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Title - Native American Deeds
link to introduction link to narrative link to deeds llink to maps link to culture link to tribes
Introduction Narrative
a Pawtucket Village Focus Point 2

Three Indian Landscapes
Historical Evidence in Native American Deeds Collection
Indian vs. English Views Regarding Rights to the Land
Settlement Patterns in Essex County - Three periods of Development
Indian Raids in New England & Essex County & Colonial Militia in Indian Wars

Three categories of “deeds” in the Collection and what can we learn from them

Our “Native American Deeds (NA Deeds)” fall into three categories of documents: (1) first generation deeds (before 1650) and (2) second generation deeds (between 1650 - 1701) and (3) other related Native American documents recorded in the “Salem, Ipswich, Norfolk Deeds” (Record Books). See Outline

The first generation deeds were generally “conveyances” and were drafted before 1650 and were between the settlers and the chiefs of the Native American tribes. “A conveyance to an Englishman necessarily implied its removal from the domain governed by the tribes chief sachem. For such a transaction to be legitimate in the Native American Indians eyes, it had to be approved by the Grand Sachem.

The proper procedure, therefore, was for the English to purchase land from free Indians, only to be made with consent from their Grand Sachem, and the compensation being given to that particular Indian who claimed personal tenure (Jennings p137)”(1). The earliest deeds seem to be consistent and they illustrate willingness for peaceful coexistence, as settlers sought to establish new parishes and to “improve” more agricultural lands “out in the country”. Note, that while the English considered the Sachem as a “King” of the tribe, such transactions could only occur after gaining consent of the “his subjects”. For convenience of the English, six square miles was a typical size of a new parish or town and the geometry often referenced in early deeds.

The Native American Indians “seemed” willing to sell some of their functionally surplus lands, but the English were anxious to acquire all of the lands already cleared by the Native American Indians. The bounds of the land titles recorded before 1650 were typically described “topographically” in the following “Native geography” terms: starting at a known landmark (river or ocean) going Northerly “x” miles to another landmark, then Easterly or Westerly so many miles, then Southerly so many miles, then again Westerly or Easterly returning to the original natural landmark. Any deed not signed by a major Sachem had to be with the consent of the chief Sachem (Sagamore) as noted in the Haverhill Deed.

To imply consent and understanding by parties on both sides, the deeds appear to use Native Place names. For the Native Americans, they initially understood what was “said” more than what was “recorded” in the English Court Records. Later, they, engaging in more discourse with the English, became much wiser and understood the written word. Consideration (value) for early deeds was minimal for large tracts of land, because the Native People did not have a high regard for personal property and no use for money. Early NA Deeds and conveyances set large tracts of land in exchange for a suit of clothes, a gun, or paltry sum of pounds sterling. After 1650, clothing and trade axes became relatively easier to come by, and the consideration was always current money.

Native American culture dictated that the accumulation of material things was not consistent with a mobile society.

The second-generation deeds, many drafted closer to the year 1700, represented “quitclaims” between the settlers, (the grantees were often represented as “the inhabitants of towns”) and the descendants of the ancient tribal leaders (the grantors) who had at this point in time laid claims to territories within the town boundaries. Later deeds purport to be confirmations of transactions supposed to have occurred at earlier dates, but closely examined, many of these turn into an effort to meet a later political crisis. Some transactions were never recorded or no copy has survived.

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Second Generation Deeds

When King Charles II assumed the throne in 1685, he revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Charter. He reclaimed New England as his own dominion and he would allow the settlers to purchase the land they occupied from him. Most notably, Sir Edmond Andros, assigned as Governor of the Dominion of New England in 1686, in a great concern for his own plan, sent people scurrying for these ‘confirmations’. As they were trembling over the royal challenging of the Colony Charter, the fall of which might render worthless all grants of parcels of territory that required legislation under it. At the same time, there was another concern for an impending court claim by an heir from an earlier King’s Grant (Mason & Gorges) that might void title to lands bought and recorded and requires retribution to the plaintiff. Fearing this impending calamitous situation, each existing coastal town (Andover and Haverhill did not have second generation deeds) moved to take separate action to negotiate a “quitclaim” deed with “known” descendents of the ancient chiefs, now claiming title to the territories inhabited by the colonists. These descendants according to the deeds, and depositions supporting the legal claim to the lands, were “found” in the “praying towns of Natick and Wamesit (Chelmsford, later called Lowell)”.

