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The Lords of Whipsuppenike
The settlers came in 1674 and found a small defenseless band of natives of about fifty in number.  A half century before the Pilgrims came to America, it is estimated by some historians, as many as 100,000 Indians inhabited the New England region, and then some lethal plague struck killing one in ten so that when the pioneers strode West along the Indian trail from Sudbury they found only the remnants of a once strong race living on their planting field, referring to their land as Whipsuppenike, “the place of sudden death”.

The settlers were welcomed by the Indians who found in them protection from the constant menace of marauding Indian tribes.  They were of the Penacook’s whose seat of government was what is now Concord, NH, and are sometimes referred to as the Nipmuck Indians although the word “Nipmuck” is merely a description of the area in which they lived, “abounding in small ponds and streams”.  They were a fine appearing people, tall and straight, dignified in bearing, intelligent and quick to learn.  Their skin was copper red, hair black and straight, eyes black and vision good.  They generally had but one wife and showed great affection for their children.

The Indian women built wigwams, tilled garden plots, cooked, made clothing and baskets and performed other menial tasks.  The men did the hunting and fishing, made stone implements, bows and arrows, spears, canoes or anything requiring more skill or ingenuity.  The canoes were usually logs hollowed out by controlled burning.  Wigwams were low arch roofed structures made by setting two parallel rows of poles into the ground and bending the tops so that opposite pole tops could be tied together.  This framework was covered with slabs of bark, deerskin and woven mats until it was weather tight.  Baskets and bags to store food and clothing were the main items of furniture.  Plaited mats for a floor, evergreen branches for a bed, low stone platforms for fire, cooking utensils of clay or soapstone and water tight baskets completed their equipment.

Their language was Algonquin but since they had no form of writing, nothing seems to have survived of their vocabulary except the name of the Assabet River coming from “Hashab” meaning “fish net” and “et” meaning place – “the place where materials for making fish net grows”, - Spoonhill “Aspoonant” meaning one who is ailing or crippled, and refers to the Indian Capt. Tom who was hung on Boston Common for his part in King Philip’s War, and who had some sort of throat injury (nor from Hanging!) that caused him always to make a grumbling sound when talking.  They had no written language or word symbols and our words such as Whip Sufferage (another name for the Marlborough territory) represent the settlers’ attempts to record word sounds as they heard them.  As a spoken language it was smooth and pleasant, the words themselves seeming to be based on a poetic thought expression.  One English traveler said he never heard more pleasant music than the Indian squaws conversing amongst themselves at a camp site.

Marlborough was known as one of seven “Praying Indian Towns”, that is, a settlement converted to Christianity by Rev. John Eliot of Roxbury, a remarkable man who translated the Bible into the Algonquin tongue and then educated some Indians to understand English and to read in their own language to uneducated Indians from his translations.  It was this same Rev. Eliot who in 1650 secured from the General Court an order reserving their lands for the Indians in order to protect them from any encroachment by the white settlers.  The planting field “Okookanganset” was bounded on the east by Whipsuppenike, a hill where Hosmer Street runs toady, on the south by what is now Main Street, extending to Rawlins Avenue and Highland Street and including Hudson to the Stow and Sudbury line.  Sligo Hill, a western boundary, was known as Okookamansett.

The land was recognized for its value by the English settlers as some of the best in the seventy two square miles in the plantation. They built their first houses in a semi-circle bordering the Indian fields which were rich in small streams and open meadowland.  Their position was also advantageous due to its closeness to the Indian trails and Sudbury.

