Published on October 7, 2013 by Amy
Central plateau of Massachusetts extending south into northern Rhode Island and northeast Connecticut.
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Estimates of the pre-contact population of the Nipmuc are at best confusing, because there is no agreement as to which groups belonged to the Nipmuc. The numbers vary between 3,000 and 10,000 with as many as 40 villages. Some Nipmuc tribes were subject to the Pequot and sometimes have been included as part of the Pequot Confederacy. Freed in 1637 after the destruction of the Pequot by the English, they were classified in later years as Nipmuc. Similar problems exist with members of the Narragansett, Massachuset, Pocumtuc, Western Abenaki, and Pennacook. None of which is important until totals are taken, and several thousand people have not been counted …or else several times. The first really accurate count of the Nipmuc occurred in 1680 following the King Philip’s War. A little less than 1,000
Nipmuc survived, and these were confined to praying villages along with the remnants from other tribes. How many Nipmuc escaped to the Abenaki and Mahican and how many were killed during the war is anyone’s guess. Within a few years it became impossible to assign tribal membership within the mixed populations at the praying villages. Only two identifiable groups of Nipmuc have survived to the present day. Both are recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and have nearly 1,400 members, 250 of whom live in Connecticut (which has not recognized the Nipmuc). The Hassanamisco have the small (two acre) Hassanamesit Reservation at Grafton, Massachusetts. The Chaubunagungamaug (Webster, Massachusetts) have a privately owned ten acre reservation in northeast Connecticut. Although goth groups have applied, neither is federally recognized.
Also spelled as: Nipnet, Neepmuck, Neepnet, Neetmock, Neipnett, Nipmug, and Nipmuck. The name originated from the Algonquin word “nipnet” meaning literally “small pond place” and is sometimes translated as “fresh water people.”
Algonquin. The L-dialect used by most of the Nipmuc varied only slightly from the N-dialect of the Massachuset.
There never was a Nipmuc tribe as such. Nipmuc is a geographical classification given to the native peoples who lived in central Massachusetts and the adjoining parts of southern New England. They lived in independent bands and villages, some of which at different times were allied with, or subject to, the powerful native confederacies which surrounded them. Massomuck, Monashackotoog, and Quinnebaug were Nipmuck, but they were subject to the Pequot before 1637. In like manner, the Nashaway at one time belonged to the Sokoni and Pennacook, while Squawkeag was originally part of the Pocumtuc.
Accomemeck (Acoomemeck), Assabet, Attawaugan, Boggistowe, Chabanakonkomun, Cochhituate, Cocatoonemaug, Coweset (see Narragansett), Escoheag (Eascoheage, Easterig), Hadley Indians, Manchaug (Monuhchogok) (see Pequot), Mashapaug (see Massachuset), Massomuck (Wabaquasset, Wappaquasset, Wabiquisset) (see Pequot) (subject to Mohegan after 1637), Medfield, Menemesseg, Metewemesick, Missogkonnog, Monashackotoog (Monoshantuxet) (see Pequot), Musketaquid, Nashua (Nashaway) (see Sokoni and Pennacook), Naukeag, Nichewaug, Nipnet, Pascoag (Paskhoage), Pegan (Piegan), Poniken (Ponnakin), Quaddick, Quahmsit, Quinebaug (Quinnebaug, Quinapeake) (see Pequot), Quinsigamond, Segreganset, Segunesit, Squawkeag (Squaeg) (see Pocumtook), Tatumasket, Totapoag, Wenimesset, Woruntuck, Wunnashowatuckoog (see Pequot), and Wusquowhanaukit.
Chachaubunkkakowok (Chaubunagungamaug), Hassanamesit, Magunkaquog (Makunkokoag, Magunkook), Manchaug (Monuhchogok), Manexit (Maanexit, Mayanexit, Fabyan), Massomuck (Wabaquasset, Wappaquasset, Wabiquisset) (also Pequot), Nashoba (Nashobah), Okommakamesit (Ockoogameset), Pakachoog (Packachaug), Quabaug (Quaboag), Quantisset (Quinetusset), Wacuntug (Wacuntuc, Wacumtaug), and Washacum.
Chachaubunkkakowok (Chaubunagungamaug), Hassanamisco, Magunkaquog (Makunkokoag, Magunkook), Manchaug, Manexit (Maanexit, Mayanexit, Fabyan), Massomuck (Wabaquasset, Wabiquisset), Nashobah, Nashaway (Weshacum), Okommakamesit (Ockoogameset), Pakachoog (Packachaug), Quabaug (Quaboag), Quantisset (Quinetusset), Wacuntug (Wacuntuc, Wacumtaug), and Wamesit. There was also small reservation at Hassanamesit.
The Nipmuc generally lived along rivers or on the shores of small lakes and seem to have occupied the area for as far back as can be told. Like other New England Algonquin, the Nipmuc were agricultural. They changed locations according to the seasons, but always remained within the bounds of their own territory. Part of their diet came from hunting, fishing, and gathering of wild food, but as a rule they did not live as well as the coastal tribes who had the luxury of seafood. Each group was ruled by its own sachem, but there was very little political organization beyond the village or band level. This lack of a sophisticated system of government may seem to imply the Nipmuc were not as sophisticated as neighboring tribes, but this was not really the case. Few villages were fortified, so what little warfare there was had to have been low-level. The Nipmuc obviously lived in peace with each other and just didn’t have problems that required a lot of complicated government.
