Awashonks ~ Sakonnet

Published on June 2, 2014 by Amy

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Awashonks
Awashonks

Awashonks (also spelled Awashunckes, Awashunkes or Awasoncks) was a female sachem (chief) of the Sakonnet (also spelled Saconet) tribe in Rhode Island. She lived near the southern edge of the Plymouth Colony, not far from Narragansett Bay. Near what is now Little Compton, Rhode Island. In the mid-seventeenth century her lands were claimed by the English settlers of Plymouth Colony. While she had allied herself to the English to increase her power, ironically their victory eroded her standing among both the English and the Saconet. Awashonks is known for her special talent for negotiation and diplomacy, which helped include the Sakonnets among a tiny handful of natives who received amnesty from colonists.

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Awashonks as Sachem

Awashonks became sachem not by inheritance, but through quality of leadership. She is often referred to as a squaw-sachem, which emphasizes the fact that she is female. During her tenure, she was challenged by both rivals within the Saconet as well as English colonists.

Plymouth Colony

Awashonks was not pro-English until July 1671, when Plymouth leaders called her and other Indian leaders to a meeting and threatened to send an army to fight them if they refused to attend. Awashonks signed the “Articles of Agreement”, in which she agreed to surrender guns and Saconet who were accused of inciting trouble. The agreement was also signed by Totatomet and Totatomet , witnessed by Tattacommett, Samponcut and Tamoueesam (alias, Jeffrey), and July 24th 1671. Not long after, in August, Awashonk’s men signed a paper approving what she had done in accordance with the agreement; only 3 names are known: Totatomet, Tunuokum, Sausaman. On October 20, 1671 Governor Prince wrote to her, saying that he had received the list of names, and assuring her that the English would befriend her.

Awashonks made appearances in the Plymouth court system. In 1674 Mammanuah, a Saconet rival who may have been her son, accused Awashonks of assault. After he had tried to sell land to English settlers, Awashonks ordered men to tie him up and threaten him. The court ruled in Mammanuah’s favor, possibly to appease the English land buyers. However, the court, out of respect to Awashonks, reduced her fine to only 5 pounds rather than the 500 pounds that Mammanuah demanded.

King Philip’s War

By 1675, the relationship between the English and the Wampanoag were more tense than ever. Metacomet (also known as King Philip) was trying to build military coalition to go to war against Plymouth settlers. Metacomet sent six men to visit Awashonks and convince her to side with him in the fight against the English. The men told her that if she did not, Metacomet would send his men to kill the colonists’ cattle and burn their houses on her side of the river – making it appear as if one of her people had committed the crime. Awashonks sent for Benjamin Church; when he arrived there were hundreds of people present and Awashonks was leading a ceremonial dance. Awashonks stopped to see Church, who told her that it was not true that Plymouth was preparing for war (as Metacomet’s men had told her). Benjamin Church advised Awashonks to go to the Governor of Plymouth and join with the English. In part because of aid from leaders such as Awashonks, the English defeated Metacomet in King Philip’s War.

Trials

In 1683 Awashonks was called before the Plymouth court, she was accused of helping to kill an infant born to her daughter, Betty. She and Betty convinced the court that the child was born dead, but Betty was found guilty of fornication. The court reprimanded Awashonks for having had a woman whipped for announcing Betty was pregnant. This case exemplifies the important changes in native authority structures, as English leaders undermined the very native rulers they had helped to create.

Legacy

Awashonks appears in official records of New England more than any other native woman. A boulder was erected in Wilbur Wood, Little Compton, Rhode Island in the late nineteenth century, during a period of romantic interest in Awashonk’s story. The engraving reads, “In memory of Awashonks Queen of Sogkonate & friend of the white man.”

Source: wikipedia

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