Tales of My Home
Stories about the Lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts
The broad strokes of the story are already intriguing:
First, we have an imperious colonial captain, Richard Waldron (or Walderne) who rules his frontier trading post at Cocheco (in modern-day Dover, New Hampshire) as his own personal fief. Although the towns of Hampton, Portsmouth, Exeter and Dover have temporarily come under Massachusetts jurisdiction (see Old Norfolk in the Glossary), this is an area where some settlers have claims to great tracts of land, Waldron being one of them.
He gains notoriety for his treatment of Quaker missionaries to this area in 1662. He forces them to march eighty miles through the area in the dead of winter, having them publicly whipped every ten miles. Our chronologer of the area, John Greenleaf Whittier, covered it in one of his poems:
Bared to the waist, for the north wind's grip
And keener sting of the constable's whip,
The blood that followed each hissing blow
Froze as it sprinkled the winter snow.
Waldron is also known for sharp practices ripping off his native American trading partners. For example, when they catch him putting his hand on the scales, he tells them his fist weights exactly a pound so they are not being deceived. The Indians nevertheless return to his post because of its proximity and convenience, and his supply of useful wares.
Then we have Kancamagus, grandson of Passaconnway, great sachem of the Pennacooks. In 1684, he appears on the scene, writing a letter to the governor, in which he calls himself John Hogkins, asking for protection against the Mohawks, ancient enemies of the New England indians. Whether the governor provided protection is not known. In any case, Kancamagus a.k.a. John Hogkins forswears the peaceable ways of Wonalancet, his uncle. In 1689, he vows to stand up to the English. Because there are barely any Pennacooks left to lead, he leads an alliance with the natives of the Androscoggin River valley.
Waldron in King Philip's War
In the native uprising of 1675 known as King Philip's War, Major Waldron signed a peace treaty with the local sachem, the hapless Wonalencet.
Below: The signature of Richard Walderne a.k.a. Waldron
As a gesture of peace after the treaty, in September 1676, Waldron invites his Pennacook trading partners into a playing a "game" with the company of men he commands. However, it's actually a trap. He proposes a mock "battle", in which the Indians are given a canon to use, with powder but no shot. While they are awed and distracted by this device, the 400 natives are surrounded by four companies of colonial men, and disarmed.
The Indians are then sorted, with the individuals known to be peaceable -- such as Christian converts living in the Praying Towns along the Merrimack -- allowed to go free. The remaining two hundred Indians are imprisoned and sent to Boston for trial. Seven are hanged for treason and the remainder are sold into slavery in Barbados.
Some accounts say Wonalencet himself was transported to Barbados, but managed to make his way back home. In any case, the authority of Wonalancet was shattered, and eventually his nephew Kancamagus took up the mantle of "sachem" of the Pennacooks.
Below: A nineteenth century illustration of the "Deceit of Captain Waldron" wherein the Indians are surrounded and captured. According to a 1989 commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of the "Cocheco Massacre", the event took place in a field where the parking lot for Aubuchon Hardware currently is.
Waldron in King William's War: The "Crossing Out of the Account"
Fast-forward thirteen years.
There is a new war between the English and the natives, known as King William's War. (See the Glossary.) Captain Richard Waldron is now Major Richard Waldron. He is an old man of means and status. For example, he had been the second president of the Royal Council of New Hampshire, a governing body created by the separation of Old Norfolk from Massachusetts.
His trading post, on the Cocheco River, is comprised of five garrison houses. He is warned that a large band of natives have assembled at Pennacook (modern-day Concord, New Hampshire), with the intent of attacking him. They are led by Kancamagus, who vows to avenge the false hospitality and deception that led to the destruction of his tribe.
Below: A surviving garrison house from the 1670s, photographed in the mid-nineteenth century
When warned about the threat, Major Waldron is dismissive. He is supposed to have said "let them go plant their pumpkins" --- which I guess means "go about your business and don't worry about it".
On the night of June 27, 1689, according to the Indians' plan of attack, two squaws requested permission to lodge in each garrison at Cocheco. This was apparently a common practice, to grant lodging to local Indians known to the colonists.
"No fear was discovered among the English, and the squaws were admitted. One of those admitted into Waldron's garrison, reflecting, perhaps, on the ingratitude she was about to be guilty of, thought to warn the Major of his danger. She pretended to be ill, and as she lay on the floor would turn herself from side to side, as though to ease herself of pain that she pretended to have. While in this exercise she began to sing and repeat the following verse:
O Major Waldon,
You great Sagamore,
O what will you do,
Indians at your door!
No alarm was taken at this, and the doors were opened [by the native women] according to their plan, and the enemy rushed in with great fury. They found the Major's room as he leaped out of bed, but with his sword he drove them through two or three rooms, and as he turned to get some other arms, he fell stunned by a blow with the hatchet. They led him into his hall and seated him on a table in a great chair, and then began to cut his flesh in a shocking manner. Some in turns gashed his naked breast, saying, "I cross out my account." [meaning, our account is now settled.]
Then, cutting a joint from a finger, would say, " Will your fist weigh a pound now'!''
His nose and ears were then cut off and forced into his mouth. He soon fainted, and fell from his seat, and one held his own sword under him, which passed through his body, and he expired. The family were forced to provide them a supper while they were murdering the Major.”
(From: The History of the Great Indian War of 1675 and 1676, Commonly Called King Philips War by Thomas Church (Hartford, 1851)(ed. Samuel G. Drake)).
Below: A nineteenth century depiction of the assassination of Major Waldron.
Kancamagus disappeared into the wilderness of the Androscoggin valley, along with twenty-nine captives to be held for ransom. Vengeance had been served. And so ends the tale of Major Waldron. Or does it?
Interpreting and Analyzing the Story
The "crossing out of the account" is a compelling narrative of deceit and retaliation. If you go further into the details, though, it is also important for illustrating how personal these battles (to the death) between English and Indians were.
Generally speaking, the attackers were not anonymous natives from afar. Everyone was known to everyone. And whole families were involved, with both sides capturing the others' wives and children to use as bargaining chips. This led to cycles of violence and retribution.
For example, Captain Charles Frost of Kittery, who commanded one of the four companies that captured the indians in Waldron's deceit in 1676, was hunted down and assassinated in Eliot, Maine on July 4, 1697. Frost himself had been inspired to treat the natives with hostility by an attack on his family in 1650, in which his mother and sister were killed.
Perhaps the most famous case of a cycle of personal vengeance was Jeremy Moulton's. At the age of four, his parents were killed and he was captured in the devastating 1692 raid on York, Maine, probably the most destructive Indian raid in New England. Fast forward to 1724, and he was leading the successful attack on Father Sebastian Rale, the French Jesuit missionary who instigated the attacks, killing him and many Indians at present-day Norridgewock, Maine.
In other cases, the connection was one of mutual mercy instead of mutual retribution. According to Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana [a.k.a. Ecclesiastical History of New England], Elizabeth Heard was a witness to Waldron’s deceit in 1676, and there she sheltered a young native Abenaki boy from death.
On the night of the Cocheco Massacre, an Indian pointed his musket at her, but suddenly spared her life because of the recognition of who she was. Her house, defended by William Wentworth because her husband had recently died, was not invaded.
Among the twenty nine captives taken during the Cocheco Massacre were Sarah Gerrish, the 7 year old granddaughter of Major Waldron, and Esther Lee, daughter of Richard Waldron along with her (presumably infant) child. Lee's husband was killed in the raid, and her infant child did not survive captivity. She and the little girl Gerrish her niece were both ultimately returned to Dover in a prisoner exchange.
The use of family members as captives ultimately led to the downfall of Kancamagus. In September 1690, an English force under the command of Capt. Benjamin Church located and attacked Kancamagus’s village on the Androscoggin River. Somehow, Kancamagus was able to escape the attack, but his family wasn’t so lucky. His sister was slain and his brother-in-law, wife and children were taken captive, although his brother-in-law was later able to escape.
Captain Church took the captives to Wells, Maine, where they were used to try to lure Kancamagus to the peace table. In response to the attack on his village and the capture of his family, Kancamagus launched an attack on Church at Casco, Maine, on Sept. 21. After a great deal of hard fighting, which resulted in the death of seven of Church’s men and 24 wounded, Kancamagus was beaten back.
With the English still holding his family hostage, Kancamagus was forced to make peace with the English at Wells. Following this agreement of peace, Kanacamagus was reunited with his family. After 1692, little is written about Kancamagus. It’s possible that once he recovered his family, he continued to fight alongside other Abenaki people, although that is purely speculation.
His name lives on in the scenic road well-loved by leaf peepers. However, I'm sure that, as tourists drive the Kancamagus Highway, they have scant knowledge of the story of his life.
Above: map of the Kancamagus Highway. Source: http://kancamagushighway.info/
Native American History and Poetic License
(a long read)
Once upon a time, so the story goes, about 1628 – right when the English puritans were beginning to arrive to claim their promised land around Massachusetts Bay – there was a wedding of a native princess.
She was the daughter of Passaconaway, the great Bashaba of the Pennacooks. The Pennacooks were the natives of the Merrimack Valley. Their domains extended from present day Haverhill all the way up to its headwaters along the Pemigewasset. The Bashaba made his home at a curve in the river, called Pennacook, site of present day Concord N.H.
The tribe and affiliated bands of natives – Wachusetts, Agawams, Wamesits, Pequawkets, Pawtuckets, Nashuas, Namaoskeags, Coosaukes, Winnepesaukes, Piscataquas, Winnecowetts, Amariscoggins, Newichewannocks, Sacos, Squamscotts, and Saugusaukes – also met at prescribed times at various sites along the river, usually to fish: for example, at the falls at Amoskeag, later the source of waterpower for the mills at Manchester, N.H.; Pawtucket, later the source of waterpower for the mills at Lowell; and at Pentucket, later called Haverhill.
According to a 1981 book on the Forgotten Salmon of the Merrimack, there were fourteen sets of falls on the mainstream of the Merrimack River, including on the Pemigewasset, where natives could have fished for salmon. The natives also met each year at the Weirs, fish traps designed to catch a bountiful harvest flowing out of swollen Lake Winnipesauke.
This is where she met her groom, known as Ahquedaukenash (meaning "dams" or "stopping-places"). In the present day it’s called Weirs Beach.
The groom was Montowampate, son of the “Squaw Satchem”, the female leader of the coastal Saugus Indians who took over when her husband Nanepashemet was killed battling their rivals, the Tarrantines, on August 8, 1619 in present day Ipswich, Massachusetts.
How do we know any of this? From written records of English settlers mainly, and retellings of the story.
The English settlers tell the stories of the Indians
Passaconnaway and Sagamore James, as he was known to the English, were undoubtedly historical figures who signed deeds and, in the case of the latter, sought redress from English authorities to protect his interests and who is described as wearing English clothes.
“Sagamore James went to Governor Winthrop on March 26, 1631, in order to recover twenty beaver skins of which he had been defrauded by an Englishman named Watts.” I hope to write more on the historical record left by natives in English colonial society, particularly the descendants of Nanepashemet who regularly tried to use the English courts to protect their land rights, in another blog entry.
The first telling of the wedding story of this (yet unnamed) princess, daughter of Passaconaway, was by Thomas Morton, founder of the ill-fated Merrymount Colony.
“The Sachem or Sagamore of Saugus made choice, when he came to man's estate, of a lady of noble descent, daughter to Papasiquineo [another name for Passaconnaway], the Sachem or Sagamore of the territories near Merrimack river, a man of the best note and estimation in all those parts, and (as my countryman Mr. Wood declares in his prospect) a great Necromancer; this lady the young Sachem with the consent and good liking of her father marries, and takes for his wife. Great entertainment he and his received in those parts at her father's hands, where they were feasted in the best manner that might be expected, according to the customs of their nation, with reveling and such other solemnities as is usual amongst them. The solemnity being ended, Papasiquineo causes a selected number of his men to wait upon his daughter home into those parts that did properly belong to her Lord and husband; where the attendants had entertainment by the Sachem of Saugus and his countrymen: the solemnity being ended, the attendants were gratified.
