Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sachem Iyanough- Barnstable, Ma

Statue of the Sachem Iyanough- Hyannis Village Green
Researching history is interesting in that looking into one project often leads me to another one. This is what has happened in the last few posts I’ve made. In traveling down Route 6A I have stumbled across several interesting finds worth looking into. One of these is the somewhat mysterious grave of the Sachem Iyanough.

Having grown up on Cape Cod, I had always known that the name of the village of Hyannis was of native origin. However, I never knew much more than that until I was an adult and I read the book Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick. Still, I was curious. I did not understand how the relationship between the English and Iyanough could have soured so quickly from promisingly friendly and helpful to one stained by betrayal and death.

In researching Iyanough, it turns out I could not relate his story in isolation from the native leaders who were his contemporaries or the big players in the Plymouth colony between 1620 and 1623. The tale of his fall from grace in the eyes of the New England colonists is complicated by political intrigue, outright violence, and a willingness or eagerness to take lives. However, when the Plymouth colonists are first introduced to Iyanough, he plays an important part in saving a life and establishing a working relationship.

According to Mourt’s Relation, written mostly by Edward Winslow, Iyanough was the Sachem of the Mattakeese tribe in the area of Cummaquid. The traditional territory of the Mattakeese included much of modern day Barnstable, including the modern village of Cummaquid. Although, they were theoretically part of the larger Wampanoag Confederation under Massasoit’s leadership, they still maintained a separate identity. Remember, most of the tribes of Cape Cod did not join Metacom in making war against the English colonists. In fact, when Winslow and a group of English and natives first met the 26 year old Iyanough in 1621, he was anything but hostile.
Edward Winslow

In the spring of 1621, a group of colonists from Plymouth, along with native guides like Tisquantum (Squanto) and Tokamahamon, traveled to Mount Hope to visit with Massasoit. On their return trip they were informed that one of the Plymouth children had gone missing in the vast wilderness of Cape Cod. Most of this same group immediately set out to find the boy, following the lead of Squanto.

They set off for Cape Cod by boat and anchored the first night at Cummaquid. The following day they were informed by several members of the Mattakeese tribe that the English boy had been found alive and well by the Nauset tribe. The Mattakeese invited the colonists to first visit their village and meet their Sachem, Iyanough. Winslow is very complimentary of the young native leader at their first meeting. According to Mourt’s relation:
“A man not exceeding 26 years of age, but very personable, gentle, courteous, and fair conditioned, indeed not like the savage, save for his attire; his entertainment was answerable to his parts, and his cheer plentiful and various.”
Iyanough and the Mattakeese fed and entertained the colonists. Except for one elderly native woman, whose children had once been abducted and made slaves by previous English visitors, a good time seemed to have been had by all.

Following the meal and festivities, Iyanough accompanied the men to Nauset (modern Eastham). When they reached Nauset, Iyanough and Tisquantum waded in ahead of the colonists to meet with the Nauset Sachem, Aspinet. The English in the search party were somewhat wary of the Nausets because the two groups had clashed the previous fall when the Pilgrims were first exploring the area. In addition, the English had unearthed and stolen stashed native corn during their previous expedition on the Cape.

Despite a somewhat tense beginning, the Nausets, English, and their native guides got along well. The Plymouth colonists promised to repay the stolen corn. The Nausets returned the missing English child, now decorated with wampum beads and necklaces. In return the colonists rewarded the Nausets with metal knives and animal skins.

Satisfied, the English traveled back to Cummaquid, where Iyanough helped them gather fresh water. As before, the Mattakeese entertained and fed the colonists. As an offering of friendship, Iyanough gave them one of his own wampum necklaces. With that, the English returned to Plymouth.

Iyanough seems to have tried very hard to convince the English that he and his tribe could be trusted friends. Sadly, the trust he earned by helping to rescue the young Plymouth boy did not last. However, whether or not Iyanough actively played a role in his own downfall is still a little unclear.

Sources like The History of Cape Cod by Frederick Freedman and the History of New England by John Goram Palfrey continually mention the fear the Plymouth colonists had of a large native conspiracy against them. Often it appears that Tisquantum, the theoretically loyal translator of the Plymouth colonists, was to blame for creating this tension. According to Edward Winslow, Squanto occasionally spread the rumor to local tribes that the colonists were preparing for war against the native population. He demanded gifts from these groups, claiming that only he could stop the English from massacring the lot of them.

Often these rumors led to nothing more than hostile talk. However, sometimes the fear of an uprising among the native groups led to acts of seemingly unprovoked violence on the part of the English. Often where violence occurred, Myles Standish, the military advisor to Plymouth Colony, was sure to be at the heart of it.
Myles Standish- Military Advisor to Plymouth
In comparing the sources of Freedman and Palfrey to Edward Winslow’s own Good News From New England, one gets a pretty clear picture of the events which ultimately led to the decline in peaceful relations between the English and the natives, and what ultimately led to the death of Iyanough.

