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Norfolk Indians

The Norfolk area has long been thought to have been home to a large population of Indians during its history. Locals have for years dug for Indian artifacts such as points (arrowheads) and other remnants indicative of early Indian activity in the area. Several residents have extensive collections and although amateur digging of artifacts is strongly discouraged due to the non-scientific methods used and the absence of recovery record data the fact that these finds exist and have in the past been relatively easy to obtain lend credence to the stories of Indian settlements and hunting/fishing activities around the Charles River and other wetland areas. Recent archeological excavations in Norfolk have confirmed all of the above with the finding of points, flakes and other artifacts including radiocarbon dating of charcoal from campfires showing human activity at least as far back as 4,000 years ago in Norfolk. Information regarding this little known and less documented aspect of our history is truly one of the most important historical assets of our town to be preserved for generations to come.

This page will provide some general information relative to the Eastern Woodland Indians both pre-contact and post contact with the European settlers. Especially in regards to their relevance to Eastern Massachusetts and Norfolk's history.

ICE AGE - Glaciation in North America

The last Ice Age ended in North America about 10,000 years ago. During the most recent period of North American glaciation referred to as the Wisconsin glaciation - 70,000 to 10,000 years ago, ice sheets extended to approx. 45 degrees north latitude. This is the theoretical midpoint between the Equator and the North Pole. This line of latitude passes through the states of Maine, New Hampshire and New York. It makes up the border between the state of Vermont, and Quebec. The cities of Ottawa, Montreal, St. Paul and Millinocket, ME are on this parallel. The 45 degree latitude is an approximation as to the ends of glacial sheets in some areas it went lower than this as it did here in Norfolk, MA as we are at 42 degrees north latitude. We were covered by ice sheets between 1 and 1.5 miles thick.

Sometime after 23,000 years ago, the glacier reached its maximum advance, a position marked approximately by the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Within a few thousand years or possibly less, the ice sheet started to recede rapidly and by 18,000 years ago, it had retreated away from Cape Cod and into the Gulf of Maine. 15,000 years ago, the ice had left the Gulf of Maine and all of southern New England. As of 12,600 years ago the edge of the ice sheet had retreated much further northward near the present day Canadian border.

The Wisconsin glaciation left widespread changes in the North American landscape. The Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes of NY were carved by ice deepening old valleys. Other rivers were dammed and diverted to new channels, such as the Niagara, which formed a dramatic waterfall and gorge, when the water flow encountered a limestone escarpment. Long Island was formed from glacial till and large lobes of the great ice sheets were responsible for the location and overall shape of Cape Cod and the islands.

The term Paleo-Indians refers to the ancient peoples of America who were present at the end of the last Ice Age. The prefix "paleo" comes from the Greek palaios meaning ancient and refers to the Upper Paleolithic time period, the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age very broadly dating to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Some Paleo-Indians, referred to as Clovis people in North American archaeological literature, were believed to be the first people to have inhabited a large number of areas in the Americas. According to the land bridge theory most of us are familiar with from school, between 12,000 and 32,000 years ago adventurous Asian explorers first crossed an icy land bridge that is now covered by the waters of the Bering Strait. The Paleo-Indians migrated from eastern Siberia into present day Alaska. This theoretical land bridge (Beringia), that connected eastern Siberia with present-day Alaska, came into existence as the sea levels lowered as the glaciers tied up enormous amounts of water and exposed more land.

Recently however there is doubt as to whether the crossers of the land bridge were the first inhabitants of the continent as a whole. Significant new discoveries indicate that there may have been several, perhaps many, other pre-Clovis Paleo-Indian cultures in the Americas. Evidence suggestive of earlier human occupation in South America has generated an alternative theory that the first Paleo-Indians, or at least some groups of them, may have come from the Pacific Islands or mainland Asia by boat and thus didn't need to wait for the glacial expansion that exposed the Siberian land bridge.

Paleo-Indians are believed to have been nomadic hunter-gatherers whose following of animal migrations dictated where they camped. As the glaciers that covered much of today's Canada and the northern US receded in the warming climate, tundra foliage became the main plant growth and food supply for many of the animals. Paleo-Indians primarily hunted mastodons and mammoths, as well as prehistoric bear, bison, and caribou, all large animals which were able to live on the tundra. The Indians as well probably foraged for edible plants on the tundra. The Paleo-Indians are known to have hunted with both fluted stone-pointed wooden lancing spears and shorter spears that they would throw using an atlatl, a tool that aided spear throwing.  It consisted of a shaft with a handle on one end and a spur or cup on the other, against which the base of the spear rested. An atlatl could readily cast a well made spear to ranges greater than 100 meters. Paleo-Indians probably traveled in relatively small groups of approximately 20 to 50 members of an extended family but archaeological evidence of particular kinds of fluted-stone uncovered far from their native locations, suggest that trade occurred between these disperse groups. This early period of human occupation in the Americas, which covered the earliest Pleistocene period was formerly called the Lithic stage, the name is derived from the first appearance of stone tools. The term Lithic stage use has now been replaced by the more specific nomenclature Paleo-Indian.

