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WONALANCET, THE "PLEASANT-BREATHING"
Wonalancet was born about 1618. He was the third child of Passaconaway; Nanamocomuck, the Sachem of Wachusett, and a sister preceding him.1 Had the older brother been alive in 1669, he would have become chief; but in this year we find Wonalancet stepping into the position left vacant by his father's retirement.2
Resembling Passaconaway in pacific temperament and friendliness towards the whites,3 he was named "Wonne," meaning "pleasant," and "Nangshonat," meaning "to breathe."4 From this jumble of letters and guttural sounds we derive Wonalancet, a more pronounceable word signifying "pleasant-breathing." Bouton says: "He was wronged by the whites, distrusted by the Indians; a wanderer in the wilderness, in unknown but remote places from Pennacook; at one time a prisoner at Dover; for many years under the watch and supervision of Col. Tyng, of Chelmsford; and at last he died, like his noble father, in poverty."5
He certainly must have possessed a mild and charitable temperament, for, on repeated occasions, he was grievously wronged, and once he was actually wounded, by those whom he had befriended.6
Wonalancet pitched his wigwam upon the hill east of the Amoskeag Falls, near Manchester. At this place were held the council-fires at which all tribal affairs were discussed. Also he kept in repair the fort at Pennacook as a refuge in case of another Mohawk invasion. Wonalancet long clung to his ancient religious beliefs, even after his father had accepted Christianity. Often he voiced the wish to die, as he had lived, in the religion of his ancestors.7 Not until 1674 did he accept the faith of the whites, and then only under the mild and continued persuasion of John Eliot.8 Yet all through his sad and troubled life Wonalancet practiced the Golden Rule, Love, and Charity.9
Almost the first time his name appears he is doing a Christian act, sacrificing his ancestral lands, on which his own wigwam stood, to raise money to ransom his brother, as already narrated. Old Passaconaway's heart was rent with sorrow because of the imprisonment in Boston of his eldest son, Nanamocomuck, who had, according to findings of the Court, become responsible for another Indian's debt to one John Tinker, an Englishman. Nanamocomuck was thrown into a Boston jail until the debt should be paid.10 Wonalancet's position was this: his father soon would be forced to lay down the Bashabaship because of his advanced age, and, with the rightful heir in jail indefinitely, Wonalancet would succeed to the coveted position. But this "heathen savage," entirely ignoring personal gain, hesitated not; he obtained a permit and auctioned off an island―his home―thereby raising money to free his brother.
For many years Wonalancet had full knowledge that the Governor of Massachusetts was offering British gold to encourage another Mohawk raid!11 His people knew it also, yet Wonalancet came in closer towards the English and in 1674 even embraced their religion. These acts of Wonalancet, under such circumstances, caused doubts and anxiety among his people, and large numbers deserted him. But those who stood by him realized that, instead of "selling out" his people to their enemies, his policy was to strengthen them against the Maguas.
In 1674 Eliot preached to the Pennacooks and the Bashaba appeared very grave and sober. Prior to this date he had been keeping the Sabbath and attending service at Wamesit. "The next day, [Sunday,] May 6, 1674, Mr. Eliot proposed to him to give an answer concerning his praying to God. Wonalancet stood up (in his wigwam) and after due pause and deliberation gave this answer:―íSirs, you have been pleased, for years past, in your abundant love, to apply yourselves particularly unto me and my people, to exhort, press, and persuade us to pray to God; I am very thankful to you for your pains. I must acknowledge I have all my days been used to pass in an old canoe, and now you exhort me to leave and change my old canoe and embark in a new one, to which I have been unwilling; but now I yield myself to your advice and enter into a new canoe and do engage to pray to God hereafter.'"12
Gookin writes that Brother Eliot made this reply to Wonalancet: "It may be, while he went in his old canoe he passed in a quiet stream―but the end thereof was death and destruction to soul and body. But now he went into a new canoe, perhaps he would meet with storms and trials; but yet he should be encouraged to persevere, for the end of the voyage should be everlasting rest." "Since that time," Gookin continues, "I hear this sachem doth persevere, and is a constant and diligent hearer of God's word, and sanctifieth the Sabbath, though he doth travel to Wamesit meeting every Sabbath, which is about two miles; and though sundry of his people have deserted him since he subjected to the gospel, yet he continues and persists."13
