(Image courtesy of the Native Northeast Portal https://www.nativenortheastportal.com/)
The Native American surname, Ahauton, appears repeatedly in Canton’s very early records-- from the mid 1600’s through the 1700’s--and is found as early in the town’s recorded history as that of any Christian family surname. The oldest in this family line recorded as interacting with English settlers was Job (aka “Old Ahauton”), son of Jumpum; he was described by the missionary John Eliot (known to the Indians as “the apostle”) as “an old, steadfast friend of the English...more loved than feared”. Ahauton was a Ponkapoag leader and counselor to the Sachem Chicataubut.
Job Ahauton eventually converted to Christianity, but only after paying a penalty of two beaver skins to settler William Blaxton in 1635 for having set traps to catch Blaxton’s swine. As well as a Christian, he also became an Indian guide and interpreter and signed many deeds--the last of which was the 1685 deed of Boston which “did grant, sell, alienate and confirm unto them and their assigns forever, all that Neck of land, in order to their settling and building a Town there, now known by the name of Boston…”. Thus did the Native Americans further forfeit claim of their ancestral lands to the English colonists.
Prior to signing the deed of Boston, in 1667, Old Ahauton, his son William (also known as Quaanan) and several other councillors of the Massachusetts Indians were instrumental in securing a deed for the six thousand acres of land promised them at “Punkapauog”. Over his lifetime, Job’s son William Ahauton proved to be an accomplished negotiator between the native people (the Christian-converted known as “Praying Indians”) and the ever-increasing numbers of colonists. He served as a minister and representative of the Massachuset Indian tribe and signed many deeds--including one settling the long-contested boundary line between King Philip, sachem of Mount Hope and the Ponkapoag Indians led by Josias Chicataubut. In 1704, after William sought assistance from Major-General Stoughton re: the safety of the Indians and white men, the tribe agreed to convey Beaver meadow to him “for his labors in ye ministery among them”. William died in 1717.
In 1724, when further investigation found the Ponkapoag acreage significantly short of its purported total area of six thousand acres, the Indians (including Thomas and Amos Ahauton, sons of William and grandsons of Job/”Old Ahauton”) agreed to sell the land--which would increase the value of adjoining properties--as it was in fact more real estate than the natives’ diminishing numbers could improve upon. To manage their affairs, in 1726 they chose John Quincy as their trustee. Quincy, whose namesake city nearly abuts Canton, would have a decades-long relationship of trust with the Native Americans and their descendants in affairs of both land and treasury.
Over the next decades the original Ponkapoag Plantation passed by incremental degrees from the possession of the Indians and their descendants to the colonists with the last acre sold in late 1827 under the auspices of Thomas French, then the current guardian of Indian affairs. Over the two lifetimes of Job Ahauton and his son William, much had changed in the relationship between the natives and encroaching colonists in the ownership of land, and most importantly, in the shift of power between the two populations.
William’s sons William, Jr., Thomas, and Amos similarly lived and witnessed that generational and cultural exchange between the native and colonizing people, however it was Amos who most actively participated in various negotiations and agreements re: land and lifestyle over the ensuing years. Amos succeeded his father as “preacher” but towards the end of his life was accused by the Indians of excessive drinking and lost their support. By the mid 1740’s Amos had sold land to provide for himself and his wife Martha in their old age and was also receiving assistance from the General Court.
Despite efforts at assimilation into the “more civilized” ways of the European settlers, strife over authority and diminishing resources which cut into the livelihoods of the native people, Indian culture and identity remains intact in the local Wampanoag, Narragansett and Mashpee tribes, among others. Starting with the diseases that decimated their populations upon arrival of the settlers through the necessary changes of strategy for simple survival--from hunting/gathering to trade and exchange--combined with their loss of land and natural resources, the native Americans--against substantial odds and through adaptability and persistence--have maintained a cultural identity and presence that remains an important part of our society today.
Breen, Louise A. Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630 - 1692. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Huntoon, Daniel T.V. History of the Town of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1893.
Kantrowitz, R. Marc. Images of America Canton. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.
Mandell, Daniel R. Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century
Eastern Massachusetts. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
Spencer-Wood, Suzanne M., ed. Historical and Archaeological Perspectives on Gender Transformations From Private to Public. New York Heidelberg Dordrecht London: Springer, 2013.
LINKS TO RESEARCH PERTAINING TO
THE WOMEN OF THE PONKAPOAG INDIAN COMMUNITY:
at ProQuest Dissertations:
“…A winding sheet for Deborah George…”: Searching for the women of Ponkapoag
by Clements, Joyce M., York University (Canada), 2004, 272 pages; NR11560.
And an article about Ponkapoag’s Sarah Ahauton’s adultery trial that considers how this very tragic story is relevant to contemporary research and epistemology: