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The Wessagussett Plantation

Phineas Pratt's Narrative (Modernized Version)
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Timeline of Wessagussett
Edward Winslow's Account
Translation of the name Wessagussett
Phineas Pratt's Narrative
Pratt Facts about Wessagussett
Thomas Morton's Account
Wessagussett Cast of Characters

 

Pratt begins with a brief history of the Separatist settlers who left England, arrived in Holland, and eventually left and settled at Plymouth. As a testament to the belief in astrology of his time, he correlates their decision to leave with a “blazing star” that appeared over Germany in 1618. He gives a brief description of their removal from England an initial settlement in the New World. He provides a commentary on the works, probably of such authors and explorers such as Captain George Weymouth, Captain John Smith and Samuel Pring, when he states states that “...some indiscreet men, hoping to encourage their friends to come to them, wrote letters concerning the great plenty of fish, fowl, and deer, not considering that the wild savages were many times hungry, yet have better skill to catch such things than English men have. The Adventurers, willing to save their monies, sent them weakly provisioned of vicyuals, as many more after them did the like, and that was the great cause of famine.” Essentially Pratt stated that due to the propaganda that was floating about England regarding the plenty of the the New World, the Pilgrims were ill prepared to hunt and fish. He also stated that even the Natives, who had better skill at catching fish and hunting than the colonists, were often hungry. It appears that Pratt was bitter, possibly about being hoodwinked himself into believing that because of the abundance of game and fish and the ease which it could be caught, a man could live off the land and not worry about starving once he got there.


He then gets into the history of the Wessagussett settlement. He begins by relating how Thomas Weston, merchant in London and treasurer of the Pilgrims venture, sent a ship to establish a colony at Massachusetts bay. Unfortunately, they lacked a pilot to guide the to the bay, and so put in at Damerill's Cove in Maine first, to obtain a pilot. Mr. Rogers, master of the Sparrow, the ship on which Pratt arrived, stated that no one wanted to be the pilot because an Indian named Rumhigan ventured to pilot a ship to Plymouth, resulting in a loss of the ship and everyone's lives. Mr. Gibbs was the Master's mate on the Sparrow and he volunteered to pilot the ship to Massachusetts bay.


These 10 men, probably six colonists and four ships crew, decided to settle on the south side of the bay because there were the fewest Natives dwelling here. As they were considering where to settle, they saw a large number of Natives and, deciding discretion was the better part of valor, decided it was time to travel to plymouth to see the remainder of the company who had arrived on the Fortune in November. Upon arriving they inquired where the remainder of the settlers who first arrived in 1620 were, and were told that sickness took them away. They also informed Pratt that they were so afraid of the Natives, that they set up th sick men of th company with their backs against trees and guns in their hands in order to fool the Natives regarding their strength. One or two of the Plymouth men then went with them to the fishing area off Maine to procure supplies. About 8 or 9 weeks later, two of the ships that Weston sent over arrived and the smallest, the Swan, remained for their use. After all the ships had arrived, the colonists numbered approximately 60 men. A great sickness affected the Natives in Massachusetts bay at this time, allowing them to settle at Wessagussett.


Initially the Natives were friendly, that is until famine pervaded the English Colonists' Plantation, they began to harass the English. Chief among the Native harassers was Pecksuot, a pniese who learned English. Pratt relates that Pecksuot continually told him that he loved Pratt and all Englishmen and that he hated the French. Pecksuot said that there had been a French ship in the bay once that had been damaged by a storm. The French had saved all their goods and buried them in the ground. The Natives captured the French and forced them to tell them where they had hidden the goods, subsequently taking away their clothes, feeding them the scraps they would usually feed to their dogs, and making them their servants. One man lived longer than the others, was allowed to marry and although he is now dead, had a son who was still alive in 1622. Another French ship came into the bay and Pecksuot persuaded the sachem to attack them and take their goods. Pecksuot said that he conceived a plan where they would paddle to the ship in their canoes, carrying furs to trade but no bows or arrows, clubs or hatchets, but only knives. They would sell their beaver cheap and then stab the Frenchmen. They killed all of them initially except Master Finch who, though wounded, leapt into the hold. He would not come out so the Natives cut the anchor line, and the ship drifted to shore, lay upon her side, and “slept”. Finch them came up and was killed. The sachem then divided the goods, fired the ship and built a large fire. One of the English asked how long ago they saw the first ship and it was related that the first time they saw a ship they thought it was a floating island, broken off from the mainland, wrapped in roots with trees on it. The Natives canoed out to it but were repelled by guns being fired at them.


