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

Menimesit and Quaboag, 1675

Menimesit, an island place among marshes, provided an ideal location for Nipmuc leaders and their families to gather when war erupted in the summer of 1675, a place where they could safely deliberate outside the scope of colonial surveillance. It continued to offer refuge throughout the fall and winter, first to the many people coming from Nipmuc towns, then to Wampanoag and Narragansett people escaping colonial troops. 

At mid-summer, the vast marsh along the Menimesit (Ware) river flourished in green, with medicinal plants like Canada lily and joe pye weed rising from among reeds and grasses. For those gathered at Menimesit, the marsh offered not only refuge but sustenance – plentiful fish, edible plants, berries near peak ripeness, and access to the cornfields at Quaboag. For Massachusetts emissary Ephraim Curtis,  the thick vegetation must have presented a nearly impenetrable fortress, daunting in its indecipherability. He would have followed closely his guide from Okkanamesit as he led the men through trails along the marsh edge, navigating streams and grassy hillocks to avoid the thick mud that might suck horses’ hooves in deep should they make a misstep. Without his guide, Curtis would likely never have come close.

Menimesit was north of Quaboag, a Nipmuc town with villages on Quaboag Pond, Quacumquasit Lake (South Pond) and Wickaboag Lake, connected by the Quaboag River. Quaboag was at a crossroads of multiple trails, as well as multiple political and kinship affiliations, including ties with the Pocumtuck leader Onopequin and other communities in the Connecticut River Valley, with Uncas at Mohegan, with Ousamequin at Pokanoket, with Nashaway and other Nipmuc towns, as well as with the Massachusetts colony, as parties to the covenant of 1644. In 1665, the leaders Shattockquis and Muttaump signed a deed that allowed Massachusetts settlers to establish a small settlement, known as Quaboag Plantation, on "Foster Hill," which was the westernmost settlement in the Nipmuc country at the beginning of war. While the plantation was built between Quaboag Pond and Wickaboag Lake, the deed explicitly excluded the Nipmuc villages.[1]

Massachusetts military leaders joined local settlers in early August 1675 at Quaboag for an expedition to Menimesit. Because of the obscure, protected location of the sanctuary, they relied on Ephraim Curtis and three convert Indian scouts to provide navigation. The scouts included Sampson and Joseph Petavit, who were from James Printer's town of Hassanamesit, and George Memecho of Natick.

Like Job, Sampson had left Webquasset to serve as a scout, but the sachems of Webquasset and many of their families, as Curtis knew, had taken shelter in the marshes of Menimesit, including their “constable,” the man tasked with physically enforcing the rules, “Black James.” Sampson and Joseph’s assignment at Quaboag was to serve as interpreters for a demanded meeting with the sachems at Menimesit, but if they failed to appear, the brothers would have to guide the Massachusetts men beyond the meeting place at Quaboag, through the marsh, to pursue the containment of their kin. [2]
As one of the military officers, Captain Thomas Wheeler relayed in his report, 

On the 2d of August…Capt. Hutchinson…with 20 horsemen, and some of the principal inhabitants advanced…from the north end of Wickaboag pond…up the valley towards the principal rendezvous of the Natives, and as they were passing between a steep hill on one side and a swamp on the other, they were assailed by the Indians…Those who survived returned by a circuitous route to the town…informed by friendly Indians in their company.

It was the Petavit brothers who led the soldiers who survived out of the "deadly defile" between the Menimesit brook marsh and the hillside, where Muttaump, Monoco (of Nashaway) and the Nipmuc warriors created a perfect ambush, which prevented Wheeler and his troop from invading Menimesit. This ambush became known, in colonial memory, as "Wheeler's Surprise."

Following the ambush, a four-day siege ensued at Quaboag Plantation. The Nipmuc warriors created a blockade, essentially holding the military leaders, their soldiers, scouts and the settlers on Foster's Hill captive in the local tavern. They destroyed the structures of the settlement and provided cover while Metacom (Philip) made his way northward from Nipsachuck with his relations, some "forty men," and "women and children many more." The Nipmuc people of Quaboag offered and provided sanctuary to the Wampanoags and upon arrival, according to George Memecho (who was captured in the ambush), Metacom “presented and gave to three sagamores, viz. John, alias Apequinash [Monoco], Quanansit [of Pakachoag], and Mawtamps [Muttaump], to each of them about a peck of unstrung wampum, which they accepted” acknowledging their leadership and hospitality and binding the alliance among them. [3] 

Menimesit emerged as a stronghold for a multifaceted alliance. Its location was virtually undetected by the colonial military, until James Printer's brother Job and a fellow scout, James Quananopohit, traveled there in the winter of 1676 and subsequently revealed the location to colonial leaders. Both Weetamoo and James Printer were living at Menimesit when Job and James Quananopohit entered the encampment. During his time there, Job learned that the Nashaway leader Monoco, who, ironically, had protected Quananopohit, and an alliance of warriors were planning to raid the colonial town of Lancaster. Job traveled 80 miles on snowshoes to warn Massachusetts magistrates of the impending raid on Mary Rowlandson's town, but, questioning his loyalties, the magistrates did not act quickly enough to prevent the raid. Mary Rowlandson arrived at Menimesit in February 1676, and was there gifted to Weetamoo and her husband, the Narragansett leader Quinnapin. 
[1] Connole 146-9, Temple 26-32
[2] Gookin Historical Collections, 49-50. Gookin, Historical Account, 447. Temple, Brookfield, 79. 
Temple, Brookfield, 100-1. Slotkin and Folsom eds. So Dreadfull a Judgment, 91-2. Drake, Book of the Indians, 3:30. Henry Nourse, The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (Cambridge: J. Wilson, 1903), 89.

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