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Massasoit

Massasoit

[mas-uh-soit]
Massasoit, c.1580-1661, chief of the Wampanoag. He was also known as Ousamequin (spelled in various ways). One of the most powerful native rulers of New England, he went to Plymouth in 1621 and signed a treaty with the Pilgrims, which he faithfully observed until his death. He befriended Roger Williams and was a friend of Edward Winslow. In 1632 he fought his enemy, Canonicus, ruler of the Narragansett. Massasoit's son, Metacomet, became famous as King Philip (see King Philip's War).

See biography by A. G. Weeks (1919).

(born circa 1590, near present Bristol, R.I.—died 1661, near Bristol) American Indian chief. He was the grand sachem (intertribal chief) of the Wampanoag Indians, who inhabited parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In March 1621, several months after the Mayflower landed, he journeyed to Plymouth and established peaceful relations with the settlers, with whom he shared techniques of planting, fishing, and cooking. In 1623 he was nursed back to health from a serious illness by grateful Pilgrims. After his death, good will gradually dissolved, leading to the bloody King Philip's War (1675), which was led by his son Metacom.

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Massasoit Sachem or Ousamequin (c.1581-1661), was the sachem, or leader, of the Pokanoket, and "Massasoit" of the Wampanoag Confederacy. The term Massasoit actually means Great Sachem.

Biography

Early Years

Massasoit (Ousamequin) was in Montaup, a Pokanoket village at the site of today's Warren and Bristol, Rhode Island. He held the allegiance of seven lesser Wampanoag sachems. Massasoit visited Plymouth in 1621 and negotiated a treaty guaranteeing the English their security in exchange for their alliance against the Narragansett. Massasoit actively sought the alliance since two significant outbreaks of smallpox brought by the English had devastated the Wampanoag during the previous six years.

He was commonly known as Massasoit, but he was called by many other names, including: Ousamequin, Woosamequin, Asuhmequin, Oosamequen, Osamekin, Owsamequin, Owsamequine, and Ussamequen.

Forging Peace

According to English sources, Massasoit prevented the failure of Plymouth Colony and the almost certain starvation that the Pilgrims faced during the earliest years of the colony's establishment. Moreover, Massasoit forged critical political and personal ties with the colonial leaders John Carver, Stephen Hopkins, Edward Winslow, William Bradford, and Myles Standish which culminated in a negotiated peace treaty on March 22, 1621. Massasoit's alliance ensured that the Wampanoag remained neutral during the Pequot War in 1636.

Massasoit's children

During this politically promising time, Massasoit had five children: "Moanam", or Wamsutta, also known as "Alexander", who was born sometime between 1621 and 1624; Pometecomet, Metacomet, or Metacom, also known as "Philip"; a third son, Sonkanuchoo; and two daughters, one named Amie and one whose name the English failed to record. Massasoit's eldest son, Wamsutta (Alexander), became sachem of the Pokanoket on the death of his father. After the death of Wamsutta, Metacom succeeded him in 1662.

An uneasy alliance

After his recovery, Winslow maintained that Massasoit now saw that "the English are my friends and love me." Moreover, Winslow also noted that Massasoit felt duty-bound to observe that "whilst I live I will never forget this kindness they have showed me.

In 1659, Massasoit sold a tract of land to Miles Standish and others of Duxbury.

Consequences of alliance

For nearly forty years, the Wampanoag and the English of Massachusetts Bay Colony maintained an increasingly uneasy peace until Massasoit's death. Throughout this time, and in order to maintain the peace, Massasoit sold lands which the English insisted on having.

It is unclear when Massasoit died. Some accounts claim that Massasoit died as early as 1660; others contend that he died as late as 1662. Very likely, Massasoit was anywhere from eighty to ninety years old at the time. When Massasoit died, his son Wamsutta (Alexander) became his successor, but when Wamsutta also died in 1662, Metacom (Philip) succeeded him. Unfortunately, of Massasoit's five children, the only child to survive King Philip's War in 1676 was his daughter, Amie, wife of Tispaquin.

Legacy

During his reign as grand sachem, Massasoit never permitted the Pokanoket to convert to Christianity, and with great diplomatic skill, managed to stay such efforts. Perhaps unsurprisingly however, the half century of peace that Massasoit so assiduously negotiated collapsed soon after his death. Breaking with his father's diplomacy, and in response to increasing depredations into Wampanoag territory by his ally, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Wamsutta began to form an alliance with Connecticut Colony. Within a year of his succession, and almost immediately after appearing in front of the court, in 1662, Wamsutta died suddenly. Metacom, Massasoit's second son, became sachem of the Pokanoket, and chief sachem of the Greater Wampanoag Confederacy. Metacom, also known as Philip, certainly believed that Wamsutta had been murdered at the hands of the English. Wamsutta's death was one of the leading factors that eventually led to King Philip's War, the bloodiest war in American history — indeed, more so than the American Civil War in terms of lives lost proportional to population.

Statues of Massasoit stand near Plymouth Rock; at the Utah state capitol building; and on the campus of Brigham Young University. Massasoit Community College and Massasoit State Park, both located in Massachusetts, are named after him.

References

Notes

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