Definitions

Massachusett

Massachusett

[mas-uh-choo-sit]
This article is about the Native American tribe. For the U.S. state, see Massachusetts.

The Massachusett were a tribe of Native Americans who lived in areas surrounding Massachusetts Bay in what is now the state of Massachusetts. One of the first to encounter English colonists, their numbers were quickly depleted, although descendants continue to inhabit the Greater Boston area. "Massachusett" translates from Algonquian as "The people who live near the great hill". By local legend this refers to the Blue Hills located south of Boston. They belong to the Algonquian family of peoples. They were almost totally wiped out by a European-introduced plague between 1616 and 1619, and the remaining population was scattered in the wake of a massacre of Massachusett military leaders led by Captain Miles Standish of Plymouth Colony in 1623. A period known as the Great Migration between 1630-1640 introduced over 20,000 English settlers to formerly Massachusett territory. Though much diminished in size and strength from their numbers before the arrival of English colonists, the Massachusett Indians were documented to have participated in King Philip's War of 1675-1676.

The Massachusett fished the shores, and farmed the lands, migrating from longhouses on the coast to wigwam settlements inland for farming. The tribes were introduced to John Eliot, who converted them to Christianity, created a written alphabet and also published the Bible in the native language. The tribe was confined to praying villages and later suffered at the hands of colonists, who mistrusted the Indians after King Philip's War, despite the fact that Massachusett Indians had served as guides and scouts. Many perished in the islands in Boston Harbor, where they were confined. Crispus Attucks, the first casualty during the Boston Massacre was of Massachusett descent through his mother.

In 1869 Massachusetts passed an act making the Massachusett United States citizens and "terminating" their nationhood. However two communities still survive:

  • One community of the Massachusett are residents of Natick. See Praying Indians.
  • One community of the Massachusett are residents of Brockton. They are Ponkapoag.
  • Another community of the Ponkapoag were residents of Canton. The last member of this community died in 1852 at age 101.

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