The following year, 1675, came King Philip's War. Temptations to join the son of Massasoit were strong. Repeatedly embassies were sent to Wonalancet to persuade him to join the belligerent Indians. With these emissaries buzzing among his people, all too frequently persuading individuals to join the luckless cause, and with the English increasingly distrusting the friendship of the loyal Indians, the pacific chieftain had a trying time.14 He was too much of a man to retract his pledge of submission to the English Government, and too much of a patriot to fight against his own race, relatives and friends.15 Fully cognizant of his predicament, he realized that he must pursue his pacific policy and, keeping faith with his conscience, must remain neutral. He realized also that, in order to hold his subjects in check, he must withdraw from the neighborhood of the whites, who were butchering his kinsmen unscrupulously while against such treatment he was unable to offer effectual protest. So, taking all their crops and belongings, he and his people removed from Wamesit (Tewksbury, Eliot's fifth town of praying Indians) to the wilderness of Pennacook.16
They had not been gone long before the "Great and General Court," fearing that their absence was a sign of hostility, became uneasy. About the first of October, 1675, the authorities sent a runner or two to the fugitive Bashaba, stating that if he would bring his people back and live among the whites at Wamesit, the protection of the English would be extended to them.17 The messengers also brought Wonalancet a written order from Governor Leverett, giving a safe conduct for a party of six Indians, to meet at Lieutenant Hinchman's house at Naumkeag (Salem), to confer with Captain Gookin and John Eliot, who were empowered to form a treaty with Wonalancet such as Passaconaway had made a few years before.18
Right here I must insert an account of the fate of some praying Indians then living at Wamesit, the place where Wonalancet and his people were expected to enjoy the protection of the government if they returned. "Among the colonists there were not a few who desired to stir up an excitement against the Wamesit Indians, residing below Pawtucket Falls, at the mouth of the Concord River. They were accused of burning a stack of hay belonging to James Richardson (unjustly as it would seem), and thirty-three able-bodied men were taken to Boston to answer to the charge, being all of the tribe except women, children, old men and cripples. Three of them were condemned to be sold as slaves and the others set free. As they passed through Woburn, under the charge of Lieut. Richardson, they were fired upon by one of a train band exercising at the same time in the village―and one of the Indians was killed. The man who fired was named Knight. The Indian killed was related to the principal Indians of Natick and Wamesit. Knight was arrested and tried for the murder, and, as Gookin says, was acquitted by the Jury, much contrary to the mind of the bench, the Jury alleged they wanted evidence, and the prisoner plead that the gun went off by accident, indeed witnesses were mealy mouthed in giving evidence. The Jury was sent out again and again by the Judges who were much unsatisfied with the Jury's proceedings, but the Jury did not see cause to alter their mind and so the fellow was cleared.'"19
On [Friday,] November 15, Lieut. Richardson's barn burned down. No evidence could be found as to the cause of the conflagration, but it was attributed to the Wamesits. Fourteen of the Chelmsford men―no doubt properly inflamed with patriotism and rum―marched to the camp of the Indians. The latter were peremptorily ordered out of their wigwams, whereupon two whites fired upon them, killing a boy and wounding five women and children. The two "patriots," Lorgin and Robbins, were seized and later a trial was held. The honorable Jury found them "Not Guilty," "to the great grief" (to quote Gookin) "and trouble generally of the magistracy and ministry and other wise and godly men."20
On [Thursday,] February 6, 1676, having taken to the woods in search of Wonalancet, having lost their way and many lives by hardship and starvation, and at length being forced to return to Chelmsford, the Wamesits petitioned to be removed from their reservation to a "safer" location.21 The government was too busy to notice this humble petition. In desperation these Indians left, bag and baggage, and retreated to the wilderness and to the French. The departure was necessarily made in haste so that they were forced to leave behind five or six of their aged and blind kinsmen. They left these unfortunates in a large wigwam. The next day some Chelmsford men found these, and, setting fire to the wigwam, they roasted the occupants alive.22
When the Wamesits were asked concerning their abrupt departure they sent the following letter to Lieut. Hinchman: "To Mr. Thos. Henchman of Chelmsford. I Numphow, and John Line, we send the messenger to you again with this answer, we cannot come home again, we go towards the French, we go where Wonaancet is; the reason is, we went away from our home, we had help from the Council, but that did not do us good, but we had wrong by the English. 2dly. The reason is we went away from the English, for when there was any harm done in Chelmsford, they laid it to us and said we did it, but we know ourselves we never did harm the English, but we go away peaceably and quietly. 3dly. As to the Island" (the Government had reserved one for their use) "we say there is no safety for us for many English be not good, and may be they come to us and kill us, as in the other case. We are not sorry for what we leave behind, but are sorry the English have driven us from our praying to God and from our teacher (Mr. Eliot). We did begin to understand a little praying to God. We thank humbly the Council. We remember our love to Mr. Henchman and James Richardson.
