John L. O'Brien, Register 
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Title - Native American Deeds
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Introduction Narrative
 image of trading with an Indian    

Political Correctness
Timelines and Men of Rank
Recording Property Rights
Historic Accounts


The term “Native American”is preferred over “Indian” in reverence to those who take umbrage with the word. Regarding the political correctness of our choice of terminology, it is reflective of a poll (from the Smithsonian Institution, Museum of American Indian) of American Tribes whereby “Eastern Tribes” preferred to be called “ Native Americans” and “Western Tribes” preferred to be called “Indians”. However, the term “Indians”, as found in this project, will be maintained in the context as found in historical documents.

Essex County, because of its resources and rich history, has been marketed as the “Jewel of New England” and described as a microcosm of Massachusetts. Within its 500 square miles, she has old cities, suburbs and rural towns as well as 121miles of inlets and outlets along its coastline. She is connected to the rest of the New England landscape by two east -west interstate routes intersecting with two more taking us north south. From the west to east, our drumlins shrink in elevation and melt into the coastal plain, sandy on the east, rocky on the south. The lifeblood of our landscape is provided by the waterflows through the Merrimack River Watershed in the north, the Ipswich River Watershed in the center, and coastal streams in the south. These ancient travel corridors feed the Great Salt Marsh of Ipswich Bay and the Great Saugus Salt Marsh as they join the Massachusetts Bay. Today, Essex County has grown to a population of almost three quarter of a million inhabitants but has held her reputation for beauty. As late as 1970, land use planners analyzing her development patterns, reported that 50% of her acreage, after almost 350 years, was still in “forest”.

As one travels from town to town in Essex County, the natural attributes and beautiful panoramic views can’t be missed. Away from the built-up areas, there are still wonderful surprises in the countryside, along the riversides and along the coastline, in the same locations as they were 400 years ago, equally appreciated by Native American Indians. There is still an excitement when a deer is seen feeding, when a group of wild turkeys crosses one’s path and when a fisherman brings home his daily catch. .

This project (hereinafter referred to, as the “Native American Deeds”) will show that we are connected to this ancient civilization not only by history but also by the land. It facilitates a cultural awareness and enhances access to a collection of historically significant land records transacted four centuries ago. They are the heart of this project. From them, readers will learn more about the Native American Indians who lived in Essex County, the location of their ancient Indian villages, and how the Indians interacted with the English until the land they “owned” was no longer their land. It is an extraordinary story about those Native Americans who long ago traveled over this landscape that we call today “ our” front yard and backyard, and along “our” rivers, and through “our” forests”. Much of “our” land could be considered “hallowed ground”.

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The “Indian Deeds” are the path to discovering the story of a friendly people who once heavily populated this area and were displaced by foreigners and their diseases. They were, for a number of overwhelming reasons, forced to sell their land and in the process eventually lose their lifestyle, their dignity and their identity. This book connects us to the beginning of private land ownership in Essex County, and to the historical political events that shaped, and constantly reshaped, the dynamic elements associated with the Native American Deeds. This project, in a unique way, connects us today from any and all points on Essex County’s landscape, to our Native American heritage.

This is the first regional history of the first people who lived in Essex County, but as a minimum it offers a new perspective to the Native American Indian culture here, with specific emphasis on the 17th Century. It is a historically significant period in our history, whereby one culture was displaced by another. The beginning of this period is referred to as the “ Point of Contact”. In 1620, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony started the timeline of continuing recorded history for New England. Its course was substantially redirected eight years later by the arrival of first members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Naumkeag (Salem). The story has been traditionally reported as a history (favoring the English point of view) of the “colonization of America”, which is masked in political and religious conquest.

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It is impossible to separate the history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony See Timelines Mass Bay Colony 1600-1700 from the significant political influence on it by men who identify significantly with a place to be eventually called Essex County. Timelines Essex County 1600-1700 They were the “men of rank and considerable land revenues in Old England (Endicott, Winthrops, Dudley, Bradstreet, Saltonstall, Symonds, Higgenson, Downing, Dennison, Bellingham).

