BEGINNINGS OF PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE IN THE
LAND CALLED ‘NAWSETT’
A new exhibition, “The Land Called Nawsett,” is being curated at
The Centers for Culture and History in Orleans
to honor the Native Americans, the first European adventurers, the founding families and life in the early settlements of the Outer Cape in the 1600s. This is the first in a series of articles highlighting segments of the exhibition that is set to open later this year.
Ancestors of the Wampanoag/Nauset tribes had occupied Cape Cod for about 12,000 to 15,000 years prior to the arrival of early European explorers. From 1602 to 1614, Bartholomew Gosnold, Samuel de Champlain, John Smith and others sailed to today’s New England coastline to map the region, seek riches and possibly open new ports of trade.
Inevitably they met Native Americans during their travels. Unfamiliar with each other’s customs and languages, some of their interactions were peaceful and resulted in trade while others were not so friendly. In one incident at the end of Smith’s 1614 visit to the Cape, Thomas Hunt was left in charge to fill a second ship with fish. While doing so, Hunt captured 27 tribe members to sell as slaves in Spain.
Also, the Europeans brought disease that caused a “great dying” of an estimated 90,000 Native Americans from Maine to Cape Cod in 1616-19. Little wonder the tribes wanted to scare off the next group of those they considered hostile invaders. When the
Pilgrims first encountered the Nausets on December 8, 1620, on a beach in Eastham, they were met with a barrage of arrows.
Yet, just six years later when the English ship
foundered on the now Orleans coast, the Nausets were the first to help the crew and passengers, and sent word to Plymouth of their plight. What changed?
Massasoit, great sachem (chief) of the tribes inhabiting parts of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts including the Nausets, had a dilemma. Having lost many of his people to disease and worried about attacks, could he trust the Pilgrims? Imagine the surprise of the Plymouth colonists in March, 1621, when his representative, Samoset, walked boldly out of the woods and into the settlement, greeting them in English learned from previous visitors!
Treated well by Governor Carver, Samoset reported back to Massasoit and returned a few days later accompanied by the sachem and Tisquantum (Squanto). A treaty was made and Squanto remained with the colonists to help them grow crops and survive in their new land. Ironically, Squanto was one of the Native Americans abducted by Captain Hunt but had found his way back, learning English in the process.
A few months later, a Pilgrim boy wandered off from Plymouth into the woods, became lost and was found by the Nausets. A rescue party set off accompanied by Squanto serving as an intermediary and interpreter. On the Cape they encountered an older Nauset woman who, upon seeing the Europeans, began weeping over the loss of her sons at Hunt’s hands. The Pilgrims gave her gifts to make restitution.
Upon reaching the Nauset village, Squanto interceded with their sachem, Aspinet, who returned the boy wearing tribal beads he had been given. In thanks, Aspinet and the tribal member who had found the boy were presented with knives. The Pilgrims also arranged to replace some corn they had taken previously. The treaty with Massasoit and the conciliatory gestures with the Nausets helped form the basis for peace, and set the stage for later Pilgrim settlement of the Outer Cape.