PALEO INDIANS in New England

The earliest settlers to arrive in the New England area appeared about 12,000 years ago - based on radiocarbon dating. Prior to that perhaps as early as 16,000 years ago, early nomads had probably explored the area in the warmer months, leaving seasonally with the first indications of snow fall. The first inhabitants to take up residence in New England probably entered the area by trailing large game, such a caribou, musk ox and giant beaver, perhaps even mastodons and mammoths, as well, in the post glacial period. As trees, grasses and diverse vegetation gradually replaced the tundra and the larger animals left the area, cultivation of foodstuffs became a more dependable food supply than the pursuit of the vanishing big game.

Archaic stage Indians of the Americas are believed to be direct descendants of Paleo-Indians.

        ARCHAIC PERIOD  8000 BC to 1000 BC
        EARLY ARCHAIC   8000 BC to 6000 BC
        MIDDLE ARCHAIC  6000 BC to 3000 BC
        LATE ARCHAIC    3000 BC to 1000 BC

The Archaic period was the second period of human occupation in the Americas, from around 8000 BC to 1000 BC although as its ending date is defined by the adoption of sedentary farming, this date varies significantly across the Americas. The Archaic stage is characterized by subsistence economies supported through the exploitation of nuts, seeds and shellfish. The term "Archaic" in American archeological literature was first used to describe the cultural material, primarily lithic, chipped stone tools. Today, archeologists use the term to describe a temporal and cultural period, differentiated from the earlier Paleo-Indian period and more recent periods on the basis of stylistic differences in stone point types, the appearance of other artifacts, and changes in economic orientation.

Early Archaic (8000 BC to 6000 BC)

The Early Archaic time period is associated with the final glacial retreat on the North American continent. It is defined on the basis of chipped stone projectile point technology and styles. It is the introduction of new point types that differentiates the Early Archaic period from the preceding Late Paleo-Indian sub period and also represents the ongoing regional specialization first apparent in the Late Paleo-Indian. Excavations at Early Archaic sites near permanent water sources or along rivers have produced corner, basal, and some side-notched points.

Early Archaic culture appears to consist of a residentially stable hunting and gathering band society that seasonally occupied base camps along major water courses and used lithic and food resources within individual stream drainages. The diversity of the lithic tools included knives, perforators, drills, choppers, flake knives and scrapers, gouges, and hammerstones. Additional finds at Early Archaic sites sometimes consist of bone points, atlatl hooks, barbed points, fish hooks, and pins; shell adzes; wooden stakes and canoes; and cloth and woven bags. Like the Late Paleo-Indian sub period, it was presumed that the Early Archaic culture consisted of small mobile bands exploiting defined territories, but the increase in the number of sites and the recovery of nonlocal cherts* tend to support the thesis of an increase in population which resulted in larger numbers of bands that traded resources with each other.

        * chert - Chert, like flint, obsidian, and chalcedony, as well as some rhyolites, felsites, quartzites, was often
        used as a source material for stone tools. It fractures in a Hertzian cone when struck with sufficient force.
        The partial cones produced during lithic reduction are called flakes. Later it was discovered that when chert
        stone is struck against steel, sparks result, making it an excellent tool for starting fires. Both flint and chert
        were used in various types of fire-starting tools, such as tinderboxes. Chert was also used as flints for
        flintlock firearms, in which the flint or chert strikes a metal plate producing a spark that ignites a small reservoir
        containing black powder, discharging the firearm.

The Indians of Mexico, Central America and Western South America first began serious cultivation 8,000 to 9,000 years ago growing maize and beans - this new agriculture gradually spread throughout the continents, although it took several thousand more years for the agricultural practices to become well established with our local New England tribes. Seventeen of todays top 72 vegetables originated in the America's, as well as many fruits, nuts, seeds and medicinal plants. New England contributed significantly to the early pharmacopoeia by introducing witch hazel, slippery elm and sassafras among others.

Middle Archaic period (6000 BC to 3000 BC)

The Middle Archaic period is marked by a further intensification of regionalization of cultures. A variety of new chipped stone points and a series of ground stone tools and implements first appear in this period. These tools are used mainly for plant food processing. The Middle Archaic appears to involve a very generalized resource use strategy, including the hunting of a variety of animals and the gathering of wild plants, such as nuts, fruits, berries, and seeds. This period demonstrated the first occurrence of shellfish collecting within river valleys and along the seacoast. Finds at Indian base camps have been storage pits, remains of house floors, and prepared burials, all indications of increased sedentism. There was also another moderate increase in the amount of trade in nonlocal chert materials propably due to a continued growth in the Indian population during this period. Trade networks that focused on specialized resources developed when people began to live in sedentary base camps.