But to return to Wonalancet. Runners had been despatched to invite him to come and live with the English at Wamesit. The messengers reached the tribe, but did not see its Bashaba.24 Leaving the written message, they returned. Wonalancet deemed it prudent to retreat deeper into the forests. With his band rent by discord and suspicion, his adherents now numbered less than one hundred.25 The General Court misinterpreted their movement and a rumor spread that "at Pennacook there were mighty bands of Indians gathering for mischief."26
Captain Mosely, fresh from his victories in Philip's War, was ordered to march on Pennacook, and, seizing the fort, to disperse the gathered hordes. Wonalancet had been too honorable to break faith with the English during the recent strife, yet they were now ordering troops to pillage and slay his people. Wonalancet learned of their approach and led his followers into the swamps and marshes, where, from behind trees, they could watch every move of the whites.27 The soldiers destroyed their wigwams and winter's supply of dried fish. Many braves urged Wonalancet to fight the invaders, for, from their ambush, the Indians could have cut down the white soldiers with but little damage to themselves.28 Then, too, there was that strongest of all arguments-an Indian maiden will not accept her lover until he can display the scalp of an enemy.29 Many of the young braves had had no chance, at least openly, to kill an enemy during the latter half of Passaconaway's reign. Here was their opportunity. Moreover, not only had the Pennacooks been injured and insulted, but they were facing actual starvation.30 But the sachem, probably with Passaconaway's farewell speech ringing in his filial memory, held the fire-eaters in check, and suffered not one brave to show himself or fire a shot.31
Wonalancet did not check the march of his refugees until the headwaters of the Connecticut River had been gained.32 Then only did they settle down, far from English wrong-doers, yet ever facing death, for the winter was a terrible one. With scantiest supply of food, their numbers presently were swelled by the arrival of the half-starved Wamesit refugees. All this trial and suffering had come to the Pennacooks simply because their leader, from conscientious scruples, was endeavoring to be non-partisan and peaceable. The climax came in the September of 1676, after the close of Philip's War. Beaten and disbanded Indians fled in all directions. The Provincial Government, flushed with victory, issued orders to seize all red men of inimical or doubtful status. Those captured were tried at Boston and several were convicted of murder and were hung: the remainder were transported.
Peace now being established, the Pennacooks returned to their camping grounds. Wonalancet and Squando's names are found on a treaty signed at Major Waldron's. The signing of this treaty by Squando marked the real end of the conflict, for Philip's War had had a "bloody sequel" in Maine.33
The Indians who had cast in their lot with Philip were tracked and hunted down.34 Hundreds of these unfortunates had worked their way northward and were enjoying the hospitality afforded by their kinsmen on the Merrimac, the Pennacooks and others. They hoped that time would erase their guilt and that, by mingling with these friendly Indians, they would be accounted as adopted into these tribes.35 Not so did it prove! The Court learned of their presence and sent companies of soldiers under Captain Syll and Captain Hawthorne after them. On the evening of [Sunday,] September sixth they arrived at Dover. That evening there were about four hundred Indians who had come in under Major Waldron's safe conduct to trade at his post. Waldron, acting under the authority of the government, had given his promise of protection to the Pennacooks. Yet the "strange Indians" must be taken. The soldiers were for falling upon them at once, but Waldron dissuaded them from that. The trader had been unscrupulous in his dealings―had let his fist weigh as only one pound against many fine skins and had sold the natives rum and cheap cloth―yet this time he posed as a friend of the Pennacooks. He knew that if the soldiers made a general attack not only Pennacooks but many white men also would fall. Hence he insisted that the refugees should be taken by strategy.36
Next morning the news was spread among the savages that a great game was to be played with them. The unsuspecting redskins were delighted over the prospect, especially when the promise of a cannon was made them. All was explained to them,―how the contestants were to divide into two parties, one Indian and one white, and have a drill followed by a sham fight. "Tradition says that the Indians were furnished with a cannon mounted upon wheels, which pleased them very much. They were ignorant of its management, and were furnished with gunners by the English. The Indians manned the drag ropes, and the sham fight commenced. In changing the direction of the cannon, the English gunners ranged the piece along a file of Indians upon one of the drag ropes, and fired, killing and wounding a large number. This was attributed to accident."37
In the midst of this game the Indians were surrounded, and not until it was too late did the red warriors perceive the trap that had been set for them. The whites, with loaded rifles, closed in upon the hapless Indians and disarmed them. The "strange Indians" were put in one group and the friendly ones in another. The Pennacooks were allowed to go free. The others were marched off to Boston. Here, after trial, six were condemned and hung. The others (about two hundred in number) were forced aboard ships and later sold as slaves in the Barbadoes.38 Such trade was lucrative, and it seems quite probable that many more Indians were sold than those who had been actually hostile. Indeed Winnepurkitt, Passaconaway's son-in-law, was among those sold into slavery, although his participation in the conflict seems doubtful.39
This deception greatly enraged the Pennacooks and they pointed to it as an insult to their honor, for it had been under their hospitality that the "strange Indians" had come into Dover, and the hosts helplessly had looked on while their guests were swept away to death or slavery. Silently they nursed their grievance until, many years later, the opportunity came to "cross out their account."40
Many tribesmen now abandoned the unresisting Wonalancet and went to the French at St. Francis. By order of the Court, the decimated Pennacooks were transferred to Wickasaukee and Chelmsford, where they were under the supervision of Mr. Jonathan Tyng of Dunstable.41 But the Bashaba had little corn, he dwelt on an unsettled frontier, and he was woefully poverty-stricken. Thus did the forest king maintain an uncomfortable and bitter existence.
