Daniel Thomas Vose Huntoon
History of the town of Canton, Norfolk county, Massachusetts.
(Cambridge, Mass., J. Wilson & Son, 1893).
Chapter II, pgs. 10-45
Edited with additions and corrections: David Allen Lambert (2005).
Massachusetts Indians who had settled near the mouth
aboriginal name of the territory lying beyond the Blue
Hills, known to the inhabitants as the “New Grant,” was
Ponkapoag. The territory derived its name from the pond,
which formed one of the principal features in the landscape;
and the name in the middle of the seventeenth century applied
to a more extended territory than that which subsequently was included in the Ponkapoag Reservation. While
the Indians sojourned at Neponset, they were known as the Neponset
tribe; and when they removed to Ponkapoag, they
received the name of the place of their new location. It
is an error to suppose that the place took its name from the
residence of the tribe within its borders-; the reverse is true.
apostle Eliot was anxious to gather all the Praying Indians into one town, but
the Cohanit, or Taunton Indians, had
reserved a spot for themselves; and owing to difficulties with
the English people, he was obliged to give up this idea, and
decided to place them in separate communities, the first of which he
established at Natick, which was designated as "The First Praying
Town;" the second was at Ponkapoag. About 1650 the Indians made a
beginning; and in 1655 Eliot says, "They desire to make a town named
Ponkipog, and are now upon the work." Mr. Eliot was satisfied with the
experiment; he found that they were more contented living in small communities
than in a large town; such was the result at Natick and was beginning to be
the "experience at Ponkipog." The "History of Dorchester"
says in reference to Eliot: "He had become convinced that a position more
retired from the whites would better promote their interests, spiritual and
temporal, and solicited the co-operation of the principal inhabitants of
Dorchester to further their removal." In pursuance of this desire, the
apostle in 1657 addressed the following letter to Major-Gen. Humphrey
Atherton, - one of the most distinguished and influential men of Dorchester: -
HONORED AND BELOVED IN THE LORD, - Though our poore Indians are much molested
in most places in their meetings in way of civilities, yet the Lord hath put
it into your hearts to suffer us to meet quietly at Ponkipog, - for which I
thank God, and am thankful to yourself and all the good people of Dorchester.
And now that our meetings may be the more comfortable and favorable, my
request is that you would please to further these two motions: First, that you
would please to make an order in your towne record, that you approve and allow
ye Indians of Ponkipog there to sit down and make a town and to enjoy such
accommodations as may be competent to maintain God's ordinance among them
another day. My second request is that you would appoint fitting men who may
in fit season bound and lay out the same and record it also. And thus
commending you to the Lord, I rest. Yours to serve in the service of Jesus
The influence of "the apostle," not only on Major Atherton, but upon "the good people of Dorchester," is shown by the action at the next ensuing town meeting, Dec. 7, 1657. On that day, the town appointed Major Atherton, Lieutenant Clap, Ensign Foster, and William Sumner a committee to lay out the Indian Plantation at Ponkapoag, not to exceed six thousand acres of land; and it was voted" that the Indians shall not alienate or sell their plantations unto any English, upon the penalty of loss or forfeiture of their plantations." This transaction is more fully set forth in the Records of Dorchester for the year 1707; -
"Whereas, the Indians in the Massachusetts Country had sold all their rights and interest in all the land in the township of Dorchester, and had 110 place to settle themselves in, where they might have the gospel preached to them by the Rev. Mr. Eliot, upon the consideration thereof, the Rev. Mr. Eliot did. petition to ye town of Dorchester that they would be pleased to grant to the Indians of Punkapouge a tract of land within their township, which they might settle, and he have the opportunity to preach the gospel to them. Upon the Rev. Mr. Eliot's request in the behalf of the said Indians, the inhabitants of said town of Dorchester did call a town meeting and did grant to the Indians of Puncapauge, a certain tract of land King beyond the Blew Hills, not exceeding six thousand acres," etc.
This was the land upon which the greater part of Canton is now situated; it was known as the Ponkapoag Plantation, and to it most of the land titles must be traced. It extended substantially from Ponkapoag Pond on the east nearly to the Neponset River on the west, thence south to near the Viaduct, thence east into the boundaries of modern Stoughton, thence north to Ponkapoag Pond. [See Appendix II].
Gookin says in defining the position of the ancient village of Ponkapoag, "There is a great mountain called the Blew Hill which lieth northeast from it about two miles." This would bring the Indian village at what is now known as Canton Corner.
No early map is known to be in existence of the larger part of Canton; that is, the part embraced in what was known as the Ponkapoag Plantation. In 1667, when the Dorchester committee met with the Indians to renew the bounds of the plantation, they mentioned that the Indians had a plat of the land, but would not lend it to them. The committee had neglected to bring a compass, and when they arrived at the northeast corner of Captain Clapp's farm were obliged to perambulate the remainder of the boundaries. It is probable this map was in duplicate, but that the copy of the town was burned in the same fire that destroyed the early tax lists of Dorchester.
The next plan was in 1687, when Capt. Ebenezer Billings took a plat of the common lands between the Blue Hills and Pecunit; this must have covered some part of the Indian Reservation, probably one half. Some surveys were made between lessees in 1704, when the Indians gave leases, but probably no plan of the plantation. When the early settlers received their deeds in 1725, the General Court ordered a survey to be made. Capt. Ebenezer Woodward made the survey and plan.
In 1756 Robert Spurr was guardian of the Indians, and was very much embarrassed to determine the boundaries between the lands of the English and the Indians. It was asserted that the Indians had no plat; and if they ever had any, that no trace of the field-notes even could be found. Spurr, therefore, desires the General Court to order the English persons abutting on the Indian land to produce their deeds, and pay their proportion of the charges of surveying the Indian lands adjoining them- The request was granted, and he was empowered to employ 3 surveyor and chainman upon oath to settle the boundaries between the Indians and the English, - each party to pay their proportion of the expense, the English to produce their deeds. The plan was finished in 1760, by which it appeared that there was still in possession of the Indians land amounting to seven hundred and ten and three quarters acres. The English abutters were Robert Capen, Recompense Wads worth, Jonathan Ca-pen, Deacon Wales, Ignatius Jordan, Elijah Jordan, James Smith, Nehemiah Liscom, Paul Wentworth, Samuel Tucker, Josiah Sumner, John and Moses Wentworth, Edward Bailey, John Whitley.
In 1650 the Indians appear to have been in quiet possession at Ponkapoag, and in 1657 with full permission of the town of Dorchester.
In 1658 the Provincial Government appointed commissioners to take care of the Indians and watch over their interests. Major Humphrey Atherton was authorized to constitute and appoint commissioners in the several Indian plantations, whose duty it should be to hear and decide upon such matters of difference as might arise among them.
That they soon began to till the soil appears from the petition of Manaquassen in 1662, whose necessities require that he should have a horse or mare to go before his oxen to plough his land. The deputies think it meet that a ticket be given him to buy a horse, provided that the seller take the ticket and make return to the Secretary. It must have thrown a damper on his agricultural pursuits when the petition was returned with the endorsement, "The magistrates consent not."
In 1667, before going to the war, Josias, the sachem of the Massachusetts Indians, called upon the selectmen of Dorchester, and desired that they would give him a deed of the six thousand acres at "Punkapauog," which the town had given to the Indians, to be made out in his name and the names of his councillors, - Squamaug, Ahauton, Momentaug, William Ahauton, old Chinaquin, and Assarvaske.
It was probably in answer to this request that in May, 1667, a committee from the town of Dorchester went to Ponkapoag, and having given the Indians notice of their coming, met a delegation of the principal Indians at the "wigwam" of Ahauton. They reviewed the bounds, renewed the landmarks, and returned at night to the wigwam, where they slept. The next day they finished their labors, "old Ahauton" going with them.
As some of the Praying Indians had been suspected of attacking the English, the Indians at "Punquapoag" were ordered not to go more than a mile from their village without being accompanied by an Englishman. Although there was no evidence that the Ponkapoag Indians had been engaged in any conspiracy against the English, yet the selectmen of Dorchester feared "that in case of an assault upon the town, they should not expect any help or succor from these Indians, but contrarywise, to the great detriment, if not utter ruin, of our plantations." It was deemed advisable to place all the men of the tribe under the command of Quartermaster Thomas Swift of Milton, who removed them, first to Long Island in Boston Harbor, thence to Brush Hill in Milton, where they raised some little corn, although late in the season when they came up from down the harbor. While here, they were visited every fortnight by John Eliot and Major Gookin.
A few years afterward the Indians were ordered to repair to their plantations at "Punkapaug," and dwell there; and a person was appointed to call over the names of the men and women every morning and evening.
The following apocryphal story is told by the author of "Margaret Smith's Journal," of a powah, or wizard, who must have flourished about this time:
"There was, Mr. Eliot told us, a famous Powah, who, coming to Punkapog while he was at that Indian village, gave out among the people there that a little humming-bird did come and peck at him when he did aught that was wrong, and sing sweetly to him when he did a good thing or spake the right words ; which coming to Mr. Eliot's ear, he made him confess, in the presence of the congregation, that he did only mean, by the figure of the bird, the sense he had of right and wrong in his own mind. This fellow was, moreover, exceeding cunning, and did often ask questions to be answered touching the creation of the Devil and the fall of man."
During the reign of Squamaug, the long contest which had subsisted between Josias Chicataubut, sachem of Ponkapoag, and King Philip, sachem of Mount Hope, in relation to the boundary line between their lands, was satisfactorily settled. They met at the house of Mr. Hudson, at Wading River, in what is now Attleborough, July 12, 1670, and signed an agreement that the patent line dividing Plymouth from Massachusetts should be their boundary. Philip signed the agreement first, as he was considered the aggressor; then Squamaug signed, and William Ahauton and John Sassamon, councillors, witnessed the instrument.
The name last mentioned deserves attention from the fact that his violent death was the occasion of Philip's War. He revealed the plots of King Philip, whose secretary he had been, to the English at Plymouth; and not long after, Jan. 29, 1674-75, he was found dead in a pond in Middleborough, called Assawomset, with marks of violence upon his person. An Indian who saw the deed told William Ahauton; and this information led to the execution of the murderer on June 4, 1675. Sassamon, or Woossausmon, born at Ponkapoag, was the son of Christian Indians. He became a convert to Christianity in 1662, and was educated. At one time he taught school at Natick, and is said to have aided Eliot in translating the Bible into the Indian tongue. He was not only admitted into the communion of the Lord's Table in one of the Indian churches, but was employed every Lord's Day as a teacher.
In 1674 Capt. Daniel Gookin wrote a book entitled, "The Historical Collections of the Indians in New England," which remained in manuscript until published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1792. He gives a graphic and interesting account of the Indians, their government, manners, religion, and customs. By virtue of his authority as magistrate and superintendent of all the Indians, he was brought into frequent communion with them; and his opinion is, without doubt, entitled to much consideration in historical matters, In February, 1668, Captain Gookin held a court at " Packemit," or "Punquapauge." Undoubtedly his description of the place was written a year or two later. He calls it "the Second Praying Town." Eliot in his description says, "Ponkapoag, or Pakcunit, is our second town where the sachems of the blood, as they term their chief royal line, have their residence; "and Hutchinson follows him almost literally.
At the time Gookin wrote, Ponkapoag had a population of only sixty souls, or twelve families. "Here they worship God and keep the Sabbath in the same manner as is done in Natick. They have a ruler, a constable, and a schoolmaster."
Ponkapoag had suffered in the decade immediately preceding Gookin's writing by the death of several honest and able men; and some who were considered faithful turned apostates, and went away. These things had retarded the growth of the place; but especially had the village suffered in the death of William Awinian, - an Indian who is described as of great ability, of genteel deportment, and as speaking very good English. He appears to have been respected for his worth, and was a man of influence in the plantation. Gookin remarks, "His death was a very great rebuke to this place."
Eliot says of him, "He was a man of eminent parts; all the English acknowledge him, and he was known to many. He was of ready wit, sound judgment, and affable. He has gone into the Lord."
The Indians were very useful to the early settlers. They helped them to build their houses; and to-day there are houses standing, in the erection of which tradition says the Indians assisted. They were useful in planting the seed and reaping the harvest. The more industrious earned money by cutting and preparing cedar shingles and clapboards for the Boston market. To the less industrious, the woods and the swamps offered the prospect of game; while the ponds, the river, and the brooks furnished them a supply of fish for their own consumption, or for barter and traffic with their English neighbors.
Thus while engaged in tilling the fields of their white neighbors, or in traffic, they were wont to. "call to remembrance the former days," and repeat the lessons those godly men, the apostle Eliot and his son, had taught them in their ministrations at this place; and these poor sons of the forest grew eloquent as they spoke of the loving-kindness of the Eliots for them and their race. When cheated and deprived of their lands at Neponset Mills, God had put it into the heart of the Rev. Mr. Eliot to become a petitioner for them to the town of Dorchester, that they might settle together at Ponkapoag and be "gospellized;" and after attending to their temporal wants, he had established with them a regular religious service. He had taught them to keep the Lord's Day with reverence. Thus, on Sunday morning, when the sound of the drum reverberated over the plain, they all collected at the little meeting-house which they had erected, and with quiet and devout mien listened while the " apostle" or his son John would exhort them to lives of purity, virtue, and godliness, laboring hard "to bring us into the sheepfold of our Lord Jesus Christ." And that they might never be without an instructor, Eliot taught members of their tribe in all matters bearing upon their spiritual and temporal welfare. For this he was well qualified. He had by his diligence and genius attained to great skill in the Indian language. He translated, as is well known, the Bible into this tongue. This was a work requiring great perseverance, and lasting many years. When we consider that to translate the Bible to-day into any of the foreign languages, with all the assistance of lexicons and dictionaries, would be a herculean task. How much more difficult must it have been for John Eliot, with no written or printed language to guide him, to translate the whole Bible into a tortuous and unknown tongue! The task was simply gigantic. The printing was begun in 1660, and finished in 1663.
Although Mr. Eliot was so great a student and so learned a man, his preaching was adapted to the comprehension of the Indians. "His manner of teaching," says Gookin, "was first to begin with prayer, and then to preach briefly upon a suitable portion of Scripture; afterwards to permit the Indians to propound questions; and divers of them had a faculty to frame hard and difficult questions touching something then spoken or some other matter in religion tending to their illumination, which questions Mr. Eliot, in a grave and Christian manner, did endeavor to resolve and answer to their satisfaction." His delivery was earnest and impressive, his words plain and to the purpose. "The Indians," says an historian of the time, "have often said that his preaching was precious and desirable to them;" and they have left this testimony on record in the following words, under date of Nov. 20, 1706: -
"We, having made a large experience of the evidence and mercy of God
unto us, in affording us salvation in and by the gospel of his son Jesus
Christ, and has been pleased to move you ye hearts of his good people for to
encourage us to embrace and come in with the same. And that for above these
fifty years by some of his faithful ministers, and when we had no convenient
place of settlement, it pleased God for to move the heart of the Rev. Mr.
Eliat not only for to labor hard with us for to bring us into the sheepfold of
our Lord Jesus Christ, but did also become a petitioner for us to the town of
Dorchester, that they would be pleased to bestow on us a certain tract of land
at Ponkopauge, that we might settle together, that we might be gospilized; and
in answer hereunto the good people of Dorchester did call a town meeting and
passed a vote that we should have a certain tract of land not exceeding 6000
acres, but we were not to sell or alienate any piece or parcel upon forfeiture
of the whole. Accordingly we have enjoyed the same under Dorchester protection
for about fifty years, both in securing us from the former war by soldiers,
and otherwise for our safety and comfort, &c."