Late Archaic period (3000 BC to 1000 BC)

The Late Archaic period consisted of continued regional specialization using generalized subsistence technology to efficiently utilize the locally available plant and animal resources, for example, freshwater mussels. Rivers provided the basis for an expanded diet that included seed crops and native and tropical cultigens, suggesting that the Indians were experimenting with horticulture. Some Late Archaic cultures developed sedentary settlements based on the utilization of saltwater oyster beds. Some others developed large permanent towns with satellite communities. These were linked by the trade of exotic nonlocal lithic raw materials as well as in the production and trade of finished goods made from these materials. The treatment of burials, some containing some of these exotic trade materials, may indicate the beginnings of a hierarchy of individuals whose sole responsibility was to establish and maintain these trade networks. At the end of the Late Archaic, plain and decorated ceramics appeared during a change known as the container revolution. The appearance of this new technology defines the transitional period between the Archaic hunting and gathering societies and the emergence of more settled Woodland period villages and communities, where existence depended on a combination of horticulture and hunting and gathering. Finally, the Archaic saw the beginning of the southeastern US mound-building tradition that would further evole in the succeeding Woodland and Mississippian periods.


In eastern North America, the landscape of pine forest, swamps and lakes in the Archaic provided a diet of hickory nuts, freshwater mussels and gourds to supplement hunting. The use of gourds as fishnet floats may have led to their planting and cultivation. Simple cultivation may have begun as early as 6000 BC independently of advances occurring further south. The first earthworks start to appear as well as shell middens. Some sites indicate a kind of seasonal sedentism focusing on the cultivation of food sources along with river fish and game, hunted with the assistance of some of the earliest domesticated dogs. Seeds rather than maize was the main cultivated food source during the Middle and Late Archaic period in eastern North America. Selective breeding of sunflower, sumpweed and chenopod plants produced larger seeds which would have been unable to create without the human assistance.

The Woodland Periods follow the Late Archaic period.

        WOODLAND PEROD  1000 BC to 1 AD
        EARLY WOODLAND  1000 BC to 1 AD
        MIDDLE WOODLAND         1 AD to 500 AD
        LATE WOODLAND   500 AD to 1000 AD

(ending with European contact)


At the time of the arrival of the French and English most of the local Indian tribes had been well settled in the New England for at least the preceding 1,000 years however there were also probably a few scattered tribes that had arrived in the area more recently.

We will never know the exact number of Indians in New England just prior to the first European contact with the French and English however it is clear that they local population was well organized into villages - in excess of 325, connected by hundreds of well trodden pathways and worn deep by footsteps over hundreds of years of use. Amazingly an Indian messenger could travel a hundred miles in clear passage in a single day if the need presented itself. The current best guess of the Indian population of the New England area at the time of contact is estimated to be about 75,000 individuals - with approx 15,000 located in Maine and very few in Vermont. The remaining 60,000 or so populated the lands of the other four states of today's Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Local tribes were governed by a single leader, the sachem, while the individual villages were overseen by the sachem's local subordinates known as sagamores. Early Europeans noted that the New England Indians had cleared huge tracts of land for use in extensive cultivation - many areas in excess of 500 acres were located throughout the populated tribal areas. Here the Indians grew a variety of crops such as corn, tobacco, squash, Jerusalem artichokes, strawberries, cherries, mulberries, peas, beans and grapes. The shoreline of Plymouth that greeted the Pilgrims in 1620 was almost entirely cleared by the Indians, except for a few scattered trees. Native dwellings with their accompanying gardens had surrounded the harbor area.

Likewise the areas of today's Boston, Beacon Hill, Chelsea and Wollaston had been cleared of trees by the Indians. An extensive treeless plain stretched throughout Quincy and was known as the Massachusetts Fields. As early as 1524 an Italian adventurer, Giovanni de Verrazano cruised the New England coast and reported that he found the country "as pleasant as it is possible to conceive" with "open plains as much as 20 or 30 leagues (48 - 75 miles) in length, entirely free from trees" and so fertile "that whatever is sown there will yield an excellent crop".


Algonquian Indians are one of the most populous and widespread North American Native groups, with tribes originally numbering in the hundreds, and hundreds of thousands of individual l identified with various Algonquian peoples. This grouping consists of those Indians that spoke Algonquian languages.

