The Massachuset Indians lived in the valleys of the Charles and Neponset rivers in eastern Massachusetts, including the present site of Boston and its suburbs and the Massachusetts Bay area. Their name is from an Algonquin word meaning “at the range of hills.”
Some of the first to encounter European explorers, the Massachuset were virtually wiped out by European diseases.
In 1614 there may have been as many as 3,000 Massachuset living in 20 villages around Boston Bay, but by the time the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 there were less than 800.
When the Puritans arrived in 1629, they found roughly 500 members, and by 1633, a smallpox epidemic had killed nearly all of the remaining Massachuset. No organized groups of the Massachuset are known to have survived after 1800.
They spoke the Algonquin language N-dialect, same as the neighboring Narragansett, Nauset, Niantic, and Wampanoag.
There were six main divisions of the Massachuset, which were referred to by the names of their chiefs, and further broken down to sub-divisions:
Cutshamakin (Cutshamequin, Kutchamakin)
The Massachuset Indians disappeared as an organized tribe before much could be recorded about them. However, it can be safely presumed from the limited evidence available that they lived in a manner very similar to the other coastal tribes of southern New England.
They farmed extensively but relied heavily on fish and shellfish during the summer. This was supplemented by hunting during the colder months.
They moved with the seasons between fixed locations to exploit the available resources.
Summer villages were located near the coast. These were fairly large with mid-sized longhouses, but the winter hunting camps using family-sized wigwams were further inland and separated from each other.
Politically, they were divided into independent bands, each ruled by a usually hereditary sub-chief, or sachem.
Although some villages were ruled by women, leadership was usually hereditary and passed through the father to his son.
Despite their small numbers, several Massachusett played important roles in New England history. Job Nasutan worked with missionary John Eliot to translate the bible into Algonquin, and Crispus Attucks, killed in the Boston Massacre, was the son of a free black and a Massachuset mother.
Contact with Europeans probably occurred at an early date, perhaps as early as John Cabot in 1497, but they were first mentioned specifically by Captain John Smith when he explored the coast of New England in 1614.
Disaster struck immediately afterwards in the form of three separate epidemics that swept across New England between 1614 and 1617 destroying three quarters of the original native population.
During the same period, unidentified rival tribes from the north attacked the Massachuset villages.
In 1620 the Pilgrims found most of the Massachuset villages in the region were empty and only recently abandoned.
When the first Puritans settled at Boston in 1629, only 500 Massachuset were left in the immediate area, and smallpox killed many of these in 1633.
Shortly afterwards, John Eliot began his missionary work among the Massachuset. The new converts were gathered into 14 villages of “Praying Indians.” Subject to strict Puritan rules of conduct, their tribal traditions quickly disappeared.
Converts from other tribes were also placed in these Christian communities, and by 1640, the Massachuset had ceased to exist as a separate tribe. Despite this, they were still involved upon occasion in New England’s native warfare.
After the Mohawk attacked Praying Indians near Boston during 1665, the Massachuset sachem Wampatuck (Chickataubut) led a retaliatory raid on the Mohawk village of Gandouagu in 1669. After a prolonged siege failed, his war party was ambushed on the return journey.
At the onset of King Philip’s War in 1675, many of the Praying Indians took to the woods and joined Philip’s uprising. The Puritan missionaries attempted to collect those who stayed in the vicinity of the main praying village Natick, but only 500 could be found.
Relocated to the islands of Boston harbor, the Praying Indians were on the verge being massacred by the English for the duration of the war.
Despised by other natives because they had refused to join the uprising, many of the Praying Indians volunteered to help the English as scouts and guides.
Used with great effect during 1676, their loyalty was still suspect. Frequently abused, many were deliberately killed by the colonial soldiers they were trying to serve.
By the end of the fighting in 1677, only seven of the original fourteen praying villages and 300 to 500 Praying Indians had survived. The others had either been killed, starved or driven into exile.
They were placed in several villages with peoples from other tribes that had taken part in the uprising. The resulting relationships in these communities are not very difficult to imagine.
The population of Praying Indians continued to decline in the years following but never entirely disappeared.
Currently, some of their descendants from the praying town at Punkapog are known to still be living in Massachusetts near the cities of Canton, Mattapan, and Mansfield.
FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES
(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)
Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council (Letter of Intent to Petition 07/07/1975. Federal recognition February 15, 2007, but was omitted from the March 22, 2007 issue of the Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs found in the Federal Register.)
Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) of Massachusetts
STATE RECOGNIZED TRIBES
(Not recognized by the Federal Government)
Massachusetts considers the listed tribes to be state-recognized tribes but has not established a formal recognition process, according to an official we spoke with from the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. These entities are acknowledged by Massachusetts as historic tribes.
Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe
Nipmuc Nation (Hassanamisco Band) Letter of Intent to Petition 04/22/1980; formerly part of Nipmuc Nation (separated May 22, 1996); Proposed finding in progress. Declined to acknowledge on 6/25/2004, 69 FR 35667; Reconsideration request before IBIA (not yet effective)
Nipmuc Tribal Council of Massachusetts (Chaubunagungamang Band)In addition Wampanoags unaffiliated with the Mashpee or Aquinnah and tribal members from Maine tribes [formerly under Massachusetts jurisidction till statehood in 1820] are represented by the State Commission on Indian Affairs.
Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe
Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe
UNRECOGNIZED / PETITIONING TRIBES
Chaubunagungamaug Band of the Nipmuck Nation, Webster/Dudley. Letter of Intent to Petition 04/22/1980 as part of Nipmuc Nation; separate letter of intent 5/31/1996; proposed finding was in progress. Declined to acknowledge on 6/25/2004, 69 FR 35664; Reconsideration request before IBIA (not yet effective)
Cowasuck Band-Abenaki People. Letter of Intent to Petition 01/23/1995.
Federation of old Plimoth Indian Tribes, Inc. Letter of Intent to Petition 05/16/2000.
Narragansett Tribal of Indians
New England Coastal Schaghticoke Indian Association and Tribal Council Nipmuc Nation. Letter of Intent to Petition 04/22/1980; divided into the State recognized Nipmuc Nation (Hassanamisco Band) and the unrecognized Chaubunagungamaug Band of the Nipmuck Nation
Pocasset Wampanoag Indian Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 02/01/1995
Quinsigamond Band of the Nipmucs
Rebel Deaf Panther Tribe International
United American Indians of New England
FIRST CONTACT TO PRESENT
The coast of what is now Massachusetts was probably skirted by Norsemen in the 11th century, but in the late 16th century, European ships explored the New England coast, led by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 and Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602.
Their explorations were based in part upon the information of Europeans on fishing voyages who had reached North America during the 16th century.
When European explorers first came to the coast of what is now Massachusetts, there were already tens of thousands of Native Americans living there. They were all part of the Algonkian family and lived in organized communities where they farmed, hunted, and fished.
They lived in dome-shaped houses called wigwams and produced their own ceramics, textiles, leather, and basketry.
These Algonkian tribes included the Massachusetts, Mohican, Nauset, Wampanoag, Pennacook, and Pocumtuck.
The pre-European population of Massachusetts was a small number of relatively independent native American tribes.
About 30,000 Indians from the Algonquian tribes lived in the area.
When the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, many had already died of diseases brought to America from the Europeans. Only 7,000 Native Americans remained in Massachusetts at that time.
PRE-CONTACT MASSACHUSETTS TRIBES
11th century – The coast of what is now Massachusetts was probably skirted by Norsemen.
1498 – English explorer John Cabot sails along Massachusetts coast.
The pre-European population of Massachusetts was a small number of relatively independent native American tribes. About 30,000 Indians from the Algonquian tribes lived in the area.
Sources of records on US Indian tribes