The Indians and settlers lived in peace and amity from 1656 to 1675.  When the settlers discovered their meeting house had been erected on a corner of the Indian planting ground (where the Old High School/Walker Building stands today), Chief Onamog, “The Wolf Captain”, readily deeded to them the land on which it stood and a right of way.  The various individuals of the tribe are known to us only dimly though the ten names signed to the deed drawn up in 1674 giving the land to Daniel Gookin, the Indian Commissioner.  The list of grantors reads:

        Old Nequenit
        Robin (for whom Robin Hill get its name)
        Benjamin Wuttanamitt
        James, called Great James
        John Nasquamit
        Mary, the widow of Peter Naskonit, in behalf of her child Moses David
        Assoaske, the widow of Josiah Nowell, “in behalf of my children”
        Sarah Conomoy, sole executrixe to my late husband Oonomog
        Elisabeth, the only daughter and heir of Solomon, deceased (for whom Solomon’s Pond gets
its name)
        James Speene, in behalf of his wife

In the winter of 1675, King Philip set up his headquarters at Wachusett Mountain, which was far enough away from any white settlement so that no action was taken against his camp in that extremely cold weather.  Philip’s men made a few small raids mostly to get food supplies, but in doing so managed to create some havoc at Lancaster and Framingham.  But he did not do enough to keep the garrison at Marlborough active and the troops here dwindled away leaving very few on duty.  Meanwhile, as the Praying Indians were also in danger of punitive action by Philip’s men, and as the English felt these friendly Indians might be induced to join with Philip and try to destroy their white neighbors, a great number of them were brought to Marlborough to be held in a sort of concentration camp.  The English at Marlborough, particularly the women, viewed with alarm this large group on Indians in their midst, with insufficient soldiers to guard them.  Therefore, early in the winter in 1675 these supposedly friendly Indians were marched to Boston and interned on Deer Island in the Harbor, where they suffered from the cold and lack of food.  Some few managed to escape and fled to join King Philip’s camp at Mt. Wachusett.

Thus was the little band of original Indians dispersed, and in 1716 after the Indians had abandoned this region, this Indian land was annexed to the Town of Marlborough.

After more than fifteen years of peaceful progress of the Marlborough Plantation, King Philip’s Indian War broke upon the settlers in 1675.  Marlborough was a frontier town and had a heavy burden in quartering soldiers sent here by order of the Colony government.  Also, many Marlborough residents had active service in the army, besides being ever ready to protect their own homes.  On March 26, 1675, the Indians made an attack in force on Marlborough.  This was a Sunday and the inhabitants were assembled in the Meeting House on the Common for morning services.  Rev. William Brimsmead was suffering from a toothache and left this pulpit to go outside where he could apply some temporary remedy.  Looking out from the doorway he discovered armed Indians taking positions to surround the church.  The minister immediately cried out “Indians!  The Indians are upon us!”.  The assembly was quickly on an organized run to William Ward’s house which had been fortified for such an emergency.  Flanked by the men with their muzzle-loading blunderbusses, the congregation reached the Ward house in safety; all except Moses Newton who was struck at the elbow by a musket ball while helping an aged woman.

With almost the entire population confined at William Ward’s garrison where they were secure, the Indians were free to burn nearly all the other buildings in the town, which they did, and slaughtered the livestock and hacked the fruit trees.  The Meeting House was of course burned.  But the English managed to send a messenger to Sudbury for help, and before daybreak a considerable troop of Sudbury and Marlborough men found the Indians encamped in the north part of Marlborough, where they had gone into deep slumber from the effects of the food and drink they had taken from the home they burned.  At dawn, after choosing well their positions, the English fired into the Indian camp and killed over one hundred and the rest fled back to Mt. Wachusett.

The Indians needed food, and they also needed a great victory to build up their morale, and to curb the English for future months while the Indians could be panting and harvesting their crops if they were to exist at all.  Accordingly King Philip on April 19, 1676 made an all-out attack on Sudbury, Mass., in which several Marlborough men going there to assist in the defense of that adjoining town were killed.  The battle continued for nearly three days.  Troops were sent out from the Boston area in response to urgent calls for help, but arriving at Sudbury they took the road to Marlborough, arriving here late at night without having seen an Indian.  They should have taken the road leading toward Lancaster through the northern part of Sudbury.

At Marlborough some of the troops were too exhausted to go farther, but Marlborough men filled the ranks and a return march to Sudbury was made.  In the early morning they fell into an ambush at what is now South Sudbury, and although they managed to fight all day they were eventually annihilated.  Several Marlborough men were killed.  Meanwhile troops from Concord and other towns arrived and the Indians withdrew to Rhode Island, where after a few months, Philip was killed.  This terminated any hold that the Indians had in southern New England and they rapidly disappeared from this area.

