Sculpture of Massasoit in Mill Creek Park, Kansas City, Missouri by Cyrus E. Dallin
Massasoit's people had been seriously weakened by a series of epidemics and were vulnerable to attacks by the Narragansetts, and he formed an alliance with the colonists at Plymouth Colony for defense against them. It was through his assistance that the Plymouth Colony avoided starvation during the early years.
English at Plymouth
At the time of the pilgrims' arrival in Plymouth, the realm of the Pokanokets included parts of Rhode Island and much of southeastern Massachusetts. Massasoit lived in Sowams, a village at Pokanoket in Warren, Rhode Island. He held the allegiance of a number of lesser Pokanoket sachems. In 1621, he sent Squanto to live among the colonists at Plymouth.
Outbreaks of smallpox had devastated the Pokanokets, and Massasoit sought an alliance with the colonies of New England against the neighboring Narragansetts who controlled an area west of Narragansett Bay in the Rhode Island. Samoset was a minor Abenakki sachem (sagamore) who hailed from the Muscongus Bay area of Maine, and he learned to speak English from fishermen who plied those waters. Massasoit sent him to approach the colonists to find out whether their intentions were peaceful.
Massasoit forged critical political and personal ties with colonial leaders William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Stephen Hopkins, John Carver, and Myles Standish, ties which grew out of a negotiated peace treaty on March 22, 1621. The alliance ensured that the Pokanoket s remained neutral during the Pequot War in 1636. According to Colonial sources, Massasoit prevented the failure of Plymouth Colony and the starvation that the Pilgrims faced during the earliest years of its establishment.https://vc.bridgew.edu/bmas/64/
There was some tension between Massasoit and the colonists when they refused to give up Squanto, whom Massasoit believed to have betrayed him. This, however, was resolved in March 1623 when Massasoit was gravely ill and Edward Winslow nursed him back to health. After his recovery, Winslow reports that Massasoit said, "the English are my friends and love me... whilst I live I will never forget this kindness they have showed me." In return for their kindness, Massasoit warned the Plymouth colonists of a plot against them. He had learned that a group of influential Massachusett warriors intended to destroy both the Wessagusset and Plymouth colonies, and he warned the Pilgrims in time.
The alliance came under minor tension in later years, as the colonists needed to expand into new lands in order to support their growing colony. Massasoit sold a tract of land 14 miles square to Myles Standish and others of Duxbury in 1649 to alleviate tension and maintain the peace between his people and the colonists. The sale took place atop Sachem Rock, an outcropping on the Satucket River in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Massasoit had five children: son Wamsutta, who was born between 1621 and 1625; son Pometecomet, Metacomet, or Metacom; son Sonkanuchoo; and daughters Amie and Sarah. Soon after the death of Massasoit, Wamsutta and Pometecomet went to Plymouth and asked the Pilgrims to give them English names. The court named them Alexander and Philip. Wamsutta (Alexander), the eldest, became sachem of the Pokanokets on the death of his father. He died within a year, and his brother Metacom (Philip) succeeded him in 1662. Amie married Tispaquin and was the only one of Massasoit's five children to survive King Philip's War in 1676.
The Pokanokets and the Colonists of Massachusetts Bay Colony maintained peace for nearly 40 years, until Massasoit's death. Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts colony and was taken in by Massasoit for several weeks. Massasoit was humane and honest, never violated his word, and constantly endeavored to imbue his people with a love of peace. He kept the Pilgrims advised of any warlike designs toward them by other tribes. It is unclear when Massasoit died. Some accounts claim that it was as early as 1660; others contend that he died as late as 1662. He was anywhere from 80 to 90 at the time. His son Wamsutta (Alexander) became his successor after his death.
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Roger Williams fled the Massachusetts Bay Colony to avoid arrest and deportation for religious reasons and stayed the winter of 1635–36 with Massasoit, who gave him land along the Seekonk River the following spring. Governor Winslow of Plymouth Colony advised Williams to move his settlement to the other side of the river because his current location was within the bounds of Plymouth Colony. Williams did so and founded Providence Plantations, which later became part of the Colony of Rhode Island.
The half century of peace that Massasoit so assiduously maintained collapsed soon after his death. Wamsutta (also known as Alexander) broke away from his father's diplomacy and began to form an alliance with Connecticut Colony. He died suddenly within a year of his succession in 1662, and Massasoit's second son Metacom (also known as Philip) became sachem of the Pokanokets and chief sachem of the Greater Wampanoag Confederacy. He believed that Alexander had been murdered at the hands of the Colonists, and this was one of the factors that eventually led to King Philip's War, one of the bloodiest wars in Colonial American history.
Statues of Massasoit by sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin stand near Plymouth Rock, outside the Utah State Capitol building, on the campus of Brigham Young University, at the Springville Museum of Art in Springville, Utah, and in Kansas City, Missouri at the corner of Main Street and Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd. In Massachusetts, both Massasoit Community College and Massasoit State Park are named for him.
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- Winslow, ch. 4
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- "Roger Williams National Memorial", National Park Service
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