Not long after the new married lady had a great desire to see her father and her native country, from whence she came; her Lord willing to please her, and not deny her request, amongst them thought to be reasonable, commanded a selected number of his own men to conduct his lady to her father, where, with great respect, they brought her, and, having feasted there a while, returned to their own country again, leaving the lady to continue there at her own pleasure, amongst her friends and old acquaintance, where she passed away the time for a while, and in the end desired to return to her Lord again.
Her father, the old Papasiquineo, having notice of her intent, sent some of his men on embassy to the young Sachem, his son-in-law, to let him understand that his daughter was not willing to absent herself from his company any longer, and therefore, as the messengers had in charge, desired the young Lord to send a convoy for her, but he, standing, upon terms of honor, and the maintaining of his reputation, returned to his father-in-law this answer, that, when she departed from him, he caused his men to wait upon her to her father's territories, as it did become him; but, now she had an intent to return, it did become her father to send her back with a convoy of his own people, and that it stood not with his reputation to make himself or his men too servile, to fetch her again.
The old Sachem, Papasiquineo, having this message returned, was enraged to think that his young son-in-law did not esteem him at a higher rate than to capitulate with him about the matter, and returned him this sharp reply; that his daughter's blood and birth deserved more respect than to be so slighted, and, therefore, if he would have her company, he were best to send or come for her.
The young Sachem, not willing to undervalue himself and being a man of a stout spirit, did not stick to say that he should either send her by his own convey, or keep her; for he was determined not to stoop so low. So much these two Sachems stood upon terms of reputation with each other, the one would not send her, and the other would not send for her, lest it should be any diminishing of honor on his part that should seem to comply, that the lady (when I came out of the country) remained still with her father; which is a thing worth the noting, that savage people should seek to maintain their reputation so much as they do.”
So when Thomas Morton “came out of the country” in 1629 (a euphemism for “getting expelled by puritans”), the bride apparently was still stuck up the Merrimack away from her groom, because nobody would escort her back down to Saugus.
Later tellings of the story give her a definitive identity, Wenunchus. Alonzo Lewis, in his 1829 history of the town of Lynn (including Lynnfield, Saugus, Swampscott and Nahant, all of which were set off from Lynn), gives her this name… and also completes the story, sort of:
“My lady readers will undoubtedly be anxious to know if the separation was final. I am happy to inform them that it was not; as we find the Princess of Penacook enjoying the luxuries of the shores and the sea breezes at Lynn, the next summer. How they met without compromising the dignity of the proud sagamore, history does not inform us; but probably, as ladies are fertile in expedients, she met him half way. In 1631 she was taken prisoner by the Taratines, as will hereafter be related. Montowampate died in 1633. Wenuchus returned to her father; and in 1686, we find mention made of her grand-daughter Pahpocksit.”
Parts of the historical record of the English are very clear. According to the diary of John Winthrop, Montowampate and “almost all of his people” died of smallpox in September 1633.
Below: Montowampate on the seal of the Town of Saugus, Massachusetts
However, other historians have Wenunchus married to the younger brother of Montowampate, named Wenepoykin, a.k.a. Winnepurkett, called Sagamore George, who lived for many years, dying in 1684. Yet, even though he outlived his brother by half a century, his life was probably even more tragic. He was sold by the Puritans into slavery in Barbados in 1676 after being deemed a belligerent in King Phillips War...only to miraculously return like some lost prophet.
After his return, he retired to Wamesit, the Praying Town for settled Indians, where he lived out his days, dying in 1684. As the recognized leader of the Saugus Indians and thus owner of the land from Salem to Saugus, immediately after his death the townspeople of Marblehead descended upon his “heirs”, including his elderly wife (not Wenunchus), obtaining a deed for their town on September 14, 1684. The deed was signed by Ahawayet, and many others, her relatives. She is called "Joane Ahawayet, Squawe, relict, widow of George Saggamore, alias Wenepawweekin." (Essex Reg. Deeds, 11, 132.) I suppose you can still go down to the land records office in Salem and look at her signature!
The townspeople of Lynn and Salem soon followed suit, obtaining deeds from the heirs of Wenepoykin on September 4, 1686 an October 11, 1686 respectively. (Source: History of Essex County Massachusetts, 1888, by Duane Hamilton Hurd)
But what if Wenunchus married Wenepoykin, not Montowampate, but also didn’t survive the shuttling between husband and father?
This is the narrative tack taken, with some apparent poetic license, by one of the most famous poets of the mid-nineteenth century, and certainly the most famous poet until Robert Frost to be claimed by the lower Merrimack Valley region. (Robert Frost being claimed, rather surprisingly, by Lawrence because he graduated from Lawrence High School.)
I am talking about John Greenleaf Whittier.
The Story of Wenunchus in the Hands of John Greenleaf Whittier
John Greenleaf Whitter was born on an ancient farm in Haverhill in 1807. It was built by his first Whittier ancestor in Haverhill almost a 150 years earlier. Although Whittier was self-educated, by the time he died in 1892, he was the author of one of the most famous poems of the day, Snowbound. This long piece, published in 1866, describes being stuck in the farmhouse on a snowy day, and it made him well-off financially. He ran in literary circles, mainly on account of being mentored in his younger days by an earlier publisher of his works, William Lloyd Garrison, in Garrison’s Newburyport newspaper. Garrison introduced him to the abolitionist cause, and to many literary lights of his day. Through these connections and the recognition he received for Snowbound, the self-educated Whittier received an honorary degree from Harvard in 1877.
