Staff Writer: Roxanne Hepburn [email@example.com]
As Indigenous People’s Day occurred recently, on October 11th, it reminded me to acknowledge my small-town roots and do further research on my own hometown’s local Native American history. Massachusetts is an area rich in Native American history, and the town I grew up in, Wrentham, is specifically known for its ties to complex colonial-Native American relations.
When founded, the town of Wrentham was known as Wollomonopoag, given by the local native tribe the Wampanoags, meaning “place of shells.” According to Wrentham’s official website, “[Wollomonopoag] is a reference to Lakes Pearl and Archer being a food source, and thus, a place to live.” In 1636, colonists began their intrusion when the Town of Dedham was established with the land of Wollomonopoag included in its limits. The colonists officially purchased the land from Metacom (English name: Philip Sachem or King Philip) of the Wampanoag tribe in 1662 by a group of Dedham investors known as The Proprietors Wollomonopoag. The Town of Wrentham was incorporated in 1673. Wrentham was named after Wrentham, England, where the colonists were from. Due to the ongoing war with Metacom, the town was abandoned in 1676 and it is rumored that all but two houses were burned quickly thereafter by the natives. After around four years, the colonists returned and rebuilt the town and by 1700 Wrentham was expanding rapidly into what we now know it as today.
The History Channel describes King Philip’s War as “the Native Americans’ last-ditch effort to avoid recognizing English authority and stop English settlement on their native lands.” The Natives’ leader, Metacom, was the second son of the Wampanoag tribe’s Chief Massasoit, who negotiated a peace treaty with the colonists; however, the treaty did not last as the colonists continued to encroach on Wollomonopoag lands. In January 1675, a Christian native, Sassamon, warned the colonists of Plymouth Colony of Metacom’s planned attack, but was ignored and later found dead. Three Wampanoag men were investigated and found guilty of Sassamon’s death; their consequent execution further ignited tensions between the Wampanoag peoples and the colonists. On September 9, 1675, the New England Confederation declared war against “King Philip” and his legion of natives. The spring of 1676 brought with it a turning point for the colonists in their war for land against the natives. By mid-summer of that year, the colonists began allowing natives to surrender. Many took up this opportunity; but in spite of this, the colonists sold a large majority of them into slavery. By late summer, Metacom’s army was weak and on the defensive. On August 20, 1676, Metacom was shot and killed on Mount Hope. His body was mutilated: he was hung, beheaded, drawn, and quartered. His head was placed on a spike and displayed for two decades. The death of “King Philip” effectively ended the war, although small skirmishes continued until the Treaty of Casco was signed in 1678. King Philip’s War brought about unparalleled destruction onto colonial New England as thousands of Native Americans were killed, wounded, or captured and sold into slavery/indentured servitude. The war decimated native tribes such as Narragansett and Wampanoag as well as almost entirely eradicating native resistance in southern New England. This paved the way for additional English settlements to take crops in their place.
The regional high school in Wrentham is named King Philip Regional High School, after the Wampanoag leader Metacom. There has been controversy over the school’s name as it contains the English assigned name for Metacom rather than his native given one; moreover, the school’s mascot has been described as a racist depiction of Native Americans. The corner of South Street and West Steet in Wrentham is called Wampum Corner after the Wampanoag tribe. There is a street in Wrentham called Metacomet Street, after Metacom. It is obvious that Wrentham tries to recognize its Native American ties and tries to honor the town’s colonial roots. Sometimes it is just not executed in the most proper manner.
It is important to look at your own local Native American history to recognize this history of where you live and respect those who came before you. There are probably small memorials littered all across your own town to recognize its own part in local colonial and Native American history. You should pay respects to those who were persecuted to found your city and properly recognize who they have become today. Interact with local Native American tribes still active today and educate yourself on how to properly honor native traditions.