selections from






Translated and edited by Hadassah Davis

with an introduction by Paul Robinson, State Archaeologist for the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission published by the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University Bristol, Rhode Island

Major funding provided by Rhode Island Comittee for the Humanities

Designed by Patricia Childers, Krzysztof Lenk Type set by Faces Typography Printed by


on Mohawk Superfine

© Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and Hadassah Davis, 1986 All rights reserved Printed in the

Brown University

Library of Congress Catalogue Card No.
ISBN 0912089-03-2



v Foreword Lyn Udvardy Introduction Paul Robinson Author's Preface Salutations Eating and Hospitality Lodging and Sleeping The Time of Day Families Homes Seasonal Dwellings The Calendar Travel News Diplomacy Gathered Fruits and Nuts Corn Tobacco The Sweat Lodge Canoes Fish and Sea Food Birds Animals Government Warfare Numbers Games Trading Money Clothing and Adornment Religion and Feasts History of the Narragansetts 1644-1986 From the Four Directions, poem and drawing Acknowledgments Bibliography Don Eagle

12 14 16 18 19 20 22 24 25 26 27 28 30 32

35 36 38 40 42 44 46 47 48 49 50

54 56 61 62 63

Brown University's Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology has changed considerably since 1928 when Rudolf Haffenreffer, Sr. built the King Philip Museum on the foundation of an old dairy barn at his farm in Bristol, Rhode.Island. He built it as a private museum to house his extensive collection of native American artifacts, and it was available only to invited guests. Since 1954, when the Museum and grounds were given to Brown University, they have become an integral part of the university's anthropology department, while the Museum also serves the broader community of Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts with public exhibitions and programs. Over the years the Museum has expanded both the scope of its collections and its efforts to interpret these materials to the public. In addition to an innovative museum education program there are outreach programs, lecture series, gallery talks, museum tours, festivals, and last, but not least, a publication series. Previous publications include BURR'S HILL, a catalog of r zth century Native American archaeological materials, and HAU, KOLA! a catalog of the Museum's Plains Indians collection from the r oth and zoth centuries. a selection of excerpts from Roger Williams' A KEY INTO THE LANGUAGE OF AMERICA, translated into modern English for easy reading, serves a parallel function of informing the public about the people who made the Museum objects. This publication is especially appropriate because the _Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology stands on the historic summer campgrounds of the Wampanoag Indians, a place that served as the headquarters of the Wampanoag sachem Metacomet, also called Philip. According to legend, Philip held tribal councils at a seat or concavity in a large outcropping of rock near the Museum, known as King Philip's Chair. In 1676 he was killed only a short distance away while retreating from colonial soldiers during the final days of the conflict with the English known as King Philip's War.


By making this original source on seventeenth century Indian language and life more available and understandable to contemporary students, the Museum continues to fulfill its obligations to educate the public about its collections and historic grounds.

Programs Specialist Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology,

Brown University

Roger Williams' compass and sundial (owned by the Rhode Island Historical Society)

We are fortunate that Roger Williams took the time to write about his experiences with the Indians. Roger Williams, mainly known as the founder of Rhode Island and an apostle of religious liberty, was also exceptional in his interest and ability to learn the language of the Native Americans. In September of r642, as he sailed back to England to get a charter that would protect Providence and other Rhode Island towns from the claims of Massachusetts, he jotted down recollections of Indian language and customs. We are especially fortunate that he did so before European colonization altered the way of life that Narragansett Indians had known for many generations. During his first years in America, between his arrival in Boston in r630, and his settlement on Narragansett Bay in r636, Williams became friends with the Narragansett sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi. He was motivated to learn about Indian culture both by his intellectual curiosity and by his missionizing desire to spread the light of Christianity. Forty years later, recalling his early experiences, he remembered that he had "a constant zealous desire to dive into the Indian language" and "a patient spirit to lodge with them ... to gain their tongue."



At the time that Williams was writing A KEY INTO THE LANGUAGE OF Narragansett society was entering a period of turmoil and uncertainty. Twenty five years earlier European disease had decimated Indian peoples to the east of the Narragansetts, and by the r640s these diseases had begun to affect the health of the Narragansetts. English settlement of Narragansett lands was under way, and the steady process of land encroachment, restricting Indians to ever smaller land areas, had begun. The way of life that Williams describes was being increasingly undermined by the presence of Europeans; and the Indians with whom Williams traded, and whom he considered his friends, fully understood the dangers of their position. The sachem Miantonomi, speaking to Indians on Long Island in r642, expressed the Narragansetts' concern about the changes that European settlement had brought to the land. He said ... you know our fathers had plenty of deer and skins, our plains were full of fish and fowl. But these English having gotten our land, they with scythes cut down the grass and with axes fell the trees. Their cows and horses eat the grass; their hogs spoil our clam banks; and we shall all be starved.

VIll Miantonomi's eloquent speech recalled a bountiful, less stressful time before European arrival, a time which stretched back thousands of years into the past. The Indian way of life, described by Williams and by Miantonomi had emerged over millenia of cultural and environmental change.

Around 15,000 years ago the glacial ice sheet began to melt and retreat to the north, so that gradually the cold open spruce woodland environment changed to a relatively warm deciduous woodland. The release of glacial meltwater caused sea levels to rise so that land that had been fed by freshwater streams and lakes became a saltwater environment. Eventually about 3500 years ago the modern estuarine environment surrounding Narragansett Bay was fully formed. This estuarine environment provided a plentiful mixture of freshwater and saltwater plants and animals, and gave the Indians rich resources to live on.

Indian people had lived in this area for at least 12,000 years before the Europeans arrived. For many, many centuries, perhaps 10,000 years they were hunter gatherers; they maintained themselves on riverine and estuarine resources, by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Some time between 2700 and 800 years ago ancestors of the Narragansett Indians began to grow the corn and beans and squash that Williams and others depended on for survival during the first years of settlement.

In his narrative Willliams

describes Indian economy, politics, religion. and family life. His willingness to understand and empathize with people from a culture quite different from his own allowed Williams to describe accurately many aspects of their culture. Williams understood that Indian land use was very different from European patterns. The Narragansett Indians were horticulturalists, growing corn and other domestic crops in small family gardens along the coast and using interior areas for hunting and winter fishing. Gardens were moved periodically to maintain the soil's fertility. This movement created a mosaic of habitats for wild berries, deer, and other wild plants and animals. To European eyes much of this land appeared vacant, and open for settlement. For the Indians


these "vacant" lands were part of an overall land use strategy designed to maintain a dependable and varied supply of food. Roger Williams argued against those English who thought that unfenced and "undeveloped" lands were free for the taking. He pointed out that while the Indians farmed only a small portion of their land they depended on large uncultivated areas for hunting. He stressed the importance of title purchase. He himself acquired lands from Wampanoag and Narragansett friends in 1634 and 1635; and when he was banished from Massachusetts, in the winter of 1635-36, he took refuge in these Narragansett lands. Although Williams was grateful for the generosity and hospitality of the Narragansetts in granting him the Providence lands he thought that God's providence had more to do with his own righteousness than with the Indians' character. He wrote: God's providence is rich to His Let none distrustful be In the wilderness, in great distress, These ravens have fed me. Puritans generally took a dim view of Indian character. Williams and others could praise the generosity, intelligence and physical beauty of Indians, while, at the same time considering them poor ,credit risks and untrustworthy. Although Williams admitted that he knew untrustworthy English, he considered that the Indian problem was greater and that it was based in part on child rearing practices. He observed that Narragansett adults were very affectionate toward their children, and remarked "this extreme affection, together with want of learning makes their children saucy, bold and undutiful". He thought that Indian children, lacking the discipline and scriptural guidance of a Puritan upbringing would grow up not knowing right from wrong. He believed all children had to be "civilized" by harsh discipline. Roger Williams' religious scruples also kept him from observing Indian religious rituals, festivals, and games. He refused to attend these celebrations, remarking "I might not countenance and partake of their folly, after I once saw the evil of them."