Equally important contributors to our regional history were our resident Native American Indian “men of rank and considerable land revenues in New England (in the persons of Nanepashemet, Cushemakin, Passaconaway, Wannalancit, Sachems Passa Quo & Sagga Hew, Masconomet, Black Will, the Squaw Sachem, Sagamore John, Sagamore James, Sagamore George No Nose, James “Rumneymarsh” a.k.a. Quanopuwitt, and Old Will). Historical accounts of this period are traditionally limited to King Philip’s War, and reduced to an unfortunate sprinkling of Indian lore and legend. The Native American Deeds are real “evidence” of this history and enhance our understanding. The “Native American Deeds” is about property rights to land. It is important to keep in mind that the 17th Century, in this region, began as a new Colony having self-governing powers under a 1629 Mass Bay (Royal) Charter See Links, which encouraged political independence yet demanded loyalty to the monarchy and an economic tithing of gold, silver and furs, and later ship timber. In this first century of Colonial New England, five English monarchs and a mid-century Crowellian “Long Parliament” also shaped its history, all who holding differing attitudes toward their Colonial servant-cousins. There were King’s Grants, See Map of Early Grants of large tracts of land, with authorization to subdivide the same but without a system for recording property interests. Researchers of this subject soon discover that there were many overlapping land grants. Those receiving grants had in many cases a certain timeframe, e.g.: two or three years to establish a permanent colony or lose their grant. In certain cases the grants were revoked while other efforts for permanent settlement just failed to survive.

In the absence of actual land Record Books, early boundary surveys and maps were used to illustrate, in a general way, the location of “possessions” and land holdings. Complicating the security of real property interests for the Colonists were land dealings with the Native Americans Indians. Some transactions were recorded in Town Record Books others were not. It has been reported that one of the earliest Indian land transfers in this region occurred in 1629 between the Pennacook Sagamore Passaconaway and agents for Sir Ferdinando Gorges for all the land between the Piscataqua River and the Merrimack River. This conveyance occurred prior to the establishment of a colonial “County Recorded Property System”. The land in question had been earlier granted to Sir Ferdinando and his business partner Captain John Mason by a 1622 King’s Patent. Gorges (the most influential Englishman whose primary focus was on “land development/colonization” in New England) were now negotiating with Passaconaway, See Image the most influential Native American in the region. The Registry does not have a copy of this negotiation, but it is a significant event. See Links.

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Gorges also engineered and arranged financing for the settlement voyages of George Weymouth in 1605; for Captain John Smith in 1614, 1615 and 1616; and he was able to legally and geographically separate the Plymouth Company from the patents of the London Company for their voyage in 1620.

Later, Gorges also intervened for a 1622 land grant of “Fullerton Isles” (named by Captain John Smith in 1614, later referred to as “Nahant” after the Indian tribe residing there) to his son Captain Robert Gorges. Robert’s title seems to have lapsed and never was revived. In 1630, local Indian Sagamore named Poquanum, aka “Black Will”, conveyed the same land. “Duke William”, who is renowned as the Indian who “sold Nahant to farmer Thomas Dexter for a suit of clothes.” See Image

Shortly thereafter he again sold Nahant to a farmer from Swampscott. In the 1650’s, a descendant chief called Sagamore George No Nose, claiming Nahant as Indian land, mortgaged Nahant for 20 pounds to Attorney Charles Davidson, agent for Matthew Craddock of London, to finance his legal fight to regain his tribal lands. (He is called that odd name in the Native American Deeds and various depositions, but its origination is uncertain. The most plausible explanation seems to be that this dreadful fate befell him in 1633 when his family was afflicted with the small pox epidemic. His two older brother Sagamores died and his face was deformed.) This record called an “Indenture”, meaning contract or debt, was ironically filed in Suffolk County in Book No. 1. George No Nose appeared before many sessions of the Mass. General Court, until he was finally told in 1657 not to petition the Court again on this matter. That year, the Towne of Lynn, after battling many claims in addition to Sagamore George, was determined by the Court to hold legal interest in Nahant. However, about 20 years later, the Towne of Lynn also signed two quitclaim deeds with the descendents of Sagamore George No Nose (to extinguish all future land claims by Indians) for the inhabitants of Lynn, including areas of Reading, Lynnfield, Nahant, Saugus and Swampscott.

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This “Native American Deeds” story (using original source documents) chronicles how land interests and competing claims for the same land eventually caused bitter legal battles, and incited the first American Indian wars. As early as 1634, and again in 1686, recorded events occurred which would set the stage for American Independence. In 1634, according to historian Samuel A. Drake, one of the voyages from England carried with it a copy of the commission granted to two Archbishops and ten of the Council to regulate all plantations, to call in all patents, to make laws, to raise tithes and portions for ministers, to remove and punish governors, and to hear and determine all causes and inflict all punishments. This plenary power was leveled at the Colonists and they were told that soldiers were preparing to ship from England to bring over a royal governor and implement this much dreaded commission. Needless to say this aroused the spirit of resistance and stood the Colony on the threshold of open rebellion. A solemn consultation with magistrates and ministers resulted in the determination to defend them if there was any prospect of success. This was the first expression of independence by the colonies. This position would be restated in 1684, 50 years later, when King Charles II revoked the 1629 Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter. The Colonists offered these Native American Deeds of Essex County (and other towns) in evidence, as proof that the land had been purchased and now was owned by them. They further argued that the Charter authorized self-government but was silent on the subject of private property.

