WEETAMOO (1635?-1676)
"The Squaw Sachem"


            Weetamoo, also known as the Squaw Sachem, was the wife of Wamsutta, the eldest son of Chief Massasoit, whose Wampanoag Pocasset tribe sat with the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving dinner. Their charity helped the initial English settlements survive. Massasoit asked for English names for his two sons; the colonists gave Metacom the name of Philip, and Wamsutta the name of Alexander. Wamsutta’s wife was Weetamoo, and after Massasoit’s death in 1661 Wamsutta became Chief of the Wampanoags. Weetamoo was a proud woman, who danced at ceremonies wearing a mix of English and Indian clothing, her hair powdered and her face painted red, wearing a multitude of bracelets and necklaces.

            The Wampanoags, decimated by European illness, allied with the English colonists against their rivals the Naragansett tribe, but the settlers violated their treaty, and Wamsutta died of illness while visiting the English to discuss the situation. Suspicious that the settlers had a hand in his death, Weetamoo allied with her brother-in-law Metacom, and in June of 1675 they led 300 warriors against the British, trying to repulse the settlers who were stealing their lands.  It was the first large-scale organized Native American attempt to repel the European invaders. They led attacks on 52 of the 90 English towns in New England, and destroyed twelve of them. These engagments are today referred to as "King Philip's War."

           As the English colonists banded together, the tide turned against the tribes, and the final battle in August of 1676 was really more of a slaughter. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, only 26 of her warriors survived in the end. Weetamoo drowned in the Taunton River while trying to escape. Her corpse was mutilated by the English and her head put on a pole before her warriors, who are said to have wept with sorrow. Six days later, Metacom received the same treatment, and the remaining tribal members, including her nephew, were sold into slavery in the West Indies.

          The Weetamoo Woods in Tiverton Four Corners, Rhode Island, is one of the areas where Weetamoo’s group lived during the war. The Wampanoag’s traditional homeland was on the slopes of Mount Hope, Rhode Island, and two memorials there remain - “King Philip’s Chair,” a stone seat cut into the rocks, where chiefs were installed, and a nearby stone cairn which marks the site of Metacom’s death. They are both now on the grounds of the Haffenreffer Museum.

          The "Great Swamp Fight" monument in South Kingston, Rhode Island commemorates a pre-emptive strike by English settlers against the neutral Naragansett tribe. Afraid that they would support Weetamoo and Metacom, settlers attacked the Narragansett’s winter village, and decimated the tribe. So few Narragansetts survived that they could no longer continue as an independent group, and were absorbed by the Niantics. The monument doesn't mention Weetamoo, but she was one reason for the attack; the neutral Naragansetts once gave her safe haven during the war, refusing to turn her over to the settlers.

For specific travel information about these sites, check the "Travel Resources" page.

©2001 Kiriyo Spooner

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