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Total population
(Enrolled members:)
Regions with significant populations
 United States: Massachusetts
English, formerly Massachusett language
Related ethnic groups
Narragansett and Patuxet

The Massachusett are a Native American people who historically lived in areas surrounding Massachusetts Bay, as well as northeast and southern Massachusetts in what is now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including present-day Greater Boston. Tribal members spoke the Massachusett language, which is part of the Algonquian language family. The present-day U.S state of Massachusetts is named after the tribe.

The name Massachusett means “people of the great hills”, referring to the Blue Hills south of Boston Harbor.[1]

As one of the first groups of indigenous American peoples to encounter English colonists, the Massachusett experienced a rapid decline in population in the 17th and 18th centuries due to new infectious diseases. Descendants of the Massachusett continue to inhabit the Greater Boston area, but they are not a federally recognized tribe.

Roots in pre-history[edit]

The Massachusett people are most likely descendants of prehistoric Paleo-Indians who lived in eastern North America at the end of the last glaciation 30,000-15,000 years before present (BP). Archeological evidence (spear points, midden mounds) uncovered in Boston indicate habitation in that area between 6,500 and 8,000 years BP. Fishing structures, such as the Boylston Street Fishweir, dating to 5,200 years BP, have been discovered since the late 20th century in what is now Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. A recreation of a fish weir is erected annually on Boston Common in May. These early people lived by seasonal migrations, alternating between inland hunting grounds and winter homes in the fall and winter, to mining their quarries for materials used for weapon and tool making, whaling, coastal fishing and foraging sites in the late spring and summer.

Historical period[edit]

Contact with European colonists[edit]

The French called Almouchiquois (or Armouchiquois) the people that the English included under the term Massachusetts; and these two names may be etymologically connected. [2]

The Massachusett and other Algonquian tribal groups were almost destroyed by native and or European-carried plague between 1614 and 1619; an estimated 90 percent of all the coastal populations died, possibly due to leptospirosis that was introduced by rats from European ships contaminating local water .[3] The surviving but severely weakened population was further decimated by warfare with the opportunistic Tarrantine tribe of Maine, which killed many Massachusetts including local leader Nanepashemet. Following colonization of the area by English settlers, a smallpox epidemic in 1633 further reduced the rapidly dwindling survivors.[4] The deaths of several Massachusett warriors and two prominent leaders, Pecksuit and Wittawamut, during an ambush at Wessegusset by Captain Miles Standish of Plymouth Colony in 1623 caused the Massachusett to avoid but not end further contact.[5]

Colonial records show that during the early 17th century, the Massachusett fished the shores, whaled at sea, farmed the lands and mined numerous quarries in the Blue Hills for slate and other valuable minerals, migrating from longhouses on the coast to wigwam settlements inland. The tribes were introduced to John Eliot, who converted some of them to Christianity, created a written alphabet, and in 1663 with the help of the Massachusett published the first Bible in North America, which was written entirely in the native Massachusett language (Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God).[6] The tribe was confined by English law to settlement in what were called praying villages (after Eliot requested their establishment from the general court).

In 1675 tribal member John Sassamon, the first Native American to attend Harvard University, was retained by the Pokanoket sachem King Philip to record his will. Sassamon took advantage of Philip's illiteracy to name himself heir to Philip's lands.[7] After the treachery was discovered, Sassamon died under mysterious circumstances. The subsequent murder trial was a catalyst in the King Philip's War, a conflict in which the Massachusett entered an uneasy alliance with the colonists against Philip.[8]

Crispus Attucks, the first casualty during the Boston Massacre at the start of the American Revolutionary War, was majority-minority, of Massachusett descent through his mother and African through his father.[9]

After 1869[edit]

In 1869 Massachusetts passed the Indian Enfranchisment Act. They granted the Massachusett citizenship in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with the right to vote but "terminated" their status as a sovereign nation. This did not conform to the Constitution, as only the federal government could make such decisions in relation to tribal governments.

The praying communities(?) _established at Canton (originally Ponkapoag), Natick, and Brockton continued to have communities of people who identified as Massachusett.[10] The tombstone of a noted member of the Natick Ponkapoag community said she was the last of her tribe when she died in 1852 at age 101,.[11]

21st century[edit]

Descendants of the Praying Indians from Natick have organized as Praying Indian Tribes of Natick and Ponkapoag,[12] currently under the leadership of Rosita Andrews or Caring Hands from Stoughton, Massachusetts, who received her title of chief from her mother. The Praying Indian members live within a radius of 20 miles around Stoughton.[13] According to Caring Hands, in 2011 there were about 50 members of Natick Praying Indians.[14] On 11 August 2012, members of the tribe celebrated a public service in Eliot Church, South Natick, the site of the original church of the Praying Indian town of Natick, for the first time in nearly 300 years.[15]

Descendants of the Neponsett band of Indigenous Massachuset who settled at Ponkapoag are organized as the Massachuset at Ponkapoag Tribe.

Neither the tribe identifying itself as Praying Indian Tribes of Natick and Ponkapoag nor its leader have qualified as descendants of the Indigenous Massachuset at Ponkapoag and have no affiliation with the Massachuset at Ponkapoag Tribe.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blue Hills Reservation". Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Marr, J.S.; Cathey, J.T. (2010). "New hypothesis for cause of an epidemic among Native Americans, New England, 1616–1619". Emerg Infect Dis 16 (2): 281–6. doi:10.3201/eid1602.090276. PMC 2957993.
  4. ^ Bragdon, Kathleen (Autumn 1996). "Gender as a Social Category in Native Southern New England". Ethnohistory. 43 (4): 579. doi:10.2307/483246. 
  5. ^ Philbrick (2006) pp 154-155
  6. ^ A Short History of Boston by Robert J. Allison, p.14
  7. ^ Asher, Robert (2005). Murder on Trial: 1620-2002. 
  8. ^ Brian Wright O'Connor (8 September 2010). "Praying Indian history preserved by tribal chief". Bay State Banner. Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  9. ^ "Massachuset History". First Nations/First Peoples issues. Jordan S. Dill. Retrieved 2007-03-30. 
  10. ^ "The Massachuset People (at Ponkapoag)HOME PAGE". Ponkapoag Tribal Council. Retrieved 2007-03-30. 
  11. ^ Canton Massachusetts Historical Society "Canton Historical Society" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 2007-03-30. 
  12. ^ "Praying Indians of Natick and Ponkapoag (official web site)". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  13. ^ Allan Jung (2007-02-07). "Family a chief concern for Praying Indians leader - Caring Hands, chief of the Praying Indians". Metrowest Daily News. Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  14. ^ Bob Reinert (2011-11-17). "Natick observes American Indian Heritage Month". USAG-Natick Public Affairs. Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  15. ^ "Native American tribe worships in first public service in 300 years". Anna-Claire Bevan. 2012-08-16. Retrieved 2013-11-06. 

External links[edit]