According to both Freedman and Palfrey, in the fall of 1621, nine powerful Sachems signed a treaty with the English, declaring themselves loyal to King James. This act was in response to attacks and threats made by Myles Standish and his men, which in turn were in response to rumors spread by Squanto. Iyanough was not among the ones who personally singed the treaty, but the English assumed his loyalty because Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Confederation, had signed.

From the perspective of Iyanough this may or may not have been accurate. Yes, the Mattakeese seemed to be connected to and owed some allegiance to Massasoit, but many of the Cape tribes were also very separate from Massasoit’s Pokanokets.

Additionally, in the spring of 1622 a separate group of Englishmen under the leadership of the businessman Thomas Weston attempted to create a colony about 30 miles north of Plymouth in modern Weymouth. According to Palfrey, these new colonists quickly made themselves notorious for stealing food from both the Plymouth colonists and the Massachusetts tribe in their area. In short, they were making friends with no one.

Soon matters became worse for the men in Weymouth. As winter approached, their supplies ran low. They had already aggravated their native neighbors to the point they now refused to trade with the English. The men at Weymouth begged the Plymouth colonists for assistance, even suggesting that the two colonies should team up to take food from the natives by force. Bradford, the governor of Plymouth, declined. He suggested that the Weymouth colonists subsist on ground nuts and shell fish, as the Plymouth colonists were doing. However, not all was going well in Plymouth either.

In February of 1623, according to Good News From New England, Standish took a group of men to Mattakeese to trade for corn. Previously, this tribe had been among the most trusted, supposedly because of the earlier actions of Iyanough. In a previous encounter, Governor Bradford had even left one of their stranded boats full of important supplies with this group. He asked them to guard it from animals and anyone who might try to steal from them. The English returned to find their boat and supplies had been perfectly protected and their trust had been validated.

However, during the February visit, Standish was very suspicious of the Mattakeese and their Sachem. As they arrived in modern day Barnstable a serious winter storm blew in preventing an immediate return to Plymouth. The group decided to spend the night with the Mattakeese. However, Standish noted there were strangers among the well known group of natives. Although, no reason was given, he seemingly began to suspect that the Mattakeese were planning to kill him during the night.

Captain Standish ordered that only one man should be allowed to sleep during the night, the rest would remain awake and guard their supplies and each other. Despite the constant guard, Standish eventually found that some beads were missing among their supplies. He and his six men went to the Sachem (Presumably Iyanough) and demanded the return of their property. They promised that if the beads were not returned, they would attack the Mattakeese that very night.

The Sachem asked that they return to their boat and make sure the beads were not somewhere aboard. When a volunteer returned to the ship, he found the beads. To be fair to Standish, Winslow does seem to suggest in his writing that the culprit planted the stolen property directly before the boat was re-searched. Either way, the natives gifted the English with so much corn that it loaded their boat.

Edward Winslow also suggests that because Standish had set a guard and had made such a production over the missing beads, that all the men were able to escape the Mattakeese unharmed. Whether there was a legitimate threat to begin with is another question.

At a separate March meeting with the native leader Canacum, Standish and his men were interrupted by the arrival of the warrior Wituwamat, who was well known as a killer of Europeans. The rumor, according to Winslow, was that Wituwamat enjoyed killing white men with his knife because they made funny faces, begged, and cried like children in their dying moments.

The two natives exchanged words, which Standish could not understand at the time. Although Winslow does not say who later translated the conversation, Standish came to understand the exchange to have been a plan to kill the English of Weymouth and Plymouth. In addition, Iyanough’s name was dropped as a fellow conspirator.

In the spring of 1623, Massasoit became ill. Edward Winslow was sent to Pokanoket to pay his respects. With Winslow’s help Massasoit soon recovered from what many thought was a terminal illness. According to Winslow, because of this action, Massasoit felt that the English had proven their friendship to him. In return, he warned Winslow of an impending plot against the men of Weymouth and of Plymouth.
“At our coming away, he called Hobomok to him, and privately (none hearing save two or three other of his pnieses, who are of his council) revealed the plot of the Massachusetts before spoken of, against Master Weston's Colony, and so against us, saying that the people of Nauset, Pamet, Succonet Mattachiest, Manomet, Angawam, and the Isle of Capawack, were joined with them; himself also in his sickness was earnestly solicited, but he would neither join therein, nor give way to any of his. Therefore as we respected the lives of our countrymen, and our own after safety, he advised us to kill the men of Massachusetts, who were the authors of this intended mischief.”
This proved to be the smoking gun that would condemn not just Iyanough, but many of the Sachems of Cape Cod, and honestly it was Massasoit who pulled the trigger. According to Palfrey, it was the English of Weymouth who had originally provoked the uprising. However, the natives planned to attack Plymouth as well because they knew the Plymouth colonists would attempt to help their fellow English.