The “Native American Deeds” also summarizes the beginning of Colonial occupation and land use as determined by its Charter containing broad powers of self-government. It marks the beginning of a democracy on the soil of Essex County. In 1628 a sub-patent from the Plymouth Council, land was granted to certain persons extending from 3miles north of the Merrimack River to 3 miles south of the Charles River. The Massachusetts Bay Colony boundaries were much more expansive than Plymouth Colony. Guided by this written Charter (a patent to the hands of John Winthrop, John Humphrey, Mathew Craddock, Isaac Johnson, Thomas Goff, Sir Richard Saltonstall, John Endicott, Simon Whitcomb, all original patentees) they formed the new Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England. Authority was granted by the Charter to have officers including a Governor, Deputy Governor and eighteen assistants to be chosen by the freeman at a General Court. Of these, Mathew Craddock was selected Governor, but he chose to stay at home to handle financial matters of the association. The General Court was to meet four times a year to select officers, and to enact laws and ordinances. Such sessions were to be held upon every 1st Wednesday of Hilliary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas. It was the General Court, which controlled land grants and promulgated rules for dealing with the Indians.

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John Endicott, acting Governor, led the first band of pioneers to Salem in 1628 and he was guided by a letter to deal with the natives that claim ownership of the land, so as not to give any impression of impropriety. In 1630, John Winthrop brought a group over and was selected to succeed Endicott as Governor. He found Salem unacceptable as a place to live and under the terms of the Charter relocated the seat of government south to Charlestown, “Shawmut” as called by the Indians, and later called Boston.

When they arrived in 1630, the English colonists, led by Governor John Winthrop, felt that there was sufficient legal right to the land under the royal charter. He, while aware of the company’s directive to deal with the natives claiming ownership in the land, considered them inferior and lazy and not capable of “improving” the vast landscape in the Colony. Land not “improved” (cleared and fenced) was regarded as vacant “virgin” land, waiting to be taken. In short order, he created a “Divine Mandate” in the minds of the Puritan gentry (the Assistants) and used the clergy to justify any legislation related to Colonial interaction with the Native Americans. The Indians who were the first residents and who inhabited this land for several thousand years had a different sense of ownership of the land. According to Edward Winslow, the Indians, although without any written deeds or plot plans, devised a property rights system whereby the geographic limits of tribal territory and hunting lands were abundantly clear. They used physical landmarks such as hills and rivers as territorial boundaries, which were “fluid” depending on tribal and kinship alliances. The English, on the other hand, used fences and stonewalls to mark their lands and lot lines. In addition, the English wrote a legal description in a public book describing the buyers and sellers of land and the location and size of the property. The Native American concept of real property rights centered on the tribal ownership and the “authorized individual use” of the land for survival. The English understanding of real property rights, to the contrary, was that land was a commodity to be privately owned, bought and sold for a profit, or deeded by estate. It is debatable whether religious and political freedom surpassed the possibility of land ownership as the prime incentive to immigrate to America. What is reported, as English greed would suggest that cheap or free land was the big attraction?

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The Colony started to grow and “new towns” were established by the authority of the Mass. General Court and recorded on the record by the Clerk. As thousands of more “adventurers” arrived, petitions were made to the Mass. Bay General Court (of Assistants) by groups of immigrants for land grants (typically six miles square) to settle in “parishes” and to” improve” the land within a specified period of time. Once the grant was authorized, the parish leaders could then subdivide the “district” or the “town” to individual lots from “common land.” By 1639, it is estimated there were 30,000 immigrants in New England. See Chart These rights of ownership had to be recorded by law within six months (for tax purposes) in a “Town Book, under a penalty of a fine or what was called in Boston, in 1634, the “Book of Possessions”. In 1636, the Quarterly Courts were formed. They would meet in towns like Salem, Ipswich, and Hampton and were convened by the “Magistrates”, later called “Commissioners”, who would act as land recorders. This project will focus on negotiated land deals between the Native Americans and the English colonists, which were recorded in the Court’s Books of Deeds by the Clerk of Courts. While the concept of “counties “ was geographically and politically familiar to the colonial mind, up to 1643 no division had yet been made. In May of that year, the Colony formed its first Shires, or Counties, each being required to raise a militia and to hold Quarterly Court. However, it wasn’t until 1692 that there was an official administrative position established for a Register of Deeds.

