Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip's War

Mary Namesit

Although most of the people taken captive at Cocheco were sent down to Boston, a small number of Native men were retained as scouts to guide the Massachusetts troops on the Wabanaki coast. In their letter to the Massachusetts Council, Richard Waldron, Nicholas Shapleigh, and Thomas Daniel noted, “your Pleasures being to have all sent down to determine their Case at Boston, hath been attended here keeping about 10 young men of them to serve in the Army...” These ten Native men were found suitable for a scouting mission, and Waldron retained “their relations” while they served in the colonial army. The rest were sent to Boston, despite Waldron’s admission that “the Indians being now on board & Coming towards you We that have been So far improv’d about them thought it Convenient to Inform how far they have kept the Peace made with us.”[1] However, in at least one case, a scout’s family was sent down to Boston with the rest of the captives, contrary to Waldron’s promise. One of the 10 scouts recruited, John Namesit, came back from his mission to find that Waldron sent his wife, Mary, to prison in Boston with their child.
Mary Namesit “had life & liberty promis’d and ingaged to her husband at Pascataway and was left at Cocheco whilst her husband with the rest of the army, went to Casco and Black Point.” [2] While her husband served in Captain Hunting’s troops on the Northern Front, Mary was sent “down” to the Boston prison with the “First Great Company of Indians” by Richard Waldron. [3] Importantly, Mary Namesit was not alone; accompanying her to prison was her “suckling child,” whom Waldron also captured at Cocheco. On November 20, the Massachusetts missionary Daniel Gookin intervened on their behalf after a visit from John Namesit. Gookin sent a letter from Cambridge with John to the Council in Boston petitioning for the return of Mary and certifying John’s legitimate position as a scout in the colonial army. The situation was dire, as Mary Namesit and her child faced not only imprisonment, but also the danger of enslavement. Correspondence between Waldron and Gookin reveals that Waldron had already sold Mary and her child to Thomas Deane and James Whitcome before their release. Responding to Gookin and John Namesit’s advocacy, on November 23, the Council ordered the “Prison keeper in Boston” to release Mary and her child so that they could be “delivered unto her husband.”[4] From these two exchanges, the paths of the Namesit family following the deceit at Cocheco can be envisioned, paths where John moved through Native spaces, but on colonial terms, and paths where Mary was moved as a captive of the English army, narrowly escaping the enslavement of her and her child.
Captive Movements

The map above shows Mary and John’s travels relating to the events at Cocheco. The yellow line shows Mary’s journey from Dover to Boston, where she was held in prison with her “sucking child” until late November, 1676, nearly three months after her original capture at Cocheco.[5] The red lines show John’s movements as he traveled from Dover to Black Point and Casco Bay, and then back down to Cocheco, where he found that his wife had been taken by Waldron and sold. From Cocheco, he traveled to Cambridge, where he met Daniel Gookin. On November 20, Gookin sent him with a letter to the Council in Boston appealing for the release of Mary. Finally, on November 23, the Council ordered “the prison keeper at Boston” to release Mary, and for Waldron to repay Thomas Deane and James Whitcome the amount they paid for her. From there, the Namesits perhaps traveled to Wamesit, along with Penacook leader Wanalancet, although it is possible they returned to Cocheco or went further north. According to Colin Calloway, some Penacook people traveled to Schaghticoke after the events at Cocheco; Mary and her husband may also have sought protection in the multi-tribal refugee village in New York.[6]
Return from Captivity

In the larger context of King Philip’s War, the chance of escaping from captivity was incredibly slim. The fate of those taken at Cocheco reflects this reality. As Gookin wrote,

When they were sent to Boston, accusations came against some of them by English captives escaped, that some of them were in arms against the English, (how true these accusations were God only knows, for ‘tis very difficult, unless upon long knowledge, to distinguish Indians from one another,) however, the testimony of the witnesses against them were admitted, and some of them condemned to death and executed, and others sent to the Islands out of the country; but some few were pardoned and reconciled, whereof Wannalancet and six or seven of his men were a part, and the Wamesit Indians, Sam Numphow (hardly escaped), Symon Betokam, Jonathan, George, a brother to Sam Numphow, and very few other men, but several women and children, who lived among the rest. [7]

