Indians of Woodstock, Connecticut

Apart from this incident nothing is known of the aboriginal inhabitants of Woodstock, until the Indian converts of John Eliot found their way there. Two of these youths, trained at Natic in a school of virtue and piety, inspired by the teachings and example of the reverend apostle, sought to carry ” good tidings ” to their benighted countrymen at Wabbaquasset. They were sons of Petavit, sachem at Hamannesset (now Grafton), and are described as hopeful, pious and active young men. The younger, Sampson, “an active and ingenius person,” had been before conversion dissolute in conduct, ” lived very uncomfortably with his wife,” but the transforming power of divine grace had been made more manifest thereby, and his mission work at Wabbaquasset was remarkably successful. Laboring alone among these untutored savages, within four years he had gathered thirty families into an orderly community, had instructed them in the principles of religion, established divine worship and persuaded them to assume in some degree the habits of civilized life. They cultivated the land, raised great crops of corn and beans, and built wigwams, the like of which were not to be seen in New England. The precise locality of this Indian settlement has not been ascertained, but it was in the south part of the tract, near the present ” Quasset,” or in the vicinity of South Woodstock. A fort was maintained westward on what is now Fort hill, which was called the ” second fort in the Nipmuck country.”

The report of Major Daniel Gookin, “magistrate over the Praying Indians,” of Mr. Eliot’s tour among these Indians in 1674, enables us to see them as with our own eyes. With five or six godly persons and a number of Indian guides and followers, they visited the new ” Praying Towns” planted by Eliot’s missionaries. After spending the night at Chaubunakongkomuk (near Dudley), where Sampson’s brother Joseph was teacher, they proceeded in the morning to Myanexet, ” west of a fresh river called Mohegan ” (now New Boston) where a village had been gathered. To these twenty families with others Mr. Eliot preached in the Indian tongue from the words, ” Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates, . . . . and the King of Glory shall come in,” words which a swift messenger bore with all speed to the king of darkness at Mohegan. John Moqua, a pious and sober person, was presented to the people to be their minister, and a suitable psalm read by him was sung by the assembly. After a closing prayer the missionary band proceeded on their way, following the Connecticut Path, the main thoroughfare of travel between the colonies, for a part of the journey, diverging thence by Indian trail to the Wabbaquasset settlement. ” Late in the evening,” September 15th, they reached the sagamore’s famous wigwam, sixty feet in length and twenty feet in width. The chief was absent, but his squaw received them courteously, and provided liberally in Indian fashion for their followers. The “active and ingenius” Sampson, rejoicing in the fruit of his labors, must have given them a hearty welcome, and ” divers of the principal people that were at home ” came to the wigwam, with whom they ” spent a good part of the night in prayer, singing psalms and exhortations.”

” It was a scene that has been many times repeated in missionary experience, the grave and earnest men of God with the wild natives wondering and questioning at their feet, but one incident on this occasion was of unique occurrence. A grim Indian among them, ” sitting mute a great space, at last spake to this effect-that he was agent for Uncas, sachem of Mohegan, who challenged right to and dominion over this people of Wabbaquasset. And said he, ‘Uncas is not well pleased that the English should pass over Mohegan River to call his Indians to pray to God.”‘ The timid Wabbaquassets might well have quailed at this lofty message from their sovereign lord, but Mr. Eliot replied calmly, “That it was his work to call upon all men everywhere, as he had opportunity, especially the Indians, to repent and embrace the Gospel, but he did not meddle with civil right or jurisdiction.” Gookin, as magistrate, further explained and desired the messenger to inform Uncas, that Wabbaquasset was within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and that the government of that people did belong to them, yet it was not intended to abridge the Indian sachems of their just and ancient right over the Indians in respect of paying tribute or any other dues, but the main desire of the English was to bring them to the good knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, and to suppress among them their sins.

The morning following, September 16th, 1674, is one of the most notable in Woodstock history. The tidings of the progress of the missionary band had been borne far and wide, Indians from Myanexet, Quinnatisset and all the surrounding country, had come together to see and hear them, and at an early hour a public service was held. Tradition still points out the rock at the north extremity of Plaine hill that served as pulpit for John Eliot. Gookin and other godly persons stood beside him, and the throng of swarthy Indians pressed around their feet. et. Sampson began the service, “reading and setting the CXIX P’s. first part, which was sung.” Mr. Eliot offered prayer, and then preached to them in Indian out of Matthew, vi. 33, ” First seek the kingdom of Heaven and the righteousness thereof, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Prayer closed the religious exercises, and then a civil service was enacted. Law following the Gospel presentation on this occasion, Gookin as magistrate, representing the authority of Massachusetts Bay, laid down the rules of civil government, confirming Sampson as public teacher, and Black James of Chaubunakongkomuck as constable, charging each to be diligent and faithful in his place, and exhorting the people to yield obedience to the Gospel of Christ and to those set in order there. He then published a warrant or order, empowering the constable to suppress drunkenness, Sabbath breaking, especially powwowing and idolatry, and to apprehend all delinquents and bring them before authority to answer for their misdeeds. Having thus established religious and civil ordinances, the visitors took leave of the people of Wabbaquasset and turned their footsteps homeward with thankfulness and joy at what had been accomplished.

The dreams and hopes of the good apostle, of Christianizing and civilizing the tribes that had long sat in darkness, seemed likely to be quickly realized. Churches and villages had been gathered and religious and civil institutions established. Ministers and constables had been formally established in office, and all was peace and order. A few short months and all was desolate. A ferocious war between whites and Indians obliterated the results of years of fruitful labor. The villages were destroyed, the churches vanished, the praying Indians relapsed into barbarous savages. Black James, Sampson, and other converts took sides with King Philip. The Wabbaquassets left their homes and planting fields and took up their abode at Mohegan. Captain Thomas of Providence, passing through Wapososhequash in pursuit of Philip, in August, 1675, reports ” a very good inland country, well watered with rivers and brooks, special good land, great quantities of special good corn and beans, and stately wigwams as I never saw the like, but not one Indian to be seen.” In the following summer Major Talcott, of Norwich, passed through Wabbaquasset, where he found a fort and some forty acres of growing corn, but no enemy. Demolishing fort and destroying the corn, they proceeded on their way. The Wabbaquassets during the war performed some slight services for Uncas, and were rewarded by the Connecticut government, and continued for some years afterward under his protection.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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