The vision of the Pilgrim forefathers disembarking from the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock is the starting point for many people’s idea of significant history in the New World. More exactly, it is a pivotal point in American history. It started a new chapter, but it is only a brief moment in a much longer narrative of life on this continent. That story is one of men and women whom have lived for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. Archeologists have discovered evidence to support the claim that local Mashpee villages have existed for 5,000 years with an unbroken continuum of habitation to the present. Our extensive history, therefore, is not predicated on the single instance in which our ancestors greeted the Pilgrims as they landed upon the shores of America. Rather, this moment enriched the history of the Mashpee as a community tied to the land on which we have existed for thousands of years. We are proud to have been part of this historically significant event and many since.
Since that meeting our history has been shared with the European settlers.However, our experience has not always lived up to the promise of that first meeting inPlymouth.Former Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Glenn Marshall
in his testimony to the U.S. House Resoures Committee,
March 31, 2004
But wait a minute. If Marshall's testimony about being the Tribe that met the Pilgrims isn't entirely true, then how come the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe would appear to take credit for it on their website.
"The Wampanoag welcomed a gaunt and exhausted group of Pilgrims on November 9, 1620."
Upon the Mashpee's Federal recognition, our own Governor, Deval Patrick also seem convinced:
"For a tribe that greeted the Pilgrims when they landed on the shores of Massachusetts, this recognition is long overdue," Patrick said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the tribe to move Massachusetts forward."Dennis Whittlesey, all-around vampire and Indian gaming attorney to the stars, repeats it like gospel.
"The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is the tribe that met the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock"
And naturally, former tribal chairman, pathological liar and convicted rapist Glenn Marshall continues to say it all the time.
"Recognition as a sovereign nation has saved the tribe that met the Mayflower."
But, like I said, that doesn't make it true.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe did not 'meet' the Pilgrims - so much as they tried to kill them.
After much hardship and 65 days at sea the Pilgrims actually spotted land on November 9, 1620 - but made landfall two days later at the tip of the Cape - in a spot known as Long Point - on November 11th. Over the next month they would explore the coast of Massachusetts, looking for the best place to settle.
When the Pilgrims finally 'met' the inhabitants of the New World, it happened here at 'First Encounter Beach' in the area of present day Eastham, where a group of the Pilgrims searching for food had made camp, and a campfire, for the evening.
The Tribe inhabiting these parts at the time were the Nausets.
The Nauset were never numerous. The original population was probably around 1,500 in 1600 before the epidemics. In 1621 there were about 500 Nauset, and this number remained fairly constant up until 1675. Following the King Philip's War, the Nauset were joined by the remnants of other New England tribes displaced either by warfare or English settlement. In 1698 nearly 600 of this composite group were concentrated at Mashpee. An epidemic during 1710 reduced them to about 300. Through the years, the native community at Mashpee has become associated with the Wampanoag, although many of its members are descendents of the Nauset. The current population is about 1,100.According to Nathaniel Philbrick's book, Mayflower,
"Suddenly the air was filled with arrows."And...
(The Pilgrims) estimated that there were at least thirty Indians "although they were many more yet in the dark of the morning." Backlit by the fire, the Pilgrims standing at the entrance of the barricade were easy targets, and the arrows came thick and fast. As the French explorer Samuel Champlain had discovered fourteen years earlier on the south coast of Cape Cod, the Indian's bows and arrows were fearsome weapons.Furthermore, the skirmish
...could hardly be considered a victory. The Pilgrims could not blast, fight, and kill their way to a permanent settlement in New England. But after the First Encounter, it was clear that goodwill was going to be difficult to find here on Cape Cod.
So who is this Philbrick guy? Well, according to the Mashpee's press release upon receiving Federal recognition, Philbrick
offered his congratulations to the tribe and said, "This is a truly historic occasion. As a resident of the Cape and Islands who has spent many years examining the events of the past, all I can say is, 'It's about time!' Congratulations to the Mashpee Wampanoag people."But as far as I can tell, he's a good writer and researcher with an obvious love for Cape Cod and it's history, and who, as such, has attempted to give more balance to our region's Native American's experience. According to this 2006 article about Mayflower in the Boston Globe,
In Philbrick's telling, both English and Wampanoags were complicated, psychologically and morally, and torn by various pressures. ''These are people on both sides who are bright, sometimes desperate, sometimes motivated by positive or negative reasons, but they're not the paper saints we grew up with."and...
Philbrick writes about the complex balances between various tribal groups: the Pokanokets, the Nausets of Cape Cod, the Rhode Island Narragansetts, the Massachusetts near Boston, and several others who later came to be known collectively as Wampanoags. The political arrangements among these groups were destabilized by the arrival of the English, igniting new rivalries and tensions. Some, like the Massachusetts, came to despise the English, while others threw in their lot with them. Early on, the shrewd Massasoit bet on the right horse, forging an alliance with Plymouth that brought 55 years of peace.So, who were the Wampanoags? It appears that they were more of a 'confederacy' than a single tribe.
