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