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Pocasset and Pokanoket Placenames, Wampanoag Country
For Weetamoo and her neighboring sachems, their lands were dynamic, storied ecosystems, crucial for subsistence and ceremony, used in accordance with seasonal cycles. Myles Standish, the military leader of the Plymouth settlers, described Ousamequin’s central home of Sowams, in the Pokanoket homeland, as “the garden” of Wampanoag territory, a fertile meeting place of tributaries, freshwater springs and tidewater estuaries, ideal for fishing and gathering, as well as agriculture. But his description erased the labor of the Native women, like Weetamoo, who cultivated the many “gardens” in Wampanoag territory. Here, extended families of women planted intercropped mounds on peninsulas, fertile bowls, naturally bounded by water, that provided plenty of space to plant and minimized conflict and competition over resources.These planting peninsulas of Pokanoket included Annawomscutt, just east of the river Seekonk; Sowams, Chachacust and Montaup to the north and south; Kickemuit, at the narrows, to the west, where a spring fed the streams; and across the narrows, Toowooset. The waterways surrounding these peninsulas provided vital shellfish harvesting and fishing, especially as the alewife and herring runs came through in the spring. Wampanoag families inhabited all of these places, with usage rights determined through ancestral bonds and council negotiation; stories, ceremony and longstanding adapted practice enacted fair distribution and sustainability of resources. The peninsulas and families were connected by a network of trails, canoe routes and kinship. Through councils and exchange, Wampanoag leaders attempted to draw their English neighbors into this network of relationships.
However, English men viewed the Wampanoag territory with an eye to division, seeking deeds and conducting surveys through which parcels of land could be allotted for sale and patrilineal inheritance. For example, in seeking title from Ousamequin and Wamsutta in 1652 to “Sowams and parts adjacent,” Plymouth settlers sought to cut the planting peninsulas into “necks” which could be used for “mowable land” and pasture, and eventually, divided into lots for plowing and planting furrows. With the deed, they laid claim to salt and freshwater meadow on either side of the “great river” of Sowams, drawing an imaginary line from Moskituash brook, the estuary stream that flows into Popanomsat (now Bullock’s Cove) and the Seekonk (or Providence) River, to the planting ground of Kickemuit.
Beyond Kickemuit and Toowooset, to the east, was Weetamoo’s homeland of Pocasset, including Mattapoisett, where Weetamoo spent much of her childhood. Paths moved east to Shawamet, across the Kteticut river (a crossing often made by canoe “ferry”) to the planting grounds at Assonet, which hosted spring herring runs at the narrows near Assonet Bay. Trails led east and south through the dense woods and marshes of the Pocasset hunting grounds to Weetamoo’s town at the falls of Quequechand. The river’s source was the ponds of Watuppa, with streams and trails leading south to the Acoaxet river and the adjoining coastal rivers of Sakonnet, Apponaganset and Achushnet, interconnected Wampanoag communities with prime shellfish gathering and fishing places.