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Nanepashemet (died 1619) was the leader, or Great Sachem, of the Pawtucket Confederation of Abenaki peoples in present-day New England before the landing of the Pilgrims. He ruled over a large part of what is now coastal Northeastern Massachusetts.

After his death in 1619, his wife, recorded by the English only as Squaw Sachem, and three sons governed the confederation's territories, during the period of the Great Migration to New England by English Puritans from about 1620 to 1640. By 1633, only the youngest son of the three, Wenepoykin, known to the colonists as "Sagamore George," had survived a major smallpox epidemic that year that decimated the tribes. He took over his brothers' territories as sachem, except for areas that had been ceded to colonists.


Died 1619
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, the Pawtucket controlled 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 Puritan Roger Williams in his A Key Into the Language of America. (1643/reprint 1827).[2] Most historical accounts translate the chief's name as meaning "New Moon" (e.g., see B. B. Thatcher, 1839).[3] Nanepashemet's tribe caught fish in the rivers and sea, dug and harvested 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 Tarrantine of northern Maine. The Tarrantine were a warlike band, who did not practice agriculture and who supplemented their food supplies obtained by hunting with raids on the stores of more sedentary bands who cultivated crops and 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, Nanepashemet 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 Nanepashemet 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 Rhode Island, but the two women were contemporaries and not the same person.

Squaw Sachem[edit]

Squaw Sachem ruled the Pawtucket Confederation lands aggressively and capably after Nanepashmet's 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, where she died in 1650. She is remembered on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail.[6]

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.[7] Gov. John Winthrop wrote that he died in 1633 of smallpox, "and almost all of his people."[8]

He is mentioned in the poem Mogg Hegone (1836) by John Greenleaf Whittier. A monument to Sagamore John was installed in Medford in a place called Sagamore Park.[7]

Sagamore James[edit]

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

Sagamore George[edit]

His real name was Wenepoykin. The youngest of the three sons, he survived the 1633 smallpox epidemic, becoming known as "no-nose" in some records due to disfigurement from this disease. He inherited the lands of both 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 was rescued after eight years. His descendants signed the Indian Deed to Salem, Massachusetts.[9]


  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. ^ "Charlestown". Boston Women's Heritage Trail. 
  7. ^ a b Brooks, Charles (1886). History of the Town of Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Rand, Avery. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  8. ^ Winthrop, John (1996). The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649. Harvard University Press. Retrieved 2010-02-25.  Reprint of the original text.
  9. ^ Perley, Sidney (1912). The Indian Land Titles of Essex County, Massachusetts. Salem: Essex Book and Print Club. Retrieved 2008-12-11.