by Christopher Daley ©
Many a school child knows that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 and founded the first English colony in what would later become Massachusetts. Every November the stories of the first Thanksgiving abound. They recount how grateful the pilgrims were to survive their first year and reap a bountiful harvest, how the natives and the settlers joined in a communal feast of fowl, venison, maze and other assorted foodstuffs. Every year thousands flock to see the famed rock that the pilgrim forefathers supposedly disembarked upon and to visit the living historical recreation of the Plymouth colony at the “Plimouth Plantation”. Plymouth colony is ingrained in our national consciousness and is an essential part of the bedrock of the history of the United States known as the colonial period.
However, many people do not know of the second colony that was planted in what we now know as Weymouth, Massachusetts. The second colony was named Wessagusset as the local Indians called it. It’s history has been lost somewhat in the mists of time and is only known to the few who have an interest in this area of history. Wessagusset never gained the fame nor status of its predecessor, probably due to the fact that it lasted less than a year and was an utter failure. There are however some very interesting and intriguing occurrences, myths, yarns and legends about this forgotten colony.
In order to understand the story of Wessagusset one must understand Thomas Weston. The names Wessagusset and Weston’s colony are used interchangeably because Weston was the main financial backer and planner of the ill-fated venture. Previously, Weston had been treasurer and chief agent of a group of English investors known as the Merchant Adventurers who had financed the colony at Plymouth. Weston and the Merchant Adventurers soon broke ties with each other and Weston decided to found his own colony. Weston’s dealings with the pilgrims had been less than virtuous and his relationship with the Merchant Adventurers always seemed tenuous. According to Charles Francis Adams Jr.in Three Episodes of Massachusssetts History “He seems to have been a man of a type not uncommon in the days of Elizabeth and James I; - English adventurers, half traders, half explorers, who probably required little inducement only to ripen into something closely resembling a freebooter. His head was full of schemes for deriving a great and sudden gain from a settlement in North America.”
Weston’s motive seems to have been purely profit. The Plymouth colony had not been profitable it’s first year due to privations which were in some ways indirectly related to Weston’s unscrupulous dealings. Weston saw the main reason for Plymouth’s failure that first year as their preoccupation with religion and not with that of profit. He also considered women and children a disadvantage. After his experience with the pilgrims Weston himself stated a colony would fare much better if it were populated by what he referred to as “rude fellows”. In order to find souls better suited to colonization Weston scoured the brothels and taverns of London. By 1622 he was able to find 60 “stout knaves” to embark on a voyage to the New World to plant his colony for him.
Weston’s first action was to send the ship Sparrow to explore the New England coast in order to find a place suitable for his new colony. In May 1622 the Sparrow sailed to Maine and from there launched an open boat to explore all along the coast reaching what is now Massachusetts Bay and arriving in Plymouth a few days later. They chose as a place for the new colony, a location on the South side of Massachusetts Bay. In late June or early July the two ships the Charity and the Swan arrived in the waters off Plymouth. Aboard the two ships were the two leaders of the new colony, Weston’s brother Andrew Weston, Richard Greene along with 60 of Weston’s “rude fellows”.
Greene decided to leave most of his company in Plymouth while he and the crew of the Swan entered into Massachusetts Bay to prepare for the new colony. The Charity probably with Andrew Weston aboard went on to Virginia and would return to Plymouth in October and then go on back to England. The colonists at Plymouth had no choice but to assist Greene and his rabble due to the fact that Plymouth was the only outpost within hundreds of miles. Weston’s “rude fellows” were quite a motley crew, some were ill and needed care while others who were able bodied refused to work and thus were a drain upon the stores of Plymouth. Not long after their arrival some of the men had been found to have been stealing corn and were summarily flogged for their transgression. Tensions began to build between the Pilgrims and their burdensome guests. Many of Weston’s men took their anger out on the people of Plymouth with vile verbal remonstrations rather than showing some semblance of gratitude for their hosts’ hospitality. When the sails of the Swan with the returning Richard Greene were spotted coming around the Gurnet Point, sometime in August, the hopes of a quick exodus for Weston’s men must have burned deep in the hearts of those at Plymouth.