The Mohawks again went on the warpath. On [Monday,] March 15, 1677, a party was seen by Wonalancet's son, at whom as many as twenty shots were fired, though he escaped uninjured. A second time the dreaded Maguas appeared in the neighborhood of Cocheco (Dover), but were driven off by the Pennacooks with some assistance from the whites.42
Who can wonder that Wonalancet chafed within the narrow limits of his reservation?43 In all probability his wife―related to some Indians whose home was in Canada―notified these relatives of her husband's straits. For, during September, 1677, a party of these Indians fell upon Wonalancet's band and, partly by force and partly by persuasion, the unhappy Pennacooks were led captive to St. Francis. Under cover of this show of force, the Bashaba was able to escape from the English without endangering himself or his people.44
The captives made their home at St. Francis, although at times sundry of them returned for short visits to their native soil, New Hampshire. This withdrawal was considered by many of the confederated tribes as an abdication of the Bashabaship. Hence, from this time on, we find that Kancamagus was the Bashaba in fact, if not in name.
Of the later years of Wonalancet's life little is known, until 1685, when, upon report of his "fierce and warlike" presence at Pennacook, he came to Dover, where he assured the government of New Hampshire (which now had become a Royal Province) that there were at Pennacook only twenty-four Indians beside squaws and papooses, and that this paltry band had no intention of making war upon the English. His name is not affixed to the treaty of this year, which seems to prove that he was no longer the recognized leader. Four years later, in 1689, he repeated his assurances of peaceful intentions. He is said to have again returned to St. Francis shortly after.45
But the White Mountains and the fertile fields south of them were dear to Wonalancet's heart; he could not be exiled from them, and, nine years later, he was again living under the care of Mr. Tyng, this time at Wamesit. The old sachem is reported as having transferred his lands, the last of his once vast domain, to his keeper. Deeds bearing dates of 1696 and 1697 are found, made out to Mr. Tyng.46
During this last sojourn, Wonalancet visited his beloved preacher, Rev. Mr. Fiske of Chelmsford. Upon inquiring how the remaining Pennacooks had behaved during the Indian wars, the clergyman replied that "they had kept the peace and prospered, for which the Lord be thanked." "And me next," modestly added Wonalancet, well knowing that it was he himself who had drilled this peaceful policy into the restless aborigines.47
At this time he was about eighty years old. Whether he went back to St. Francis or died in his own country is not definitely known; the time of his death also is unknown. He is believed to have been buried in the private cemetery of the Tyng family, in Tyngsboro, Mass.48
Geo. Waldo Browne says: "It is pleasant to note that the Massachusetts Society of Colonial Dames have placed on one of the boulders lying near the colonial mansion house occupied by Colonel Jonathan Tyng, where the" (next to the) "last Pennacook sachem passed his closing years, a memorial tablet properly inscribed."49 His name also is attached to a club and clubhouse in Concord, N. H., to a little White Mountain hamlet―formerly known as Birch Intervale―and Post Office; and, in the glorious old, days when boys used to collect the names of engines, "Wonalancet" was the name of a locomotive on the Concord and Northern Railroad.50 On August 13th, 1811, the ship "Wonolanset," owned by Captain Reuben Shapley, was burned at Shapley's wharf, Portsmouth, one hour after its arrival from sea.51 In the summer of 1916 the old Tyng mansion in Tyngsboro was opened as the Wannalancit Inn. Interesting descriptions of this historic garrison-house may be found in the Boston Traveller of July 3, 1916, and the Youth's Companion of August 31, 1916. But a far better memorial to the "pleasant-breathing" Wonalancet was erected by Miss Lucy Larcom when she bestowed upon one of the gentler hills of the Sandwich Range the name of this pacific, conscientious and ill-fated chief.
1. See chapter on
"Passaconaway's Papooses" in this work.