In 1616, John Smith erroneously referred to the entire Wampanoag confederacy as the Pakanoket. Pakanoket continued to be used in the earliest colonial records and reports. The Pakanoket tribal seat was located near present-day Bristol, Rhode Island. Wampanoag means ‘’People of the First Light.’’ The word Wapanoos was first seen on Adriaen Block's 1614 map and was the earliest European representation of Wampanoag territory. Other synonyms include ‘’Wapenock, Massasoit’’ and ‘’Philip's Indians’’.According to this website detailing 'First Nation' histories:
In 1600 the Wampanoag probably were as many as 12,000 with 40 villages divided roughly between 8,000 on the mainland and another 4,000 on the off-shore islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The three epidemics which swept across New England and the Canadian Maritimes between 1614 and 1620 were especially devastating to the Wampanoag and neighboring Massachuset with mortality in many mainland villages (i.e. Patuxet) reaching 100%. When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, fewer than 2,000 mainland Wampanoag had survived. The island Wampanoag were protected somewhat by their relative isolation and still had 3,000. At least 10 mainland villages had been abandoned after the epidemics, because there was no one left. After English settlement of Massachusetts, epidemics continued to reduce the mainland Wampanoag until there were only 1,000 by 1675. Only 400 survived King Philip's War.The Aquinnah (600 members but without a reservation) have been successful toward that end, winning federal recognition in 1987. And despite being turned down by the federal courts in 1978, the Mashpee (with a little help from their friends) won Federal recognition in early 2007. The rest is history.
Still concentrated in Barnstable, Plymouth, and Bristol counties of southeastern Massachusetts, the Wampanoag have endured and grown slowly to their current membership of 3,000. The island communities of Wampanoag on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket maintained a population near 700 until a fever in 1763 killed two-thirds of the Nantucket. It never recovered, and the last Nantucket died in 1855. The community Martha's Vineyard has sustained itself by adding native peoples from the mainland and intermarriage, but by 1807 only 40 were full-bloods. Massachusetts divided the tribal lands in 1842 and ended tribal status in 1870, but the Wampanoag reorganized as the Wampanoag Nation in 1928. There are currently five organized bands: Assonet, Gay Head, Herring Pond, Mashpee, and Namasket. All have petitioned for federal and state recognition..
Further, while crediting even more groups to the Wampanoag confederacy, Wikipedia still makes the distinction between the Mashpee and the others: The Gay Head or Aquinnah of Martha's Vineyard (Federally recognized as a separate tribe desperately seeking a casino), the Chappaquiddick of Chappaquiddick Island, the Nantucket of Nantucket Island, the Nauset of Cape Cod, the Mashpee of Cape Cod, the Patuxet of Eastern Massachusetts - on Plymouth Bay, the Pokanoket of Eastern Massachusetts, near present-day Bristol RI, the Pocasset of present day north Fall River, and the Herring Pond of Plymouth Cape Cod.
It's all very confusing. But perhaps this map might help you visualize things better.
As you can see, at the time of the Pilgrim's landing, tribes were quite dispersed geographically across Cape Cod, Southeastern Mass and Rhode Island.
Disease had greatly effected the balance of power of tribes in our area. The Narragansett tribe, unlike many of the other Eastern Tribes, was not as effected by the epidemics and numbered some 20,000. Massasoit, chief of the disease-decimated Pokanoket tribe, and supreme leader of Wampanoag Nation, disliked and feared the Narragansetts.
According to Philbrick,
In addition to disease, what were described as "civil dissensions and bloody wars" erupted throughout the region as Native groups that been uneasy neighbors in the best of times struggled to create a new order amid the haunted vacancy of New England.But...
Massasoit had his allies. The Massachusetts to the north and the Nausets on Cape Cod shared the Pokanokets antipathy to the Narragansetts. Numerically the Pokanokets were at a decided disadvantage, but this did not prevent Massasoit from attempting to use his alliances with other tribes to neutralized the threat to the west.A year before the Pilgrims arrival, an Indian named Squanto, who had been abducted and taken as a captive to Spain many years earlier, returned home with an English explorer named Thomas Dermer, only to discover his village of Patuxet, uninhabited - wiped out completely by the epidemics.
Squanto took Dermer to Nemasket, a settlement about fifteen miles inland from Patuxet, where Squanto learned that not everyone in his village had died. Several of his family members were alive and well. He may already have begun to think about reestablishing a community in Patuxet that was independent of Pokanoket control.It would seem that, despite attempts by the modern day Mashpee Wampanoags to lay claim to all of Wampanoag civilization, there is ample evidence that this region was home to many diverse and distinct tribal entities which historically, and to this very day, maintain their own culture and identity.
In fact, the State already recognizes many other Wampanoag tribes like the Chappquiddick, the Herring Pond, the Pocasset and the Seaconke.
And furthermore, the fact that the Mashpee Wampanoag won Federal recognition without mentioning the present day town of Middleboro (site of the Namasket or Nemasket Tribe) even once in their application speaks volumes to the individuality, geography and sovereignty that these separate "villages" embraced and maintained despite the centuries, and in defiance of disease, war, colonization and assimilation.
But simply put, the Mashpee Wampanoag didn't meet or welcome the Pilgrims. They and others continue to perpetuate that myth for the purpose of some good PR or to influence decision makers.
Like it or not, Federal recognition was given (unfairly or not) specifically to the Mashpee Wampanoags and the Aquinnah Wampanoags. Not to the 'Wampanoag Nation'. And not to the Nemasket, who lived where the Mashpee want to build a casino, and not to the Pautuxet, who inhabited modern day Plymouth where the Mayflower finally came to a rest, not to the arrow-wielding Nausets, and not to the Pokanokets whose leader in Rhode Island sent a messenger to make contact with the Pilgrims.
And not even to the Abenaki - a tribe from Mohegan Island on Maine's southeast coast, whose ancestor was that messenger, a guy named Samoset, who really was the first person in the New World to meet with the pilgrims - on March 16, 1621 - and long after they'd left the boat.