For his entire life, except for a spell of about three years working in New York and Philadelphia, he barely left the Haverhill-Amesbury-Newbury area. When Whittier did finally manage to see a bit of the world, it was mainly just places like the White Mountains and the Isles of Shoals. Whittier’s extreme provincialness, despite his involvement in the abolitionist movement and his honorary Harvard degree, is to me what gives his poems their authenticity. He is, to me, the voice of the historic lower Merrimack Valley. Snowbound is not just about being stuck indoors on a snowy day, it is about Haverhill and its history and setting. And one of his earlier epic tales, the Bridal of Pennacook, which tells the tale of Wenunchus and her marriage to [in Whittier’s version] Wenepoykin, whom he calls Winnepurkit, the poem is a vehicle for glorifying the entire Merrimack River, from the coastal sand dunes right up to the river’s highest headwaters.
About his poem, “The Bridal of Pennacook”
The poem was apparently written in 1844 but not included in any book of poetry for many decades. It is long – twenty five pages. It employs a conceit that the poem is composed spontaneously for entertainment by five hikers staying in a lodge near Mount Washington while the youngest of them recovers from her cold.
The five characters who together compose the poem for their entertainment are the narrator, a writer and a poet; a city lawyer, “Briefless as yet, but with an eye to see /Life's sunniest side, and with a heart to take/Its chances all as godsends”; his brother a student training to be a minister, “as yet undimmed/By dust of theologic strife, or breath/Of sect”; a shrewd sagacious merchant, “To whom the soiled sheet found in Crawford's inn, /Giving the latest news of city stocks/And sales of cotton, had a deeper meaning/Than the great presence of the awful mountains/Glorified by the sunset”; and the merchant’s lovely young daughter, “A delicate flower on whom had blown too long/Those evil winds, which, sweeping from the ice/And winnowing the fogs of Labrador.”
Whittier thus sets the scene:
So, in that quiet inn
Which looks from Conway on the mountains piled
Heavily against the horizon of the north,
Like summer thunder-clouds, we made our home
And while the mist hung over dripping hills,
And the cold wind-driven rain-drops all day long
Beat their sad music upon roof and pane,
We strove to cheer our gentle invalid
After the lawyer tells her stories of his (mis)adventures fishing in the Saco River, and the divinity student, “forsaking his sermons”, recites poems to her from memory, the narrator rummages through the musty book collection at the inn, where he finds “an old chronicle of border wars and Indian history.”
From this book the narrator reads aloud a summary of the story of Wenunchus and Montowampate, except in this version she is called Weetamoo (actually the name of a wife of a prominent native chief in Rhode Island) and, instead of marrying Montowampate, she marries that man’s brother Wenepoykin, whom he calls Winnepurkit.
Our fair one [i.e. the girl], in the playful exercise
Of her prerogative,—the right divine
Of youth and beauty,—bade us versify
The legend, and with ready pencil sketched
Its plan and outlines…
The self-taught Whittier tries to show his knowledge of classical Greek poetical forms, which I suppose was de rigeur for professional poets of the era. He does not say which character “versifies” which part of the Wenunchus story, but it might be possible to hazard a guess based on their supposed personalities.
In the first section, the poem sets the scene, describing the pre-contact Merrimack River itself, “ere [before] the sound of an axe in the forest had rung, Or the mower his scythe in the meadows had swung.” This section is in so-called Alexandrine meter, twelve syllables per line with a stress on the sixth and last, in simple A-A B-B rhyme.
Among other things, it takes the listener through the geographic features of the river: “Amoskeag's fall”, the “twin Uncanoonucs” stately and tall, the Nashua meadows green and unshorn, etc., all before “the dull jar of the loom and the wheel,/The gliding of shuttles, the ringing of steel” had invaded the river in the form of mills and waterworks.
In the next section, the poem describes the stern character of The Bashaba, i.e. the great chief Passaconaway, in a more complex format: paired quatrains, rhyming aaab cccb, with 7-7-7-5 syllables, while the first stanzas are longer, nine lines for the first, ababbaddd.
The character telling this section – the lawyer, perhaps? – weaves a tale of the awe inspired by Passaconaway:
Here the mighty Bashaba
Held his long-unquestioned sway,
From the White Hills, far away,
To the great sea's sounding shore;
Chief of chiefs, his regal word
All the river Sachems heard,
At his call the war-dance stirred,
Or was still once more.
In the third section, the poem describes The Daughter, Weetamoo. The description focuses on her mother’s death giving birth to her (a detail certainly conjured up with poetic license), and the joy she ultimately brings to her stern old father, who decides not to take another wife. The meter and rhyme for this section is rather simple, likely the work of the merchant character; for the rest of this blog piece I’ll refrain from detailing the rhyming scheme of each section.
The fourth section describes The Wedding itself:
The trapper that night on Turee's brook,
And the weary fisher on Contoocook,
Saw over the marshes, and through the pine,
And down on the river, the dance-lights shine.
For the Saugus Sachem had come to woo
The Bashaba's daughter Weetamoo,
The fifth section describes Weetamoo’s New Home with her new husband, in the coastal marshes of Saugus far from her mountain homeland. Whoever tells this part of the tale is rather uncharitable about the coastal terrain of Essex County:
A wild and broken landscape, spiked with firs,
Roughening the bleak horizon's northern edge;
And later, an equally dreary scene, it is contrasted with the mountain home of Weetamoo:
And eastward cold, wide marshes stretched away,
Dull, dreary flats without a bush or tree,
O'er-crossed by icy creeks, where twice a day
Gurgled the waters of the moon-struck sea;
And faint with distance came the stifled roar,
The melancholy lapse of waves on that low shore.
No cheerful village with its mingling smokes,
No laugh of children wrestling in the snow,
No camp-fire blazing through the hillside oaks,
No fishers kneeling on the ice below;
Yet midst all desolate things of sound and view,
Through the long winter moons smiled dark-eyed Weetamoo.
There is an oblique reference to Weetamoo's sexual awakening as a wife ("o'er some granite wall/Soft vine-leaves open to the moistening dew"). However section ends with her husband sending her back home to assuage her homesickness, escorted by soldiers:
Young children peering through the wigwam doors,
Saw with delight, surrounded by her train
Of painted Saugus braves, their Weetamoo again.