In a short period of time Greene and most of his men, the sick one’s being left behind, made for Massachusetts Bay and the location of their new plantation, Wessagusset. Aberdecest the local Sachem of the Massachusetts tribe welcomed Greene and his men with open arms because he and his people hoped these new colonists like those of Plymouth would prove to be of protection from their stronger enemies.
The Search for Food:
Within a month the recuperated sick joined their brethren at Wessagusset, blockhouses had been built and the new colony begun. However, not long after the planting of the colony, stories from the natives in the area of Wessagusset began trickling into Plymouth. True to form the “rude fellows” were again earning their sobriquet. The stories related how the men of Wessagusset were having their way with the native women and treating the men of the tribe with utter disdain and contempt. The stories from Wessagusset also informed Plymouth that the men of Wessagusset had also exhausted their supplies through incompetent leadership and wastefulness, which in turn resulted in the men resorting to theft and stealing the Indian corn. The colonists at Plymouth could do nothing to assist their native friends, Wessagusset being out of the jurisdiction of Plymouth. In October the Charity with Andrew Weston aboard returned to Plymouth and quickly left for England leaving Richard Greene in charge of Wessagusset. As a result of his bad leadership and lack of frugality Greene found himself and his men in dire straits. A letter was sent to Plymouth asking for their help in a joint venture in the Swan to explore the South side of Cape Cod in order to find food with which to feed their people. The initial voyage never happened, Greene arrived in the Swan at Plymouth and suddenly took ill and died. From among the Wessagusett men he was hastily replaced by a John Saunders, who then quickly pressed the Pilgrims to renew the voyage and set out for the South side of the Cape. The Pilgrims and the Wessagusset men eventually would set off on five expeditions to find food with the Indian Squanto serving as pilot and interpreter. Out of the five sorties made up and around the cape three were successful. During the third expedition Squanto fell ill and died. By the fourth it appears that the pilgrims relationship with Wessagusset men was showing strain and breaking down. Instead of sailing back to Plymouth aboard the Swan Governor Bradford and his men chose to walk the fifty miles back to Plymouth from the Cape. At Plymouth a division of goods was made and the Wessagusset men returned to their plantation. By January a fifth and final expedition was made, goods were divided again and then the Swan returned to Wessagusset to her moorings for the rest of the winter.
Again, supplies at Wessagusset soon ran out. When the men first arrived at Wessagusset they were cocky and arrogant, mistreating the Indian people. By February the tables had turned. Weston’s men were weak from hunger and desperate for food. In order to get food some of them turned to theft became slaves to the Indians they had once mistreated or went scavenging around in the forests for nuts and berries or on the beaches for clams. Governor Bradford in his Chronicle of Plimouth Colony observed:
It may be thought strange that these people (Weston’s men) should fall to these extremities in so short a time; being left competently provided when the ship left them, and had ambition by that moiety of corn that was got by trade, besides much they got of the Indians where they lived, by one means or another. It must needs be their great disorder, for they spent excessively whilst they had or could get it; and, it may be, wasted part away among the Indians; for he that was their chief was taxed by some amongst them for keeping Indian women, how truly I know not. And after they began to come into wants, so many sold their clothes and bed coverings; others (so base were they) became servants to the Indians, and would cut them wood and fetch them water for a cap full of corn; others fell to plain stealing, both night and day from the Indians, of which they grievously complained. In the end, they came to that misery that some starved and died with cold and hunger. One gathering shellfish was so weak as he struck fast in the mud and was found dead in the place. At last most of them left their dwellings and scattered up and down in the wood and by the watersides, where they could find ground nuts and clams, here six and there ten.
As conditions worsened the colonists had to resort to extreme measures to survive. These extreme measures are exemplified in the story of one of the settler who was caught stealing corn by the natives and brought back to the plantation by the Indians for want of justice. The settlers knew that they had to punish the offender to avoid an Indian attack. The punishment would be hanging. However, the thief was a young strapping man who could benefit the colony in many ways so the colonist chose an old sickly man and hanged him in the younger man’s stead. Thomas Morton in his book New English Canaan relates this story:
Master Weston’s plantation being settled at Wesagussus, his servants, or many of them being lazy persons that use no endeavor to take the benefit of the country, some fell sick and died.
One among the rest, an able bodied man that ranged the forest to see what it could afford him, stumbled by accident on an Indian granary, concealed, as the custom was with those people, underground; and from it he took a capful of corn, and went on his way.
