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Wicket's Island's Place in Wareham's History

by Craig S. Chartier Director, Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project

for the Wareham Historical Commission December 2004

Wickets Island is an approximately five-acre island located in Onset Harbor in Wareham, Massachusetts. The island was created at the end of the last glacial period and is a deposit of glacial moraine composed of Carver coarse sand occurring on 8-15% slopes with approximately 20% rock composition (mainly small gravel sized pieces). Carver soils are very deep and excessively well-drained and suitable for scrub oak and pine with a limited potential for agriculture. When first created this island, as well as Onset Island to the southeast, was a hill of moraine soil located on a dry hummocky plain. This plain had two streams, which eventually became the East River and Sunset Cove, flowing across it. By approximately 3000 years ago the sea level had risen enough that the harbor was inundated and the island began to be surrounded by water. Wicket's Island was likely once connected to the mainland by an isthmus of sand on its northeast edge. Over time this isthmus was eroded through, eventually creating the island as it is today. The remains of this connection are still visible on topographic maps of the harbor or at low tide as the area of sand flats extending from the island to the mainland. Wicket's Island also does not appear to have had any easily available fresh water supply. As a result, habitation on the island may have been somewhat sporadic and not full time. People may have traveled to the island to plant, fish or collect shellfish, but it is unlikely that anyone lived there for extended periods of time. This is due to the amount of energy that would have to have been expended to go to the nearest freshwater source, possibly a spring along the shore of Onset harbors or in Muddy Cove. People would have had to have traveled from the island daily to get fresh water, and it would have been much simpler to just live on the shore near the fresh water and travel to the island to engage in subsistence activities or for burial ceremonies.

The 1795 map of Wareham labels the island as Wickets Island and local history states that the island belonged to Jabez Wicket, a Native American living in Wareham. In 1739 the Town of wareham voted to "pay out to the poor Ingings that (money) he (the tresurer) received for the use of the island" (Bliss 1888: 25). It appears that the town acknowledged that the Natives had a rightful claim to the land and that they were willing to give up their use of it when the claimant appeared. In this case it appeared that claimant may have been Wickett. Wicket is known to have fought in the French and Indian War, specifically in New York State at Crown Point (1755-56) (Hurd 1894:159).. After the death of Wicket, the island and all improvements on it are believed to have been granted to Jesse Webquish, another Native of Wareham (Lovell 1970:19). Wicket and Webquish both fought in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), as did Sol and Joe Joseph, also Natives (Hurd 1884). Webquish, who died in 1810, stated that he was on the Plains of Abraham when General Wolfe died and that he saw Quebec fall (Hurd 1884: 202). By 1800, the town of Wareham had decided to allow the lands at Wickets Island to be let out for planting. This indicates that the Native owners of the island had either moved away or died and that the island was uninhabited.

The earliest reference to any Native named Wickett was in the1674 probate of Nicholas Davis of Cape Cod. In this document, a Native of the western part of Cape Cod, likely Sandwich, named Wil Wicket, owed a debt to Davis. The next Wicket found in the Plymouth Colony records is Simon Wickett, who in 1679 sold 16 acres of land at Pocasset on the western shore of Sandwich, to Robert Lawrence (Bangs 2002: 349 ). Simon Wicket died sometime before June 18, 1690 when the purchasers of land in West Wareham, then part of Rochester, were to pay Simon Wickett's widow for lands purchased of him before his death (Rochester Proprietor's records Vol. 2: 14). Jabez Wickett, who is believed to have been the Wicket that the island is named after, lived at sometime in the middle 18th century. His is listed as having been a soldier in the French and Indian War, but after this there is no other information concerning him. The only other Wicket found in southeastern Massachusetts is Obadiah, a.k.a. Abraham, Wickett who was born about 1754, possibly in Sandwich, Massachusetts. He may have been the son of Jabez, but this is speculation based on the rarity of the name Wicket in the records. Obadiah married Bathsheba Hammat at Plymouth in 1777 and served in the Revolution as a private in Captain Joseph Griffith's company, Colonel John Jacobs Regiment, reenlisting and serving June 11, 1780 to January 26, 1781 under Captain Abner Howard in the 19th [or 16th?] Division. He moved to Leeds, Maine where he died in 1819. This may indicate that Jabez Wicket, potentially the son or grandson of this Wil Wicket, had a son named Obadiah who was the last in that family's line and upon his death, the island was turned over to the Webquish family. It is unknown if any Wicket actually lived on the island or in Wareham proper. As stated, Wicket was a name associated with Sandwich and as Sandwich is located directly across the bay from Wareham, the natives in that town may have frequented the Onset area without actrually living there. Jabez may have laid claim to the island without actually living there. This may have been due to the presence of the burials suspected on the island. Perhaps Wicket and then Webquish were caretakers of the burial ground, if it was present on the island and continued in use during the seventeenth century.