Mary and her child were likely among these women and children. Her release from prison is a rare example of redemption. The Council ordered Waldron, who received payment for her sale, to “repay unto Thomas Dean & Mr. James Whitcome so much mony as they paid him for them.”[8] Along with the captives taken from Machias and then brought home from the Fayal Islands, Mary is one of the few Native people who were restored from slavery and returned to their relations. Hundreds of others did not have the same chance. Sent through Boston and other colonial ports, they were then taken out into the Atlantic World, where they become members of enslaved Native communities in Barbados, the Azores, and other far-away islands. For those to whom Mary returned home, her redemption was likely a constant reminder of the act Waldron committed in 1676. As historians Mary Beth Norton, Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney have shown, the aftermath of the events at Cocheco reverberated throughout the next generation, contributing to the killing of Richard Waldron in 1689 and even the raid on Deerfield in 1704.[9] Furthermore, the loss of hundreds of Native people to slavery challenges dominant captivity narratives. Not only were Native people captured and sold into slavery, they also sometimes returned home. These returns happened despite attempts by the English to sell Native people to places far from their networks of relations.
Beyond Captivity

Mary Namesit’s return home was only one part of her story. We know very little about the beginning of her life, but the word “Namesit” may refer to Wamesit. If so, it is possible that she and John both came from there.Wamesit was both a “Praying Town" and a traditional gathering place, a fishing falls, located at an important intersection of multiple Native communities. The Namesits may have been at Cocheco in 1676 as refugees from the war or for other reasons, such as the peace treaty pursued earlier that summer. At Cocheco, Captain Hunting recruited (or coerced) John as a scout for a mission heading further north. Mary may have even been held in captivity at Cocheco before prison in Boston in order to guarantee John’s service. We do know that her removal to prison constituted a form of punishment. Prison conditions were harsh, especially for a woman with an infant child. Her release was never guaranteed, despite the amnesty promised to her by the Massachusetts Bay Government. Did Mary know she had already been sold into slavery before John was able to redeem her? The fear of permanent separation not only from her homelands, but also from her family, must have haunted her. It is hard to believe she did not leave embittered towards Richard Waldron and his unfulfilled promises.
Waldron's Deceit

For his part, Richard Waldron refused to admit any wrongdoing in the capture of Mary; in his letter,he wrote to Major Gookin,

as to ye Squaw you mention belonging to one of Capt. Hunting’s Souldiers, there was such a one left of ye first Great Company of Indians 1st [sent] down which Capt. Hunting desired might Stay here til himselfe & her husband Came back from Eastward which I consented to & how she came among ye company I know not I requiring none to go down to Boston but those that came in after ye Armies departure neither knew I a word of it at Boston when I disposed of them so twas her own fault in not acquainting me with it.

Despite blaming Mary, Waldron agreed to reimburse Whitcome and Deane and to “sett [Mary] at liberty being wholly innocent.”[10] Yet Mary’s capture, which is specified here as taking place before a potential second company was sent down, is clear evidence of Waldron’s deliberate deceit. His actions not only affected the Indians who had taken refuge and attempted peace, but also those who had been promised “life and liberty” by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.[11] Furthermore, the fact that Waldron received payment for Mary’s sale also proves that he had a financial stake in the capture of refugees and others. Waldron’s actions jeopardized diplomatic relations between the Penacooks and the English while provoking conflict further north in the Wabanaki country. 

[1] Letter from Richard Waldron, Nicholas Shapleigh, and Thomas Daniel, September 10, 1676, Massachusetts Archives, volume 30, document 218. Transcription in George Madison Bodge, Soldiers in King Philip’s War (Boston,1906), 307.
[2] Letter from Daniel Gookin sent with John Namesit to the council at Boston, November 20 1676, Massachusetts Archives, volume 30, document 228.
[3] Letter from Richard Waldron to Daniel Gookin, October 2 1676, Massachusetts Archives, volume 30, document 226. Transcription in Bodge, Soldiers in King Philip’s War, 309.
[4] Order re: Mary Namesit and Jacob Indian, November 23 1676, Massachusetts Archives, volume 30, document 228a.
[5] Daniel Gookin letter for John Namesit, November 20, 1676, Massachusetts Archives volume 30, document 228.
[6] Colin G. Calloway, Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 81.
[7] Daniel Gookin, “An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England,” in Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society 2 (Cambridge, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1836), 492.
[8] Massachusetts Archives  30:228a.
[9] See Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), , 82-83, and Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, “Revisiting The Redeemed Captive: New Perspectives on the 1704 Attack on Deerfield,” in After King Philip’s War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England, ed. Colin G. Calloway (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1997),  22-23.
[10] Massachusetts Archives 30:226.
[11] Massachusetts Archives 30:228.

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