Despite the biases that Williams brought to his investigations of Narragansett life, the narrative that he left for us and future generations is exemplary. Williams was one of the few Puritan writers who attempted to understand Indian culture on its own terms. King Philip's War in 1675-1676 resulted in the military defeat of the Narragansetts and other New England tribes. After the war colonial writers on Indian life offered little insight into Indian thought. They portrayed the Indian as savage, cruel, and warlike, and their image of the Indian persisted in the literature into the twentieth century. Roger Williams' early and empathetic descriptions, published in 1643 in A KEY INTO THE LANGUAGE OF AMERICA allow us to disregard that stereotypic image and to understand the complexity of Indian culture.

A 1"1E RIC A:
An help to the Langu"~e of the Nati1'1cS
in. that part of AM
E l\. I C A,

A "KEy into the







IT ogether.. with briefe O/'!ervatirmJ of the Cu ... ftomes. Manners and w orfhips, o». of the
arorciaid N._!ftilm,

in Life and DCJch.

in Peace and Warre,

Ion all which are added Spirituall Ob!ervAt'uJ'IJ, .Generall and Particular bv the e./!Nlhollr, of
cuiete alJd tpeciull uk( UPOI; all occalions.jto

a11 rhe:E.nglifb Inhabinna




yet pleafant and profitable co


the view of all men :



of Pn}Jidence in ~'\f'l'~£J1g1and.




Ptibted" by Gregory 'Dexttf ~ 1643.

Title page of the first edition (photo-enlargement)


Roger Williams' Preface
To my dear and well beloved countrymen in old and new England. I present you with a key to the language spoken in America, and with some information about the people who live there. While I was on board ship I jotted down some notes, in order to help my own memory so that I would not forget what I had learned in years of trade and travel among the Indians. Then, thinking it would be a pity for this knowledge to be buried with me, and remembering that friends have often asked for help with the language, I decided to shape the materials into this book. My acquaintance with Indian language and customs has helped me to explore the countries where-the English have settled, about two hundred miles between the French in the north, and the Dutch in the south. This language, with variations, is spoken for about six hundred miles north and south of where I live. The dialects vary alot, but still with this help one can speak to thousands of native Americans all over the area. Furthermore by conversing with them we may, in time, convert them to Christianity, for. one candle will light ten thousand. Note: Since the life of language is in its pronunciation I have taken care to note where the accent in each word and phrase falls. Thus "NE'TOP;' in the chapter on Salutations is to be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, "ASCOWEQUASS'IN," on that same page with the accent on "QUASS;' and so forth.




Editor's Preface
Giovanni da Verrazano was the first European to explore Narragansett Bay. He came there in the spring of I5 24. In the course of the following century Indians came to know.the Europeans whom they called "coat-wearers," or "sword-men." By I620 there had been enough contact between Indians and English for Squanto, the Indian, to be able to act as interpreter between his people and the Pilgrims; but very few Europeans had learned to speak the Indian language. Today what we know of the Indian language around Narragansett Bay comes largely from Roger Williams' book A KEY INTO THE LANGUAGE OF AMERICA. Roger Williams wrote for English traders who needed a phrase book for dealing with the Indians. He divided his book into chapters that contain words, phrases, and descriptions relevant to particular aspects of Indian life. Our excerpts have been modernized in spelling, syntax, and, sometimes in vocabulary. We hope the freshness and vigor remain, and that some of our readers will look back at the original. (A page of the first edition is reproduced on page xi.) The edition currently in print, edited by John Teunissen and Evelyn Hinz, is listed in our bibliography. We have kept Roger Williams' transliteration of Indian words, and his accent marks. English words like "quahog," that are taken from Indian words, are given in italics. We have provided illustrations, comments, and quotes from other writers as background for Roger Williams' work. No pictures and few material remains come exactly from the area of Narragansett Bay in the I630S. John White's drawings, made in I585, before the impact of European settlement, depict the Indians of Virginia who resembled in many important ways the Narragansetts that Roger Williams describes. They help us to envision the world in which both Roger Williams and the Indians lived.


English people generally

greet Indians

by saying

Indians, like dignified but answer your to them they NE 'TOP I Friend

Englishmen, are of two types. Most are friendly; ready to greet you, or to greeting. Some are shy but if you speak will answer you in a friendly way. Friends pleased
to be greeted


are particularly

in their

own language. ASCOWEQUA' SSIN I Good morning who

They are very friendly to strangers.Anyone

comes to speak with them is invited to come into the house. HAWU'NSHECH/Good bye

These greetings and farewells show the politeness and civility that Indians use among themselves and also with strangers.






The greeting WHA T CHEER, NETO v! expressed a friendly balance between the adventuring English and the Native Americans. English sailors used WHAT CHEER! as a standard greeting among themselves. NETOP was used as a term of good fellowship, an Indian equivalent for "brother," up and down the eastern seaboard. When Roger Williams and a few friends settled at the place he called "Providence", the Indians there felt as securely planted as the trees of the forest. At that time Europeans had brought only minor and apparently beneficial changes to the Narragansett way of life. The Indians had learned to like cloth mantles better than cloaks of skins or furs, since cloth was warm enough and lighter. They had begun to use iron tools and guns, though these were still rare. They had adapted a few English words into their language, such as CUPPAl' MlSH, meaning "I will pay you", and cow' SNUCK meaning cows. But these changes of custom and language only brushed the edge of their life, as exports from New England touched only the fringes of European life. In each case imports from across the ocean provided luxuries for a few, but made little difference to the habits of the average person.



Roger Williams greeted by the Indians (engraving made in r827)


Eating and Hospitality
Indians are remarkably hospitable and courteous. Anyone who comes to the house while they are eating is offered some food, even if they have only prepared a little for themselves. Often while travelling I have been welcomed to an Indian house and fed. Even when I happen to arrive in the middle of the night, when nothing is ready, the Indian or his wife will get up and prepare some refreshment.

nocake / dehydrated


This parched meal is easy to prepare and wholesome. They eat it with a little water, hot or cold. A spoonful of this meal, with a a little water from a brook has often served me well for dinner or supper. Indians travel light. With some nocake and their bows and arrows they are ready for travel or for war at an hour's notice. Once I travelled with about two through the woods for a hundred carried a little basket of meal at sometimes some meal in a hollow his waist. In this way every man for three or four days travel.

hundred of them miles. Each Indian his back, and leather belt around had sufficient food

succotash / corn, boiled whole

samp / a corn porridge

The English call this dish SAMP. Indian corn is beaten and boiled, and eaten hot or cold with a little milk or butter. (The Indians use only plain water).






Roger Williams, and other Englishmen had reason to be grateful to the Indians for their hospitality and and for their concern for wandering strangers. When the Puritans of Masssachusetts were ready to deport Roger Williams to England, to face trial as a heretic and traitor, he escaped to Narragansett country, and was sheltered by the Indians for six weeks of a bitter winter. Although, as he wrote to Major Mason, many years later, he could still feel the cold of that season in his bones, he also felt abiding gratitude to the Narragansetts who had saved his life. Indian NOCAKE was prepared by baking kernels of corn until all water had been baked out; then pounding them into a powder. Once the corn had been treated in this way it could be stored in little space.and a little of this meal would absorb sufficient water to provide ration of food.

Cooking food in an open clay pot (engraving from John White's painting done in I585)


Lodging and Sleeping

I will sleep outside In summertime Indians will move out of their own houses and sleep outdoors, in order to make room for strangers. And when Englishmen, not knowing their customs or language, were afraid to let them sleep in the house,they say "PUKQUA'TCHIK NICKOWE'MEN" and sleep contentedly out of doors by a fire under a tree.

Let us lay

on wood. This they do generously in winter or summer. There is lots of wood available and they use it freely. The fire serves them for bedclothes.Thus they, or anyone who lodges with them, must be prepared on cold nights to keep turning to the fire so as to keep himself warm on both sides; and whoever wakes up first puts some more wood on the fire.

Mortar and pestle, essential tools of Indian cooking (owned by the Smithsonian Institution)






The Time of Day

the sky the sun

star, stars

Indians measure the time of day accurately. They use the sun in the daytime, and the moon and stars at night. Since they frequently sleep outside in fields and woods, they observe the stars carefully. Even the children know the names of many stars, and observe their motion. They use the same words for the course of the moon and stars at night as for the course of the sun during the day.

The sun is this high.

Then they point with the hand to the angle of the sun, by whose height they keep track of the time by day, as the English do with clocks and sundials. At night they measure time by the course of the moon and the constellations. They are very punctual in keeping their appointments, and have reproached me with lying when I was late, even though I could not help it.

the Big Dipper ( Ursa Major)

It is interesting that the Indians have given the same name to the constellation that we call the Great Bear.









papoose / a child / my child

Indians treat their children so lovingly and punish them so little, that children feel free to disobey their parents and to answer them back. Once I came to a house and asked for a drink of water. The father told his son, a boy about eight years old, to get it for me, but the boy refused to budge. I told the father that if my son disobeyed me like that I would teach him to act differently. Hearing this, the father took up a stick; then the boy did the same, and flew at his father. With my encouragement the father hit the boy, making him throw down his stick, and run for the water. Then the father said that I was right, and he should make his son obey him.

MA T /

my brother

Family ties are very strong. It has happened that when a man committed murder and fled, his brother was executed in his place. Frequently if one brother dies, a surviving brother will pay his debts.

To cry and bewail

Mourning rituals are solemn. People mourn for their lost husbands, wives, children, brothers, and sisters in the morning and in the evening, and sometimes through the night. These services continue for months, even for a year or more, in the case of a great prince. In this period of mourning it is considered wrong to play, or decorate the body, or to be angry, or quarrel.








" ..t.erto drinke , the f.t,h,~r

go ,. . Of th~ F.mily ~tlfilltjJti. '.,lonee c~nte into a hOf4fo .an·~ requefted fome
bid his fonne (of fome 8.yeeres ,[ age) to fetch fame ""ueF : the

/'01 refufd. arid would not ftir ~ I told rh. {4_ thw, that Iwould correct my chllJ,ifhe ihould Co clifob~y ~e, &c.,uEon this the {lither took
ther t.\lpon my

up-a fb,cke"the_b~, another, and flew at his fllperrwafion. the poor' rllther made hlluJmart little.threw down his frick, and run for ",,,ter, and the (lither confefled the





and the evill of their too

, M ore particular : ;~ The Pagans wzld c01!f1Je tlJt bonds Of married cbaftirie ; , '. , J " H011l oild 4reNico]aicans thiJt hold Of Wives comm,,;nitie.? ," Howkzndlyjlamesofryamre huynt 1{alurallaffeCl:ions fl1,h~'wanis; uJur~ Far from Chriftianity" .
III wild humloitie?,

(tctl(J1U. , "

;. Inthe.,*;nesofdepravedm""~"4e,ar~ yet to befounde NAtures Jtft;,.cllo~s, arid;IIj:
" . ,

R:{;t7o~:jr~ bfo'...patton gene~a~. O






A corresponding (actual size)

page in the first edition



a house


wigwam / at home / I am going home

is a serious statement. When an Indian has been away from his family for some time, and wants to visit them if he says NICKQUENUM no one will try to keep him from going. Two families often live together in a round house, about sixteen feet across. When a house is to be built, the men generally set up the poles. Then the women cover the outside with mats, and line the inside with finer mats. Generally their houses are open. A hanging mat serves for a door. When someone comes in he lifts it up, and then it falls back by itself. Some Indians get English boards and nails and make doors and bolts with these. Others use lighter doors of birch bark, or chestnut bark, and fasten them closed with a cord at night, or when they go out of town. With this kind of door the last person to leave ties the door down and then leaves through the chimney which is a large hole in the middle of the house.


These are embroidered mats that Indian women make and hang on the inside of the house, like cloth hangings in English houses. Instead of shelves they have baskets in which they put their household stuffs. They also have sacks made of hemp, large enough to hold five or six bushels.






William Wood in his PROSPECTS OF NEW tells us that many of the Indians' baskets were artfully decorated with colorful pictures of birds. beasts, fishes, or flowers on them. Mourt, describing Indian houses in his RELATIONS says "round about the fire they lay on mats. which are their beds. The houses were double matted, for as they were matted without, so they were matted within, with newer and fairer mats."

Ella Thomas reports that in the summer the house would be covered on the outside with sewn cattail mats, which helped to shed water, while the interior would be lined with woven bulrush mats, often dyed in different colors. Woven cedar bark mats were used on the floor, and also served for beds and other furnishings. In the winter, a large multi-family house would be built and covered in the same manner, with woven cattail mats serving for partitions and heavy mattresses.

Storage basket made by Narragansett woman c. (owned by the Rhode Island Historical Society)


67 5



Indians move their houses according to the season. During the winter they stay in the warm valleys. As spring approaches they move a little closer to their summer fields. When the air and ground have fully warmed they move to the fields where they plant corn. In summer an infestation of fleas may drive them to move their house from one part of the field to a fresh place; sometimes if their fields are far apart, when the work of one field is done they will move their house to the other field. Tn the fall Indians often move to a hunting house. They stay there till the snow lies thick, then travel home, men women and children, thirty, or even fifty miles. But the most important yearly move is from the summer fields to the warm, wooded, low places where they spend the winter. This move is quickly made. In half a day (sometimes at a few hours warning) they have the house picked up and moved elsewhere, especially when they have a framework already set up for the mats. In moving the men make the poles or stakes, and the women make, set up, take down, arrange, and carry the mats and household stuff. Once, in travelling, I spent the night at a house, and hoped after going away during the day to return and spend the next night there. But by the time I got back the house was gone, and I had to sleep under a tree.

Model of Niantic wigwam, showing pole structure and the interior (from dimensions measured by Ezra Stiles c. 1750)






The Calendar

spring summer / fall winter

The Indians have thirteen months in their year, corresponding to the thirteen cycles of the moon. They give each month a name appropriate to its season.
TAQUONTIKEE'SWUSH PAPONAKEE'SWUSH / / harvest month winter month

When there is a drout, they get together a great meeting to pray for rain. People come from near and far to one high place and continue their prayer meetings for ten days, and even three weeks, until it rains.







A path MAYU'O / Is there a path? MAT MAYANU'NNO / There is no way.

It is marvelous to see what paths the Indians have made in the stony and rocky places of the wilderness with their bare, hardened feet. The country here is vast and mostly wilderness. You need a guide; otherwise it is easy to get lost. I myself have been lost sometimes and rescued by the Indians. They learn the ups and downs and ins and outs of the country so well in their hunting, that they have led me twenty, thirty, even forty miles through the woods, in a straight course, without any path. Luckily you can usually hire a guide to take you and your provisions through the woods, and over rivers and brooks. Often the guides will also find hunting houses or other lodgings for the night. Indians are swift footed. They are brought up as runners from the time they are born. They practice running races. In summer they love to go without shoes, though they carry their moccasins hanging on their back. Some particularly excellent runners can run eighty or one hundred miles on a summer's day; and back within two days.

a horse

Indians would rather have horses than other kinds of cattle, such as cows or goats. They prefer the convenience of riding to the availability of butter or milk, and will seldom pay English prices for those animals. Indian paths were well established long before the arrival of the English. In Roger Williams' time they were the ways along which Englishmen traveled. Some of them have now become highways like Route I and Route 44.






Indians, like everyone else, love to hear news. They are specially delighted when a stranger tells news in their language. They say of him, MANITTOO "He is a god." If a fire breaks out, or an enemy appears, the alarm goes from house to house by yelling and shouting. I have occasionally known Indians to use a Dutch trumpet, or to make a drum, copying the English; and sometimes the arrival of a Dutchman or an Englishman is announced in these ways. In time of war messengers run in relay from one settlement to the next. At each place, as one messenger arrives, a fresh runner sets out. As the runner comes at last within a mile or two of the Sachem's court, he calls out, and those who hear him answer him, until by calling back and forth, the messenger is brought to the gathering place where a large group of people are met to listen to him and hear the news. When someone comes with news, the Indians sit around in a circle, two deep or three deep, depending on how many there are. I have seen almost a thousand Indians gathered in a circle, where the English could probably not have squeezed in half so many. Each man has a pipe of tobacco, and all listen attentively, in deep silence, while the speaker talks for an hour or more, The speaker, for his part, tells his story with emphatic speech and gestures.

Sculptured stone pipe bowl (owned by the Haffenreffer Museum)








You speak truth / He, (or she), speaks truth

These phrases are great compliments which the Indians use to each other and to the Sachems. Canonicus, the old High Sachem of Narragansett Bay once spoke to me in a solemn oration, at a council meeting of Narragansett sachems. He said: "Since the English landed I have never allowed anyone to wrong them, and I never will. WUNNAUMWA'YEAN Englishman, if the Englishman speaks truth and means what he says, then I shall go to my grave in peace, and hope that the English and my posterity will live together in love and peace." I answered that I hoped he had no reason to doubt the Englishman's WUNNAUMW AU' ONCK, that is his trustworthiness and true intentions, since he had long experience of their friendliness and trustworthiness. He took a stick and broke it in ten pieces. Then he spoke of ten cases which made him fear and doubt the Englishman's truthfulness putting down a stick to each case. In some cases I was able to satisfy him; and where I was not, I have presented the situations to the English governors, who will, I hope, see that justice is done, and that the Indians have no reason to doubt the Englishman's WUNNAUMWAU' ONCK or integrity. In the spring of I 636 when Canonicus allowed Roger Williams to purchase a grant of land at the head of Narragansett Bay, he considered himself a wealthy and powerful ruler. The island now known as Conanicut was his personal property; (on old maps it is named Canonicus' Island). He and his






nephew Miantonomi reigned over all the islands in Narragansett Bay, and over the western shore as far inland as the present state of Rhode Island. They exacted tribute from their neighbors to the east, even from the mighty Wampanoags, whose territory included the Bristol peninsula, the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay and much of Cape Cod. Roger Williams, in accepting Canonicus' grant of land, understood that some questions of extent and payment were left loosely defined, so as to allow for future development. Williams was unique among the Englishmen of his time in his ability to understand and accept Indian customs, and this ability made him a powerful negotiator between them and the other English ... His diplomacy had dramatic effects in the spring of I 637, fifteen months after he had been banished from Massachusetts. At that time the Pequots of Connecticut, enraged by the actions of some English settlers, sent an embassy to the Narragansetts suggesting that they band together and wipe out all the English in New England. Roger Williams, hearing of the Pequots' plan, rowed down the bay through stormy waters and stayed for three days and three nights at the sachem's court. Finally he persuaded Canonicus and his council that the Pequots, being ancient enemies of the Narragansetts, could not be trusted, while the English were men of their word, whose presence would bring peace and prosperity. The treaty between the English and the Narragansetts that Roger Williams negotiated at this time lasted for almost forty years, despite chronic strains and sporadic outbreaks of violence.

Gathered Fruits and Nuts

my land

Indians are very accurate and exact in setting the boundaries of land belonging to this or that Prince or people. I have known them bargain with each other for the sale of small pieces of ground,(although many English hold the sinful opinion that they have a God given right to the Indians' lands).


Indians dry acorns, and use them, when well boiled, as a substitute for corn, when it is scarce. They sometimes use the acorns for a change even when corn is plentiful. They also know how to dry chestnuts, so that they keep and can be eaten all through the year.


This berry is the best of all the fruits that grow naturally in this country. It is so good that a great authority has claimed "God could have made a better berry, but He never did." In some areas where Indians have planted strawberries, I have seen them grown so plentifully that within a few miles there were enough to fill a good sized ship. Indians pound the berries in a mortar, mix them with cornmeal and make strawberry bread.


The Indians dry these blueberries and so preserve them for use all year. They beat the dried blueberries to powder, and then mix them with cornmeal and make a delicious dish which they call SAUTAU'THIG. This they like as much as the English like plumcake or spice cake.
Strawberry plant and branch of an oak tree Uohn Gerard's

prin ted in r636)






Roger Williams makes a point in beginning his chapter "Of the Earth and the Fruits thereof," with the Indian word NI'TTAUKE, (meaning "my land"). His comment on the accuracy and exactness of Indian boundaries shows that he appreciated that though Indian ways of asserting and understanding territorial claims differed from English ways, they were equally binding on the people involved. Ella Thomas Seh.atau's book, NARRAGANSETT INDIAN RECIPES, lists seventy-nine plant foods used in Narragansett cooking. They include fruits such as raspberries and elderberries, nuts such as hazel nuts and hickory nuts, vegetables like wild onions and milkweed, and barks and leaves used in herbal teas, like sassafrass and bay. The SAUTAU 'THIG which Roger Williams mentions was adopted by the English, and became the New Englanders' "blueberry slump."



When Indians prepare to break up a field for planting, all the neighbors, men, women, and children gather together and join in to get the work done. Since there may be as many as fifty or a hundred people working together the job is quickly done, and everyone has a good time. After the field is broken up the women plant the corn, keep the field weeded, and gather in the harvest. A man may sometimes help with these tasks (out of love for his wife or care for his children) but he is not obliged to. Many Indian women continue to use the wood and shell hoes they have always had for hoeing and weeding, even though English iron hoes are now available.

to beat or pound corn or WESKUNCK / their pounding mortar

The women constantly pound their corn to cornmeal by hand. They also plant the corn, cultivate it, gather it, store it, and work as hard as any people in the world. This work makes childbirth much easier for them. The women also carry heavy loads of corn, fish, beans, or mats; and a child as well. The woman of the family will often raise enough corn to gather two or three heaps of fifteen or twenty bushels each, (even more if she has help from children or friends.) She dries these heaps of corn carefully, exposing them to the hot sun during the day, and covering them with mats at night.






The evidence of modern archeaology indicates that about 1000 years ago cultivated plants, particularly corn, squash, and beans were introduced into New England from the west and south, during the period of warmer climate that made the Viking settlements in Greenland possible. These plants, were a welcome addition to the diet of the Indians then living here. Moreover, since these foods could be stored and kept through the winter they provided added insurance against famine. In order to facilitate growing and tending these new foods Indian communities moved their spring-to-fall settlements near good soils. Centuries later, corn (maize) was among the most important gifts that Native Americans gave to the European colonists. In various forms it served the English settlers as a staple food from the time they landed in the New World, until well into the nineteenth century. When Ben Franklin says, "Indian corn, take it all in all, is one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world; samp, hominy, succotash, and nokehock are so many pleasing varieties." the terms he uses, SAMP, HOMINY, SUCCOTASH, and NOKEHOCK are all derived from Indian words.

Corn ijohn Gerard's printed in I 636)



Tobacco is the only plant the Indian men cultivate. The women manage all the rest. Some men do not smoke, but they are "rare birds!' They say they take tobacco for two reasons, because it wards off toothaches, and because it is refreshing. They take some weak tobacco frequently, but I have never known any Indian to take it excessively. Almost every man carries a tobacco bag with a pipe in it hanging on his back. The pipes are often made of wood or stone; some of them are as much as two feet long, and so heavy that a person could be seriously injured by it. Many pipes have carvings of men or animals on them. The Indians have also developed great skill in casting pewter or brass pipes. Roger Williams assumes that his readers know about tobacco, and use it freely. Thomas Harriot, writing a generation before, did not expect Englishmen to know the name of the plant. It was then an exotic rarity only just being introduced to European countries. He wrote: "There is a herb which is grown separately, in its special space; the inhabitants here in Virginia call it Uppowoc. In the West Indies it is known by various names; the Spanish call it tobacco. When it is dried and powdered, the Indians take the smoke and fumes thereof, sucking them through clay pipes into stomach and head. Tobacco opens all the pores and passages of the body, purging phlegm, and preserving the body from obstructions."

Tobacco ijohn Gerard's


printed in r636)






The Sweat Lodge



a sweat lodge

The sweat lodge is a kind of cave or cell, built 011 the side of a hill. It is six or eight feet across, and usually situated near a stream. It is prepared for use by building a fire on top of a pile of stones. When the stones are heated through, they put the fire out, while the stones continue to hold their heat. At this point between ten and twenty men enter the lodge, having left all their clothes at the door, with one person to guard them. Then they sit around these hot stones for an hour or more, taking tobacco, talking, and sweating together. Their sweating has two benefits; it cleans the skin and it cures some diseases. When they come out of the sweat house, summer or winter, they plunge into the stream to cool off. Though it seems amazing, they do not seem to suffer from the sharp change in temperature. Sweat lodges were used by several groups of Indians, among them the Nipmucks in Massachusetts. They built ceremonial stone sweat lodges, called PESU-PONCKS, that were used for purification rituals; and many of these chambers can still be found near Nipmuck villages (Nipmuck Indian Council of Chaubunagungamaug).
Large effigy pipe with figure of mountain lion or wolf. (owned by the Museum of the American Indian)







MISHOO' N / An Indian canoe, made of a pine or oak or chestnut tree.

I have seen an Indian go into the woods with his hatchet, taking only a basket of corn with him, and stones with which to strike fire. When he had felled his tree, (in this case a chestnut tree) he made a little hut out of the tree's bark. For twelve days he lived alone in the hut; taking water from a nearby brook; boiling his corn; sometimes fishing in the brook; working at his canoe by hewing and burning the trunk of the tree. When the boat was ready he carried it to the shore with the help of friends. Then they launched it, and took it out to sea to fish. Some Indian canoes are small, and will carry only three or four people. Others can hold thirty or forty men. They have learned on their own, to hoist a coat or two on a pole, and in this way to sail before the wind for ten or twenty miles. The Indians are wonderfully brave and confident in venturing out in their canoes. If, as sometimes happens, the canoe turns over, they will swim a mile or two safe to land. Sometimes I have had to travel with them in these canoes; and they have saved me several times. When we were in great danger I worried about us, but they said to me, "Fear not. If the boat turns over we will bring you safe to land."

Building a dugout canoe (engraving from John White's painting done in I585)






Thomas Harriot describing the Indians of Virginia in I5 85 gives a parallel account. He says that although the Indians have no iron tools they make excellent boats with which they sail where they like on the rivers, and from which they fish. In making boats "they choose some long, thick, tree, according to the size of boat they plan to make; they make a fire around its roots, feeding the fire little by little with dry moss and chips of wood, so that the fire does not rise too high and burn the length of the tree. When it is almost burned through, ready to fall, they build another fire which burns until the tree falls of itself. Then they burn off the top and the branches in such a way that the main trunk keeps its full length; after that they raise the trunk on poles laid crosswise over forked posts, at a height that is convenient to work at. They scrape off the bark of the tree with shells, ... They make a fire down the length of the tree (except for saving some wood at each end). When some of the center has been burned away, they put out the fire, and scrape the charred section out with shells; if more charring is needed they continue alternately burning and scraping until the boat has enough space in it."


Fish and Sea food

salmon scup, or porgy

U' OG / scup /

This fish is plentiful, and the Indians dry it in the sun and smoke it. The English have begun to salt it. Either way it keeps through the year, and it is hoped that it will be accepted like salt cod.


Indians have two ways of catching sturgeon. Sometimes one or two of them will go out in a canoe, harpoon the fish and then haul it into the canoe; sometimes they catch the fish in strong nets, made of hemp. They take great pains with their fishing; at the height of the season they will lie overnight on the cold shore, with just a small fire, waking up several times in the course of the night to check their nets.


This is a sweet kind of shellfish which Indians, all over the country, enjoy both winter and summer. The women dig for these clams at low water, and then boil them up. The broth is savory, and they use it instead of salt to give flavor both to their NASAUMP, and to their bread. The Indians have come to hate English swine worst of all domestic animals, because of their filth, and especially because English pigs have learned to dig and root the clams when the tide is out.







quahog / quahogs

This is a shellfish which Indians wade deep and dive for. After they have eaten the meat, (in those which are good,) they break off about a half inch of the black part of the shell; and from this they make SUCKAU'HOCK, their purple money beads.

whale, whales

They are often cast up on the beach. I have seen some myself, but not more than sixty feet long. Indians cut them up into pieces; then give them away or send them off to people near and far as a present. Roger Williams' chapter on fish describes how important fish and sea food are in the Indian way of life. He also shows how English settlement disturbed the Indians' established patterns. At the same time he tells his audience of English traders about commercial possibilities. One motive of early English settlers was their hope of exploiting the natural resources of North America. As early as I5 84 Richard Hakluyt discussed the importance of "merchantable commodities," natural products that could be shipped to Europe and sold at a profit in order to provide a steady income for colonial settlements. The plentifulness of fish in New England waters was a marvel to the Europeans who saw it. In I 630 the Reverend Frances Higginson wrote "The abundance of Sea Fish are almost beyond beleeving, and sure I should scarce have beleeved it, except I had seene it with mine owne eyes."

Broiling fish over an open fire (engraving from John White's painting done in I 585)


Blackbird, blackbirds

Blackbirds will attack the corn crop. They come in millions and eat the corn as soon as it appears above the ground. To prevent this the Indians carefully plant the cornseed deep enough to develop a strong root, so that it won't be pulled up; and at the same time not so deep that the corn does not come up at all. Indians put up little watch towers in the middle of their fields, where they or their biggest children stay overnight, and early in the morning get up to scare the birds away from the corn.

Crow, crows

Although crows attack the corn, not one Indian in a hundred will kill one, because they have a tradition that the crow brought them the first grain of corn in one ear and the first bean in the other from Kautantowit's field in the southwest.

goose, geese



duck, ducks

There are many ducks and geese and similar fowl on the waters here. Since the Indians have hard work to kill them with bows and arrows, they want English guns, powder, and shot. Generally, the English (wisely), do not sell the Indians guns; but with guns they get from the French, (as well as some Dutch and English) they kill many birds. They are naturally excellent marksmen; and they are hardened to endure the cold and wet of lying in wait, creeping along the ground, wading through water. Indians also lay nets on shore to catch geese, turkeys, cranes, and other birds as they are feeding on acorns under oak trees.







They go to the south

This is what the Indians say when, in the fall, flocks of geese and other fowl fly south in wonderful order, keeping on their course even through the night.
Birds flying in formation (engraving from John White's painting done in I585) European signet ring, trade goods (owned by the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology)


Beaver, beavers

This is a wonderful animal. He cuts great pieces of wood with his teeth, and draws them along. With these logs together with sticks and earth he dams up rivers and streams. Once the dam is in place he builds a house with several stories; there he can sit comfortably dry, or go into the water as he pleases.

the deer skin

The woods here are full of deer; and the Indians hunt them in two ways. Sometimes they go in groups of twenty or forty, or even two or three hundred and drive the animals through the woods before them. Other times they catch the animals in traps. Their chief season for hunting with traps is about harvest time. During the spring and summer the Indians watch the deer and observe their haunts. Then, in the fall they go to the hunting grounds in groups of ten or twenty together; if the hunting grounds are not too far away their wives and children come with them. At the hunting grounds they build little hunting houses of bark and rushes, (quite different from their regular houses). In the hunting grounds each man knows the bounds of his territory. Within these bounds of two or three or four miles he sets about forty traps, and baits them with food that the deer loves. Every second day· he makes his rounds, viewing his traps. Indians are very careful of their traps; they guard the places where they lie and observe what comes near them. They say the deer will soon smell trouble and be gone.







It has happened that a hunter, making his rounds, has found a greedy wolf in the very act of eating a deer that was caught in a trap. Then the Indian kills the wolf. Sometimes the wolf has glutted his appetite with half a deer. then the hunter may take the half that is left, or leave it as bait to catch the wolf.

Before European settlement Indians used the meat of wild animals for food, their skins for clothing, their sinews for thread and rope, and their bones for making many tools. In those days they killed animals only as they needed these products.

Beaver (from Konrad Gesner's




sachem / King, Kings

Their government is set up like a monarchy. At present the rule is shared between Miantonom, a younger sachem, and his uncle Canonicus, the older sachem, a man nearly eighty years old. They rule remarkably well together. Canonicus does not take offense at his nephew's actions; and Miantonomu does not do what he thinks will displease his uncle. Although the sachems are absolute rulers they govern with the consent of their subjects. They do not set laws, or start wars, or impose payments unless their people can be persuaded to approve those actions. Withal the Indians, though they have few laws, live in reasonable harmony with their neighbors. I have not heard of so many robberies or murders or adulterous relationships here as among the English at home. When a crime occurs, and a punishment is set the sachem usually executes it himself. He will beat or whip the criminal, or put him to death; and for the most part these punishments are accepted by the subjects. If the sachem fears that public execution will provoke a mutiny he may send one of his trusted warriors to execute the criminal with a swift, unexpected blow of the hatchet. According to Narragansett tradition every sachem ruled by consensus. The Tribal Council, made up of important men, powwows and warriors, participated in decisions of war, peace.or religious observances. The concept of consensus was central in Narragansett life, and general agreement had to be reached before action was taken.






The years in which Canonicus and Miantonomi ruled the Narragansetts were, for the most part, a prosperous, golden ag(!. By the time Canonicus died, in r647· Miantonomi had been killed by an assassin. After that a proliferation of relatively weak leaders, combined with a deteriorating economic situation reduced the Narragansetts' ability to reach consensus on such matters as land sale, European trade relations, and intertribal matters.

Massassoit and his warriors advancing into the Puritan Camp (engraving from HARPER'S MAGAZINE r867)



EWO' /


he (or she) scorns me

Exchanges of mocking words between Indian leaders often cause wars among them. But I have known a great chief to say, "Why should I hazard the lives of my subjects to kindle a fire which no one knows how far and how long it will burn, for the barking of a dog?"
WAUWHAU'TOWAW SHOT'T ASH / A'NAWAT / there is an alarm shotgun pellets (their word is adapted

from ours) Their wars are far less bloody and kill far fewer people, than the wars in Europe. There are seldom as many as twenty men slain in a pitched battle; partly because when they fight in the forest every tree is a shield. When they fight on the open ground, they leap and dance about so much that arrows seldom hit. Even when a man is wounded, unless the man who shot the arrow follows up the attack, they will soon retire and save the wounded. Since they have no swords or guns it takes great courage and valor to kill the enemy. The victor ventures into the thick of the fight, and brings away the head of his enemy.






Although the Indians have no alphabet, or writing, they are very expert in adding up large sums. They use grains of corn to help themselves, instead of writing or counters, as Europeans do.


one two NI'SH / three YO'H / four NAPA'NNA / five QU'TTA / six E'NADA / seven SHWO' SUCK / eight PASKU'GIT / nine PIU'CK / ten


eleven / twelve twenty,
/ /


twenty one, and

so forth


/ thirty one, and so forth one hundred NEES PAW'SUCK / two hundred NQUI'TTE MITTA'NNUG / one thousand NABNAQUI'T PAW'SUCK

King Philip, sachem of the Wampanoags (woodcut from A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF by S.C. Coorich, I846)








The Indians, like the English, play games of chance with cards and dice. Indian cards are made of rushes; and Indian dice are painted stones. Indian gamblers, like English gamblers, all hope that luck will be with them; and I have seen Indian gamblers keep a "thunderbolt" with them as a lucky stone. These "thunderbolts" are like pieces of crystal; they are found in the ground near trees that have been struck by lightning.

a gambling arbor

Indians set up a gambling arbor with long poles sixteen or twenty feet high set in the earth, four square. They hang long strings of wampum on these poles, and bet heavily on one town or another. Contestants, chosen to represent the towns, throw dice within the arbor, while their supporters watch and cheer them on. In summer they play football games, on broad, sandy beaches, or on some soft grassy ground. In these games, where one town plays another, much money changes hands, but there is little quarreling. Their greatest festival, if the country is at peace, comes toward harvest time. Then they set up a long house, one hundred or even two hundred feet long on a plain near the sachem's court. Thousands of people come together to celebrate. Those who can, dance in the sight of all the rest, and come prepared with gifts, like money, clothes, knives, and trinkets to give away to the poor.

Narragansett brass hairpin, in design traditionally made of bone (owned by the Rhode lsland Historical Society)






CUPP AI' MISH / I will pay you, a word recently formed from the English "pay"


The Indians are used 'to trading among themselves, buying and selling corn, deerskins, coats, fish, and other goods. Sometimes a group of ten or twenty will come to trade with the English. They have many specialized craftsmen. Some make only bows; some make arrows; others make dishes. Some men hunt, and others are fishermen. The women make all the earthen pots. Those who live by the seaside store up shells in summer to use in winter for making the money beads.
MI'SHQUINUIT WO' MPINUIT / / red cloth white cloth

They all prefer cloaks of English or Dutch cloth to their own mantles of skins or furs, because the cloth is warm enough and lighter. They also like sober colors.

I will pay you with beaver

The early settlers paid for all English goods with furs which they bought from the Indians, and which in many cases the Narragansetts had bought from Indians further west. The blankets, tools, and guns that came to Rhode Island from England, were traded for beaver furs, otter furs, and deerskins whose value in trading for English goods was set by merchants in Bristol and London. Roger Williams, reflecting on the relative wealth of Europe and America, remarked that every rag of cloth in America has to come across the wild Atlantic Ocean, while, on the other hand, Native Americans have the first handling of those furs that afterwards are worn upon the hands of queens and the heads of princes.







WOMPAMPEAG / wampum / /

strings of white

money beads

the purple wampum beads, from

quahog shells Indians are not acquainted with European currencies, but they call our coins MONEASH, adapting the English word "Money." Their own money is of two sorts. They make the white kind from the stems of whelks. Six small beads of this, (made with holes to string through), are worth an English penny. The blue-black kind, made of quahog shell are worth twice as much. The white beads are called WOMPAM, which means "white"; the dark blue beads are called SUCKAUHocK-from the root SUCKI, meaning "it is black:' Those who live by the seaside make the money beads; they store up shells in the summer to work with in the winter. Before the Indians had metal awls from England, they bored the holes in shell money with pointed stones or bones. Indians from the north and west bring all their furs down to the coast to trade with the English and with the Indians there for this money. The Indian money is used by other Indians and by the English, French, and Dutch for six hundred miles north and south from New England, and Indians look carefully make sure they are genuine. One fathom of beads is now worth about five shillings from the English, although a few years ago it was worth nine or ten shillings. The difference comes from the lower value of beaver furs in England, but although I have explained this to the Indians, they feel cheated.






Indians use strings of money beads as necklaces and bracelets. They make belts four or five inches wide which they wear around their waist. The Princes even have caps of these beads, strung in many interesting patterns, mixing blue and white. In I634 William Wood described the Narragansetts as the most numerous, the richest, and the most industrious of the Indian tribes. They made the beads and the northern, eastern, and western Indians got all their coin from these southern mintmasters. Before European settlement wampum was a valued token of personal power and wealth, exchanged mainly at important ritual moments, such as tribute between sachems, or recompense for murder, or as payment for a powwow's magic. It was not made in great quantities. Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony noted that outside the coastal villages in which it was made only "the sachems and some special persons wore a little of it for ornament." The Europeans in building up fur trade with the Indians, found wampum useful as a medium of exchange; and while the fur trade flourished in New England, wampum was the standard kind of money.

Sculptured spoon (owned by the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology)



and Adornment

Ordinarily Indians wear a cloak either of animal skins or of English cloth, and this cloak covers their back. Apart from this cloak they wear only a small apron that covers their private parts. When they are indoors they usually take off the cloak; although many of the women keep it nearby, ready to gather it up about them. Their minds and bodies are completely accustomed to this nakedness; and they do not behave with the lewdness that unfortunately occurs in Europe.

their deer skin


/ a beaverskin coat. an otterskin coat NEYHOMMAU' ASHUNCK / a cloak artfully made of beautiful turkey feathers.

They treasure these turkey feather cloaks, that are usually made by old men, the way we treasure velvet capes.
ASS' INUG / their tobacco bag which they hang around their neck, or their waist, and which serves them for a pocket. MOCU'SSINASS / moccasins / shoes PETOUW

They make these shoes of deerskin. They prepare the leather in such a way that it is wonderful for travel in wet or snow. The leather holds its natural oils so well that water can be entirely wrung out of it; and the moccasins, after they are dried near the fire, are as good as new.


of the Niantic














and Feasts

god manitou / gods


Whenever they see some excellence, either in men or women or in birds, animals or fish they exclaim "MANITTOO / ," "He is a god." When they talk among themselves about the English ships, or their great buildings, and especially their books and letters, they will say, "MANITO/WOCK;' "They are gods."

a ceremony with feasting or dancing

Indians celebrate both public and private occasions with feasts and dances. In times of war or sickness they hold prayer meetings. After the corn harvest they hold thanksgiving feasts, to celebrate the season of peace, health, and prosperity. They also celebrate a winter feast.

pow-wow / priest priests

The powwows begin by offering prayers, and leading dances; then all the people follow and join in the prayer and dances. The person who makes the NICKOMMO (feast) provides food for twenty, fifty, or a hundred people. (I have even seen a great feast at which a thousand people were present.) He (or she) also gives away quantities of goods or money, (as much and sometimes more than they can afford). They make gifts to individuals; and the person who gets the gift goes out and gives three cheers for the host (or hostess).

it goes to the southwest

Indians believe that when people die their souls go to CAUTA/NTOUWIT'S house in the southwest.






Roger Williams describes Indian feasts in terms of social and religious meanings (gifts, gratitude, prayer, etc); Thomas Harriot, on the other hand gives more detailed accounts of Indian rituals: When they have escaped any great danger by sea or land, or when they return from war, they celebrate by gathering around a great fire. The men and women sit together, holding a certain fruit in their hands, like a pumpkin, or a round gourd. When they have removed the fruit and seeds from the gourd, they fill it with small stones, and fasten it on a stick, so that they can make a great noise. then they rejoice with singing and rattling the gourds. At a certain time of year they make a great feast to which people from all the neighboring communities come. People dress in special clothes, and paint themselves with marks that show where they come from.

Burl bowl with turtlehead effigies, 15 inches across, Nipmuc, early 1700S (owned by the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology)


The Narragansetts

from 1644 to 1986

Over the past 350 years the world that Roger Williams described bas been transformed. If he or the sachem Canonicus returned to earth they would find our technology unbelievable, and even the hills and waterways would look changed beyond recognition. Still there are important continuities of Narragansett tradition that connect their time with ours. In October 1979 the Narragansett Tribe sent a petition to the U.S. Department of the Interior requesting official recognition of their tribal status. Eric Thomas, in making this request as a spokesman for the Tribe, showed how the Narragansetts met all seven of the federal criteria for tribal status. 1) The Narragansett tribe has always been identified from "American Indian" or "Aboriginal." 2) A substantial portion of the Tribe live in Washington County, in and near the old Narragansett Indian reservation in Charlestown,as their ancestors have done since historical times. This tribal community is distinct from other populations. 3) The Narragansett Tribe has exerted tribal political influence or other authority over its members throughout history until the present. 4) The Tribe has a written document which defines membership criteria and the procedures through which the Tribe currently governs its affairs. 5) The Tribe's current membership roll establishes descendancy based upon historic membership lists. 6) The membership is composed principally of persons who are not members of any other North American tribe. 7) Finally, neither the Tribe nor its members are the subject of congressional legislation which has expressly terminated or forbidden the federal relationship. The petition cites evidence from primary sources which depict Narragansett life and history over the past four centuries, beginning with the observations of Verrazano in 1524.

John Winthrop's Journal, as well as Roger Williams' letters and his book, A KEY INTO THE LANGUAGE OF AMERICA, give first hand information about Narragansett culture. From these sources and from colonial and local records we learn about the Narragansett political situation, and about relations to the Niantic sachems, notably Ninigret, in the early years of English settlement. Federal, state, and local records also provide continuing notices of Narragansett life in its relations to the non-Indian world. For forty years, from 1636, when Roger Williams bought from the Narragansett sachems the land on which he and his friends built the plantantions of Providence, to the outbreak of King Philip's War in 1675, there were constant military and diplomatic dealings between the sachems of the Narragansett and Niantic tribes, and the various colonists. The final pre-war treaty was signed in October 1675 by Ninigret's deputy and the chief Narragansett sachems. Despite this treaty war broke out; and in December 1675 the United Colonies of New England attacked and decimated the Narragansetts in the Great Swamp Fight. The Niantics, who had remained (nominally) loyal to the colonies during the war, survived and retained their territory in the southwestern corner of Rhode Island. The Niantic sachem Ninigret and his hereditary successors fell heir to all the Narragansett Indian lands. Those Narragansett survivors who had neither fled nor been enslaved were absorbed into the Niantics, and thereafter these traditionally affinal groups were treated as one, and referred to as the Narragansett Tribe of Indians. During the next hundred and fifty years the Narragansett community continued to live from generation to generation in the Charlestown area. During the "Great Awakening;' a religious revival that swept through New England in the decade after 1742, large numbers of the Narragansett Tribe were converted to Christianity. Once converted, the Narrragansetts formed their own congregation, ordained a Narragansett tribal member as their minister, and with State permission, built a specifically Narragansett Indian Church in the 1750S. Since that time the Narragansetts have had only American Indians ministering to them. Records of the Narragansett Church are, in effect, records of the Tribe, and reflect tribal activities and concerns.