Mr. Eliot's son John also preached to the Indians at Ponkapoag, it having been his custom to visit them and preach for them once a fortnight; and great was the blow when John Eliot the younger died, - "when God was pleased to put an end to his work and life, and carry him with full sail to heaven." The apostle also had labors to perform at more distant places; old age wore on him apace; and finally the old man, "the first herald of Christianity to the savages," after many years of faithful service, died.
" The good, the pious, in the early days, Who planted here his noble
palm of praise ; Who justly bore the " Apostle's " sacred name, And
wen from virtue's self a virtuous fame; Who to the Indian and the negro bore
Learning's free gift, and opened wide her door."
A memorial drinking-trough was erected in 1880, on the old Packeen Plain, - a site rich in historic associations; it bears on enduring granite this inscription,-
"In memory of the labors of the Apostle Eliot among the Indians of Ponkapoag, 1655-1690."
Increase Mather, writing in 1687, says, - "Besides the church at Natick there are four Indian assemblies where the name of the true God and Jesus Christ is solemnly called upon. Mr. Eliot formerly used to go to them once a fortnight, but now he is weakened with labors and old age, and preacheth not to the Indians oftener than once in two months."
In 1688 Gen. Francis Nicholson, who was subsequently Lieutenant-Governor of
New York, under Andros, Governor of Maryland, of Virginia, of Nova Scotia, and
of South Carolina, visited "Punckapaug;" and some of the Indians
being afraid, he gave them a little powder and ball, - a timely gift, for the
year following a draft of ninety Indians was ordered from Ponkapoag, Natick,
and other places where the Indians friendly to the English resided, and sent
into the army. Rev. George M. Bodge says, "In July, 1689, Capt. Thomas
Prentice and Mr. Noah Wiswall were sent to arrange matters with the uneasy
Punckapoags." Captain Prentice was so highly respected by the Praying
Indians that on the death of Gookin in 1691, they petitioned the court to
appoint him superintendent of their affairs. Not only would it appear that the
Indians were uneasy, but the inhabitants of the neighboring town of Milton
seem to have been somewhat alarmed; for the same month and year, Thomas Vose
writes that -
"Milton is a frontier town, bordering on or near adjacent to a plantation of Indians, who, as he understands, are very speedily to be embodied together and to encamp themselves in or near the precincts of Milton, which will occasion that town for its safety to watch and ward."
Between York Street and Ragged Row (Pleasant Street) there exists a tract of land the greater part of which is covered with a growth of wood. The Turnpike crosses it from north to south; and the region remains almost a wilderness. One can wander for hours over these forsaken acres; cart-roads, bridle-paths, and driftways cross it, furnishing rough, but cool and shady drives or walks. Diverging from these are smaller paths, where one treads on moss of the softest verdure, or sits on banks covered with ferns and flowers; and here in their season are found the rarest wild plants and flowers that grow in our town. Hills and valleys, brooks and ponds, break the monotony of the landscape; and at intervals fine views of the surrounding country may be obtained. This whole territory is divided by loose and dilapidated stone walls, which serve to indicate the ancient landmarks. One portion of this land has long been called Mount Hunger Fields. Tradition asserts that in former days one of the early settlers starved to death on the land, hence its name. Some of the giants of the forest still remain. The Old Hornbeam rises, rough and gnarled, above all the trees that surround it; the old deeds make mention of it, and surveyors depict it on ancient plans. It has stood for centuries, all its companions having been converted to the use of man. Here also stand the Lone Chestnut, the Three Maples, and other landmarks. An ancient roadway known to the Indians as the Quantum Path, which was in use before the Turnpike was built, leaves the latter near the southeasterly border of Reservoir Pond, and crossing these deserted fields, comes out near Belcher's Corner. Diverging from this old highway, one branch leads to Pleasant Street in Canton, skirting the southerly shore of the Reservoir Pond, while another in a more southerly direction comes out on Burr Lane; another road, turning to the east, passes south of Muddy Pond, and running through what are sometimes designated as the Indian farms, passes the Indian burying-ground, coming out on Indian Lane.
Scattered over this territory are many ancient cellar-holes, which testify to the former occupancy of these lands. A portion of this land was purchased from the Indians in 1725; and here were the houses of John and Moses Wentworth, Moses Gill, Edward Pitcher, Elias Monk, and Elhanan Lyon. Here was Pitcher's Pit, where tradition asserts that Edward Pitcher, pursuing a wolf, fell into a hole and found, much to his surprise, that the wolf was already in possession. Another version of the story is that Pitcher was annoyed by a pilferer of vegetables, and dug a wolf-pit, carefully concealing it from view; the next morning he found one of his neighbors in it, unable to extricate himself, who ever after received the sobriquet of Pitcher's Wolf. Here are Fox and Porcupine hills, Beaver, Spring Meadow, York, Pequit, Shaven, and Ponkshire brooks, York and Muddy ponds. Here was Esty's Neck, Pomeroy's, Robin, and the Cedar swamps.
In 1726 a committee appointed by the General Court reported that it was true "that the Indian proprietors are reduced to but few families, and improve but a small quantity of their land."
The family of Ahauton is mentioned as early as any Indian family. Many of this name embraced Christianity, and several were educated. Old Ahauton, as he is called by the commissioners who visited his wigwam in 1667, was the son of Jumpum, and before he became a Christian was obliged to pay two beaver-skins to William Blaxton, the first settler of Boston, as a penalty for having set traps in 1635 to catch Blaxton's swine. In 1642 he is mentioned as an Indian guide and interpreter. In 1658, in signing the deed of Nantasket, he styles himself as of "Puncapaug." Eliot thus writes of him:-
"Our chief ruler is Ahauton, an old, steadfast friend of the English,
and loveth his country. He is more loved than feared; the reins of his bridle
are too long. Wakan is sometimes necessarily called to keep court here, to add
life and zeal in the punishment of sinners."
Old Ahauton lived to sign the deed of Boston in 1685. His son William was called to be the teacher at the death of Awinian. Eliot writes of him in 1670 as follows: - "He is a promising young man of a simple and upright heart, a good judgment. He prayeth and preacheth well; he is studious and industrious, and well accounted of among the English."
In due time he became one of the councillors of Squamaug, the Massachusetts sachem. He was a man of great attainments for an Indian. He signed many documents and treaties before 1675, and he wrote a fair hand; the same year William, William, Jr., and Benjamin were paid for military services by the Government. Some years ago an ancient deed was discovered at Dedham, which bore date 1680, and was a grant of land in the vicinity of Charles River, " from William Ahauton, alias Quaanan, his brother Benjamin, and their sisters, Tahkeesuisk and Hanna Ahauton, alias Jammewosh, all of 'Punkapogg' near the Blue Hills." On March 18, , when Charles Chicataubut, son of Charles Josias, sachem of the Massachusetts, desired that William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley might be appointed his guardians, William Ahauton acted as interpreter. In 1690 William Ahauton visited Major-General Stoughton to ascertain what was most expedient to be done for the safety of the friendly Indians and the English. Later we find him with the Natick Indians consulting Judge Sewall about the same business. At a meeting held at Pecunit on lecture-day in March, 1704, the Indians consented one and all that William Ahauton should have the improvement of Beaver meadow during his life "for his labors in ye ministery among them." In 1711 he is styled preacher, and stationed at Pecunit. He died July 21, 1717.