The Indian owner, finding the footprint that the thief was an Englishman, came and made his complaint to the plantation.
The chief commander of the company immediately called together a parliament of all those who were not sick, to hear and determine the cause of the complaint. And wisely now, they should consult on this huge complaint, that a knife or a string of beads would well enough have disposed of Edward Johnson being made special judge of the this business.
The fact was there in repetition, construction made that it was a felony, and by the laws of England punished with death; and this in execution must be put for an example, likewise to appease the savage; when a straightforward one arose, moved as it were with some compassion, and said he could not well gainsay the former sentence, yet he had conceived within the compass of his brain an Embrion that was of special consequence to be delivered and cherished.
He said it would most aptly serve to pacify the savage’s complain, and save the life of one that might (if need should be) stand them in some good stead, being young and strong, fit for resistance against an enemy, which might come unexpected for anything they knew.
This oration was liked by everyone; and the orator was entreated to show how this end might be reached. He went on:
Says he, “You all agree that one must die, and one shall die. This young man’s clothes we will take off, and put upon one that is old and impotent, - a sickly person that cannot escape death; such is the disease on him confirmed that he must die; put the young man’s clothes on this man, and let the sick person be hanged in the others stead.” “Amen,” says one; and so say many more.
Before long the condition of the Wessagusset colony had deteriorated to such a degree that John Saunders the leader of the group began to consider using force to take food from the Indians in order to feed his own men. He shared his intentions with those at Plymouth with a letter. The Plymouth response to the letter was swift and clear. Governor Bradford and those at Plymouth regarded Saunders plan as against the laws of God contrary to the policy of King James to peacefully enlarge the colony and the spread the word of god. Plymouth clearly advised Saunders that if he took on violent action he and his men would be on their own and if they escaped the Indians they would still have to face the gallows when a representative from the crown would be summoned to investigate their actions. The Plymouth response had the desired effect. Saunders abandoned any intention of attacking the natives and decided to make a trip to the fishing stations at Monhegan Island (off the coast of Maine) to procure food. Saunders, not having enough provision to supply the crew of the Swan let out for the fishing stations with a few men in an open shallop in the mid winter weather and was never heard from again.
A few days after Saunders left for Monhegan Island Captain Myles Standish of Plymouth and some men made another expedition to Manomet on Cape Cod to retrieve some corn that had been purchased from the local Indians on a previous expedition in November. Due to the loss of the their shallop on the breakers they were unable to ship the corn back to Plymouth at that time so the corn was left in the charge of the natives. Standish arrived at the village of the local Sachem Canacum outfitted with a new shallop and several men in arms to receive the corn. Not long after Standish appeared in the village he was confronted by two Indians, one of whom was Wituwamat who was well known to those at Plymouth as being a warrior from the location of the Wessagusset colony. In Standish’s presence Wituwamat had a very heated and intense discussion with Canacum all the while probably glaring at Standish. Removing a knife that he had hanging around his neck Wituwamat began to violently gesticulate in Standish’s direction. Standish with his poor understanding of the Indian dialect was able to make out that Wituwamat was outraged at the treatment of the natives near the Wessagusset settlement. Wituwamat urged Canacum and his people to join him and his people in a conspiracy to eradicate the Wessagusset colony and to take the opportunity of Standish’s arrival to kill Standish and his men right there and then where they stood. Standish showed no fear and stood his ground expressed himself angrily at the insulting way he was being treated, loaded the shallop and departed the next morning thus avoiding a confrontation with Canacum and Wituwamat.
While Standish was in Manomet word reached Plymouth that the Sachem Massasoit, their friend who had help them survive and whom the pilgrims had a mutual alliance, had fallen ill. Edward Winslow was dispatched to see what help he could offer the Wampanoag chief. They found Massasoit in his house, full of many visitors. Massasoit was now blind, but could still understand--when they told him the English had come to visit him, he asked "Keen Winslow?" which means, "Are you Winslow?" Then he said, "Matta neen wonckanet namen, Winslow!", which means "O Winslow, I shall never see you again." Winslow gave him a little bit of medicine, and scraped out the inside of his mouth, which had swollen up preventing him from eating or drinking anything. Then he gave Massasoit some water and more medicine. In about half an hour, Massasoit had regained his eyesight and was getting better. Winslow made a chicken broth soup for Massasoit, and within a couple days Massasoit had his appetite back, and eventually recovered. Massasoit, feeling gratitude to his visitors informed them of a conspiracy that had been formed to destroy the Wessagusset settlement. He said all of the tribes in Southeast Massachusetts had joined in this conspiracy. The men of Plymouth knew that once the Indians attacked Wessagusset Plymouth would be next.