Before European contact, most Algonquians lived by hunting and fishing, although quite a few supplemented their diet by cultivating corn, beans, squash and among the Ojibwe/Chippewa wild rice.

The Algonquians of New England, who spoke eastern Algonquian, practiced a seasonal economy. The basic social unit was the village of a few hundred people related by a kinship structure. Villages were temporary and mobile. They moved to locations of greatest natural food supply, often breaking into smaller units or recombining as the circumstances required. This custom resulted in a certain degree of cross-tribal mobility, especially in troubled times.

In warm weather, villages were constructed of light wigwams for portability. In the winter more solid long houses were built, in which more than one clan could reside. Food supplies were cached in more permanent, semi-subterranean buildings.

In the spring, when the fish were spawning, the natives left their winter camps to build light villages at coastal locations and waterfalls. In March they caught smelt in nets and weirs, moving about in birchbark canoes. In April they netted alewife, sturgeon and salmon. In May they caught cod with hook and line in the ocean, and trout, smelt, striped bass and flounder in the estuaries and streams. They put out to sea and hunted whales, porpoises, walruses and seals. The women and children gathered scallops, mussels, clams and crabs.

In April through October, they hunted migratory birds and their eggs: Canada geese, brants, mourning doves and others. In July and August they gathered strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and nuts. In September they split into small groups and moved up the streams to the forest. There they hunted beaver, caribou, moose and white-tailed deer.

In December when the snows began they recombined in winter camps in sheltered locations, where they built or reconstructed long houses. February and March were lean times. They relied on cached food, especially in southern New England. Northerners had a policy of going hungry for several days at a time. The northerners were food gatherers only. It is hypothesized that this policy kept the population down according to Liebig’s law. Liebig's Law for these purposes postulates that the growth of a biological population may not be limited by the total amount of resources available throughout the year, but by the minimum amount of resources available to that population at the time of year of greatest scarcity. That is, the growth of a population might depend not on how much food is available in summer, but on how much food is available in winter.

The southern Algonquians of New England relied predominantly on slash-and-burn agriculture. Some have argued this is probably due to a Norse influence based on names used that seem to be derived from the Old Norse. Fields were cleared by burning for one or two years of cultivation, after which the village moved to another location. This habit is the reason why the English found much of the region cleared and ready for planting. The native corn (maize), of which they planted various kinds, beans and squash improved the diet to such a degree that the southerners reached a density of 287 persons per square hundred miles, as opposed to 41 in the north.

Even with this mobile form of crop rotation, southern villages were necessarily less mobile than northern. The natives continued their seasonal occupation but tended to move into fixed villages near their lands. Society made the adjustment partially by developing a sex-oriented division of labor. The women farmed and the men fished and hunted.

By the year 1600, the Indian population of New England had reached an estimated 70,000-100,000.


At the time of the first European settlements in North America, Algonquian tribes occupied what is now New England, New Jersey, southeastern New York, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, all of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and were occasionally present in Kentucky. They were most concentrated in the New England region. The homeland of the Algonquian peoples is not known. At the time of the European arrival, the Iroquois federation was regularly at war with their Algonquian neighbors, forcing them to settle in regions unoccupied by the  Iroquois.

For about two centuries, Algonquians provided the main obstacles to the spread of Euro-American settlers, who concluded hundreds of peace treaties with them. Metacomet, Cornstalk, Tecumseh and Pontiac were all leaders who belonged to Algonquian nations.


Algonquian tribes of the New England area include Mohegan, Pequot, Narragansett, Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nipmuck, Pennacook, and Passamaquoddy. The Abenaki tribe is located in Maine and eastern Quebec. These tribes practiced some agriculture. The Maliseet of Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick, and the Micmac tribes of the Canadian Maritime provinces lived primarily on fishing. Further north are the Betsiamites, Atikamekw, Algonquin and Montagnais/Naskapi (Innu). The Beothuk people of Newfoundland are also believed to have been Algonquians, but they disappeared in the early 19th century and few records of them remain. In the west, Ojibwe/Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and a variety of Cree groups lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, Western Ontario and the Canadian Prairies. The Arapaho, Blackfoot and Cheyenne are also indigenous to the Great Plains. In the Midwest lived the Shawnee, Illiniwek, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, and Sac and Fox, many of whom have since been displaced over great distances through Indian Removal. In the mid- and south-Atlantic are the traditional homes of the Powhatan, Lumbee, Nanticoke, Lenape, Munsee and Mahican peoples.


The Wampanoag, Wôpanâak in their language, are a Native American people, who in 1600 lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in an area also encompassing Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Elizabeth Island. Their population numbered about 12,000.

Wampanoag leaders included Tisquantum/Squanto, Samoset, Metacomet/King Philip, and Massasoit. Modern Thanksgiving traditions are based on the Wampanoag’s interaction with the Pilgrims.

John Smith named the Wampanoag Pakanoket in 1616, after their chief’s village, which was located near present-day Bristol. This name was used frequently in early records and reports. The name currently used by ethnologists means ‘’Eastern People’’. The word Wapanoos was first seen on Adrian Block's 1614 map and was probably a description of all tribes living in the Wampanoag's general area. Other synonyms include ‘’Wapenock, Massasoit’’ and ‘’Philips Indians’’.

Gay Head or Aquinnah - western point of Martha's Vineyard
Nantucket - Nantucket Island
Nauset - Cape Cod
Mashpee - Cape Cod
Patuxet - eastern Massachusetts, on Plymouth Bay
Pokanoket - eastern Massachusetts, near present-day Bristol
Pocasset - present day Massachusetts and or present day Rhode Island
and approximately 50 more groups        


The Wampanoag were semi-sedentary, with seasonal movements between fixed sites. Corn (maize), beans and squash were the staples of their diet, supplemented by fish and game. More specifically, each community had authority over a well-defined territory from which the people derived their livelihood through a seasonal round of fishing, planting, harvesting and hunting. Because southern New England was thickly populated at the time, hunting grounds had strictly defined boundaries, and were passed on from father to son.

The Wampanoag way of life fostered a harmonious relationship between the people and their natural environment, both physical and spiritual. Also, they respected the traditions and the elders of their nation. The work of making a living was organized on a family level. Families gathered together in the spring to fish, in early winter to hunt and in the summer they separated to cultivate individual planting fields. Boys were schooled in the way of the woods, where a man’s skill at hunting and ability to survive under all conditions were vital to his family’s well being. The women were trained from youth to work diligently in the fields and around the family wetu.

A ‘’wetu’’ was the round or oval Wampanoag wigwam. To build them, several posts were placed in the ground, then bent in over a fire and bound together at the top. They were covered on the outside by grass or bark and had an exit hole for smoke at the highest point. A summer house like this was designed so that it could be easily dismantled and moved in just a few hours.

The Wampanoag were organized into a confederation, where a head sachem presided over a number of other sachem. The English often referred to the sachem as king, a misleading concept, because the position of a sachem was in no way like that of a king and allowed only restricted authority and few privileges. It was traditional, that if there was a lack of appropriate male candidates, a woman could become a sachem.


Wampanoag spoke Wôpanâôt8âôk, a dialect of the Massachusett Algonquian language. The name Wampanoag means 'people of first light' or 'people of the dawn'. They are also called Massasoit or Philip’s Indians. In the early historic records they were very commonly referred to as Pokanoket (Poncakenet).


Squanto or Tisquantum

There had been significant contact between the Indians and the Europeans long before 1620. The Vikings appeared of eastern Canada in the tenth century, other European groups probably also arrived before Columbus. British fishing vessels probably reached Newfoundland as early as the 1480s and worked there way south soon after. The earliest contact between the Wampanoag and Europeans dated from the 16th century, when merchant vessels and fishing boats traveled along the coast of New England. Most of these encounters were of a friendly nature. There were, however, also exceptions, because some captains of these ships were known to capture Native Americans and sell them as slaves in order to increase their earnings. In 1501, just nine years after Columbus' famous first voyage in 1492, the Portuguese adventurer Gasper Corte-Real abducted 50 some odd Indians from Maine. On examining two of the captives the Portuguese were astonished to find them wearing items from Venice - a broken sword and two silver rings. The only way Corte-Real was able to kidnap such a large number of individuals was probably because the Indians were already so comfortable dealing with Europeans that large groups would willingly board his ship.

16th century New England had approximately 100,000 Indians living in the area but primarily along the coast in shoreline communities. Patuxet (Plymouth) had been one of the dozen or so settlements in what is now eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island that comprised the Wampanoag confederation. The Wampanoag were aligned with the Nauset, which consisted of about 30 groups on Cape Cod and the Massachusett, several dozen villages clustered around Massachusetts Bay. Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian mariner, hired by the king of France in 1523 observed that the entire coastline from what today is the Carolinas to New England was "densely populated" , smoky with Indian bonfires. When Verrazzano anchored in Narragansett Bay near Providence, RI his boat was immediately surrounded by 20 or so long canoes and the head sachem leapt aboard unintimidated by his visit. In the summer of 1603 Martin Pring, a British trader anchored of Patuxet and camped there with a crew of 44, gathering sassafras. The Indians let the British stay there for seven weeks but then forced them to leave the area. By 1610 Britain had approx. 200 vessels operating of Newfoundland and the New England coast. Hundreds more were in the same area coming from France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. They all reported the area as thickly settled and well defended. In 1605 and 1606 Samuel de Champlain visited Cape Cod hoping to establish a French base there but he abandoned the idea when he observed that too many people lived there already !