The wigwam of Ahauton is said to have stood near the site where Hon. Charles H. French erected his stone house in 1854, a part of the material of which was blasted from an immense rock which stood out from the surrounding field and had been known to the former generation as "Squaw Rock." The tradition is that the squaw of William Ahauton, of Pecunit, after having lived for ten years in great love with her husband, was condemned at a hearing before Justice Daniel Gookin, in October, 1688, for conduct unbecoming a wife and mother. It was decided to spare her life, but that the said Ahauton "shall on the twenty-ninth instant stand on the gallows, after the lecture in Boston, weth a roape around hir neck one hower, and that the marshall-general shall cause hir to be took down, returned to prison, and committed to the Indian constable, who on a public day, by order of Capt. Gookin, shall severely whip hir, not exceeding thirty stripes." The punishment was duly inflicted; and, unable to bear the disgrace attending it, upon her return home she dashed out her brains by jumping head-foremost from this rock. William left sons, William, Thomas, and Amos, the fatter of whom succeeded his father as preacher, and lived to be a contemporary of the second minister of Canton, the Rev. Samuel Dunbar.
In 1675 we find that Peter Ahauton and Nathaniel Patunckon were ordered to appear before the magistrate and give their testimony in regard to the murder of one Caleb.
In 1754 the wigwam of one Job stood upon land which he had sold to Stephen
David, who informs him in the customary language of the day when addressing an
Indian that "if he dont like its situation, he can move it on the other
side of the line on his own land." This family appear to have
intermarried with the Pomhams; for in 1767 Pomham, then only seventeen years
of age, had a bastard child called Thomas, descended on his mother's side from
Thomas Ahauton. One Pitt Pomham appears in Stephen Miller's company in Colonel
Bagley's regiment at Fort William Henry in 1756, again in 1760 as a servant to
Major John Shepard. In 1812 President John Adams, writing to Thomas Jefferson,
"Aaron Pomham, the Priest, and Moses Pomham, the King, of the Punkapaug and Neponset tribes, were frequent visitors at my father's house at least seventy years ago. I have a distinct remembrance of their forms and figures. They were very aged, and the tallest and stoutest Indians I have ever seen. The titles of King and Priest and the names of Moses and Aaron were given them no doubt by our Massachusetts divines and statesmen."
The Momentaugs were among the most ancient of the Indian families. The name of Robert, alias Momentaug, as one of the councillors of the king, Josias Wampatuck, appears on the deed of Quincy, then Braintree, in 1665. In 1683 he is paid for killing a "woulfe" by the town of Dorchester. In 1685 his name appears on the parchment deed given to the town of Boston. In 1712 Nehemiah Momentaug leases to Joseph Tucker for two hundred years six acres of land, where the road now passes into the Revere Copper Company's works from Washington Street. It was then designated as "Nehemiah Momentaug, his Neck;" and probably his wigwam was on this land. Samuel Momentaug was one of the Indians who in 1707 cheerfully yielded his right in the land about the meeting-house in Ponkapoag, that it might be used for a burial-place. John Wentworth affirms that Sarah Momentaug was Samuel's daughter, and calls him "one of the ancient proprietors of Ponkipog Plantation." This Sarah Momentaug, alias Sarah Simons, died at Dedham, Oct. 27, 1747.
The following letter, by Isaac Royall, a well-known citizen in his day,
throws light upon her ancestry: -
"I can assure you that she is esteemed to be one of the most certain proprietors of Puncapaug Plantation, she being of the antient family of the Momantaugs, and stands allied by marriage to King Josiah's family, who, in his deed to Dorchester, reserved Puncapaug Plantation for the use of the Indians of which the family of Momantaugs were part."
I find that in 1716 Hannah Momentaug was married to Thomas Blunt, of Milton.
On the 29th of March, 1718, Deacon Joseph Tucker, one of the first settlers of Canton, with his wife, Judith, conveyed to Elijah Danforth and his brother three acres of land known as Thomas Mohen's field. This land is situated opposite the Memorial Hall in Canton, and was leased about 1712 by Mohen to Tucker. The name is spelled sometimes Moohen, and I have seen Moho spelled Mooho. I am in doubt whether the Momentaugs were or were not the ancestors of the Mohos. The name Elizabeth Moohen occurs during the years 1717-19. Joshua Moho married Sarah Momentaug, Feb. 20, 1719. They had a son Samuel, who in 1753 complains "that the Indians are greatly neglected, and their lands stripped of timber." Samuel married Dinah, and lived in a house that stood on the westerly side of Indian Lane, on a road which was laid out in 1760, but soon neglected. This house was called old in 1790, and I am told that there are persons living who can remember it. The cellar still can be seen; it is on a hill commanding a view of the surrounding country. The place is sometimes called the Moho lot, and sometimes the Dinah lot. Samuel Moho died May 4, 1762, leaving eleven children, all but one being under age. Dinah joined Mr. Dunbar's church in 1734, and died May 26, 1791, at the age of ninety. In 1761 I find Joshua and Thomas Moho as soldiers stationed at Halifax, in the company of Capt. Lemuel Bent. Alfred Croud tells me that there is a tradition among the Indians that Dinah was found dead in the cellar of her house, with her throat cut. She was the mother of nineteen children. One of her daughters, Abigail, lived with John Bancroft, or Bancraft, son of Robert, commonly called "Doctor." Mary married Caesar Elisha; Martha married Robert Wood, Jan. 1, 1779. Manta, or Mantha, married, in 1770, Daniel Tom, a Natick Indian; and Dinah married in 1769, Mingo Robinson. Mollie married into the Wiiliams family. The sons of Dinah appear to have been patriots, and faithfully served their country during the Revolution. Asa, George, and William were in the service. John served six months and twenty-six days, and died far from his home, amid the privations and sufferings of the campaign, Nov. 22, 1777- Jeremiah and George shouldered their queen's-arms and served with Captain Pope in the famous Fourth Massachusetts Regiment.
Daniel Moho married Sarah Reed in 1801. George married Mary Bancroft, Jan. 3, 1774, and died July 30, 1784. It was the custom of Dinah to be drawn every winter on a sled by the young men of the tribe to Dorchester, to visit the graves of her ancestors. My grandfather has seen her on one of these pilgrimages; and Edward Everett, in his oration at Dorchester, in 1855, said that " within his remembrance one of the tribe used to come down once or twice a year to the seaside, hover a day or two around Squantum, stroll off into the woods, and with plaintive wailings cut away the bushes from an ancient mound, which, as he thought, covered the ashes of his fathers, and then went back, a silent, melancholy man, - the last of a perishing race."
It being then the custom to pay bounties for rattlesnakes, we find that in 1770 Hannah Moho brought two to the selectmen. They cut off the rattles, and paid her 1s. 4d. George Moho lived in a hut about midway between the Turnpike and Indian Lane, northwest of the Henry house, where Daniel Croud lived in 1855. He married Mary Bancroft in June, 1774. She died July 14, 1818; he in 1804. Sept 29, 1789, Mr. Benjamin Tucker and Mr. David Talbot went to Dinah Moho's in search of a sheep that had been stolen, and were successful in finding one that was dead but warm; they then went to the wigwam of George, and found nothing. Nevertheless a warrant was issued against Asa and George, and they were accordingly tried at Captain Bent's tavern, known as the Eagle Inn.
George Moho's daughter Margery married, in 1794, Canada Reed, of Sandwich; after his death, she married Joel Holden, and lived in a wigwam in the woods west of the York schoolhouse. Upon the death of Holden she married Samuel Freeman, Sept. 2, 1813. The last record I have of George Moho is that he died May 31, 1837.
The nine children of Margery and Samuel Freeman lie side by side in the Indian half-acre near Indian Lane. I have seen persons who have attended funerals there, and am told that the person still lives who dug the graves of some of the Freeman family. Whether this man was descended from Cuff Freeman, who was a negro slave of Capt. Charles Wentworth, and who married Mary Robin about 1752, I am not informed.
An ancient diary records, May 5, 1767, "A negro woman, wife of a white man, buried from Moho's."
