Sarah of Wamesit
In November 1675, the Wamesit leaders Numphow and John Line composed a letter en route to Penacook, when they received word that their Chelmsford neighbor, Thomas Henchman, had sent a local Native servant, Wepocositt, to persuade them to return, by order of the Massachusetts Governor and Council:
Numphow and John Line expressed their desire to go toward the north, “where Wannalancet” was, where they might find the protection they did not receive from their neighbors or the colony. They spoke specifically of a particular incident, in which they were wrongly blamed for burning a barn “full of hay and corn” in Chelmsford. Although the people of Wamesit had remained “peaceable,” on November 15, according to Daniel Gookin, “about fourteen armed men from Chelmsford,” under pretense of going upon a scout, sought to “go to the wigwams of the Wamesit Indians, their neighbors, and kill them all.” As he reported,
I, Numphow, and John a Line, we send a messenger to you again (Wepocositt) with this answer, we cannot come home again, we go towards the French, we go where Wannalancet is; the reason is, we went away from our home, we had help from the Council, but that did not do us good, but we had wrong by the English. 2dly. The reason is we went away from the English, for when there was any harm done in Chelmsford, they laid it to us, and said we did it, but we know ourselves we never did any harm to the English, but we go away peaceably and quietly. 3dly. As for the Island, we say there is no safety for us, because many English be not good, and may be they come to us and kill us, as in the other case. We are not sorry for what we leave behind, but we are sorry the English have driven us from our praying to God and from our teacher. We did begin to understand a little of praying to God. We thank humbly the Council. We remember our love to Mr. Henchman and James Richardson.
Sarah’s father, John, was, as Gookin noted, a leader at Wamesit, and she had married Native men from neighboring towns, part of the marriage alliances that helped to rebuild regional networks in the wake of epidemics. She had first married John Tahattawants, who came from a leadership family on the Musketaquid River, then, after his death, had married Oonamog of Okkanamesit, who died in 1674, just before Gookin’s tour of the mission communities. As Gookin noted, the “youth slain was” the “only son” of Sara’s “first husband; his grandfather, old Tahattawan, was a Sachem, and a pious man” of Musketaquid and Nashobah (Concord and Littleton).
…they came to the wigwams, and called to the poor Indians to come out of doors, which most of them readily did, both men, women, and children, and slew outright a lad of about twelve years old, which child’s mother was also one of the wounded; she was a widow, her name Sarah, a woman of good report for religion. She was daughter to a Sagamore, named Sagamor[e] John, who was a great friend to the English, who lived and died at the same place. Her two husbands, both deceased were principal Sagamores, the one named John Tahattawan, and the other Oonamog, both pious men, and rulers for the praying Indians, one at Marlborough, the other at Nashobah.
The “murderers” of Sara’s son, whose “names were Lorgin and Robins,” were “seized and committed to prison,” but when tried, “were cleared by the jury,” which Gookin attributed to their “prejudice,” rather than “want of evidence,” as they claimed. This “cruel murder and fight” Gookin noted, “occasioned most of those poor Christian Indians to fly away from their wigwams not long after.”
In their November letter, Numphow and John Line also spoke of their unwillingness to go to Deer Island, where the people of Natick were already contained. Indeed, after they wrote their letter, and some of their party returned to Wamesit, an order arrived from the Massachusetts council to “secure” the Indians at both Concord and Wamesit, “either at Deare Iland or in the places where they live” and to ensure “they be all disarmed.”
These documents reveal how few options were available for women like Sarah. Although she was from a leadership family, and had married into leadership families, which were ostensibly under the protection of Massachusetts colony, both she and her child proved vulnerable, with few avenues for security. She could remain in her town, under the “protection” of local settlers, which put her and her kin at risk of further vigilante violence, as well as being caught in the crossfire of war. Indeed, in a letter written in December, Numhpow, John Line, the teacher Simon Betomkom, and Samuel Numphow, expressed their concern for what would happen to them should “the Indians….come” and do “mischief” now that “snow” was “on the ground.” Alternatively, Sarah could either willingly go, or be forcibly taken, to Deer Island, where she might face the worst of winter, with little to no options for shelter and subsistence. Or she could head toward the north country, where she might find shelter from the storm. However, as further correspondence showed, even remaining at Wamesit, or traveling north late in the season, could potentially lead to dire circumstances, with not enough food to subsist, and winter coming on. Many Native people in the mission communities, realized, as winter arrived, that their routes to survival and subsistence were severely curtailed, even as they still sought to remain “peaceable” in their places.