In 1607 Sir Fernando Goges tried to found a British community in Maine with more settlers than the Pilgrims later brought to Plymouth and was better organized and supplied then them but the local Indians would have no part of this and drove them off after a few months. In 1614 Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame anchored of Patuxet to trade for furs. He was met by an Indian named Tisquantum aka Squanto and given a tour of the area gardens, orchards and maize fields. Later that year Captain Thomas Hunt, Smith's lieutenant returned to Patuxet and kidnapped 20 or so Wampanoags including Tisquantum and carried them off to Spain to be sold as slaves. as a slave. One of his victims - a Patuxet named Tisquantum or Squanto - was bought by Spanish monks, who wanted to "civilize" him. Eventually he was let to go free and despite his bad experiences he boarded an English ship again, in order to accompany an expedition to Newfoundland as a translator. From Newfoundland he ended up back at his homeland in southern New England in 1619, where meanwhile what Tisquantum saw on his return home was unimaginable. From southern Maine to Narragansett Bay , the coast was empty, "utterly void". what had once been a line of busy communities was now a mass of tumbledown homes and untended, overrun fields, scattered with skeletons bleached by the sun - a cemetery 200 miles long and 40 miles deep. The whole Patuxet tribe and with them, his family, had fallen victim to an epidemic, not a single person remained.


Unfortunately along with contact had also came a disastrous plague of disease probably viral hepatitis, spread by contaminated food, which decimated the local tribes between 1616 and 1619, just before the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. The "Indians died in heapes as they lay in their houses". The disease killed as many as 90 percent of all the coastal Indians in New England. When the Pilgrims explored beyond Plymouth they found abandoned villages and only a handful of Indians where previously there where known to have been thousands of inhabitants in the area. Massasoit the great sachem of the Wampanoag confederation had directly ruled a community of several thousand and held sway over a confederation of as many as 20,000. Now his local group was reduced to 60 people and the entire Wampanoag confederation was reduced to fewer that 1,000. Less than 20 years later 1633 to 1635, a smallpox epidemic hit the area further devastating the native population. The final blow to the native Indian population and culture resulted during the King Philip's War from 1675-1676.

Norfolk or North Wrentham is inextricably tied to that of Wrentham from which it was given birth in 1870 - so for our first documented contact with Indians in the area we go back to Jordan Fiore's "Wrentham: A History" where it is stated that Dedhamites were interested in and traveled to Wollomonopoag - the future site of Wrentham, gathering grass for cattle and surveying the area for future settlement. The New Englander's moved slowly, however, and by 1661 a committee was created to pursue the settlement, and 600 acres were set aside in the area for this purpose. In conformity with the requirements of the General Court, the ruling body of MA, plans were made to purchase the land from the Indians who were recognized as the valid owners of the land.

Metacomet, also known as King Philip, sachem of the Wampanoag Indians and their leader in King Philip's War, was the second son of Massasoit, the chief who had befriended the Pilgrims in 1621. Philip became chief in 1662 when his brother Wamsutta died. King Philip agreed to the sale of land to the Dedhamites for L24 10s. Later, when some of the Indians who lived in Wrentham claimed that they had not been consulted in the sale, arrangements were made to provide them with land within the town limits as compensation for land taken. In 1669 Philip claimed a tract of land which the colonists had believed had been part of their territory. Philip apparently bartered with the men for additional monies and a shirt - thus the whole amount paid to King Philip for his title to Wollomonopoag was L41 10s 8d and 1 shirt. The minutes of a meeting held 23 March 1663 indicate that some of the prospective settlers had already visited the area and made some improvements. These men were permitted to select lots first, and among them was Robert Ware. By the summer of 1671, Robert had settled his family on this lot in future Wrentham.


the King Phiip's War between the Indian inhabitants of present-day southern New England and the English colonists and their Indian allies was fought between 1675 to 1676. Nearly one in ten persons overall among Native Americans and English were wounded or killed. The war is named after the main leader of the Indians, Metacomet (c. 1639-August 12, 1676), Metacom, or Pometacom, known to the English as "King Philip" who became Sachem of the Pokanoket and Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy after the suspicious death of his older brother, the Grand Sachem Wamsutta, or "King Alexander", in 1662. Metacom's open distrust of the colony came to a head when Wamsutta suddenly died in Plymouth, while negotiating with colonial officials there. Wamsutta began negotiating against the interests of Plymouth Colony soon after the death of the colony's greatest ally, his father, Massasoit. For almost half a century, Massasoit had been able to maintain an uneasy alliance with the English soon after their arrival in order to use them as a bufferand counter-weight to his traditional enemies, the Pequot, Narragansett, and separatist Pequots, the Mohegan. While it was not Massasoit's intention, the price of having the English as allies was colonial incursion into Wampanoag territory as well as English political interference. Bristling at the increasing arrogance of the English, Metacom continued his brother's hostile policies, keeping in mind the original intent of his father's diplomacy. In 1671, the court in Plymouth attempted to coerce Metacom's people, the Pokanoket, as well as the allied Wampanoag to turn over many of their firearms to the colony. This only served to increase the suspicions of Metacom, and even some of his enemies, the Narragansett and Mohegan.

The spark that ignited King Philip's War was a report from a "Praying Indian" translator and advisor to Metacom named John Sassamon. Sassamon relayed to Massachusetts Bay Colony officials the news of an impending Indian attack on widely dispersed colonial settlements. Before colonial officials could investigate the charges, John Sassamon was murdered, his body found beneath an ice-covered pond, allegedly killed by Wampanoag angry at his betrayal. The colony arrested three Wampanoags, convicted them of Sassamon's murder, and hanged them on June 8, 1675 at Plymouth. The Wampanoag believed that the three had been framed and that the trial and the court's sentence were an insult - they responded on June 20, 1675.

The War

On June 20, a band of Pokanoketl, assaulted several homesteads in Swansea. they proceeded to lay siege to the town, destroying  it five days later. Officials from Plymouth and Boston were quick to respond, and on June 28 they sent an expedition that destroyed the Wampanoag town at Mount Hope - modern Bristol, Rhode Island.The war quickly spread, and soon involved the Podunk and Nipmuck tribes. During the summer of 1675 the Indians attacked at Mendon (July 14), Brookfield (August 2), and Lancaster (August 9). In early September they attacked Deerfield, Hadley, and Northfield. The New England Confederation declared war on the Indians on September 9, 1675. The next colonial expedition was soundly defeated in the Battle of Bloody Brook (near Hadley) on September 18. The attacks on frontier settlements continued at Springfield (October 5) and Hatfield (October 16). On November 2, Josiah Winslow led a force from Plymouth to attack the Narragansett tribe. Even thought the Narragansetts had not yet been involved in the war, they occupied desirable land throughout the colonies, and the colonial view at this point was that any Indian was an enemy. Several Indian towns were burned, and in December the Narragansett stronghold near modern South Kingstown, RI was taken. Known as the Great Swamp Fight, or the Great Swamp Massacre about 300 Indians were killed and their winter stores destroyed. Most of the warriors escaped into the swamp but they faced a winter without food and shelter, so the Narragansett joined the uprising.

Throughout the winter of 1675–1676 more frontier settlements were destroyed by the Indians. Attacks came at Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Groton, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Medford, Portland, Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Simsbury, Sudbury, Warwick, Weymouth, and Wrentham. The high-water mark for the combined tribes came in the spring of 1676. They reached and attacked Plymouth Plantation itself on March 12. Even though the town withstood the assault, the Indians showed that they could attack anywhere. All but five of the outlying settlements were deserted, and the colonists were thrown back to the seacoast. In May a militia force of 200, led by William Turner, set out from Springfield to destroy the Indian camp that had raided Hatfield. At dawn on May 19 they attacked the sleeping camp, and killed about 200 Native Americans. But they hadn't considered their withdrawal. Surrounding Indian camps closed in, and half the force, including Captain Turner, never made it home. Some braves also got into Springfield and burned substantial parts of the town while the militia was away.

It was a war of attrition, and both sides were determined to eliminate the other. The Indians nearly succeeded in driving their enemy into the sea, but their supplies were running out. The colonists however continued to be supplied by sea, and although the war ultimately cost them over £100,000, they emerged victorious. The Indian hopes for supplies from the French were not met, except for some ammunition in Maine. The colonists allied themselves with the Mohegan tribe to the west, and King Philip found his forces surrounded. With the help of the Mohegans, the colonists won at Hadley on June 12, and scattered the survivors into the wilds of New Hampshire. Later that month, a force of 250 Indians was routed near Marlborough, Massachusetts. The colonial militia had asked for aid from Britain and got it. Philip's allies began to desert him. By early July, over 400 had surrendered and Philip himself had taken refuge in the Assowamset Swamp, below Providence, Rhode Island. He was ultimately defeated there when he was tracked down by Rangers lead by Captain Benjamin Church at Mt. Hope where he was shot and killed by an Indian member of the group named John Alderman on August 12, 1676.


With Metacom's death, the war was largely ended. Over 600 colonists and 3,000 Indians had been killed. Several hundred more natives who had surrendered or been captured were executed or sold as slaves in the Caribbean. Other survivors were forced to join more western tribes, mainly as captives. The Narragansett, Wampanoag, Podunk, Nipmuck, and several smaller bands were virtually eliminated, while the Mohegans were greatly weakened. Sporadic raids continued on the far northern frontiers in Maine and New Hampshire. These were finally ended by treaty on April 12, 1678.
At its height, the war threatened to push the recently arrived English colonists back to the coast. As it was, it took decades for English colonial towns and cities such as Boston to recover from the damage to fields and homes. Although King Philip's War was not the first conflict between Europeans and Native Americans (previous conflicts include the Pequot War and the enslavement of natives in the Caribbean), to this day it remains the most devastating war per capita in the history of the United States.


When King Philip and his braves took to the warpath in June, 1675, the men of Wrentham did not appear concerned, and while towns to the south and east were attacked, they still remained on their farms. But Wrentham's strategic location could not go unnoticed by the Indians. It was in a direct line from Mount Hope to the western border towns and its destruction was only a matter of time. Finally, in March 1676, the settlers decided to abandon the settlement and remove their families to the safety of Dedham, where most of them boarded with relatives or friends. Wrentham was not spared. All but two of the houses in the town were destroyed, and these apparently were passed over due to suspected infection from small pox. There were no crops in the fields and the cattle and horses had undoubtedly been taken to Dedham, so the damage was not as severe as had occureed in some of the other towns. Since the settlement had been abandon, there was no loss of life. After King Philip's death at Mount Hope in 1676 and the execution of his chief lieutenant Annawan in Plymouth, the people of Wrentham returned to the settlement to rebuild their community in 1680.


The men of Wrentham played an active role in King Philip's War, and there is a strong local tradition of a great military victory over the Indians in the town of Wrentham. In March of 1676, Benjamin Rocket of Norfolk (Wrentham at the time) while searching for a stray horse in the woods about 3 miles northeast of the center of Wrentham came upon a band of forty-two Indians, just before the inhabitants moved to Dedham. Rocket followed the Indians until just after sunset when they decided to camp for the evening at a large rock outcropping in the present day area of what is now Jordan Road in the town of Franklin. Benjamin took note of the location and returned to the small settlement of his neighbors and sought out the men of the town to discuss what he had observed and what action should be taken. After making sure that the women, children and elderly were secured in their fortified homesteads, Rocket guided a small band of 13 men under the direction of Captain Ware, probably Robert Ware - one of the original settlers of Wrentham and the father-in-law of Reverend Samuel Man, through the evening to the site of the Indian encampment where they cautiously waited until dawn.

Between the first appearance of morning light and the rising of the new sun the Indians stirred and woke to the new day. Upon a prearranged signal the townsfolk all discharged their rifles at the same time into the midst of the awakening braves. The attack was sudden and unexpected causing a great deal of confusion followed immediately by attempts to flee the incoming volley of fire. In their desperate attempt to escape the only clear get away route was at far end of what is now ignominiously known as Indian Rock. This involved far more than a leap of faith. as this exit required vaulting down a nearly 20 foot precipice onto a bed of jagged rocks protruding dangerously from the forest floor. Those that were not killed in the initial shooting became easy prey for the settlers as they were certainly wounded or maimed when they fell upon the unyielding rocks in their desperate attempts to jump to escape. The battle was short and the victory complete, with the Indians being caught unawares in the early morning hour. Two of the injured braves were able to evade capture for a distance of about a mile when they came upon the waters of the Mill Brook probably just above today's Bush Pond area, near Buckley & Manns. They attempted to elude their pursuers by hiding in the waters of the brook, keeping all but their heads submerged. Their hiding place was quickly discovered and they were killed by the settlers.


Although The Battle Of Indian Rock is not recorded in any of the standard histories of King Philip's War - as has been said - there is a strong local tradition of a great military victory over the Indians in the town of Wrentham. Benjamin Rocket lived to an old age and told the story often, and received a pension from the General court. A Mrs. Clap, a granddaughter of Captain Ware, was born in 1712 and recalls hearing the story from her childhood. Some surprisingly detailed facets of the battle have also been passed down - for example it is said that one of the settlers, a Mr. Woodcock, discharged his long, buccaneer musket at a fleeing Indian, his target was said to be at a distance of some 80 rods or more and yet Woodcock’s bullet was able to break the Indian's thigh bone. Combine this with the fact that even as late as 1806 many persons recollected having seen the bones of the unburied Indians killed near Indian Rock during their lifetimes and the weight of these details and recollections lend a significant degree of credulity to the fact that The Battle of Indian Rock did indeed occur - involving our townspeople, in our own backyards, during the time of The King Philip's War.

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