Muddy Pond is embraced within the York wilderness, and near its borders
many Indians lived and died. One old Indian kept in his wigwam a ready-made
coffin, - a precaution which was perhaps warranted by some experience he had
gained by attending the funerals of his tribe. A sad story is told of the
death of Indian George, who, while fishing in this pond, fell from his rudely
constructed raft into the water and never was seen again, his straw hat
floating on the pond, and his unoccupied raft, alone revealing the manner of
The name of Simon George is frequently seen on early deeds and documents. The first known of him at Ponkapoag was in 1706. He was one of the first to plant an orchard; and in spite of all the attempts of the white settlers, he was enabled to hold it. The Indians were very fond of cider. Many of them planted orchards soon after their arrival at Ponkapoag, and these were excepted in the leases which the Indians gave to the first settlers. But in 1768 Robert Redman fenced in his orchard, containing sixteen acres, and threatened the Indians with death if they dared to take an apple from the trees which they themselves had planted, nor would he allow them to gather cranberries for their own support; but the loss of the cider was the hardest to bear. " The apples are now coming on," they say; "and we set great store by our apples, and hope that we shall have some, not only to eat, but to make cyder, - a liquid very peculiar to the aboriginal gust." Another orchard was situated near Muddy Pond. Simon George's orchard was situated at the corner of Ragged Row and Burr Lane; it contained from seven to ten acres. In 1732 the Indian commissioners allowed " him and his squaw the liberty to improve, for their own personal benefit, as much of the land that was that year devoted to John Wentworth and William Sherman as they shall see cause to use." Here he resided; here four of his children - Deborah, who married Berry Miller, Oct. 30, 1750; Abigail; Samuel, who married Hannah Momentaug in 1752 ; and Hannah - were born. One of his sons, Mathias, went into the service in 1747, and died soon after. His wife, Abigail, is mentioned in 1765 as old Abigail George; and on June 5 of the following year we find the record of her death.
Simon George departed for the happy hunting-ground in 1739, in full belief that -
"admitted to that equal sky, His faithful dog should bear him company."
Simon George gave all rights in his place to Jacob Wilbor, who married, Jan. 9, 1781, Mary Will, by whom he had a son who was buried in the Indian graveyard nearly west of his father's house. After the death of her first husband she married Seymour Burr. She lies buried in the Canton Cemetery, and the inscription upon her gravestone is as follows:
"In memory of Mrs. Mary, wife of Semore Burr, a Revolutionary pensioner. She died in Canton, November 1, 1852, aged 101 years, last of the native Punkapog Indians. "Like the leaves in November, so sure to decay, Have the Indian tribes all passed away. Mary's Christian feature on earth was a true Methodist; Above, her spirit now rests in sweet heavenly rest."
In regard to her age there has been controversy. The tradition among her neighbors asserts that she was born on the night of the great Lisbon earthquake, which occurred on the 18th of November, 1755. Her husband made oath when he applied for a pension in 1820 that she was then sixty-six years old.
Seymour Burr was born in Africa, and was said to have been the son of a prince. At the age of seven years he was kidnapped and brought to America, and was purchased by Seymour Burr, - a farmer living in Connecticut, a connection of Aaron Burr. Although he was treated kindly by his master, he bemoaned his condition of servitude, and incited a number of his friends to attempt an escape. Their plan was to steal a boat and put off, in the hopes of reaching the British army, and so gaining their freedom; but the boat was overtaken by their masters, who were armed, and they quietly surrendered and went home. The astonishment of Seymour was great when, in place of the corporal punishment which he expected, his master reminded him of the kindness with which he always had been treated, and inquired what had induced him to leave his old home and go away with foreigners. Burr replied, "I want my liberty." His owner, fearing that he might be more successful in another attempt, or perhaps touched with sympathy by his appeal, made the proposition to him that if Burr would give him his bounty money and enlist in the American army, he should at the end of the war be a free man. Burr accepted the offer with alacrity, willing to undergo any peril that would bring him his freedom. He accordingly fulfilled his part of the agreement, and served faithfully as a private in Captain Colburn's company, in the regiment commanded by Colonel, afterward Governor, John Brooks. He was present at the siege of Fort Catskill, enduring much misery from hunger and cold, and received his reward of freedom at the close of his term of enlistment. Seymour Burr with the Widow Wilbor settled on the estate of her former husband. On Dec. 24, 1805, he received a deed from the guardians of the Ponkapoag Indians of about six acres of the same land of which Simon George had previously had the improvement, and so became the master of George's wigwam. We have written "master," but it would appear that there were times when the heart even of tin's brave soldier faltered, and when for the moment he wished himself elsewhere. When his wife threatened and abused him, he would mutter in his broken English, "You Injun; I nigger. You kill me; I no kill you." He died Feb. 17, 1837, and is buried in the Canton Cemetery; no stone designates the grave. He left two daughters, but no sons. In 1855 a grandson who took the name of Lemuel Burr was living in Boston. There were, in 1861, seven of the name of Burr living. Seymour Burr also owned a tract of land through which the Turnpike now passes, which land Samuel Morse purchased of Dr. John Sprague, and which came into Burr's possession by an exchange.
The name of Bancraft, or Bancroft, has usually been considered an Indian name; but Robert, who on his first arrival resided in a hut in the woods near Ponkapoag Pond, was designated as an Englishman. He lived with Elizabeth Pickett, "a real white woman." He was called "Doctor," and died Oct. 26, 1786. After Bancroft's death his widow was married by Parson Smith to one Taylor, a sailor, and she afterward was known in all warrants as Bet Taylor. Constable John French so designated her when in 1789 he carried her with her children out of town. She subsequently married Asa Moho. Asa had a son John who lived with Abigail Moho, whom the wise men of a former generation asserted to be "half Indian and half negro." From John and Abigail came Jeremiah. Tradition says that his mother was named Wood, and he is said to have been born in a wigwam which stood near the place where the Providence Railroad passes the ancient homestead of the Taunts. While they lived here, the squaw used to go to Fountain Head and fill her apron with speckled turtles, which on her return she would throw into the hot embers to cook.
The place known as the Bancroft farm, in 1803, was south of York Fond, near Indian Lane. In 1827 Jeremiah had a hut west of the house of William Henry, not far from the Turnpike. He was obliged to remove this when Charles Tucker purchased the land on which it stood. Two years later he purchased three quarters of an acre of land bounded east and south on Indian Lane. The cellar-hole can still be seen at a bend in the road a few rods beyond the last house on Indian Lane as one goes toward York. I have pleasant recollections of a visit to this house some twenty years ago, and of listening to the ancient legends and folk-lore from the lips of one of the tribe.
The following account of the adventures of Jerry Bancroft was related by Jerry himself, about 1828, in the hearing of Mr. Nathaniel Vose.
He said that at a certain period of his life he was impressed on board a Spanish man-of-war, and served long enough to acquire the speech of its crew. When the ship touched at a port on the western coast of South America, he was carried ashore and sold as a slave. He was soon placed upon a plantation in a gang under an overseer. One warm day the overseer lay down in the shade to enjoy a siesta. Jerry, who was at work in the garden with a spade, waited for his opportunity, and then, as he expressed it, "patted him with the spade." Jerry then made his escape and started across the continent; he was well treated by the natives, and reached the Atlantic seaboard in safety, and got passage home. Jerry Bancroft was buried Sept. 29, 1840.
One of this family, bearing the name of its ancestor, George, fell in love with Abigail Capen, whose father, Christopher, had purchased land on Indian Lane. His house stood on the northerly side of Indian Lane, between the houses marked A. Tilden and D. Croud on the map of Canton published in 1855; his old well can be seen from the road. He forbade his daughter to have anything to say to Bancroft, and locked her up in her room; she made her escape in the night, joined her lover, and they were-married on the 28th of December, 1779. From her are descended persons of ability in Essex County. Sivery Bancroft's wigwam was on the northerly side of the road that leads from Indian Lane to York Pond before reaching the brook, almost directly west of the southerly end of the pond. The Widow Elizabeth was living in 1861. She was probably born in the last century. Jeremiah and Thomas are still living; with both I have had the pleasure of talking over the old traditions.
In 1768 Aaron Wentworth writes the following letter to the selectmen of the town: -
" These are to inform you that I took into my house, Berry, a negro man, - came last from Milton in November, 1767 ; how long he will tarry I don't know.''
He came to Ponkapoag as other slaves came, to marry an Indian wife, for then his children would be free, as the law in those days was that the children of Indian women were free-born. This man was mentioned in 1750 as a slave belonging to Samuel Miller, Esq., of Milton; he took his master's surname, and subsequently, as a free negro, appears to have married Deborah George in 1750. We hear that his wife Hannah, an Indian woman, was buried by the rector of the English church, July 24, 1769; and September 24 of the same year he appeared at the church, and after the evening service was married by the ritual of the Church of England to Sarah Will. In the list of the names of heads of families belonging to the Church of England in Canton in 1767, appears that of Berry Miller. Sarah Berry in 1780 made her mark in receipt for money expended in the support of "ye Wid. Adlington." She died on the 24th of November, 1781, at Smithfield, R. I., aged sixty-seven years, was brought to her old home for burial, and lies in the Indian graveyard near Indian Lane. The house occupied by Berry Miller stood between York Pond and the easterly and southerly lines of the Ponkapoag Plantation; the cellar still can be identified. This house was built by Wills subsequent to his residence in the "tree cellar" house. After his death Berry Miller took the property with the livestock. He married the widow of Isaac Williams, who also at one time lived in this house.
The first colored man in Canton, named Isaac Williams, appears in 1719, His father was imported from Africa, though he was born in Roxbury, and was a slave of Dr. Williams, whose surname he adopted. When on Nov. 8, 1775, Isaac Williams married Elizabeth Wills, he hailed from Dedham. She had lived in the family of Dr. Holden of Dorchester, and is spoken of as a woman of "pure, unmixed Ponkapoag blood." David Talbot employed Isaac Williams to assist him on his farm in 1789; and he was, upon his marriage, admitted as a member of the tribe by its guardian. He is said to have received a pension for his services in the Revolutionary War. If this is so, the events of a certain day in December, 1776, when he was arrested as a deserter and sent to jail by the Committee of Correspondence, must have been forgotten or atoned for. He lies buried in the Stoughton graveyard [Pearl Street], where a stone marks his last resting-place. His widow lived to be over one hundred years old, bedridden and blind. She died Feb. 3, 1848.
It would appear that the Indians had some interest in certain lots of land, - possibly of occupancy or of cutting wood. As early as 1789 a certain piece of woodland containing eighteen acres was sold for the benefit of the Indians to Jabin Fisher, and was then known as the Williams lot, designated as in Mount Hunger. It is bounded on the north by Muddy Pond and on the east by land of Seymour Burr. This land has been owned successively by the Withington and Lewis families; and about twenty years ago it passed into the possession of Horace Guild. There is a cellar-hole on this lot, by which runs an ancient driftway, or bridle-path. Isaac Williams purchased the land on which he built his house in 1803; the cellar-hole of this house, in which he died, is still to be seen on the York Pond road about an eighth of a mile south of York Pond. In 1813 he added thirty-nine acres adjoining the original purchase.
Amasa Williams was styled during the early part of this century an Indian mulatto of the Ponkapoag tribe. He was the son of Isaac, and followed the sea. On one of his voyages he made a miniature man-of-war, rigged and mounted her, took her to York Pond, loaded all her guns, arranged his slow-match so that they would all go off at once, and touched a match to her; the annihilation of the craft was complete. He died Feb. 13, 1827. He is buried in the old graveyard at Stoughton [Pearl Street], and is said to have been a member of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Masons. In 1861 Isaac Williams, then over sixty years of age, was living. His wife died April 18, 1849.
William Croud married Sarah, daughter of Nuff Wills, Aug. 15, 1783. He remained in Canton until 1784, when he removed to Smithfield, R. I., and in 1819 was living at Woodstock. He left a son, William, Jr., baptized in 1783, who figured with no credit to himself in this vicinity until 1812. Another son, Daniel, was born about 1792, and was well known as an exemplary unassuming Christian man, who built honest walls. He was married at the house of Seymour Burr, by the Rev. Benjamin Huntoon, Sept. 2, 1824, to Betsey Digans; after her death he married Lydia Harrison, a white woman of Natick. His children and grandchildren are still living on Indian Lane, and are owners by purchase of the very land which was given to their ancestors by Eliot's labor.
Daniel W. Croud, a member of the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry during the war, died in Canton, Dec. 19, 1883, aged fifty-eight years. There were sixteen of the name recorded as living in 1861.
One of the daughters of Dinah Moho, named Mary, married Caesar Elisha, May 17, 1769. He was a former negro slave of Capt. Charles Wentworth. They had a daughter, Louisa, who married, in 1795, Uriah Low, and, Aug. 18, 1797, Peter Robertson. His son Lewis married, in 1792, Rachel Corden, or Cordner; the ancient record says, "both of the Moho tribe."
'The house of Lewis Elisha stood on what is now the southeastern border of York Pond. As the road approaches the pond, it is bounded on the easterly side by a wall, which was once the boundary of the Williams farm, now owned by Hiram Johnson. On the westerly side of the roadway, at about eighty feet from the pond, stands a large smooth, upright stone with an apple-tree directly in the rear of it, and a maple-tree a little to the southwest; this stone is the back of the hearth or fireplace of the Lewis Elisha house. Oct. 10, 1804, there was a terrific storm; the wind howled, and even York Pond showed white caps. Polly Davenport Mois was then living in this house. As the storm increased, Polly, alone in the old shanty, grew more and more frightened, and finally, mustering all the courage she had, left the hut and started up the pathway toward Berry Miller's, then living in the Williams' house. She had barely strength to reach the door, and as soon as she had succeeded in opening it, fell headlong into the room; there the neighbors found her the next morning, cold and dead. Her body was tenderly cared for and carried to her friends in Dorchester, where it was buried. Her daughters - Persis, Mary, and Betsey- were removed by Joel Holden to Dorchester in October of the following year. Lewis Elisha was known afterward in Andover, where he had a large family, and figured conspicuously in a law-suit, Andover vs. Canton, in 1814. He married, in 1803, Hannah Richardson, the daughter of a mulatto father and a white mother, and died in Milton in 1817. James Elisha, aged sixty-one years, was living in 1860; and the names of William, Harriet, James F., and Maria appear at the same time.
On the northeast coiner of Indian Lane and the road which leads to York Pond stands the house in which, in 1855, according to the map of that date, was living Simon Willard Wilde. There is a small knoll in the rear of this house which has always borne the name of Mingo's Hill. The man for whom this hill was named lived near the spot on land adjoining that of Bancroft and Williams, bounded west by Indian Lane and south by the York Pond road; his name was Mingo Robinson. I find among the Narragansett soldiers the name of William Mingo, June 24, 1676; whether his descendants added the surname of Robinson to designate themselves is an open question. It was the good fortune of Mingo to possess in 1769 one of those royal jewels which had descended on one side at least from the ancient sachems of Massachusetts. He married one of Dinah Moho's daughters, named in honor of her illustrious mother, Dinah.
The family of Hunter is very ancient. On Sept. 21, 1675, Thomas Hunter and Benjamin Ahauton were among the Ponkapoag Indians who marched with Captain Prentice against the hostile Indians. In October of the same year John Hunter, with others, had permission given him by the General Court "to passe and repasse between Puncapaug and the place assigned to them near Joseph Belchar's for the conveyance of their goods." In 1717 George Hunter signed deeds of importance, and went to Milton on a cold October day to marry Betty Nateant.
