Early Indian Tribes, Culture Areas, and Linguistic Stocks map, William C. Sturtevant, Smithsonian Institute, 1967
Four hundred years ago this year when the first of the European settlers were recorded as having arrived on Massachusetts’ shores at currently-named Plymouth, the sachem or Indian chief of the Neponset band of the Massachuset tribe of natives, which were settled mostly around Massachusetts Bay, was Chicataubet. The spelling of his name (aka Chickataubut or Chickatawbut) has varied in records over the many years since these two groups of people came together in the same forested wilderness at the same time, but the story remains one of the classic struggle between native and newcomer, indigenous and invader, possession vs. “progress”.
Although no official recording or written deed exists as tangible proof, by 1630 Chicataubet had verbally agreed to cede the “hilly peninsula” that we now know as Boston--including Deer Island and others in Boston Harbor--to the Puritans. (Even today, disagreement arises between the native chief’s idea of “occupancy” vs. the colonists’ version of “sale”). In the decades between 1620-1660 tens of thousands of European settlers arrived on the eastern shores of America. It wasn’t until 1685 however, that colonists procured a written quitclaim from the Massachuset Sachem Wampatuck (aka Josias Wampatuck, Chicataubet’s grandson) to secure the settlers’ land grants. (A link to view this actual deed donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1904 can be found below*). The 1680s were a time of tension and potential crisis for the Massachusetts Bay Colony; when the Crown annulled the Mass Bay Charter--which had been in place since the late 1620’s--colonists became increasingly concerned about the security of their property rights and land ownership, thus building support for a formal written agreement to finally be procured.
Second in size only to the Wampanoag tribe, the Massachuset natives occupied an area from Salem to Plymouth, and inland to Worcester. They were a matriarchal tribe, the women involved in decision-making for the group along with the men and their tribal elders. As a society, they enjoyed the rich natural resources of the area and hunted, fished, planted and stored crops. They made their own tools and sculpted, built seasonal homes and raised families. These lands, quarries and bodies of water that provided the prosperity that the native people enjoyed were under the control of Chicataubet and were frequently challenged by neighboring tribes. Defending this valuable territory fell to the warriors of the tribe and was overseen by their chief.
Largely unchanged hundreds of years after the great sachem’s death in 1633, Moswetuset Hummock in Quincy, MA is the site of Chicataubet’s final days; it was here that he succumbed to the smallpox to which the indigenous people had no natural immunity. Known to some as the “massacre at Wessagusset” and then devolving eventually into King Philip’s War, the murderous skirmishes and continued conflict between the natives and settlers, combined with illnesses that decimated the Indians, also brought down this once-mighty tribe. Locally, Chickatawbut Road in the Blue Hills Reservation state park and Chickatawbut Hill in Quincy are named for him. Before his death, Sachem Chicataubet secured the land known as Ponkapoag in a treaty with the English, thus connecting the land we now know as Canton to its original inhabitants of thousands of years ago.
Huntoon, Daniel Thomas Vose. History of the Town of Canton,
Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Canton, Massachusetts: J. Wilson and Son, 1893.
*https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=808&mode=large&img_step=1&&pid=3&ft=Object of the Month&nodesc=1