Sachem Rock Farm: Monumental History, Murder & War

Not only is Sachem Rock Farm--owned by the town of East Bridgewater and the site of the East Bridgewater Senior Center-- the precise spot where first inland Native American land sale in the United States was made, it is also the site of the of one of the nine homes in East Bridgewater to burned to the ground by King Philip’s warriors in King Philip's War. It’s no surprise the Latham farm was first to be attacked. With this house, it was personal. Robert Latham’s wife, Susanna was a Winslow--a name that was almost royalty in the colony. Susanna’s mother was the famous Mary Chilton, the first woman to step on American soil off of the Mayflower. Her father was John Winslow, the brother of the esteemed Governor Edward Winslow. But more importantly…her other uncle was General Josias Winslow of The Plymouth Colony Militia, the captor and suspected murderer of Alexander, King Philip’s elder brother.

Robert Latham was a well respected man, even serving as town constable at the time of the war. The fact that not ten years earlier, Latham and his wife Susanna were charged and found guilty of murder seemed to do little to effect the Latham’s social standing in the colony.

The Murder

In 1659, Robert and Susanna were charged with the murder of their servant, John Walker. In the book Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691 it says of the crime: "On 31 January 1654/55 a coroner's jury was called to view the body of Latham's servant boy, John Walker." The jury found that the body of John Walker was blackish and blew, and the skine broken in divers places from the middle to the haire of his head, viz, all his backe with stripes given him by his master, Robert Latham, as Robert himselfe did testify; and also wee found a bruise of his left arme, and one of his left hipp, and one great bruise of his brest; and there was the knuckles of one hand and one of his fingers frozen, and alsoe both his heeles frozen, and one of the heeles the flesh was much broken, and alsoe one of his little toes frozen and very much perished, and one of his great toes frozen, and alsoe the side of his foot frozen; and alsoe, upon the reviewing the body, wee found three gaules like holes in the hames, which wee formerly, the body being frozen, thought they had been holes; and alsoe wee find that the said John was forced to carry a logg which was beyond his strength, which hee indeavoring to doe, the logg fell upon him, and hee, being downe, had a stripe or two, as Joseph Beedle doth testify; and wee find that it was some few daies before his death; and wee find, by the testimony of John Howland and John Adams, that heard Robert Latham say that hee gave John Walker som stripes that morning before his death; and alsoe wee find the flesh much broken of the knees of John Walker, and that he did want sufficient food and clothing and lodging, and that the said John did constantly wett his bedd and his cloathes, lying in them, and so suffered by it, his clothes being frozen about him; and that the said John was put forth in the extremity of cold, though thuse unabled by lamenes and sorenes to performe what was required; and therefore in respect of crewelty and hard usage he died.

The Land Sale

1661. Massasoit dies. The peaceful era between colonist and Indian was over. After his brother Alexander is allegedly poisoned by General Josiah Winslow in 1662, it is now perfectly clear to Massasoit’s son, Metacom (commonly known by his English name “Philip”) what the intentions of the people who had arrived upon the shores of a land that had already been inhabited for 10,000 years just 40 years before: They wanted it all and did not play by any rule understood by the Wampanoags.

The native name for Sachem Rock was Wonnocoote. Up until the turn of the 20th century, locals still referred to Sachem Rock Farm as “Cootah Hill.” In 1649 Massasoit met with reprentatives of Duxbury at Sachem Rock. It was on March 23, 1649, when Chief Massasoit unknowingly traded miles of fertile land enriched by the waters of The Matfield, Hockomock, and Town Rivers as well as West Meadow Brook for mere provisions for his tribe. Seven coats, nine hatchets, eight hoes, twenty knives, four moose skins and 10 yards of cotton is what the Wompanoags were paid for the territory of Bridgewater. The implications of a “land sale” was unfathomable to the Native American psyche at this time. The concept that land could be regarded as ‘ownable’ was unfamiliar one to the Wompanoags. It is no wonder that Sachem Rock, the very site of this monumental land sale has been witness to tragic events that date back to King Philip’s War in 1676.

On April 9, 1676, the Natives crept up Satucket Path to the Latham farm. Robert Latham’s house would be the first of nine houses to be destroyed by fire that day, the natives sparing only one dwelling…that of Nicholas Byram. Byram settled in East Bridgewater in 1662, and during that time it seems he broke the strict law of the colony not to sell cider or any other spirits to the red man. Breaking the law earned him one of the only surviving houses in the Bridgewater area after King Philip’s War.

Today, a stone marks the very spot Latham house stood before it was destroyed by arson.