Old Sarah Hunter had a house built for her in 1767, but she did not enjoy it long. Soon after, she was taken sick, and Lydia Waterman was sent for, - one skilled in all the ancient arts of healing and the use of herbs; Lydia nursed Sarah till the 11th of May, 1768, when she died. Parson Dunbar rode over to the funeral on horseback, said just what he thought about her, and was presented with a pair of gloves for his pains. A granddaughter of hers, named Bette Hunter, is mentioned as dying Aug. 12, 1766.
Elisha Mannumian, or Menumion, was one of the Ponkapoag Indians who leased land to the English squatters in 1706. He was the son of William, who in his palmy days was the owner of a tract of land in the Nipmuck country, which extended two miles each way. It adjoined land purchased by Mr. William Stoughton, probably in what is now the town of Charlton. In 1682 William was described as "falling into a languishing state of body." He ran into debt, and drank up all his property, and was obliged to sell his land. Probably Harriet, whose name appears in 1717, was his daughter.
There are many of the Ponkapoag Indians whose names only appear once or twice on any record, - Bette Solomon, 1754; Mary Peters, 1735; Hester Cole, 1717; and Phineas and Patience Cole in 1747. The first minister of Canton had an Indian servant. She died July 1, 1718. Her name was Hannah Spywood. Pomponechum has been preserved in the name of a swamp. We also know that "Wachennakin lived at Peckunitt," and two more men with unpronounceable names - Monnoccumut and Manantaligin - encumbered some portion of this desolate space. From 1667 to 1735 we meet with the name of Hezekiah Squaumaug, and in 1717 of Rebecca, lineal descendants of the great Chicataubut, who was sachem when the Pilgrims landed.
The family of Quok was also an ancient family. John is seen in 1717; Timothy was in the expedition to Carthagena in 1740; Zachariah died in 1741; and James was living in 1753. Quok Mattrick, a soldier of the Revolution, who married Chloe Howard in 1788, may have been named from this family. Hon. James M. Robbins, of Milton, informs me that when a boy he was very much frightened at the cry, "The Quoks are coming." Sucamugg is another name which appears in 1719. Mary died in 1738; Sue in 1754. Experience lost a daughter in 1759; and as late as Feb. 20, 1771, Mary married Thomas Mitchell, Jr. He died Dec. 4, 1810, aged ninety-two years.
Robert Burrill came from Braintree and took up his residence with Thomas Penniman in 1764. His wife's name was Mary; and at that time he had two children, - one named for his wife, and the other named for him. David is seen in 1765. There were half a dozen of this name living on Indian Lane in 1860, and the name of David was perpetuated. I remember seeing a row of Burrills in the York School when visiting it in 1866.
Moses Marendash was published to marry Lydia Jones on May 31, 1733; but on
the 2d. of June she changed her mind, and sent her uncle Jonathan to have the
notice taken down. This was done, but she was still unsatisfied; and on July
6, 1734, the notice was posted a second time.
Jonathan Capen was appointed to take the place of Joseph Billings as guardian of the Ponkapoag Indians, June 17, 1767. The following notice shortly afterward appeared in the Boston papers: -
Stoughton, July 30, 1797.
The subscriber having been appointed by the Great and General Court in
their last session Guardian of the Punkapaug Indians, notice is hereby given
to all persons not to trust or give credit to any of the said Indians, as no
debts of their contracting will be paid without the consent of the said
Nuff Wills, a negro, was a tenant of Capen's, and is said. after Capen built a new house, to have lived in his old one. He moved to Williams' old place nearly north of his former residence. His daughter Hannah seems to have been called after the Christian name of her father; she is reported to have married or lived with a Bancroft. Elizabeth married Isaac Williams; and Mary, Wilbor and then Burr.
Sarah, the widow of Nuff Wills, married Berry Miller, and her daughter Sarah married William Croud. Jacob is seen in 1788. The number of the Ponkapoag Indians in the towns of Canton and Stoughton, as taken by Nathaniel Fisher and Samuel Talbot, who were appointed to procure the information in 1784, was of males, twenty-one; of females, thirty-one. There were two males and two females in the families of Robert Bancroft, Jr., and George Moho respectively. Asa Moho appears to have lived alone. William Croud's family contained two males and one female, and Sarah Berry's, one male and two females. Isaac Williams and Jacob Wilbor are classed with blacks; and two are mentioned as " at Tucker's."
The Ponkapoag Indians had made complaint to the General Court as early as 1668 that other Indians, who were unfriendly to their tribe, had visited them as soon as the snow was off, and had done them much mischief. It was for this reason, and also as a protection to the English living to the north of them, that they built a good and "deffencible" fort, which should protect them from these predatory excursions. This fort was nearly completed in 1675; and the Major of Suffolk was ordered to appoint out of the towns of Dorchester, Milton, and Braintree sixteen or twenty soldiers, who should reside at "Punckepauge," and in conjunction with the Indians, should go on scouting parties through the woods, and give warning of the approach of the enemy or any strange Indians. In August, 1675, Corporal Swift was doing garrison duty at this fort with a number of soldiers. [See Appendix IV.] The exact site of this fort is unknown; tradition says that a stockade, or garrison-house, stood on the land owned by Mr. Samuel Bright. This was not a garrison-house, for such houses were surrounded with walls of stone. It may have stood on Powder House Hill, on the Taunton Old Way.
On a record of the Indian inhabitants belonging or connected with the Ponkapoag tribe in 1861 appears the name of Rebecca Davis, aged seventy-one. "Her mother [says an old letter which I have copied] was a Moho; her father unknown." Her first husband was Abel Lewis, a mulatto, who was a wandering musician, descended from quite a prominent family, -the Bensons of the Natick tribe. Her second husband's name was Black; he had unfortunately sworn "to love, honor, and obey" another woman before he married Rebecca; but as she lived to a good old age, we surmise that she did not wear away from regret at his departure. Aunt Becky was in the habit of visiting Canton in her last years. She used to come out from Boston just before Thanksgiving; and her old friends furnished her with pork, eggs, turkeys, and other comforts. She gained some money by the sale of a salve, which she prepared from herbs according to the prescription of some ancient medicine-man.
It is impossible to fix exactly the site of the Indian places of worship.
Gookin says that when he describes Natick, the first Praying Town, he
describes all the Praying Towns.
Now, Ponkapoag was the second Praying Town, and of course had a meeting-house. I judge the first one to have been situated where the little graveyard is, - between Ponkapoag Village of to-day and Aunt Katy's Brook. In 1707 the Indians relinquished their right in about three acres of land for a burying-place and a cemetery. Now, there was no person buried in the Canton Cemetery until 1716; and persons were interred in the Proprietors' Lot at Ponkapoag ten if not sixteen years earlier. There is no record of the building of any meeting-house before 1707; and then the inhabitants were ordered "to remove the meeting-house or build a new one." The new one was built at Canton Corner. Perhaps the English settlers bought it; it is more probable that they got it as they did their land.
In 1741 the Indians presented a petition to the General Court in which they said that they were in a sad condition; that the infirmities of age were creeping upon them, and they could do little or nothing toward obtaining a livelihood. They prayed that some of their interest-money might be expended for clothes, and that, £100 might be devoted to the building of a meeting-house to be placed at some convenient point on the Indian land. In order to strengthen their appeal, they attached to the petition the names of Amos Ahauton, the preacher, and also that of Simon George. Amos told the guardian, Mr. Quincy, that he never saw the petition and never signed it, and that Simon George was dead. In spite of this, it would appear that the house was built for Amos, the preacher, and Martha, his wife, and of such proportions that it would accommodate all the Indians as well as his own family. But in a short time their promise to meet together on the Lord's Day and hold religious worship was broken; laziness and rum made sad havoc among them. They probably all got drunk; and they alleged that Amos, instructing them to do as he said, not as he did, had given himself up to excessive drinking, and that they did not want to hear him any more as a preacher. Certain it is that in the winter of 1743 he was in reduced circumstances, and had one, and only one son, who was dying of consumption; and he asked leave "to sell two and a half acres of land for his comfortable support in his old age." In consideration of these misfortunes the General Court gave him assistance. The Indians were assured that if they would attend Mr. Dunbar's meeting, seats would be provided for them. They made the reply that they did not understand Mr. Dunbar; that they knew of but one Indian who ever attended Mr. Dunbar's church, and he was dead.