Before the English came, several Nipmuc tribes owed at least a partial allegiance to the Pequot, Narragansett, and Pennacook. Since the Nipmuc homeland starts only thirty miles west of Boston harbor. Contacts with English colonists began almost immediately after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620 and increased dramatically after the settlement of Massachusetts Bay by the Puritans in 1630. Boston traders reached the Connecticut River in 1633, and settlement and Puritan missionaries were close behind them. As English settlement spread west, the power of the confederacies over the Nipmuc was broken, most notably when the English colonists destroyed the Pequot during a war in 1637. The Quinebaug and Massomuck were suddenly free of the Pequot only to face greater demands from a new and more powerful overlord.
Although the English during the early years were careful to acquire native lands by formal purchase, there is some question what would have happened if the Nipmuc had refused to sell. The Lancaster Purchase (1643); the Tantiusque Deed (1644); and the Eliot and Brookfield Purchases (1655) steadily eroded the Nipmuc’s land base, but unregulated settlement (squatters) took even more. The worst part was that whites took the best farm lands in the river valleys leaving the Nipmuc – who depended heavily on agriculture – with serious problems feeding themselves. In exchange, the Nipmuc after 1640 got Christianity from John Eliot and other Puritan missionaries. By 1674 there were seven praying villages of Christian converts among Nipmuc. These were so grateful to the English for their new-found salvation that almost all of them joined King Philip’s uprising against the colonists in 1675.
Under the leadership of Sagamore Sam, the Nipmuc joined the fighting in King Philip’s War during the summer of 1675. Nipmuc warriors raided Brookfield (twice) and in September joined the Pocumtuc in an attack on Deerfield. During the same month they participated in the battle at Bloody Brook near Hadley which destroyed the command of Captain Thomas Lothrop. The allegiance of some Nipmuc to Philip was questionable, however, since Philip’s followers had a habit of crushing the heads of natives who refused to join, feed, or otherwise support them. The English were no better. The few Nipmuc who managed to remain neutral were rounded up and sent to a “plantation of confinement” at Nashoba. After a series of raids in southeast Massachusetts, Philip retreated west into the Nipmuc country during the summer of 1675 and attacked English settlements in the Connecticut River Valley. Using the Nipmuc country as a sanctuary in the spring, Philip launched a series of raids throughout New England during 1676 which continued until he was finally trapped and killed in August.
Following Philip’s death, native resistance ended. Unfortunately, the war against them did not. The English continued to hunt down and attack the Nipmuc and any other group of Philip’s former allies they could find. Some colonists did not take prisoners, others did but sold them as slaves. Some Nipmuc avoided this and escaped. One group followed the Connecticut River Valley north into Quebec where they joined the St. Francois Indians and continued the war as French allies. The Christian name of St. Francois can be misleading, for it is hard to imagine a more bitter enemy of New England colonists during the next 50 years. Taking revenge for the King Philip’s War, the St. Francois Indians raided throughout New England during the King William’s (1689-97) and the Queen Anne’s (1701-13) Wars. Other Nipmuc and New England Algonquin chose to move west and resettled along the Housatonic and Hudson Rivers with the Mahican. Still others crossed the Hudson and joined the Munsee Delaware in northern New Jersey. These refugees from the King Philip’s War were eventually absorbed by their hosts, and their descendents moved west as part of the Delaware and Mahican – first to the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania and in later years to Ohio.
After heavy population losses to continuous epidemics between 1614 and 1675, there were about 15,000 Native Americans living in southern New England at the beginning of the King Philip’s War. In less than two years 2,000 had been killed in the fighting – 1,000 during a single battle in Rhode Island. Another 1,000 were captured and sold as slaves to the West Indies (reasonably reliable numbers). After the war, the terms of peace imposed by the New England colonists were harsh. The survivors of the Nipmuc and other tribes in southern New England were collected into a series of praying towns supervised by Puritan missionaries or confined to small reservations in remote areas. However, this permitted the first really accurate census of natives in southern New England to be taken in 1680. There were only 4,000 left! Considering that even conservative estimates of the native population in 1614 exceed 100,000, there had been a population loss (within the space of a single lifetime) of at least 96% – due almost entirely to contact with Europeans.
Arguments over genocide usually revolve around the question of intent. Undoubtedly, European disease was responsible for almost all of the destruction of New England’s native population. Given the level of medical knowledge available at the time, it seems impossible that the New England colonists were capable of deliberate infection. Rumors abound, but no hard evidence exists this was even attempted before 1763. Nevertheless, it is obvious that, during the King Philip’s War, many New England colonists went well-beyond the bounds of normal warfare and attempted to exterminate the Native Americans in New England. Of the 15,000 natives in 1675, only 7,000 can be accounted for (2,000 killed; 1,000 prisoners sold into exile and slavery; and 4,000 survivors). Of the other 8,000, probably 2,000 (at the most) reached safety outside New England. A larger number of refugees would have been noticed by the French, or the English colonial government in New York. The fate of the remaining 6,000 was either massacre or starvation. The only question is how many of each, but there are very few records.
Confined to mixed communities of praying villages and small reservations after 1680, almost all tribal identities and traditions of the New England Algonquin evaporated within a few years. Even their small land base quickly passed into white ownership. The Chaubunagungamaug currently have ten acres in Connecticut, while the Hassanamisco in Massachusetts have only two. The Hassanamesit Reservation contained 8,000 acres in 1728 when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased the land. The money from the sale was to be held for the Nipmuc in an account at a Boston bank, but they never saw a penny of it. During the 1800s, a state official secretly borrowed (embezzled) the money for his private use. It was never repaid, and the thief was never prosecuted. Almost 250 years after the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth, the Massachusetts legislature in 1869 finally passed a law granting citizenship to the Nipmuc.