The sixth section describes her time back at Pennacook, at first enjoyable but then fraught with anxiety when her husband does not summon her back:
The long, bright days of summer swiftly passed,
The dry leaves whirled in autumn's rising blast,
And evening cloud and whitening sunrise rime
Told of the coming of the winter-time.
But vainly looked, the while, young Weetamoo,
Down the dark river for her chief's canoe;
No dusky messenger from Saugus brought
The grateful tidings which the young wife sought.
The clash of egos between her father and her husband overtakes the situation and she is forced to spend the winter up in Pennacook. The section ends with her fixing to leave as soon as the river thaws, by herself, down the Merrimack.
The seventh section, the Departure, describes her planning then and her actual flight. The river is swollen with rain and snowmelt, full of iceflows.
At first, she appears to be managing despite the danger:
Down the vexed centre of that rushing tide,
The thick huge ice-blocks threatening either side,
The foam-white rocks of Amoskeag in view,
With arrowy swiftness sped that light canoe.
However, things start to go wrong:
The small hand clenching on the useless oar,
The bead-wrought blanket trailing o'er the water…
It ends dramatically:
Sick and aweary of her lonely life,
Heedless of peril, the still faithful wife
Had left her mother's grave, her father's door,
To seek the wigwam of her chief once more.
Down the white rapids like a sear leaf whirled,
On the sharp rocks and piled-up ices hurled,
Empty and broken, circled the canoe
In the vexed pool below—but where was Weetamoo?
The final section of the poem, the Song of Indian Women, is a coda of sorts, sang by “the Children of the Leaves beside the broad, dark river's coldly flowing tide.”
The Dark eye has left us,
The Spring-bird has flown;
On the pathway of spirits
She wanders alone.
The song of the wood-dove has died on our shore
Mat wonck kunna-monee! We hear it no more!
You can read all of The Bridal of Pennacook by John Greenleaf Whittier online.
The poem should be read out loud for its full impact. I tried to do just that. You can watch my efforts reading the entire poem (which takes about an hour) at these videos below. Someday I’d like to replace the awkward video images of my contorted mug reading, with a slide show of the New Hampshire landscape to accompany the poetry.
Poetic license and appropriation of “other people’s stories”
John Greenleaf Whittier applied poetic license to the story handed down by Morton and others. He embellished it and added details for dramatic effect.
Should he be telling the story of Wenunchus at all?
Current cultural sensitivities caution against “cultural appropriation.” Because Whittier was not a Pennacook Indian, should he be writing poetry about Pennecooks? How about the fact that he sets up the poem around discovery of “an old chronicle of border wars and Indian history”? Does this make the poem about something likely to be found in old New England of the 1840s, when the memory of French and Indian wars was fresher, and the sight of actual Native Americans along the Merrimack could still be something of living memory?
And what if there are no Pennacooks left to tell the story? Can someone else tell the story? Should only native Americans tell the story? Some natives were enemies of the Pennacooks. For example, the Mohawks were fierce warriors who would raid Pennacook lands periodically from beyond the Hudson River and steal their grain stores. A huge battle between Mohawks and Pennacooks apparently occurred in 1615, when the Mohawks attacked Pennacook itself. Other tribes with which the Pennacooks sometimes battled included the Abenaki and the Taratines. I would argue that the inheritors of these tribes, some of which still exist, have no direct claim to the stories of the Pennacooks.
Do the current inhabitants of the Merrimack Valley region have a right to appropriate the stories of the Pennacooks? It is probably true that the settlement by the English starting in 1620, and the diseases they brought, followed by war and appropriation of land, led to the extinction of the Pennacooks. Does that mean the descendants of actors in the 1600 and 1700s are barred from telling these stories? How about the fact that many “tribes” arrived in the Merrimack Valley only after the Pennacooks were long-extinct: the Irish, the Italians, the French-Canadians, the Dominicans, the Puerto Ricans…do they have less or more of a right to tell these stories about the history of their present-day land?
My own belief is that artists can interpret any story, and whether it is offensive or not depends on specific presentation. It is never categorical based on some construct of the artists “tribe” versus that of his subject matter.
The poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier is largely forgotten, even among people who read poetry. A lot of it is sentimental and cliched, and comes across as long-winded and maudlin to me. But within his oeuvre, there are nuggets everywhere about the Merrimack Valley and his home. People can get reacquainted with the old stories of their home, simply by reading his works. The Bridal of Pennacook is one story that is worth retelling.
Maybe someday it will be turned into a musical?
Above: Hampton Beach along the seawall near Concord Avenue, circa 1946. My father is on the far left. Grandfather standing right.
Hampton Beach, N.H. holds a central role in my family's history. My maternal grandparents owned hotels and roominghouses there into the early 1960s, such as the SeaCoy right on the boardwalk (now the main branch of Blink's Fried Dough), and the Sunrise Motor Court, New Hampshire's first actual motel built circa 1920; and on my father's side, numerous uncles and grandparents had cottages that were the locus of much family activity every summer, on Concord Avenue just off the beach. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, visiting uncles on both sides who had family cottages there.
Above: Steetcar to Hampton Beach, circa 1910
Even though the streetcars started to disappear in the 1930s, replaced by automobiles, the travelroutes had been established between the mill towns of the Merrimack Valley and these beach resort areas, leading to a particular culture of the area.
Whether you went to Salisbury or Hampton depended on a variety of factors, sometimes outside of your control. Italians almost universally went to Salisbury, as did most French Canadians. This was partially due to a prejudicial attitude held by the fathers of Hampton Beach, who did their best to exclude certain groups. (See the report http://www.hampton.lib.nh.us/hampton/history/randall/chap3/randall3_2.htm). Hampton's town fathers apparently tolerated the Irish, although only the "better sort."
In any case, by the early 1960s, Hampton had the view that "Salisbury is inclined to be classed as a honky tonk by Hampton's advocates, who have always prided themselves on keeping Hampton Beach a family resort, free from liquor, ferris wheels, roller coasters and the other gimcracks which can clutter and choke a vacation community." (Report of the Hampton Beach Office of Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Development on the 1964 Riot).