There is a tradition that there was a meeting-house on Burr Lane. I know of no reason to believe it.
The Rev. Charles Chauncy, D. D., as early as 1762, in writing of the labors of Eliot and others to plant churches among the Indians, thus traces their gradual diminution: - "Some of these churches are running to this day with English or Indian pastors at their head, though they are, it must be confessed and lamented, in a declining state. The Indians within this and the neighboring provinces have strangely diminished; a few only are left. . . . Within my remembrance the Indians at Punkapog, an ancient settlement within fifteen miles of Boston, were considerably numerous, but there are few now remaining. I can assign no other cause for this strange fact than the necessity these Indians were under, by being surrounded by English towns, to change their simple, plain way of living for ours."
There was a meeting-house on Indian Lane. The exact site of this house has fortunately been preserved. Samuel Capen, of Stoughton, an indefatigable antiquary, has shown its site to me, and told me that his grandfather James remembered the meeting-house, and that John Eliot preached in it.
Directly south of the house of Daniel Croud, on the map of 1855, there are two walls running west from Indian Lane parallel to each other, forming a country lane, a short distance down which another wall meets the north wall at a right angle; and west of this wall stood the meeting-house. It is not wonderful that the scholarly productions of Mr. Dunbar, who could quote Greek. Latin, and Hebrew, were not understood by these people. It is related that Deacon Jonathan Capen once went to hear an Indian preacher in this meeting-house, and was astonished when the text was announced as, " Tell no more lies than needs must." They knew what that meant, and it conformed to their idea of Christianity. .
The places of Indian sepulchre in Canton known to me are five. One was on the extreme northern boundary of the Ponkapoag Plantation, near the pond, on the ancient Redman farm, now owned by Henry L. Pierce. It is near a field that I visited some years ago, to see, before the land was broken up, hills that had remained since the Indians reaped their corn there. Excavation at the site of the burying-place revealed nothing, although the workmen in several instances dug seven feet into the soil.
On Chapman Street is a piece of land called the "Stone lot," from its having been owned in early days by Daniel Stone. Mr. Asa Shepard tells me that he has seen rough unlettered head and foot stones on that land.
Directly east of the Sherman schoolhouse on Ragged Row, there is an Indian burying-ground. It is easily reached from Burr Lane, and is not far from Simon George's orchard. Here are buried Simon George and his squaw. Here also was deposited in a grave dug by Abijah Upham in October, 1788, all that was mortal of Jacob Wilbor. Some of his children were also buried here.
In that part of the town known as Mount Hunger Fields, is an ancient Indian burying-ground. Some years ago I visited it, and the excavations made resulted as at Ponkapoag in finding nothing. This is near the spot where in my boyhood were charcoal-pits. The land was owned twenty years ago by the heirs of Laban Lewis.
The most modern Indian burial-place is not far from Indian Lane. I find the first record of it in 1760, and have conversed with persons who have attended the burial of Indians in this graveyard within fifty years. Its location is easily ascertainable. A driftway, or bridle-path, leads from Indian Lane to within a few rods of it. It is hard to distinguish the mounds, and some believe that the ground has been ploughed; but the stones picked up in the neighboring fields and placed at the head and foot of the graves show that no plough has ever disturbed this quiet place, and that some attempt has been made at regularity of interments. When the guardians, in 1790, gave a deed of the sixteen acres adjoining, they declared that this half-acre was reserved as a burial-place for the tribe, and also that the tribe should have the liberty to pass and repass by the leading way then commonly used. William Henry, the purchaser, was allowed to use it for pasturage, or plant it with corn, but it was distinctly stipulated that this sacred place should not be ploughed or tilled. A thick growth of wood now covers the land, which half a century ago was an open field. Besides Indians of pure blood, several mestees and at least one white person are buried here, - the white person being Hulda Green, who died at the house of Mr. Croud.
There is a rock on the Bailey farm at Packeen, which has a cleft in it, and is believed to be a place where the Indians used to grind their corn. It is admirably adapted for such a purpose. In this part of the town there is a large rock known as Fairbanks's rock; it rises abruptly in the midst of wood and underbrush, and on the westerly side is an opening where six or eight men could easily find refuge. Here one Fairbanks secreted himself in order to avoid the officers of the law. It would appear that an Indian in passing saw Fairbanks, and greeted him with offensive words and gestures, whereupon Fairbanks, on the impulse of the moment, fired a charge of buckshot at the Indian, from the effects of which he died. The name of Fairbanks's meadow in the immediate vicinity appears in 1717; and it has continued to bear this name to the present time. There is a barn standing on the Endicott homestead, composed of the timbers of an earlier building, against which an Indian is said to have dashed out the brains of a little child. An Indian is reported as having shot a white man as he was about to enter the house of Moses Gill, one of the first settlers of Canton.
In nearly all parts of the town implements once used by the Indians have been found; arrow and spear heads, pestles and axe-heads, and sometimes pipes, have been collected and preserved. Within a few years, boys descended from the first Wentworths - who came from York, Maine, on account of the Indian slaughter, and named a part of Canton for their old home - found on the shore of Reservoir Pond more than a dozen arrow-heads and a portion of a pipe with an attempt at ornamentation upon it. On the farm now owned by Alfred Lewis, the Canton Historical Society inspected, on one of their Fast Day walks, a fine collection. Implements have been found on the Redman farm at Ponkapoag, and on Packeen Plain, now Canton Corner. Miss Olive Richards of Sharon has fine specimens of pestles; and another family of the same name have a magnificent specimen of a stone corn-grinder.
In 1783 the guardians applied for liberty to sell more of the Indian land, although one authority asserts that there were only thirty Indians in the town. On the other hand, Mrs. Tilden, the mother of Abner, is reported as saying that there were fifty families of Indians in her day, and that in driving in the vicinity of York, Indian Lane, and Spring-dale, one would meet more Indians than whites. In 1813 there was a small estate belonging to the tribe; and a committee of the General Court was appointed, of which Elijah Dunbar was chairman, to attend to such claims as were presented by Indians in want; and if worthy, the guardian was ordered to make payments to them or provide for their wants.
Hon. Thomas French, guardian, in 1827 sold the last piece of Indian land.
In the year 1861 John Milton Earl was appointed by the Governor and Council to
examine into the condition of the Indians in the Commonwealth. The commission
reported it expedient that these Indians should receive the rights of
citizenship. In due course of time this was accomplished, and the office of
guardian was abolished. The commissioner's report in 1849 put the whole number
of the tribe at ten, - four males and six females; and the guardian's report
in 1857 says the "Punkapog tribe of Indians is nearly extinct; only some
fifteen or twenty, and those mostly of mixed blood, remain." The report
"The Punkapogs have no organization. Both in Canton and elsewhere they enjoy educational and religious privileges in common with others, and avail themselves thereof to the extent that is usual with those in their condition of life. The children attend the public schools, and some members of the tribe are connected with the churches where, they reside. The Punkapogs are a quiet and peaceable race, and are believed to be as moral as those of the same condition in life in the general community with which they are commingled. Ten of them are possessed of property, and only three of them are known to hold real estate. It is claimed by some members of the tribe that there is a tract of land, including a valuable cranberry meadow, which was a part of the original reservation that has never been legally alienated, but is wrongfully held by others to the derogation of the Indian rights. Complaint thereupon was verbally made to the Commissioner, but at so late a period as to preclude a public hearing of the case. The commissioner is informed that the subject has been before a former Legislature, and was referred to a special committee, who reported leave to withdraw."