Middleboro: The Tragedy of the Nemaskets

"They lodged the first night on Nemasket, where so many Indians had died a few years before that the living could not bury the dead, but their sculls and bones lied in many places where the dead had been."

From "History of the Town of Middleboro," by Thomas Weston

The Wampanoag lived peacefully in a territory now known as the town of Middleboro (or Middleborough) for thousands of years. When the pilgrims arrived the New World, they were mystified to find entire villages abandoned by the plagues that had decimated local tribes in the years between 1617 and 1620. In those years of pestilence, some tribes lost 90% of their people.  Middleboro was no exception. When colonists first discovered the area, the land of Middleboro was covered in skulls and bones, for there were so many that were ravaged by sickness "that the living could not bury the dead."

Middleboro, or Middleborough--the town still can't decide on the correct spelling--was originally called Middlebury, named for it's midpoint location between Boston and New Bedford. The Natives who walked this territory thousands of years before it was discovered by the colonists in 1621 called it "Nemasket." 

In Eastern Algonquin, Nemasket translates to English as meaning "place of many fish," named for the river so abundant with Alewife, legend has it that the fish would leap of the river, right into the hands of Natives. Each spring the alewife (herring)  make their journey from Narraganset Bay, up the Taunton River and finally to  the "magical" waters of the Nemasket.

The waters of Nemasket were rumored to have healing properties. Doctors would prescribe the water to heal a long list of ailments and physicians would continue doing so all the way up to the beginning of the turn of the century. At one point, even scientists studied the water's composition to see what made it so special.

It was here in Nemasket that Weetamoo (meaning 'sweetheart'), the Sachem Princess lived seasonally at their royal camp with her father, Chief Corbitant,  and her younger sister, Wootonekanuske. As was customary for the sons and daughters of powerful sachems, Weetamoo would marry into another royal family as would Wootonekanuske. The sisters would both marry brothers from the Pokonet tribe, Weetamoo to Massasoit's son Alexander and her sister to King Philip, the sons of the famous Chief Massasoit. The Sachem Squaw Princess Weetamoo was the most powerful woman of all the tribes, poised to inherit the title of Sachem upon Corbitant's passing. Weetamoo would never get the chance to lead her people, dying within weeks of her father in King Philip's War. Both father and daughter would share the same horrific fate: Their heads would be cut off and placed proudly on spikes at the hands of the English. Weetamoo's head paraded through the streets of Taunton and Corbitant's head displayed at Plymouth Fort near King Philip's and the rest of the Sachems captured.

Weetamoo died in August of 1676, when she  (according to the English version) drowned in the Taunton River "slipped and fell attempting escape across a fallen tree."  When her body "washed ashore,"  the Plymouth Colony Militia  mutilated  her and and finally cut off her head. (It was reported that she was naked when her body was found. It was also reported that her body was "taunted." Whether she was captured, raped and killed in the river or if she really drowned...we will never know. All we have is the written history of the colonists to tell us, and while those references are good information for locations and dates, they are often inaccurate descriptions of what really occurred.)

 Just before the death of Weetamoo, many of her Pocasset people were taken prisoner out of the Hockomock Swamp where they were taking temporary refuge from the Colonists. They were so frightened upon capture, that they surrendered without a fight.  The prisoners were marched to Taunton where a gully served as their prisoner camp. They were then forced to bare witness to the horror of the parading of Weetamoo's head upon a spike back and forth in front of there disbelieving eyes.

Some days later, "someone of Taunton finding an Indian squaw in Metapoiset, newly dead, cut off her head, and it happened to be Weetamoo, squaw sachem, her head, which, placed on a pole and paraded through Taunton, was greeted by the lamentations of the captive Indians who knew her, crying out that it was their queen's head.
Reverend Increase Mather, of Salem Witch Trials fame, was present at the beheading event. Of the grieving and horrified Pocasset prisoners as they were taunted with their Queen's head,  Mather callously would recount, "They made a most horrid and 'diabolical' lamentation, crying out that it was their queen's head."




Haunted Woods?

One day, a local woman was walking her dog in an area of Middleboro where the unbeknown to her, the Nemaskets once lived. She was shocked when the figures of what looks like an Indian family appeared in the photo. She was not even aware that the woods where she took the photo was sacred land. This was in the same area where Weetamoo lived (near Oliver Mills park.)