I can’t help but wonder at Massasoit’s intentions here. Whether or not he was actually concerned for the English is unclear because we only have Winslow’s side of the story. However, it seems obvious that he was careful to make sure the colonists knew he was not part of the conspiracy.

In addition to the report from Massasoit, news had recently come to the colonists of a native uprising in the colony of Jamestown in Virginia the previous year. During this uprising, which had occurred suddenly, over 300 English colonists had been killed. Because of news like this, the men of Plymouth were unwilling to let matters play out on their own. Though Winslow says they were loathe to do so, on the Twenty-Third of March Governor Bradford, Myles Standish, and Assistant Governor Isaac Allerton decided to preempt what they saw as imminent war with aggression of their own.

In fact, according to Winslow, the three men decided that they would begin laying traps for the accused natives and their Sachems by first pretending to trade, then attacking when the natives were unprepared. Myles Standish gathered eight men of his choice and began marching for modern Weymouth.

However, it seemed the first blow of the conflict actually happened in Plymouth. A well know native by the name of Manomet arrived in the colony only a day or so after Standish and his men left. Manomet claimed to be there to make sure that his friends in Plymouth were fairing better than the English in Weymouth. However, Bradford was suspicious of the native’s intent. Manomet was quickly captured, chained, and made a prisoner in the newly constructed Plymouth fort.

Meanwhile Myles Standish arrived in Weymouth to find the colony rather unorganized by his standards. Natives were living right alongside the English. Some seemed comfortable with the situation, but others reported to Standish that they feared for their lives.

Standish quickly took command of the Weston’s colony and what followed was a period of building tension. Both sides eyed each other, ready for the killing to commence at any time. A Massachusetts warrior named Pecksuot even informed Hobomock, who had been acting as translator for the English since the death of Squanto, that they knew full well what Standish was planning and that they were unafraid.

Many of these native warriors were known pniese, which Winslow describes as a warrior of renown amongst the tribes. Some of these warriors daily entered the colony and sharpened their weapons in front of Standish, sometimes making threats and rude gestures.

Among these warriors was Wituwamat, who had previously bragged about how many French and English he had killed, and how he enjoyed the act. Like some of the more dangerous warriors, Wituwamat was also a pniese. He carried with him a knife, the handle of which showed the face of a woman. Of Wituwamat, Winslow writes:
“Wituwamat bragged of the excellency of his knife, on the end of the handle there was pictured a woman's face, but said he, I have another at home wherewith I have killed both French and English, and that hath a man’s face on it, and by and by these two must marry.”
Wow. Wituwamat sounds both fascinating and creepy actually. In addition, Pecksuot continued to call out Standish personally. He mentioned that although Standish was a great captain, he was a rather small man. Though Winslow writes that Standish bore these insults and threats with patience, in realty he did not take the presence of the pniese lightly. Very quickly he conspired to let the bloodshed begin with the deaths of Wituwamat and Pecksuot.

Within a day or so Standish noticed Wituwamat, Pecksuot, and another warrior gathered together in one building. Standish and his men entered and shut the door behind them. Standish grabbed Pecksuot’s knife and with it killed him. The men with Standish killed Wituwamat and the third warrior.

Though Hobomock took no part in the killing, feeling that the English had demeaned themselves, Winslow records that he said, “Yesterday Pecksuot bragging of his own strength and stature, said, though you were a great Captain yet you were but a little man; but today I see you are big enough to lay him on the ground.”

Standish and the English proceeded to kill the native men who had been living in Weston’s colony. When the Massachusetts tribe heard about the attack, they gathered to combat the English. Along with Hobomock, who was himself a pniese, Standish and the English drove the small native army into the swamp in defeat. Seeing his task complete, Standish returned to Plymouth with Wituwamat’s severed head and any of Weston’s people who were willing to return with him.

Upon arriving in Plymouth Standish confronted Manomet, still a prisoner, with the head of Wituwamat. He asked Manomet if he recognized the warrior. The prisoner replied that he did and knew him to be part of a great conspiracy to kill the English. Manomet gave the names of the other chief conspirators. Although Winslow does not say that Manomet named Iyanough directly, it seems that he must have, because the Sachem of the Mattakeese appears very soon after in a list containing the names and deaths of those who sided with the Massachusetts.

Hobomock entreated the English to release Manomet, as he said he had nothing to do with the rebellion. Though Winslow felt that Hobomock had been bribed on the man’s behalf, the English agreed to release their prisoner with a message for his Sachem, Obtakiest, of the Massachusetts.