Although the eastern Massachusetts Indians never recovered from then war and their numbers rapidly decreased to the point of near extinction, Marlborough was not free from Indian incursions as the results of alliances of the Canadian Indians with the French of Canada in that series of European wars that, from 1692 until 1760, found the English on one side and the French on the other.  In the American Colonies they were called the “French and Indian Wars”.  There were many raids made here by Indians from the vicinity of Montreal, who would come down Lake Champlain and across Vermont and then strike easterly to annoy the English towns of Massachusetts.  Marlborough was usually the place nearest to Boston to feel these raids, not that this town offered much in the way of defenses, but having arrived this far from their Canadian base, it was time for the Indians to head home with prisoners to be ransomed by the English through negotiations with the French officials as intermediaries.

In 1704 a party of Indians surprised a group of Marlborough men and boys, all by the name of Rice, who were working in a flax field.  One boy was killed, and four, aged 7,8,9 and 10 years old were taken to Canada by the Indians.  Two of the boys were ransomed later, but the other two, Silas and Timothy Rice grew up as Indians near Montreal and became chiefs.  Timothy as a chief of the Canawaga Indians visited Boston in 1740 for the purpose of conferring with government officials about the wars, and also visited his old home (now in the newer town of Westborough) but could speak little English.  Today there are Indians in Canada by the name of Rice.

In 1705 John Bigelow of Marlborough and two Lancaster men, Elias Sawyer Senior and Junior, were taken captive and brought to Montreal.  Bigelow being a carpenter, and the Sawyers’ sawmill operators, they worked out their ransom for the French governor by building on the River Chamblay, the first sawmill in the Canadian Country.  They were away from home two years.  After his return Bigelow named a newborn daughter Comfort, and then a second one Freedom.

On October 12, 1708 Jonathan Johnson, Jr. the son of blacksmith Jonathan, and the father of a large family was slain in Marlborough by Indians.

In 1707 many h0omes in Massachusetts were fortified for protection against Indian raids and families in their vicinity were assigned to them for their protection.  A troop of horsemen, under Captain Thomas Howe, was kept ready to repel Indians.  On August 18, 1707 a band of twenty Indians captured two men in a hayfield.  One, Daniel Howe, managed to escape his guard by wrestling the Indian’s gun from him and breaking it over the Indian’s head.  He spread the alarm and Thomas Howe’s troop took off up the Post Road route to find the raiding band.  At Stirrup Brook crossing (now at the Northborough boundary) they found that the Indians had assailed the Garrison House of Samuel Goodenow and had captured Mary Goodenow, a lame girl, who had been in a nearby field with her sister-in-law gathering herbs.  The sister-in-law managed to get back to the Garrison, but Mary could not run, and in giving herself up, contrived a delaying action to afford the other girl more time to escape.

After an hour or so spent in trying to find a safe entry to the Garrison, (which was defended by only one man, with the women keeping his muskets loaded) the Indians withdrew westerly along the Post Road or the Connecticut Path, along which Captain Howe’s men followed them.  Howe’s troops were joined by a troop from Groton town at evening, and having scouted out from where the Indians encamped for the night about ten miles into Lancaster territory, they waited for dawn, and made an attack killing a few Indians and capturing their packs.  In one pack was found the scalp of Mary Goodenow.  The body of Jonathan Wilden, the other man captured at Marlborough, was found, he having been killed by the Indians at the start of the daybreak attack.  Not being equipped for further pursuit, Captain Howe’s men returned to Marlborough, and then next day, August 20, Mary Goodenow’s body was found a short distance from the Garrison which had been her home, and was buried at that spot in a patch of woodland.  There a stone monument was later erected over her isolated grave.

Eventually the threat of Indian violence was gone.  Within a few decades the race in this section of the country had become extinct.  However, the stories of these original inhabitants and the days of Whipsuppenike are among the treasured and colorful pages of the history of Marlborough.

 

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