Yet this snooty, "middle class" attitude of Hampton Beach did not prevent a series of increasingly serious youth riots from breaking out each year starting in 1960, culminating in the 1964 Labor Day riot. In that event, between 2,500 and 10,000 youth clashed with "40 local police, 68 auxiliary police and 85 state police, ultimately assisted by the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department, the New Hampshire National Guard and a contingent of Maine state police."
Below: Newspaper coverage of the riot. Source: Hampton Historical Society
"Miraculously, no one was killed, although both police and rioters sustained extensive injuries. The expressed desire of the youth to burn the Hampton Beach Casino was thwarted, but two small buildings were burned down by Molotov cocktails, and approximately 155 youths were arrested."
As the report in the riot noted, on an average summer day there may be 25,000 to 30,000 persons at Hampton Beach. And at peak crowd periods, such as holiday weekends, there may be 100,000 persons at Hampton Beach.
Furthermore, "Of the total population, probably 75% of those at the beach center and 50% of those in the entire Hampton Beach area are under the age of 25. Thus there may well be 10,000 to 15,000 young people at the resort at any given time during the summer, or up to 50,000 or possibly more on holiday weekends."
The part that interests me: Most of these youth were presumably from the mill towns of the Merrimack Valley: Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill.
Was their boisterousness related to local culture? Or were the riots more about "youth culture", the first hint that the "Baby Boomers" were going to be different, were going to expect to do things their way. How different was this riot from the Lawrence, Mass. riot of 1984?
One of the most interesting aspects of the post-riot report is the very detailed assessment of the various youth cliques that prevailed at Hampton Beach in the summer of 1964.
"1. The "C" Street gang" - young patrons and employees of the Patio Restaurant at the Ashworth Avenue end of C Street and of the Tiki Restaurant (in 1964 the Troll Bridge) near the Ocean Boulevard end of C Street. Probably 25 to 50 young people from this group were on the beach at all times through the summer; another 250 to 300 would come and go during various periods, with the peak on weekends. When a special party or outing - frequently a luau away from the Hampton Beach area - was held, nearly everyone from this group would be on hand. Of the various cliques on the beach it was the most cohesive, the most happy-go-lucky, probably the most casual in its attitudes towards sex and liquor.
Around this group - probably to a greater extent than with the other groups - there clustered a collection of hangers-on, particularly around the Tiki Restaurant. Of all the cliques on the beach the C Street gang was most "in." Perhaps "clannish" would be an appropriate term to apply to this clique, for on the occasion of its parties attendance was by invitation only; those not thoroughly accepted were pointedly omitted. Perhaps some of the hangers-on gave the C Street gang a worse reputation than it deserved, for although the Tiki and the Patio were never centers of trouble from a police viewpoint, it should be noted that some of the tougher kids of the beach did hang out there.
The C Street gang - and indeed all the other home-based groups on the beach - took a rather conspicuous stance against riots and rioters. These people came to Hampton Beach for a good time, and primarily they wanted to be left to their own devices. Specifically in the 1964 riot they had taken an active part in defending their own territory against the rioters and had prevented damage for the length of their street. Throughout the summer, many members of the C Street gang were on excellent terms with the police and the rapport was mutual.
2. "The Renwood Group", based around the employees of the Renwood Dining Room and Gift Shop, the Moulton Hotel and the Carrousel luncheonette, all properties of the Downer family. In this group there was a similar cohesive spirit. The individuals in the group were probably a little older - more of a college age - than those on C Street, and their behavior and attitudes a little more conventional. Of all the factions on the beach this one was least active in its participation in CAVE" (the Committee Against Violent Eruptions, which had been formed by the Hampton Beach police in response to the less severe 1963 riots, often referred to rumbles).
3. The Dunfey group, employees of Dunfey's Restaurant and various other beach enterprises and their friends. Through the years as the Dunfey enterprises have expanded and the Dunfeys themselves have had less opportunity to participate personally in their beach enterprises, their employees have become a less close-knit group. Nonetheless, this was a distinct faction in the beach society, both overlapping and in competition with the C Street group. For instance, during the summer of 1964 there was considerable horseplay over the "kidnapping" of the Dunfey piano by the habituees of the Troll Bridge and its subsequent recovery.
4.Casino employees - a distinct group in itself, especially around the employee domicile known as the Gink, but also fragmenting and taking part in the affairs of the various other cliques.
The remainder of the beach society was considerably more amorphous, composed of day visitors who came and went and smaller groups looking for beach outings or dates. As a rule there was very little cohesion along home-town lines. In some few instances there is contact between various members of these several groups during the winter season, but for the most part it centers around the beach itself, starting about mid-April and ending rather abruptly after Labor Day.
To some small extent there were some cultures around the few places of teenage entertainment on the beach. For instance, the Seagate Ballroom, running rock and roll bands four nights a week, consistently attracted a crowd of 14 to 16-year old youngsters who may have had other contacts during daytime hours. The Onyx Room, a teenage nightclub a mile to the north of the beach center, also had its own following, although here again there was overlapping, since much of its clientele obviously came from the C Street group."
Such an elaborately detailed, fine differentiation between and among the different youth cliques suggests that this "exuberance" was a youth-based event, rather than a class-based event. In fact, many of the reports emphasized that youth who came to Hampton dropped their hometown allegiances and did not run in cliques based on what town they were from. The post-riot study noted "it was quite clear that Lowell, Massachusetts, far outstripped any other community in its representation of young people at Hampton Beach." (Lowell being the biggest mill town.)
Cover of the guidebook listing my grandparents' properties in their heyday
Above: My grandparents Mary (Driscoll) McDonnell and Joseph McDonnell at my mother's college graduation, 1960
I'm interested in the history of my grandfather's relationship to his Jewish neighbors. Specifically I wonder how he ended up building his retirement home in 1949 in the then-predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Tower Hill in Lawrence Massachusetts, moving from his prior home in the Irish section of South Lawrence, along Kingston Street by St. Patrick's Church
If I consider this move, along with other indicators – for example, that every winter he and his wife would travel to Fort Lauderdale Florida for their annual vacation, or that he was a smalltime real estate developer, or that he may have had a tendency to obfuscate his Irish Catholic background (he told mill overseers his surname was McDonald, which was Scottish, and which allowed him a better job) – the pieces of a puzzle perhaps begin to emerge.