During the 18 20S, when the federal government tried to remove Eastern tribes to the West, Jedidiah Morse surveyed the various Indian tribes, and submitted a report to Secretary Calhoun. He reported that the Narragansetts, then numbering 429 individuals, were the only Indian Tribe in Rhode Island. Their territory contained 3000 acres; they were "nominally independent, appointing a council of five members, and a clerk from among themselves;" and they did not wish to be removed. They said: We wish not to be removed into a wild country. We have here farms and houses of our own. Those who will work, may here get a comfortable living; and those who will not work here, would probably not in a wilderness. We have land enough, and wood enough; and living on the salt water, and having boats of our own, have plenty of fish, etc. Eight years later, a Rhode Island committee on "the affairs of the Narragansett Indians" estimated the Tribe at 300 to 400 members, of whom two thirds lived on the Charlestown reservation. The committee report described the Tribe's political structure, and the customary tribal land tenure. It noted that a school for the Tribe was maintained by the Missionary Society in the summer, and "by the Indians in the winter;' with an attendance of between forty and sixty scholars. They also reported that the church was under the charge of "one of the tribe and a regularly ordained Baptist minister." During the next fifty years the Narragansetts were under continuing pressure to give up their tribal lands and culture. Finally in 1880 the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation intended to end the tribal authority of the Narragansetts, and providing for the sale of all but two acres of their remaining lands. The 1880 State Act was part of a growing national trend toward assimilation; but even though the Narragansett tribe was formally terminated by the State of Rhode Island, a distinct, recognized Narragansett tribal identity persisted. As Joshua Noka said in 1883: We have the same blood running through our veins that we had before we sold the lands. The members of the 1880 Tribal Council, and their successors, continued to assert tribal leadership and to affirm the Tribe's land claims. Although their claims were not successful at the time, the Tribe maintained its political organization, its traditions and community and continued to hold its annual August meetings.

In 1934, inspired by the Indian Reorganization Act, chief Night Hawk, and William Wilcox, medicine man, acquired a state corporate charter for the "Narragansett Tribe of Indians." This charter was announced in the presence of Governor Theodore Francis Green of Rhode Island, and a representative from the Bureau of Indian Affairs; since then the Tribal Council has been the recognized governing body of the Tribe. In January 1975, the Narragansett Tribe of Indians filed claimed in the United States District Court for Rhode Island for recovery of their tribal lands. They claimed that the Tribe owned these lands by aboriginal title, and as part of its colonial reservation, and that the state had alienated these lands without federal approval. In February 1978 all parties to these actions signed a settlement agreement. This agreement, said that approximately 1800 acres of land within the boundaries of the old Narragansett Indian Reservation would be returned to the Narragansett Indian Tribe. In May 1979 the State of Rhode Island created a special corporation to oversee the tribal lands which were returned to the Narragansetts; as mandated in federal legislation, the Narragansett tribe will control this corporation. In 1983 the tri be was formally recognized by the federal Government; and this recognition made federal funds available for expanding tribal services in the areas of health, education, and welfare. Thus, after 350 years, the Narragansett tribe remains a distinct community, maintained through close kinship and social solidarities which find their expression in the tribal organization and the Narragansett church. The members of the community reside, for the most part, in Washington County. The physical and spiritual center of the tribe is in Charlestown, the site of their old reservation. Recent tribal activities aim to fulfill the traditional Narragansett objectives announced in 1934: To organize the Narragansett IndianTribe for the purpose of self-government. To train Indians in religion, artcrafr, history, and language. To conserve, increase, and develop Indian land. To promote education. To protect the civil rights of Narragansett Indians and their descendants. To hold a public pow-wow.

On October I I 1985 the Narragansett Indian Tribe took from the State of Rhode Island legal title to 900 acres of undeveloped land in Charlestown. At the State House ceremony, attended by Narragansetts in tribal robes, Lloyd Wilcox, the tribal medicine man whose Indian name is Chief Running Wolf, said: "For the first time in the history of the tribe we have reversed the process wherein the Indians must always lose the most valuable thing there is, and that's their small portion of the mother earth ... It is a sacred thing when you walk the land, and you drink from a spring, and you hunt in a forest, that for a thousand or two thousand years or more your direct ancestors have done this." The spiritual tradition of the Narragansetts is also maintained contemporary poets and artists like Don Eagle. by




-_._. ---~ .

From the Four Directions
DEER My body and soul is one till the day or night decides To take me away and put me somewhere else, For the body stays to make fertile all That it has taken away. For my soul shall never die, As long as I know within myself I am earth and nothing else Everlasting to everlasting. RAVEN It is the body that has no soul That cannot see But can feel and know that it is alive For I am the gentle breeze and The twisting wind that gives life.


I am grace and beauty Strong and powerful I flow in and around you warm and cold You cannot live without me For I am your thirst. EAGLE I am far away but so near I am outside and I am inside I have one job to do and that is to see All things are right, For I am the one that gives you day And gives you night. The earth, the air, and the water Call me death For I am fire! Tell me that I am not good in every way.




Many people have helped this project with their time and expertise. Barbara A. Hail, Dr. Ives Goddard, Paul Robinson, and Ella Thomas Sekatau reviewed the text. Their comments have saved us from many errors; any remaining mistakes and inadequacies are our own. Several teachers in our workshops offered suggestions for improving the text. The staffs of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, the John Carter Brown Library, the John Hay Library, and also those of Plimoth Plantations and of the Rhode Island Historical Society have helped us to find our illustrations. Don Eagle and Elaine Gelineau assisted us with expert knowledge. All these kindnesses made our work a pleasure. We particularly acknowledge the following courtesies: Don Eagle for his drawing

Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology for pictures of objects in their collections, and for the map from BURR'S HILL, the picture of King Philip, and that of Massassoit and his warriors. John Carter Brown Library for: the map and details on our cover from the map Nova Belgica et Anglia, Amsterdam 1640; for the pages from the first edition of Roger Williams A KEY INTO THE LANGUAGE OF AMERICA, London 1643; and for pictures in Theodore De Bry's edition of Thomas Hariot A BRIEF AND TRUE REPORT OF THE NEW FOUND LAND OF VIRGINIA, Frankfort am Main 1590, (De Bry's engravings were copied from John White's paintings). John Hay Library, for pictures from: John Gerard THE HERBAL OR GENERAL HISTORIE OF PLANTES, London, 1636; and Konrad Gesner, HISTORIA ANIMALlUM, Zurich, 1558. Museum of the American Indian for picture of the stone pipe. Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design for the portrait of Ninigret II. Rhode Island Historical Society for Roger Williams' compass X3 25I5; Roger Williams' landing, RHI x3 684; Narragansett storage basket RHI xj 2660; Narragansett hair pin RHI X3 2654.

Smithsonian Institution for illustrations from the HANDBOOK OF AMERICAN INDIANS: Niantic wigwam; mortar and pestle.

Shirley Blancke and Barbara Robinson FROM MUS KATEQ U I D TO CONCORD: Concord MA, 1985. COLONISTS AND THE THE NATIVE AND EUROPEAN William Cronon EXPERIENCE,




Susan Gibson, ed. BURR'S HILL A 17TH CENTURY WAMPANOAG GROUND IN WARREN, RHODE ISLAND, Bristol R.I., 1980. lves Goddard Review



International Journal of American Linguistics;

Vol. 47,


4, pp 344-354·

Hariot A BRIEF AND TRUE REPORT OF THE NEW FOUND LAND OF published by Theodore De Bry Frankfort a 111 Main, 1590. reprinted by Readex Microprint, 1966.
Neal Salisbury MANITOU AND PROVIDENCE, Oxford University Press,

New York, 1982. Ella Thomas 1973· William Indians", William volume Roger Edited William Simmons "Cultural Bias in the New England Puritans' Perception of Sekatau NARRAGANSETT INDIAN RECIPES, Charlestown R.I.,

William and Mary Quarterly 3 8 : 56-72
C. Sturtevant gen. ed., HANDBOOK D.C., 1978. OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS,

15, Washington
Williams by John Wood

J. Teunissen


J. Hinz



1973· 1634 reprinted by the




Prince Society Boston 1865, reissued, 1967.




Map showing Native American peoples of New England in the seventeenth century (after Marten 1970).




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