After the famine began, Pecksuot asked the English “Why do your men and dogs die? Pratt told him that they weren't starving and then proceeded to fool Pecksuot into thinking he had a chestful of corn. Pecksuot doesn't seem to have believed him and soon thereafter the Natives moved some of their houses to “a great swamp near to the pale of our plantation”, to show their intent to make war.


Pratt saw a weary and sore footed Native messenger arrive one day and turned to Mr. Salisbury the surgeon, and said that surely the sachem had employed him for some intent to make war on them. Pratt, apparently not fearing the Natives and their intents, put a bag of gunpowder in his pocket and went to see the man. He went in to the house and tried to talk to the man who was lying on a mat. The woman who was in the house grabbed hold of the bag and asked why it was so big. Pratt hit her on the arm as hard as he could and said it was good for the Natives to eat. She replied that the powder was very bad and that the sachem of Wessagussetts Aberdikes would bring many warriors and kill all the English at Wessagussett and Patuxet. The man on the mat got mad at the woman and Pratt left. He asked one of the English who spoke the Native language to go and ask the woman, out of the man's earshot, why he was angry and she was afraid. He reported to Pratt that the she feared that the man would tell Aberdikes (Obtakiest) and that he and all the Indians would be mad at her. Some time later Pecksuot met with Pratt , expressed his love for the English and Pratt, to which Pratt replied that he loved Pecksuot and the natives as much as they loved him. Pecksuot then showed him a knife with the face of a woman carved on the handle and said that he had another at home with the face of a man and that they should marry, clearly threatening the English.


The sachem, presumably Aberdikes, and a large number of armed warriors, arrived at the Native community and went into one of the houses. After about 15 minutes the Natives went to the palisade of the English community and Pratt had the young man who could best speak the Native language to ask Pecksuot why they had come so armed. Pecksuot answered that the sachem was angry with them, to which Pratt replied that the English were angry with him. The sachem replied that when the English first came, they and the Natives exchanged gifts, that they had traded and were friends, but now things were obviously different, so what was it that the Natives had done to the English. Pratt responded that the sachem should first say what the English did to wrong the Natives. The sachem replied that some of the English steal the Native corn and that the Natives had complained about it many times and still the corn was stolen and now the sachem wanted to see what was to be done about it. The English answered that it was only one man who had done it and that he had been whipped as a punishment, that he was now bound, and that they would turn him over to the Natives to do as they wish. The sachem answered that that was not how they dealt with crimes. He said that if one of his men wrongs a neighbor sachems people, the sachem sends word and he the sachem of the offender would beat or kill the man according to the offense and the same goes for any other sachem's people who wrong his “All sachems do justice by their own men. If not, we say they are all agreed and then we fight, and now I say you all steal my corn.” While this discussion was occurring, some of the warriors pointed to the men on the fort an said “Machit Pesconk”, meaning 'Evil guns'.


Following this meeting, the English increased their watch and observed the Natives creeping on the snow and hiding behind bushes and trees to see if we were keeping watch. Pratt said the final act that led him to conclude that there was no other course of action than to go to Plymouth for help, was one night, after the food had run out, he walked around the Plantation and finally arrived at the Court of Guard. Here he saw three men dead, in front, to the left, and to the right of him, all dead from hunger.


The narrative appears to be missing some portion or was somehow compiled out of sequence, because he then narrates the trial and conviction of a man who stole corn from the Natives. This man was caught stealing corn from Native storage pits once, was bound (possibly neck to heels as we know was a punishment used in Plymouth for two servants caught dueling), and then was let go because they were so short on food that everyman had to fend for himself. The man was told to go gather ground nuts, clams & mussels, as other men did, & steal no more. A day or two later, the same man was brought to the fort by the Natives, having, of course, been caught stealing corn again. The Natives sarcastically presented him to the other English and said “Here is the corn.” (presumably in the man's stomach). The man was again bound for some few days.


As an aside, during this time, Pecksuot told Pratt that if Pratt would give him guns then the Natives would give them corn. Pratt told Pecksuot that they didn't need the corn because eventually more English would come and bring food for them.


During this same time various settlers report abuses by the Natives onto the colony including a report that they killed one of the English hogs (which may have been set free to forage in the woods and mudflats), that they threatened another man with a knife, and that they threw dirt in another's face. Two of the colonists who were living with or were associating with the Natives, arrived at the fort and reported that the sachem was close to finishing the last canoe of their fleet which they were going to use to attack the ship and that th Native's greatest concern was how, because of the snow, to get their forces to Plymouth to attack them there. From Pratt's account, he appears to have been the leader of the colony (there is no mention of Mr. Saunders/ Sanders who was the official leader), for he says that when he heard of the plot he would have sent someone to Plymouth to warn them, but no one was willing to go. He decides that if no one else is willing to risk their life, then he will do it himself.


