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

The Saunkskwa of Missitekw

This map, which is painted on blacktop at Mystic Lakes State Park, shows the Mystic River watershed, which was also the homeland of the Saunkskwa of Missitekw (Mystic River and headwaters). The English settlers described her as the Massachusett "Squa Sachem" or "Queen," but they never recorded her name. She was an influential female leader who helped to orchestrate a series of marriage alliances in the wake of devastating epidemics which rewove the network of relations on the Massachusett coast, enabling the survival of her kin. 

Cambridge was built in her territory and as historian Lucius Robinson Paige noted in his History of Cambridge, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay required the towns of Watertowne, Cambridge and Boston to “agree with the Indians for the land within the bounds” of their towns. The deed for Cambridge acknowledged her leadership as the "Squa Sachem of Misticke" and she continued to live on the west side of Mystic Ponds, at the headwaters. An early document shows that in 1643, colonial “cow-keepers” in Cambridge had to compensate the saunkskwa with six bushels of corn “for the damage done to her corn” by their cattle. Although the settlers of Cambridge and Charlestown pledged acknowledgment of the Saunkskwa's authority in Massachusett territory with an annual symbolic coat, the Massachusetts Bay Colony sought to place her and other neighboring sachems (including Ousamequin, for Quaboag and Showanon, for Nashaway) formally under their political authority only a few years later, in 1644, acquiring their signatures to a formal "covenant" of "submission," which was given in exchange for English “protection."

The Saunkskwa’s marriage to Patucket sachem Nanepashemet had represented a strong alliance between Massachusett and Patucket-Penacook homelands and people. Nanepashemet died as the result of a raid by Mi'kmaq traders from the north, during the epidemics that disrupted traditional trade networks. She subsequently married a surviving spiritual leader from their community, Webcowet. Her three sons were sachems in neighboring territories, with the Mishaum or Charles River being a meeting place of the Pawtucket and Massachusett homelands. Wonohaquaham or Sagamore John lived at Winisimet, just downriver from Missitekw, which was also known as “Rumneymarsh,” Chelsea/Charlestown, on the lower Mystic River. Montowampate or Sagamore James of Saugus married Penacook sachem Passaconaway’s daughter Wenhus. Wenepokwin or George Nobhow lived at Naumkeag (Salem) and married Joane, a daughter of sachem Masconomet of Agawam, who greeted the English when they first arrived at Massachusetts Bay in 1630.  The Squa Sachem is also believed to have been the sister, or close relation to the sachem Chickatawbut of Neponset. In 1633 smallpox took her sons and many of their kin, which resulted in the removal of some of their children into colonial homes. Her son George Nobhow and her daughter, Yawata or Sarah, survived the epidemics and Sarah, her children, and some of her kin found refuge in the Native "praying town" of Natick. James and Thomas Quananopohit, who served as scouts for Massachusetts colony in King Philip's War, are believed by some historians to be direct descendants of the Saunkskwa and her children. The family's history and genealogy can be explored in David Stewart-Smith's essays and dissertation and in Ron Wiser’s research website, "Descendants of Squa Sachem." Readers may also explore this interactive map of the contemporary Mystic River Watershed, including the Mystic Lakes.

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