The Escape of Phineas Pratt:
About the 3rd of April there emerged out of the woods into the hands of the Plymouth colonists a bedraggled Phineas Pratt who was to tell a tale of escape and chase. Pratt one of the Wessagusset men had endured the privations of hunger and cold. He had witnessed the reversal of fortune for the men of his company who had gone from “rude fellows” to whimpering puppies begging for corn from Indians bent on retribution. These “rude fellows” were now not much more than the slaves of the Indians. Pratt feared the he and his fellow colonists were in grave danger of being killed and decided to escape. After going out to dig clams Pratt made his escape and headed toward Plymouth which was a three-day journey. All the while fearing that the Indians were close behind ready to pounce at any moment. The following is Phineas Pratt’s account of his escape:
"I Run Southward tell 3 of ye Clock, but the snow being in many places, I was the more distresed becaus of my ffoot steps. The sonn being beclouded, I wandered, not knowing my way; but att the Goeing down of the sonn, it apeared Red; then hearing a great howling of wolfs, I came to a River; the water being depe & cold & many Rocks, I pased through wth much adoe. Then was I in great distres -- ffant for want of ffood, weary with Running, ffearing to make a ffier because of ym yt pshued me. Then I came to a depe dell or hole, ther being much wood falen into it. Then I said in my thoughts, this is God's providence that heare I may make a fier. Then haveing maed a fier, the stars began to a pear and I saw Ursa Magor & the pole yet fearing beclouded. The day following I began to trafell but being unable, I went back to the fier the day ffal sonn shined & about three of the clock I came to that part . Plimoth bay wher ther is a Town of Later Time Duxbery. Then passing by the water on my left hand cam to a brock & ther was a path. Haveing but a short Time to Consider ffearing to goe beyond the plantation, I kept Running in the path; then passing through James Ryuer I said in my thoughts, now am I as a deare Chased the wolfs. If I perish, what will be the Condish of distresed Einglish men. Then finding a peec of a I took it up & Caried it in my hand. Then finding a of a Jurkin, I Caried them under my arme. Then said I in my God hath giuen me these two tookens for my Comfort; yt now he will giue me my live for a pray. Then Running down a hill J an Einglish man Coming in the path before me. Then I sat down on a tree & Rising up to salute him said, 'Mr. Hamdin, I am Glad to see you aliue.' He said 'I am Glad & full of wonder to see you aliue: lett us sitt downe, I see you are weary.'
The news from Pratt on the conditions in Wessagusset, Standish’s standoff with Wituwamat, and Massasoit’s warning of a large scale Indian conspiracy weighed heavily on the minds of those in Plymouth. Just a year before they had received news from Jamestown, Virginia of a massive Indian uprising which resulted in a massacre in which 347 men women and children were killed. A massacre of this magnitude had to be avoided at all costs. The colonist knew that they were greatly outnumbered. Decisive action had to be taken. Myles Standish was put in charge of a detachment of men. The force consisted of ten men in all in addition to the native guide Hobomock. His plan was to make a preemptive strike in which he would remove the native leadership and terrorize the rest of the Indian population thus preventing a perceived inevitable massacre. On April 4th they sailed in the shallop for Wessagusset. As the shallop approached Wessagusset the Swan came into view tied up at her moorings. No one was found to be aboard. Once on land a shot of a musket was fired by one of Standish’s men to signal those at the settlement. Several of the colonists appeared from the woods where they had been searching for nuts and berries. When Standish informed them of the conspiracy they agreed to comply with what ever he instructed them to do. His first order of business was for them to round up the other colonists and bring them to the blockhouse. While Standish was busy rounding up all of the settlers an Indian came into the village with furs, supposedly to trade, but probably to see what was going on. He returned and told of Standish’s arrival to the other Indians but no real alarm was taken by the Indians at this point probably due to the fact that now they looked down on the English after seeing the conduct and the fall of the Wessagusset men. The native’s negligence in seeing the determined adversary that they had in Standish would prove to be their downfall.
