Nipmuc Indians / Native Americans

The Nipmuc tribes were living across most of Massachusetts when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on Dec. 26, 1620. Nipmuc means "fresh water people". The pilgrims initially stuck to the coastline, which caused no problem at all for the inland Nipmucs. In fact, a giant plague in 1616-1617 had wiped out many coastal tribes, leaving their lands open for the newcomers.

However, over the years land was sold off to the newcomers by the chiefs of the Nipmuc tribes as the English expanded inwards. Also, many Nipmucs were converted to Christianity and took up residence in "praying towns", built specifically for that purpose. As such, the Nipmuc were some of the first native americans to be assimiated by the newcomers. The natives would sell beaver pelts which were in high demand. In return they received firearms, metal tools and alcohol ("firewater").

The Nipmucs in general were peaceful, helping out the new arrivals. This contrasted with the Pequots ("fox people") - the strongest natives in New England - who ruled the southeastern area of Connecticut. By 1637 the Pequots had had enough of the invaders and launched a war - which the English won. This left a power vacuum which Uncas - a Mohegan ("wolf") sachem (chief) with only around 40 warriors under him - filled quickly. The Nipmucs felt the threat of the Narragansetts to the south (mainly in Rhode Island) and the Mohegans. [Note - the story Last of the Mohicans is about a different group, the Mahicans, located in New York's Hudson Valley].

In 1644 the Nipmucs asked the new Massachusetts government - with their firearms and military forces - for help. The government agreed - in return for the natives agreeing to certain terms. The Nipmucs had to obey all laws, to pledge allegiance, to be taught to be Christians, and to put all tribal lands under Mass government jurisdiction. The Nipmucs agreed.

This worked quite nicely for a long while, with the Nipmucs enjoying the help of the newcomers with very little interference. Of course, as time went on, the newcomers passed more and more laws which were not in the interest of the Nipmucs, and found ways to use the Nipmuc land which was now in their control. In the meantime, many Nipmucs were converted to Christianity. Natick was the first "praying town" set up for natives - Hassanamesit, in 1654, was the second. Located in current Grafton, this was 10,000 acres of great farmland, cattle and pig stock. Nearby was another praying village, Manchage (now known as Manchaug, a sub-area of Sutton).

Note that even during the King Philip's War of 1675, when the coastal Wampanoags launched attacks against the British colonists, the "praying Indians" stayed loyal and fought on the side of their Christian friends. Unfortunately, prejudice after the war caused even those Indians to be persecuted, their crops destroyed, and the people driven from their homes. As a result of the war, most Nipmucs ended up taking refuge with other tribes. The praying indians weren't safe in their homes. In 1677 two Nipmuc women were stolen by Mowhaks while harvesting at Hassanamesit. Because of the wars and disease there were only about 200 Nipmuc tribe members left. The Nipmucs didn't feel safe returning to actually live in the Sutton area until almost 1700.

A very interesting legal twist led to the Sutton land grant in 1704. The map on the left shows the original Sutton land grant. John Wampas was the son of Nipmuc sanchem, and was raised by the English. He inherited "rights" over Nipmuc land and sold it. The Nipmucs were left with "Hassanamisco" - only four square miles of land that occupied the intersection of modern-day Sutton, Grafton and Northbridge. In 1728, with only 9 families left on the land, they sold this. In return, they were granted their home lots, plus 100 acres. The purchase price was put into a trust for the tribe, which was later embezzled by a government employee.

Over the years their home lot allowance has whittled down to only 2 1/2 acres, which they currently own - the Hassanamesco reservation in Grafton. This could be literally the smallest Native American reservation in the US.

Nipmuc History
Praying Towns of the 1670s
Nipmuc Lands Turn Into Sutton, Massachusetts
Nipmuc Wigwam Homes and Diet
Nipmuc Clothing and Crafts
Nipmuc Language

Nipmuc Current Events
July 2006 Powwow