Pecksuot heard of Pratt's plan to go to Plymouth from one of the younger English settlers who was hoping to get on the Native's good side, and confronts Pratt saying “Me hear you go to Patuxet; you will lose yourself; the bears and the wolves will eat you; but because I love you I will send my boy Nahamit with you; & I will give you victuals to eat by the way & to be merry with your friends when you come there.”. Pratt inquires as to who told Pecksuot such a lie and that he will kill the person when he finds out. Pecksuot says he knows it is not a lie and will not reveal his source. Five armed Native warriors soon arrive at the fort. When asked why they come armed they respond that when the English visit them they come armed so they are doing the same. The keep watch on Pratt for seven or eight days and nights, then finally deciding it must have been a lie, they “became careless of their watch”. Pratt feels that this was the break he was looking for and tells the others that he needs a compass. He is told that no one has one except the ship's compass, which were obviously too big to carry in the woods. Pratt also says that he can't take any weapons with him because, since he hasn't born any arms the entire time that they were watching him, if he does so now, they will mistrust him. His fellow colonists tell him “The savages will pursue after you & kill you & we shall never see you again.’ Thus with other words of great lamentation, we parted.” So without a compass and without a weapon, Pratt decides to set out to travel to Plymouth to save the colony singlehandedly.


Pratt takes a hoe and “...went to the long swamp nearby their houses & dug on the edge thereof as if I had been looking for ground nuts, but seeing no man, I went in & ran through it.” Pratt ran through the snow until three in the afternoon, hearing the wolves howl, ever fearing that the Natives would follow his footprints in the snow. He eventually came to a river and although the water was deep and cold with many rocks, he crossed it. “Faint for want of food, weary with running, fearing to make a fire because of them that pursued me” Pratt pushed on, eventually coming to a “ deep dell or hole” where he was concealed enough that he could build a fire. The next day he tried to continue but could not, possibly because of the cold, and snow and fatigue, and returned to the fire. Eventually the sun came out and he continued on, arriving at what would later be Duxbury. Keeping the water, presumably the bay, on his left, he came to a brook where there was a path and crossed the James River (Jones River). He reports that he felt like a deer pursued by wolves but resolved to continue on, knowing that if he failed, all the colonists would die.


He then found a piece of something (the manuscript is damaged in this section and it is impossible to make out what he found but presumably it was something from the English) and carried it in his hand. He then found a piece of a jerkin which he carried under his arm. He took these items as signs from God to continue on. Then running down a hill he came upon Mr. John Hamden, a visitor with the colonists at Plymouth. Pratt sat down on a tree, saluted Hamden and asked for some parched corn (which presumably the English carried with them regularly). Hamden told him he knew why Pratt had come.


The next day Hugh Stacey, a young man who was out felling wood, came upon two Natives rising up from from the ground. They said that they were carrying a message from Aberdikes (Obtakiest) that he would like the English to come and trade beaver. They also were wondering if a man had arrived from Wessagussett, because he was their friend. . Stacey told them that he had arrived and unfortunately the narrative is incomplete and jumbled at this point.


Pratt reports that two or three days after he arrived, the English at plymouth sent 10 or 11 men to Wessagussett, but being “faint” he couldn't go himself. Presumably hearing from someone how the encounter went, Pratt reports that the Plymouth men first warned the men on the ship and then killed Witauwamet and Pecksuot, the former once boasting that no gun could kill him (he was stabbed with his own knife by the English). Aberdikes (Obtakiest) hearing about what had happened, attacked the English but was shot in the arm and retreated. Pratt reports that Hobbamcock, whom he says lived with the English because he was fleeing from his sachem, chased the retreating warriors. Pratt reports that two of the English were killed in killed in their houses (whether he means the English's houses or more likely the Native's is unclear). The English took Witawaumet's head to Plymouth.


All told Pratt reports that nine of the English died of famine and one died on the ship later while the ship was in Maine after abandoning Wessagussett. Pratt, feeling stronger, had gone along on this voyage in search of food and fish. During this time he encountered two of the Natives from Wessagussett who recognized him. They told him “When we killed your men, they cried and made ill-favored faces.’ I said, ‘When we killed your men, we did not torment them to make ourselves merry.”. This encounter is believed to have taken place in present day Dorchester. Pratt reports that eventually Robert Gorges tried to resettle Wessagussett but the supply ship was lat, they almost starved in the winter, and thus they abandoned the site. The third attempt to settle Massachusetts bay was by Captain Wolleston & Mr. Rosell who chose not to settle at Wessagussett but established the settlement at Mount Wollaston in present day Braintree.

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