governor distributed five grains to each person. This was all the Pilgrims had to eat, except shell-fish and wild game.

The children were pale and crying for food, when fishermen from Maine put in at the harbor, and sold provisions enough to last till the bountiful harvest.