Consider Lawrence in the 1940s. When he began building his house in 1949 at the age of 60, the city was still regional center, although on a terminal decline. He had worked for four decades as proprietor of hotels and rooming houses and was entering retirement with his wife. Summers were spent running the properties at a New Hampshire resort for the workers, Hampton Beach, and winters were spent in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Tower Hill in Lawrence, the location of his new home, had in the postwar years become the preeminent Jewish neighborhood of greater Lawrence. This period, especially the early 1950s, was marked by the construction of two synagogues on the upper part of Lowell Street and a Jewish community center (JCC) within 100 yards of the site of his new house. (One of them, Temple Emanuel, moved to Andover in 1979 and its buildings became the Bruce School annex magnet school mentioned in my blog post on the 1984 Lawrence riot.)
The local public school, the Bruce school, which I attended for nine years starting in 1976, apparently allowed days off for Jewish holidays and was at one point in the early 1960s over half Jewish.
Question: did my grandfather choose the neighborhood because he perceived it as an appropriate home for a successful businessman, much like the other residents of this neighborhood; or did he have specific personal links to some of the Jewish residents? And, tangentially, why did he winter in Fort Lauderdale? He had been going there for years, and in 1926 purchased a significant parcel of land which they later sold in the 1950s.
I'm not sure it's possible to gather any more information. From talking to my mother, I get the impression that his friends were mostly related to his wife, my grandmother Mary Driscoll, a sociable and gregarious woman who had a penchant for Cadillacs and fur coats.
Yet I can also imagine a separate sphere of business colleagues, untethered from being "couples friends" – men who developed apartment buildings and commercial real estate, or who had businesses focused on hospitality - who might have influenced his choice of where to retire.
The final puzzle piece is his choice of developing property in Hampton Beach, N.H. This town was restricted, and covenants running with the land routinely prohibited sales of property to Jews, unlike the practices in the neighboring seaside resort areas of Salisbury, Mass. For this reason alone, I have concluded that any decisions of my grandfather to retire to Tower Hill in Lawrence, or to winter in Fort Lauderdale, had nothing to do with whether they were Jewish areas.
Nevertheless, I will cotinue to investigate this topic.
ULDATE MARCH 7, 2018: I have since learned that, whereas Miami Beach was considered fairly Jewish, Fort Lauderdale was “waspy”. Thiis plus the restricted nature of Hampton Beach probably kills my thesis that my grandfather moved to Tower Hill because he had Jewish business connections.
Statute in Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Mass. depicting Passaconnaway
The town of Haverhill was founded by charter of the General Court of Massachusetts in 1640 but title was not transferred until November 15th, 1642, when the great chief of the Pennacooks, the native inhabitants of the entire valley of the Merrimack from Pentucket (later called Haverhill) up to the river’s highest headwaters, transferred twelve miles of land along the river to form Haverhill.
Pasaconnaway had been an impressive leader with magical powers. According to one early English account, “Hee can make water burne, the rocks move, the trees dance, metamorphise himself into a flaming man. Hee Will do more; for in Winter, when there are no green leaves to be got, hee will burne an old one to ashes and putting these into water, produce a new green leaf, which you shall not only see but substantially handle and carrie away; and make a dead snake's skin a living snake, both to be seen, felt, and heard.”
Under his leadership, the Pennacooks, whose name aptly means ‘rocky place’ tribe, subsumed the neighboring tribes, the Wachusetts, Agawams, Wamesits, Pequawkets, Pawtuckets, Nashuas, Namaoskeags, Coosaukes, Winnepesaukes, Piscataquas, Winnecowetts, Amariscoggins, Newichewannocks, Sacos, Squamscotts, and Saugusaukes.
Alas, the sale of Pentucket (Haverhill) to a group of Englishmen was one of the last historical acts of the Pennacooks. In the devastating war between the English and the natives in 1675– called King Phillip’s War after the Anglo nickname of native leader, Metacom, a Wampanoag from south of Boston – the Pennacooks sought to remain neutral. For safety during the conflict, they largely retreated to their mountain fastness near the headwaters of the Merrimack river high in the White Mountains.
The Pennacooks came under suspicion and, upon their return to the lowlands at the end of the war, hundreds of their braves were captured en masse in a treacherous maneuver orchestrated by Captain Richard Waldron. This occurred at the Indian trading post in Dover, New Hampshire, known by the natives as Cocheco. Some of the Pennacook men were hanged for insurrection and the rest were sold into slavery in Barbados.
The few remaining members of the tribe began to abandon Passaconnaway’s leadership. They retreated far to the north, to the mouth of the Saint-François River at its confluence with the St. Lawrence, to the reservation established by the French in Quebec, called Saint Francis in English. Today it is still a reservation, called Odanak, home of four hundred Abenaki with whom the Pennacooks merged.
The great king Passaconnaway, a.k.a. Papisseconeway, a.k.a. Saint Aspenquid, died in 1682. The few remaining Pennacook warriors bore his body to the summit of Mount Agamenticus, it was said, and laid him to rest in a rocky cave. The alternative and more compelling story is that he was buried at the summit of Mount Agiocochook, now called Mount Washington, the highest mountain in New England, near the headwaters of the Pemigewasset River, itself the northernmost tributary of the Merrimack. Or his body was not borne there at all; rather he ascended there himself like Jesus Christ, whom many of the Indians had adopted by that time as their great spiritual leader.
