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

The Journey to Wamesit

"Another party"

The events leading up to Ashpelon's raids on Hatfield and Deerfield appear to have been set in motion long before his party returned to the Connecticut River valley. Multiple factors as well as multiple events happening in unison imply that the journey southwards and the subsequent movements of the Native parties were part of a highly organized mission with multiple objectives in mind.

The captive Benoni Stebbins explained that, prior to the raids on Hatfield and Deerfield, Ashpelon’s party “came fro Canada 3 Months agoe, & had bin Hunting & were doubtfull whether to fall on Northampton or Hatfield, [and] at last resolved on Hatfield.”[1] Samuel Gardner Drake wrote that “another party left Canada at the same time, who, after separating from the former, directed their course towards Merrimack, and this was the company who persuaded to compelled Wanalancet to go with them.”[2] Merrimack is the name that became commonly used by colonists for the MolĂ´domak River. This is the central river of Penacook territory. It can be seen on the map below, winding by Wamesit into Sobagw, the Atlantic Ocean. 


Two parties seem to have split from the original company, one moving toward Wamesit, on the MolĂ´domak, and another toward Nashaway. The first split happened somewhere along the way between Canada and the arrival of Ashpelon's party in the lower Connecticut River Valley. As Gookin states: “This party of Indians...who were of the old enemy, and formerly neighbours...; who had fled to the French about Quebec, and were lately come from thence with the company of another ply of Indians, who were gone toward Merrimack.”[3] The way that Gookin describes the events, it sounds as though it could have been purely coincidental that these two parties left at the same time; however, the timing of these movements is significant. How likely is it that two parties, which had apparently left Canada at the same time, months before, would take action on the very same day and yet have nothing to do with each other?

On September 19th, the same day that Ashpelon's party performed the raids on Hatfield and Deerfield, the party of the first split “reached the place where Wonalonset, with eight men and some fifty women lived. He was a Penacook Sachem, who had been neutral through Philip's War. Partly by persuasion and partly by force, he was induced to remove to Canada, and the whole party moved towards Lancaster.”[4] George Sheldon suggests that Wanalancet’s party may have then “moved towards Lancaster” to join the other party at Nashaway. The light blue line ("Route to Nashaway") shows a likely path that Wannalacet may have taken to meet Ashpelon's rendezvous party at Weshawkim, in Nashaway territory, if events went as Sheldon believed. Along with the details here linking Wanalancet to Ashpelon's party, this timing is especially striking when placed in the larger context of the journey.

Wanalancet’s Departure

Still, there are questions raised about the circumstances of Wanalancet's departure from Wamesit. John Eliot writes that

a party of the French Indians (of whom some were the kindred of the Sachem's wife) very lately fell upon this people, being but few and unarmed, and partly by persuasion, partly by force, carried them all away. One with his wife, child and kinswoman, who were of our praying Indians, made their escape, came into the English, and discovered what was done.[5]

Eliot here speaks of a small number of people who decided not to go with Wanalancet to the north. These people, who “discover” what happened to the English, are almost assuredly the source from which local historians of the time found out the details of Wanalancet's move from Wamesit, such as the exact date. The picture that is painted by Eliot makes it appear that Wanalancet was more than reluctant to leave—it implies that he was, at least in part, coerced with the threat of violence.

Eliot is not the only one to invite his readers to view Wanalancet and his people as victims in this situation. Daniel Gookin goes as far as to give five different reasons that “may tend to excuse” Wanalancet for leaving.[6] Why would these missionaries be so invested in explaining--providing excuses for--the actions of a Native sachem? Colin G. Calloway explains that “historians have tended to view Indian leaders in static, one-dimensional terms, as ‘traditional’ or ‘progressive’, ‘warlike’ or ‘peaceful.’”[7] Gookin and Eliot are no exceptions to this. Gookin himself had met Wanalancet on multiple occasions. He goes on to describe Wanalancet as a “person not of a mischievous or bloody disposition, but of a prudent and peaceable spirit, and...was unwilling...that the English should receive any injury.”[8] Could Gookin and Eliot have been advocating for Wanalancet--protecting someone they saw as a “peaceful” praying Indian?
[1] “Letter from Major John Pynchon,” 53.
[2] Samuel Gardner Drake, The Book of the Indians, or, Biography and History of the Indians of North America: From Its First Discovery to the Year 1841, 98.
[3] Gookin, “Christian Indians,” 520.
[4] Stockwell, “Stockwell’s Relation,” 138.
[5] Eliot, “Letter from Rev. John Eliot,”128-9.
[6] Gookin, “Christian Indians,” 521.
[7] Calloway, Colin, “Wanalancet and Kancagamus: Indian Strategy and Leadership on the New Hampshire Frontier,” In Historical New Hampshire 43, no. 4 (1998): 264.
[8] Gookin, “Christian Indians,” 521.

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