Webquish is a much more common name among Natives of Wareham and Cape Cod. The earliest reference to a Webquish was in 1665 when land on the east side of Satuite Pond was sold by two Natives, Tookenchosen and Weepqush (Bangs 2002:167). Wequishes are found on the 1849 list of Natives living at Herring Run (present day Bournedale), Mashpee and Chapaquidic on Martha's Vineyard (Doughton 1999). By 1849, Webquishes were predominantly found living in Mashpee. A Captain Solomon Webquish has also been identified as often docking in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Solomon Webquish is believed to have been a Native from the west side of Cape Cod, possibly from Mashpee (Pilgrim Hall). Jesse Webquish was granted the island in 1828 when the town voted to "give up the improvements on Wickets island to Jesse Webquish as it is thought he is the lawful owner" (Rider 1989: 14, 185). It is possible that if Jesse Webquish was given the land upon the death of Jabez or Obadiah Wicket, he may have moved away from the island to Mashpee in the later 19thth century. Alternately, he may have died and none of his descendants decided to utilize the island, being settled in Mashpee, Herring Run or on Martha's Vineyard.

The land was leased to various individuals throughout the 19th century and in the late 19th century came into the hands of a family who built the large house that stood there until 1947 when it burned.

The Great September Gale of 1815 is recorded in local lore as having a dramatic effect on Wickets Island. This storm, which is considered on e of the worst New England hurricanes second only to the 1938 storm, struck Long Island and southern New England on September 23, 1815. It believed to have been at least a category three storm. Storms of this intensity often flood barrier islands, strip sediments from beaches and deposit them on marshes, in lakes and lagoons. The Dartmouth Gazette of that year reported the following concerning the storm:

"We hear from every quarter new details of the destruction occasioned by the late storm. From the country as far as Amherst in New Hampshire on the North, Brookfield on the West, Tolland and New London [Conn.] on the South West, and New Bedford on the South, we learn that the tempest raged without any great variation in the degree of violence. Dwelling houses in almost every town have been more or less injured, many barns and out houses, and some dwelling houses have been unroofed, and some few blown down."

In Wareham, and specifically in Onset, it believed that the storm surges caused what amounted to a tidal wave to rush into the harbor, causing large scale erosion of Wickets Island. This erosion is believed to have caused a number of Natives graves on the island to be washed out. Lovell reports that the skeletons that were exposed were collected and reburied (Lovell 1970: 19). While no historical records exist to confirm or challenge Lovell's report, the possibility is real that there were or are graves on the island. Lovell also reported that other types of Native material have been found along the shores in the Onset area, possibly from the island itself.

References

Bangs, Jeremy Dupertuis

2002 Indian Deeds: Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony 1620-1691. New England Historic Geneological Society.

Bliss, William Root

1888 Colonial Times on Buzzards Bay. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston.

Dartmouth Gazette

On-line at http://www.nhoem.state.nh.us/mitigation/NH%20Hurricane%20Overview.htm#Gale

Davis, Nicholas

1673 Will and Probate Plymouth Colony Wills 3:102-104.

Doughton, Thomas L.

1999 Alphabetical Roster of Massachusetts Indians in 1849. House NO. 26, of 1849, Report of the Commissioners relating to the Condition of the Indians in Massachusetts.

Hurd, D. Hamilton

1884 History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts with Biographgical Sketches of many of the Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, J.W. Lewis and Co.

Lovell, Daisy

1970 Glimpses of Early Wareham. Wareham Historical Society.

Pilgrim Hall

The Wharves of Plymouth.

Rider, Raymond A.

1989 Life and Times in Wareham over 200 Years 1739-1939. Wareham Historical

Society, Wareham, Massachusetts. Page 14

Rochester Proprietor's Records Vol. 2: 14. At the Rochester Town Hall