The English explained to him that they had never wished for any violence, but the actions of the Massachusetts had forced their hand. Therefore, they claimed, the natives had only themselves to blame for what happened. In addition, Standish told the prisoner if Obtakiest ever attempted violence again, there would be no place for him to hide. He and his people would be hunted into extinction. Thus, the prisoner brought the message to his Sachem.

The sudden acts of violence against the Massachusetts and the death of their prominent pniese sent shockwaves among the native communities of the nearby areas. Winslow states that many of the Sachems accused of conspiring with Wituwamat and the Massachusetts fled their homelands in fear to hide in swamps and deserts. Although he also says that no real action had been taken against them. In those swamps many died of disease, starvation, and exposure. Among the dead Winslow lists Canacum, Sachem of Manomet; Aspinet, Sachem of Nauset; and Iyanough, the Sachem of the Mattakeese. Winslow goes on to say that many other natives continued to die because very little corn was planted or preparation done for the winter because of the fear the English inspired.

The exact location of Iyanough’s death was unknown for over two hundred years. However, in the appendix of Increase Mather’s Early History of New England, a letter is reprinted which discusses the discovery of the Sachem’s burial. The letter, authored by Amos Otis of Barnstable, mentions that there is some confusion as to who the village of Hyannis is actually named after. Otis says the land was purchased from a native known as Hyanna or Ianna, who some claim was the son of Iyanough. However, he seems to have had some doubts as to the exact genealogy of the family. Of the grave, Otis was fairly certain it was that of the famous Sachem of the Mattakeese. He offered the following story about the discovery of the grave.

On May 18th 1861, Patrick Hughes, an Irishman working for Enoch T. Cobb, was plowing in a field near Great Swamp, about a half mile from where tradition states Iyanough had his village. The plow struck something metal, which appeared to be a brass kettle. Under the kettle Hughes discovered a skull and bones. The bones  were arrayed in a sitting position. Among the other artifacts discovered were an iron hatchet, the remains of a wooden bow and arrows, a wooden bowl, iron nails, and some black and white wampum.
This Plaque along Rt 6A marks the entrance to the trail which leads to Iyanough's grave.
Otis states that among the natives of the 1620’s, iron nails were a thing of curiosity, so were once prized possessions. However, only a few years after, the iron nails ceased to be important to the natives of the area. He says that a bronze kettle and iron hatchet would have been articles buried only with a person of importance, as they would have been rare. He also states that the grave must have been before the time when natives commonly used firearms and had ceased to use wampum as a form of currency. Therefore, he dates the grave to right around the time and area where Iyanough was traditionally said to have died. No more exact verification had been performed. Amos Otis took the remains to Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Ma.

Today, the grave of Iyanough is maintained by an organization called Tales of Cape Cod. It can be found directly off of Route 6A, about a half mile of very pleasant walking into the swamp where the Sachem attempted to hide from the English.
The grave of the Sachem Iyanough, Cummaquid, Ma
In conclusion, though I have a much more clear idea of how and why the relationship between Iyanough and the early New Englanders soured, I am still unsure if he actually had anything to do with the conspiracy to murder the colonists of Weymouth and Plymouth. Of course, even in sources of purely English origin, he never got a chance to answer the finger pointing accusations of Massasoit and others for himself.

I was honestly most surprised by the behavior of Myles Standish. While the other leaders among the English seemed to work at their relationships with their native neighbors, Standish always seemed ill at ease and on the verge of violence. He was actually a bit like Wituwamat in that regard. I guess when I saw the actor portraying Standish at Plymouth Plantation, I never envisioned him decapitating an enemy in an ambush.

As I have before, I also must remark on the amazing diversity of the native population of New England during the colonial era. So much of this tradition and complexity seems to have been lost, now only reflected dimly in the names of local streets and villages. Unfortunately, this is how most people think of Iyanough, if people think of him at all. Not as a Sachem who, like his contemporaries, struggled to find a place for himself and his people in a world they no longer recognized. Rather, I think most people, like I did as a child, vaguely recognize that Iyanough might have something to do with the village of Hyannis.

It’s a shame that subjects like this are no longer regularly taught in American history classes at the high school level. Although Iyanough’s death and participation in the development of New England was certainly tragic, I can clearly see the connections that should be made between the actions of the Plymouth colonists and the echo of those same behaviors by the US government all the way up to the 20th century in its treatment of native populations. However, Iyanough is more fortunate than most. Throughout Hyannis and the Cape, there are several statues and plaques dedicated the former Sachem of the Mattakeese. Sadly, the only memorial for most of the native figures who shaped our modern New England will only be the sign at the end of your road.
The Plaque dedicated to Iyanough- Main Street Hyannis

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your Iyanough article very much. Not sure why some of these really interesting people don't get written about more often. I was glad your purpose wasn't to villainize either party but just to show the record. Too many people write as though these participators of history knew the same as we know now hundreds of years later. As if they fully understood how things were going to turn out.