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Nanepashemet (died 1619) was the leader, or Great Sachem, of the Pawtucket Confederation of Indian tribes before the landing of the Pilgrims. He ruled over a large part of what is now Northeastern Massachusetts. His wife and sons governed the tribe after his death, during the Great Migration to New England by the English Puritans.


Died 1619
Ethnicity Native American
Title Sachem
Spouse(s) Squaw Sachem
Children Sagamore John, Sagamore James, Sagamore George

By c. 1607, Nanepashemet controlled the lands from the Charles River of present-day Boston, north to the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth and west to the Concord River. His influence stretched north to the Pennacook tribe which inhabited the White Mountains region of present-day New Hampshire. As a tribal area, Pawtucket consisted of several territories: Winnisemet (around present-day Chelsea, Massachusetts), Saugus or Swampscott (Lynn), Naumkeag (Salem) (see Naumkeag people), Agawam (Ipswich), Pentucket (Haverhill), from the coast going up the Merrimack. Daniel Gookin includes Piscataqua (Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Eliot, Maine) and Accominta (York, Maine) in the Pawtucket alliance.[1] Other sources name Mishawum (Charlestown, Massachusetts), Mistic (Medford, Massachusetts), Musketaquid (Concord, Massachusetts) and Pannukog (Concord, New Hampshire) as Pawtucket territory.

Nanepashemet was respected by his people as a warrior and a leader. His name was translated as "the Moone God" by Roger Williams' A Key Into the Language of America.,[2] although most historical accounts translate it to mean "New Moon" (e.g., see B. B. Thatcher, 1839).[3] Nanepashemet's tribe caught fish, dug shellfish and raised corn on the Marblehead peninsula.

In 1617, he sent a party of warriors to aid the Penobscot tribe in their conflict with the Tarrantines of northern Maine. The Tarrantines were a warlike band, who did not practice agriculture and who supplemented the food supplies that were not obtained by hunting with raids on the stores of bands who resided along the New England coast and its tidal rivers. They sent war parties to avenge the support of Nanepashemet for their Penobscot enemies. Sensing danger, Nanpashemet built a log fort near the Mystic River in present-day Medford. He directed his wife and children to move inland to reside with friendly Indian bands until the crisis passed.

In 1618, an epidemic of smallpox decimated his band, but he was spared because of his isolation in the fort. By 1619, the Tarrantines discovered his whereabouts, laid siege to the fort and ultimately killed Nanepashemet. Two years later, a party from the Plymouth Colony including Edward Winslow came across his fort and his grave.[4]


Nanepashmet had a wife whose name has been lost, who is known only as the Squaw Sachem. Their three sons are referred to in the colonial records as Sagamore John, Sagamore James, and Sagamore George. She is often confused with Awashonks, who was the Squaw Sachem of the Sakonnets in RI, but they were contemporaries and not the same person.

Squaw Sachem[edit]

Squaw Sachem ruled his lands aggressively and capably after his death. In 1639 she deeded the land of what was then Cambridge and Watertown to the colonists,[5] an area in present day terms that covers much of the Greater Boston area, including Newton, Arlington, Somerville, and Charlestown. She lived her last years on the west side of the Mystic Lakes and died there in 1650.

Sagamore John[edit]

His real name was Wonohaquaham. He controlled what is now Charlestown, Medford, Revere, Winthrop, and Chelsea. In 1631, Gov. Thomas Dudley wrote that he did not command more than 30-40 men. Sagamore John was friendly to the colonists and was known to warn them of impending attacks by unfriendly Indians.[6] Gov. John Winthrop wrote that he died in 1633 of smallpox, "and almost all of his people."[7]

He is mentioned in the poem Mogg Megone (1836) by John Greenleaf Whittier. A monument to Sagamore John exists in present day Medford in a place called Sagamore Park.[6]

Sagamore James[edit]

His real name was Montowampate. He controlled the Saugus, Lynn and Marblehead areas, also died in 1633 of smallpox.

Sagamore George[edit]

His real name was Wenepoykin. He was the youngest of the three sons. He survives the smallpox epidemic of 1633 but becomes known as "no-nose" in some records due to the disfigurement of this disease. He inherited the lands of his brothers from Charlestown up to Salem. He may have been sold into slavery, and shipped to the Caribbean island of Barbados at the end of King Philip's War, but rescued after eight years. His descendents signed the Indian Deed to Salem, Massachusetts.[8]


  1. ^ Stewart-Smith, D. (2002). The Pennacook Lands and Relations: Family Homelands. In Piotrowski, Thaddeus M. (2002). The Indian heritage of New Hampshire and Northern New England. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 123. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  2. ^ Williams, Roger (1827). A key into the language of America. Providence: John Miller. p. 110. Retrieved 2008-12-11.  Reprint of a book first published in 1643.
  3. ^ Thatcher, Benjamin Bussey (1839). Indian Biography: Or, An Historical ... Vol. II. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 9. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  4. ^ William Bradford, Edward Winslow (1865). Mourt’s Relation, or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth. Boston: J. K. Wiggin. Retrieved 2008-12-23.  Reprint of the original version.
  5. ^ Hurd, Duane Hamilton (1890). History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Volume 1. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  6. ^ a b Brooks, Charles (1886). History of the town of Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Rand, Avery. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  7. ^ Winthrop, John (1996). The journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649. Harvard University Press. Retrieved 2010-02-25.  Reprint of the original text.
  8. ^ Perley, Sidney (1912). The Indian land titles of Essex County, Massachusetts. Salem: Essex Book and Print Club. Retrieved 2008-12-11.