The next day on April 6th there appeared at the gates of the stockade the leaders of the conspiracy. Pecksuot, a giant warrior and Wituwamat along with two other natives came into the stockade and were allowed to enter the large blockhouse. Standish with four or five men was waiting inside the blockhouse. Standish jumped on the opportunity and signaled to have the door to the blockhouse shut and fastened as he and his men in a ferocious fit of violence sprang upon the Indians. From outside the blockhouse the blood curdling screams and yelling the battle must have sounded sickening. Inside Standish ripped the knife from Pecksout’s sheath and jumped on him stabbing him over and over. The other men came at Wituwamat with all of the force they could muster. Forced to the floor clutching at his own knife Wituwamat struggled with attackers in a vein attempt to survive. Three of the four Indians were killed on the spot, the fourth Wituwamat’s bother who was no more than a boy was tied up and held down. Soon afterward Standish ordered a rope be thrown over a branch and had the boy hanged. Afterward he sent out his men to kill any other Indians that might be in the area, they found and killed three. In the village all they found were women which were taken prisoner and given over to the Wessagusset men, but were later released. Standish and his men went through out the countryside looking for quarry. Several skirmishes are said to have occurred but the general result of his action seemingly had frightened the Indians off and prevented the Indians from attacking the colonists. Standish returned triumphantly to Plymouth with Wituwamat’s head, which was displayed, on the gate of the palisade at Plymouth for years.
The remaining colonists, after taking Standish’s advice, went to Plymouth or to the fishing stations on the Maine coast. Three chose to remain at Wessagusset and it is said were killed by the Indians. In September, 1623, the settlement was again occupied by Capt. Robert Gorges, son of Sir Fernando Gorges the famous New England explorer. 120 passengers arrived from Weymouth, England in the Katherine and the Prophet Daniel. They included both men and women so as to start a real colony. Due to bad weather they were forced to seek shelter at the blockhouses at the abandoned Wessagusset Plantation. They took possession of the Wessagusset plantation, and may have added buildings since they were a larger group. This group being more fit was able to sustain themselves and their numbers grew with new arrivals. Eventually the colony at Wessagusset would transform into the town of Weymouth, Massachusetts.
The Ghosts of Wessagusset:
In the early 1800’s headless skeletons were uncovered near the site of the old Wessagusset Plantation while a cellar hole was being dug for Edward Blanchard’s new house at 236 Sea Street. They are believed to be those of Pecksuot and Wituwaumet. The bones were later interred in the family plot of Edward Blanchard at North Weymouth Cemetery.
Also, sometime around 1900, two Civil War Veterans, Waldo Turner and Jeremiah Spencer, built over the tomb of the first colony at Wessagusset at 43 Bicknell Road. Seven skulls were exhumed along with metal buckles from shoes and belts. Five of the seven skulls were cemented into wall of the cellar. One of the later owners of this house had the skulls cut out of the concrete wall, and handfuls of cement pressed into the openings leaving five faint rings where the skulls had been and that can still be seen today.
In the 1930’s while workers were putting in a flagpole for the Bicknell School a small Indian infant skeleton was found with it’s skull smashed in. Upon further investigation and excavation the mother of the infant was found with her skull in the same condition. Many have surmised that the mother may have been the Indian wife of one of the settlers and that when this became known her own people murdered her for her transgressions. Whatever the case it will probably never be known what happened to mother & child. If DNA testing had been available in 1930 it may have been possible to determine if the child was of mixed race.
It has been said that the residents of the a fore mentioned 43 Bicknell Street have been awaken late at night to see the ghost of the giant Indian Pecksuot staring down at them in their beds. According to the diary of local historian Stinson Lord Mrs. Walter Lang Jr. who living at 43 Bicknell Street, told Lord that she and her children had seen this ghost. She knew nothing of Weymouth history, and would wake up at night to find Pecksuot glowering across the room, and could still see him after awakened and with her family.
There is no living history museum near the Fore River where the Wessagusset Colony once stood. There is no holiday to mark this colony. There is no chapter in a history textbook on Wessagusset. There are only distant memories and the quiet murmuring of the shadows of the past that inhabit the ether of what was once the second colony in Massachusetts.