“There was to be a Council of the Gods in heaven and it was Passaconaway's wish that he might be admitted to the divine Council Fire; so he informed the Great Spirit of his desire. A stout sled was constructed, and out of a flaming cloud, twenty-four gigantic wolves appeared. These were made fast to the sled. Wrapping himself in a bearskin robe, Passaconaway bade adieu to his people, mounted the sled, and, lashing the wolves to their utmost speed, away he flew. Through the forests from Pennacook[modern-day Concord N.H., his royal seat]and over the wide ice-sheet of Lake Winnepesaukee they sped. Reeling and cutting the wolves with his thirty-foot lash, the old Bashaba, once more in his element, screamed in ecstatic joy. Down dales, valleys, over hills and mountains they flew, until, at last, enveloped in a cloud of fire, this ‘mightiest of Pennacooks’ was seen speeding over the rocky shoulders of Mount Washington itself; gaining the summit, with unabated speed he rode up into the clouds and was lost to view―forever!” Charles Edward Beals, Jr., Passaconnaway in the White Mountains, 1916.
Thus basically ends the story of the Pennacooks, except for the place names they gave. Mount Passaconaway (4,043 ft.) is named for their leader. Mount Wonalancet (3,200 ft.) is named for his son. The Nanamacomuck Trail is named for his other son. The Kancamagus Highway is named for Passaconnaway’sgrandson, son of Nanamacomuck, who in 1689 led a brief and final Pennacook rebellion against the English. It was mainly fought not by Pennacooks but by “a throng of restless and vengeful Androscoggins.”
Their crowning accomplishment was to murder the elderly Captain Waldron, who had sold so many of their kinsmen into slavery four decades earlier. The Pennacooks also left us with the names of most of the various tributaries of the Merrimack River: Contoocook (Near the Pines), Squannacook (Green Place), Suncook (Place of Villages), Piscataquog [or Piscatacook] (Great Deer Place), Souhegan (Waiting and Watching Place), Shawsheen (Serpentine), Quinepoxet (Pebbled Bottom).
“The great, numerous, and powerful Pennacooks, where are they? Two hundred years have effaced every vestige of the race; they are rubbed out like a chalk mark on a black-board ; every trace of the blood is obliterated; no scion remains; they have withered as the grass beneath the pavement, and the places that knew them once shall know them no more forever. The few fragile and broken remnants of the race, dispirited, and dimly realizing their ultimate doom, long since turned their backs on old· familiar scenes, on the conqueror, and their faces to the setting sun, where year by year his domain is curtailed, and himself more closely environed, until, at no very distant day, he will be totally and finally obliterated from the face of this broad land, and become as much of a myth or tradition, as the centaur, the mastodon, or the sphinx.”
J. W. Meader, The Merrimack River: Its Source And Its Tributaries (1869)
His son Wonalancet, his daughter Wenunchus and his grandson Kancamagus have their own interesting stories covered in other blog entries.
My paternal grandmother Gladys Johnson was born in 1912 at 5 Kingston Street. The structure is pictured above, as of early 2017.
Her parents Martin Jonsson (anglicized to Johnson) and Marie Jensen, had come from Hjärsås, Sweden (him) and Gunderup, Aalborg, Denmark (her) around the last decade of the 19th century, first settling in Maine where they first met.
Martin worked on the railway all his life, as shown by his retirement announcement in the Lawrence newspapers after many decades (below). His work took him to Concord, N.H. where he married Marie Jensen in 1898. They had their first two children, sons Martin and Roy, in Concord before moving down to Lawrence in 1906. Son Clarence was born in 1910, followed by Gladys in 1912.
The family moved around some at first, living at 1 Bailey Street where brother Clarence was born in 1910, then they lived at 5 Kingston Street. By 1920, they were living at 364 Broadway, as shown in the census that year. Son Ray was born 1919. By 1930, they were living at 34 South Street, where my grandmother Gladys lived when she had my father, her oldest, in 1930. Her new husband Clifford McCarthy lived with them until they could get a place of their own, an apartment at 107 Newton Street.
Her brother Martin died at 5 Kingston Street, in March 1911, age 9, of Hodgkin’s disease.
Clifford and Gladys with their son Richard, my father, fall 1930
Wedding anniversary announcement of Gladys’s parents Martin and Marie in 1943
Retirement announcement of my great grandfather Martin Johnson in 1941
Below is a closeup of the Merrimack Valley section of an amazing map printed in London in 1670. Two cool features: First, it shows “Old Norfolk” County, the old county of Norfolk that extended from the Merrimack River north to the Piscataqua River. It existed from around 1640 to around 1680. Of note, Haverhill and Salisbury, being north of the Merrimack, are in Old Norfolk not Essex County where they later ended up, and so is all of what is now coastal New Hampshire. New Hampshire as a concept didn’t exist yet and Massachusetts Bay Colony asserted jurisdiction. Second, the map shows the Indian “praying town” of Wamesit, in modern-day East Chelmsford. The puritans (naturally) attempted to Christianize the natives. They - led by reverend John Eliot -went through great effort to translate the native Algonquin language into English so they could provide the Indians with a bible, called Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God. They also had to teach the natives to read this new book written in Algonquin, a hitherto oral language. The Algonquin bible is a fascinating topic to which I hope to dedicate future blog entries. I can't decide whether to take it seriously. Some of the translations in generated are so absurd on their face as to call into question the validity of the whole endeavor. For example, Elliot translated "our lusts" (an important word no doubt for the puritans as "Nummatchekodtantamooongannunonash" which cannot possibly be a word. He translated "our loves" as Noowomantammoonkanunonnash, and "our questions" as Kummogokdonattoottammooctiteaongannunnonash, which might be the longest word I have ever seen.
Some of the natives who converted were settled in so-called Praying Towns. I will write a separate blog post on the Praying Towns. After the first war between the English colonists and the natives in 1675 (which basically launched fifty years of intermittent Indian attacks on settlements like Haverhill and Andover), the Praying Towns were abandoned. Also a topic for a future blog post.
The towns of Andover and Haverhill are visible, along with places like Salisbury downriver and Chemsford upriver. Present-day Lowell is called Pawtucket and present-day Newburyport is called Agawamin (not to be confused with present-day Agawam in Worcester County).