These later generation deeds were called “quit claim deeds” (mostly negotiated between 1685 and 1700) were drafted and recorded at the Courthouse, to extinguish all Native rights to the land and more particularly to protect (for the English) what they had. Review of these deeds demonstrates how heavy emphasis Indian heirs and assigns placed on releasing any and all claims. These deeds were recorded only in the Colonial (English) Land System, were signed by descendants of the ancient Indian sachems who held claim of original sovereign rights to the soil. The later deeds were bounded differently from the earlier deeds. Specifically, they are typically bounded by their present reach of English occupation and inhabitation.

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The third category of deeds are those which are spread on our records which are related instruments, such as Deeds recorded here but not physically within the bounds of Essex County. We have a deed signed by a Sagamore called Robin Hood for land in the Boothbay Harbor, Maine region, sold to an Essex County merchant in 1655. There is a Deed recorded by Major Robert Pike for land he acquired, which was in appreciation by two Connecticut Nipmuck Sachems for defeating their arch-enemy tribe. We also have found an instrument recorded in 1649, wherein an “Indian” is “ sold with his consent and mark” in exchange for one-tenth interest in a boat. There are also two “Indentures”. One deed is written that the grantor “ Indian appearing in his right mind and sober at the time” (in other words, the defensible position was that he was entering the transaction not under duress or the influence of liquor).

The Mass. Bay Colony General Court passed a number of “regulatory” acts between 1632 and 1675 regarding land purchases with the Indians, ranging from outright refusal to those only with the consent of the General Court. Many governing rules are found on the Bodies of Liberty adopted by the Court in 1641. Additional laws regarding titles to Indian Lands were passed again in 1701.

Essex County’s Indian Deeds & Conveyances

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First Generation Second Generation

Nahant - 1630 Newbury - 1651
Ipswich - 1638 Marblehead -1684
Haverhill - 1642 Lynn / Saugus -1686
Andover – 1643 Lynn/ Reading - 1686
Salem - 1686
Beverly - 1700
Boxford- 1700
Manchester - 1700
Rowley - 1700
Wenham - 1700
Gloucester - 1701
Topsfield - 1701
Bradford – 1702

Historical Significance

Until now, there has been very little awareness of the 17th century Indian Deeds of Essex County. However, the NA Deeds are very historically significant documents from two perspectives: (1) they represent not the only but a set of rare written records linking two cultures, at the time of permanent settlement of New England; and (2) in 1687, they were as used legal evidence by the Colonists to prove their right of ownership to the land, claimed by King Charles as part of his dominion (the Dominion of New England), when he revoked the Colony’s patent. This was one of the colonist’s first outward expressions of independence from the Crown, ninety years before the American Revolution. In 1692, a new Charter for the Colony was issued by King William & Queen Mary, which, subsequently, suppressed this fear.

In retrospect, an additional historically significant observation comes from reviewing the early process of “ dispossession of America” of the original inhabitants, as it happened in New England in the 17th Century. While Puritan proponents argue that the Indians had become so depopulated due to disease and so demoralized that they could not adapt to English ways, that they had to become “wards of the state”, others take a much different view. Many writers have taken the position that this period marks the beginning of a pattern of oppression, fraud, deception and suppression of Native Americans across this nation for almost 300 years. They further hold that the formation of “Christian Towns” from 1650 –1700, evolved into nothing less than a place of banishment analogous to the same type of controlled “Indian Reservation” that the “Horse Indians” (Great Plains and Western States) found themselves. There are also many debates about what Puritans legitimately intended when they set out to “Christianize the savages”. Treatment of the Indians was an issue, which split the Puritan gentry from the general congregation. The gentry, however, used the Power of the General Court and the Pulpit to set the policy for “dealing” with the Indians.

It also interesting to have found depositions from early Court records that confirm the legal chain of title for Native lands claimed by the descendants of the Sagamores Masconomet and George No Nose. Contained therein also are clues to the friendly nature of these Native People.

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Genealogical evidence of the Last of the “Pawtuckets”

The NA Deeds Collection creates an opportunity to learn about who the Sagamores of the various tribes were in what is now Essex County and subsequently who were their descendents. Research has added information regarding their culture and their lifestyles.

The genealogical evidence illustrates the “kinship” alliances that existed within and beyond Essex County. The timelines presented in this work highlight events, which occurred between two conflicting cultures, which, excepting the Pequot War (1637) was primarily non-hostile until 1675, when King Philip (Wampanoag) led his revolution.
These “kinship” alliances became “defense” alliance, but shifted following Indian Wars and as Massachusetts Bay was populated by the English.

When the Massachusetts Federation crumbled following Nanepashemet’s (Lynn Pawtucket) death in 1619, the largest confederacy in southern New England became the Pennacooks, led by Passaconaway. Around 1620, the Agawams (Ipswich Bay) and Pentuckets (along the Merrimack River) allied with the Passaconaway. For the next 50 years, this leader was the key to maintaining a peaceful coexistence in the Mass. Bay Colony. There is much evidence of the Great Sachem having a presence and influence in Essex County. Examples include: it is recorded that Andover was conveyed by Sagamore Cutchemakin, kinsman of Passaconaway implying that this land near his Pawtucket headquarters (Pawtucket Falls /Wamesit, later Lowell); that the Haverhill (Pentucket) Deed was done with the consent of Passaconaway; that the Great Sachem would annually meet in Amesbury to “Pow Wow” on top of Pow Wow Hill. His daughter was married to Sagamore James (Lynn Pawtucket) son of Nanepashemet. The Tarrantines (Eastern Abenaki of Maine) took her hostage in 1631, while Sagamore James and Sagamore John were visiting their cousin, Masconomet, in Ipswich.

Geographic evidence of the Last of the “Pawtuckets”

Each of the NA Deeds in of themselves describes the geographic extent of the title transfers. First generation deeds are wide and vague in description certainly extending beyond Essex County’s present boundaries. Second generation deeds are representations of a totally frustrated and disintegrating society laying claims to ancient lands as descendents of tribal chiefs. Seeking to reasonably satisfy the claims, representatives of all of the coastal communities as well as Bradford, Topsfield, Boxford and Wenham negotiated deeds for the inhabitants of their respective towns as occupied. Other documents in the NA Deeds Collection are relevant because they are found in the
“ Norfolk Deeds” or the “Ipswich Deeds”. That being the case, they include records beyond Essex County such as Dover, or Hampton in New Hampshire. Two other Native American deeds have been filed here, for lands Maine and Connecticut, because the Grantees resided here at the time.

Not known to many, is the fact that when the four first counties were formed in Mass. Bay Colony in 1643, one of them was called Norfolk. This is a derivation of North Folk (Norfolk) as compared to Eastern Sector (Essex), Middle Sector (Middlesex) and Southern Folk (Suffolk).

It is ironic that the geography of the Pawtucket Tribe with its subtribes of Naumkeag, Agawam and Pentucket overlaps the present bounds of Essex County but also extended to the West and to the South. The Pawtucket Tribal Territory included lands which are today occupied by Chelsea, Winthrop, Revere, Boston’s Deer Island, parts of Cambridge to the Charles River, Somerville, Medford (Mystick), Malden, Everett, Melrose, Wakefield, Reading, North Reading, Lynnfield, Winchester, Stoneham, to the West and parts of Tewksbury and Lowell to the North, at the Merrimack River.

By the end of the 17th century the Native Americans that resided in Essex County were very much removed from the landscape. Only a few lived out their life in Essex County, while the descendents of the Sagamores lived at Wamesit or Natick. Perhaps some removed to the St. Francis Abenakis in Odank, Canada.

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REFERENCES: Focus point #2

(1) Part I - Native American Deeds Collection contains all the original deeds we found and their respective typewritten translations

(2) Frances Jennings, Invasion of America: Indians Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest.