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Coercion and Consent in the Dartmouth Deeds
Contributed by Cassandra Hradil
In 1674, as in 1666, three deeds were retroactively entered into the Plymouth Book of Records. Although dated 1659, 1665, and 1673, these three deeds appear consecutively on one page.
An x-mark is a sign of consent in a context of coercion; it is the agreement one makes when there seems to be little choice in the matter. To the extent that little choice isn’t the quite same thing as no choice, it signifies Indian agency. To the extent that little choice isn’t exactly what is meant by the word liberty, it signifies the political realities of the treaty era [...] it signifies power and a lack of power, agency and a lack of agency.
Signs of ConsentThe first document, dated October 6 1659, appears to be a confirmation of an earlier deed, known as the Freeman’s Purchase, and an acknowledgment of Namumpum's (Weetamoo) receipt of a "third part of the pay," for "lands as Woosamequin and Wamsutta sold to the purchasers; as apeers by deeds given under theire hands." The Freeman's Purchase, covering a large tract in northern Pocasset territory, was a deed that was coercively negotiated by colonists to settle Wamsutta's "debt." However, the October 1659 confirmation, with "the marke of Numumpum" does not refer explicitly to any particular tracts or bounds, leaving the extent of the "lands" explicitly vague. 
The second deed, dated June 8 1665, describes in detail “the bounds of Acushenak Acoaxet and places adjacent,” as “sett” by John Sassamon, which is confirmed by "the marke of Philip," made "in the presence of John Sassamon" and Plymouth leaders Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth. Below it, also dated June 8 1665, is another acknowledgement by Philip that he “Received all dues and demaunds; any way at any time due unto us” in exchange for the “purchase” of Acushnet and Acoaxet.
The third deed, dated September 10, 1673, refers to the same bounds "marked by John Sassamon," with acknowledgment by Wampanoag men from Sakonnet, “the former opposers of the westermost Ranges,” of the Dartmouth tract. With this deed, the men "surrendered" to "the purchasers of the towne of Dartmouth" all their "Right title Claim and Interest" of the land "within those bounds." Written beside the third deed is a brief “resignation” by Mammanuah, here designated as “Sachem of Saconett side,” confirming his consent to the 1673 Dartmouth deed. Mammanuah’s resignation is dated June 25, 1674.
Below these deeds on the same page appears a division of these lands among “the purchasers of the township of Dartmouth.” This division also occurred June 25, 1674.
These deeds tell a story about the complex and often coercive re-writing of Native space in the years leading up to King Philip’s War. They show how colonists wielded the pen as readily as the sword to accomplish their aims. And when read carefully, they have the power to illuminate Native power, presence, and resistance, even as their writers sought to remove, literally and symbolically, indigenous presence from the land.
ContextIn June 1652, the Plymouth court wrote a grant promising that “the old comers,” the first generation of male settlers in Plymouth, would “have libertie to looke out and make choise of such place or places as they can find.” Essentially, the Plymouth men were attempting to ensure that the land they claimed in Wampanoag country would be reserved, and granted, to themselves. Among the places they selected were the land between Acoaxet and Achushnet, in Wampanoag territory, east of Sakonnet and south of Pocasset. By November of 1652, they had secured a deed with the marks of Ousamequin and Wamsutta granting land at Acoaxet and Acushnet to “the Purchasers or oldcomers,” fulfilling Plymouth’s promise. The “Purchasers” began calling this land Dartmouth.
The map below shows the approximate boundaries on the land described by each deed on this page. As the map shows, the 1665 "setting" of the bounds actually extended the size of Dartmouth significantly. The original 1652 deed did not set a specific northern boundary - a vagueness that conceals the way that the 1665 "setting" was indeed an extension northwards into Pocasset.
CoercionThe deeds that record "purchases" from Indigenous leaders often arose directly from grants made by the Plymouth men to their own. These deeds arose from the need for documented Indigenous consent to colonial grants. For example, the November 1652 deed that “purchased” Acushnet and Acoaxet from Ousamequin and Wamsutta follows directly from the June 1652 grant in which Plymouth promised land to its own people. It suggests that the indigenous leaders’ signatures served as a formality in the colonial process of dismembering indigenous land - “the agreement one makes when there seems to be little choice in the matter,” as Scott Richard Lyons puts it.
Plymouth leaders would continue to use past deeds to lend credence to new land claims and expansions. In 1665, the deed signed by Philip was framed as an extension of the original tract described in the 1652 Acoaxet and Acushnet deed:
The framing of these 1665 boundaries in reference to the Acushnet and Acoaxet deed of 1652 is more than merely a geographic point of reference; it is a rhetorical choice that establishes this particular document as a natural extension of the earlier colonial deed. It naturalizes the process of deeding. It aligns the colonization of this tract of land with the characterization of settlement as a steady, inevitable force - a mischaracterization that continues to be perpetuated in progressive narratives of history. Additionally, as the 1665 deed references the “order of Court” of October 1664, the deed claims to be a formalization of an earlier agreement with Philip. The document’s writers thus treat this deed as a matter that has already been settled. By basing its current claim to “consent” upon an agreement with Philip from the year before, this deed circumvents Philip’s sovereignty over the land by treating it as an affair of the past.
Wheras according to an order of Court held att Plymouth bearing date the third day of October Anno dom: 1664, wherin Phillip Sagamore of Pokannokett &c.: was desired to appoint an agent or more to sett out and Mark the bounds of Acushenak Coaksett and places adjacent The said sachem sent John Sassamon on the 19th day of November in the yeare aforsaid, to acte in his behalfe, in the premises whoe hath sett the bounds of the said Tract, and tracts as followeth; viz: Att Acushenah three miles to the East, according to the deed bearing date November 19: 1652. from a black oake Marked on foursydes; Runing upward North into the woods eight miles and downwards south… Att akoaksett from a white oake marked on foursydes standing on the westsyde of the head of the Cove, Ranging up into the woods North six miles an half to a great pond, unto a white oake Marked standing upon the westsyde of the pond, one mile on the eastsyde upwards, to a blacke oake Marked on foure sydes standing neare a maple tree, on the side of the said pond about the Middle of it, which pond is Called Watuppan.
In a similar vein, the 1673 deed of Mammanuah, the son of Awashonks, and the subsequent “confirmation” in 1674 speak both to a narrative of naturalization and an elision of Indigenous authority. This deed documented newly achieved consent from Mammanuah and three other men who were the “former opposers of the westermost Ranges of that tract of land,” even as it sought to extend the western bounds of the Dartmouth grant “up into the woods Northerly so far as Saconett.” Although Mammanuah's authority to “surrender” the land was contested by his own relatives, including his mother and uncle, Plymouth nevertheless recognized him as “Sachem of Saconett side.” Mammanuah’s cooperation allowed Plymouth to circumvent the authority of women leaders like his mother, Awashonks, and Weetamoo. By adding the consent of Mammanuah not once, but twice, to this set of deeds, Plymouth sought to prove beyond a doubt that they had a just claim to the land all the way up to Pocasset territory at Watuppa Pond - as claimed in the 1665 deed with Philip's mark of consent, and again in this 1673 deed.
Finally, Weetamoo's consent is recorded on the same page, extending a consent ostensibly recorded in 1659, to an expansion in 1665. Although the document echoes language in the Freemen’s purchase, which is northwest of Dartmouth (and even further in the heart of Pocasset territory), the geographic vagueness of the deed’s language makes it appear to encompass Dartmouth, as well :
These are to witnesse to all whom it may Concerne that I, Namumpum, Squa Sachem of Pokeesett, haveing in open court June last holden att Plymouth in fifty-nine, before the governour and majestrates, surrendered up all that Right and title of such lands as Woosamequin and Wamsutta sould to the purchasers; as appears by deeds given under theire hands, as alsoe the said Namumpum promise to remove the Indians of[f] from those lands; and alsoe att the same court the said Wamsutta promised Namumpum the third part of the pay, as is expressed in the deed of which payment Namumpum have received of John Cooke, this 6 of Oct. 1659: these particulars as followeth: items: 20 yards blew trading cloth, 2 yards red cotton, 2 paire of shooes, 2 paire stockings, 6 broadhoes and 1 axe; And doe acknowledge received by me, Namumpum.
By describing the land only as “such lands as Woosamequin and Wamsutta sould to the purchasers,” and by juxtaposing this deed with two other “Indian deeds” of consent to Dartmouth, the colonial recorders made Weetamoo’s deed appear to refer to Dartmouth, with the “goods” given to her by Dartmouth leader John Cooke, recording a sign of her acquiescence. The statement is vague enough that it could be applied to any and all deeds on which Ousamequin and Wamsutta’s names appeared, even as it explicitly referenced the original 1652 Acoaxet deed. Once again, by basing its language upon an earlier deed, the 1659 deed naturalizes the process by which this land was transferred to colonial control.
This strategy of naturalization also helps explain why these three deeds were only recorded at this time. By including deeds that were allegedly dated from 1659, 1665, and 1673, the record-keepers created a mythos of inevitability around their encroachment on Native lands. These deeds from these dates, placed together, create the impression of steadily increasing settlement over time.
Additionally, that these deeds appear in 1674 tells us something about the motive for their recording. On July 4, 1674 (the very same day that Mammanuah wrote his “confirmation” surrendering the land to the northwest of Dartmouth), a group of Dartmouth “purchasers” met to confirm the bounds of their township. Indeed, a record of this meeting appears on the very same page of the colonial records as these Dartmouth deeds from 1659, 1665, and 1673. In 1674, then, a very clear reason emerged for the Dartmouth settlers to establish a documented basis for their claims to the land. Moreover, as the juxtaposition of these documents shows, these claims were taking material shape, in the form of allotments into property which would be distributed among these male settlers, to be sold and/or "improved." By recording this set of three deeds together in 1674, Plymouth leaders sought to establish a chronology of permissions and presence that would validate and naturalize colonial acts of settlement and division.
ConsentWhen Weetamoo asserted her sovereignty over the boundaries of her territory through Rhode Island leader John Easton in 1675, she challenged the way that the Dartmouth deeds recorded in 1674 encroached upon the heart of her land and deceptively implied her consent. Her determination to assert her sovereignty and control the bounds of her territory in the face of enormous pressure and manipulation recalls the importance of “consent” even “in a context of coercion.”
 Scott Richard Lyons, X Marks: Native Signatures of Assent (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010), 1-3. “Massachusetts Land Records, 1620−1986,” images, Family Search, (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99Z7-GYG?cc=2106411&wc=MCBR-PWY%3A61612701%2C362501701 : 22 May 2014), Plymouth > image 263 of 677; county courthouses and offices, Massachusetts. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Indian Deeds: Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691 (Boston: New England Historic and Geneaological Society, 2008), 294. Bangs, Indian Deeds, 263.