There are two distinct categories of recorded Native American Deeds. Upon reading these Deeds, one can see a time gap between the “first generation of Indian Deeds” (those negotiated before 1650) and the “second generation of Indian Deeds (those negotiated between 1650 and 1701)”. See Chart The latter were “quitclaim deeds”, but in reality were actually “legal confirmations” of earlier arrangements. It has now become clear how these two categories of deeds differ in content and how they were “used” by the English Colonists. First generation Deeds appear to be consensual and roughly bounded for convenience of accommodating larger settlements. Second generation Deeds appear to have been created for legal and defensive purposes. In fact, the latter in 1686, were collectively place “in evidence” before the King’s Court, as proof of ownership, outside the reach of the revoked Mass Bay Colony Charter.

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A review of the early traditional (English) historical accounts indicates that they were obviously very self- serving. Some critics labeled these biased accounts as face-saving for the Puritan gentry. By offering such a description of contemporary events, it attracted more “adventurers “ from Europe. It also resulted in many misconceptions (by omission) regarding some of the most important people of this period, the first Native Americans they encountered. These people, inhabiting places called Naumkeag, Agawam, Saugus, Nahant, Annisquam, Chebacco, Enon, Wessacucon, Pentucket and Cochickiewick were basically a friendly people by all accounts. Yet, it appears in many instances, for their convenience, the English circulated descriptions of Indians that they encountered as “savages” or as having “barbaric” behavior. This mind-bending effort helped to justify the conquest of what was promoted as an uncivilized “virgin” land. The inconsistencies associated with this posture will be carefully examined. This position of Governor John Winthrop and the General Court of Assistants was even emblazoned on the Seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which depicts a Native American Indian holding a banner over his head, which reads “ Come Over And Help Us”.

The generic savagery and demon hostility is not documented or specifically attributed to any Native Americans from “our” region, however by not distinguishing hostile from non-hostile Indians, it is evident they all were “painted with the same brush”. It was also notably “convenient” to engage the services of the “ savages”  1) to protect the English from wolves, 2) to help them sidestep starvation during the first cold winters, 3) to act as guides in unknown rivers and territories, 4) to serve as military scout against other Native Americans, and 5) to be used as domestic servant and sold as a commodity. More importantly, it was the same Native people who were the key to establishing for the English a new trading economy, of furs. The English were not trappers but traded European goods such as clothing, blankets, guns, knives and liquor with the Natives for the highly profitable furs. Throughout this project many issues that have not been clear regarding our local history are addressed, as well as the legacy of the Native Americans who were encountered in the areas of Salem and its stepsister Boston, during the 17th Century. The “Native American Deeds” considers the points of cultural conflict, in addition to the Colonial military triumphs, and will help increase the understanding of why the Native American culture was “doomed” shortly after the Point of Contact and permanent settlement. The Native Indians were, by design, “physically separated from their eco-system and their way of life”.

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Examples of the first category include works by: John Winthrop, Ipswich's Rev. William Hubbard, and Increase & Rev. Cotton Mather.  Members of the second category include works by: French explorer Samuel de Champlain, Captain John Smith, William Wood, Roger William, the "unprincipled adventurer" Thomas Morton (whose merciless ridicules must be filtered), and finally Daniel Gookin (Mass Bay Colony's Supt. Of Indian Affairs).  An out of period account, the 19th century work of Samuel Adams Drake can be aligned with the credibility of the second category.   The style of the latter group is distinguished by the fact that they wrote for the benefit of their fellow countrymen, without bias or without taking "defensive" positions (as taken by the Puritans whose agenda was to conquer the land).  They also chose kinder and non-offensive terminology calling the Natives either "Indian" or "Aberginians" (this is Wood's term for Pennacooks, Passaconaways, and other tribes in northern Mass. and southern N.H.), not  "Savages".  Their physical descriptions of the people and their lifestyles have been accepted as more credible than the Puritan descriptions.  

  Since Sydney Perley's effort, this subject has been visited from many new perspectives shaped by other disciplines including anthropology, archeology and ecology.  We found some of those 20th Century "contemporary" views represented in the works of Frank Speck, Charles Willoughby, Warren Moorehead, Ripley Bullen, Sherbourn F. Cook, Alden Vaughan, Gordon Day, William Cronon, Frances Jennings, and Peter Leavenworth.    These references are particularly valuable when contemplating the broader issues associated with the inter-cultural conflict attached to the transfer of land between the Native American Indians and the Colonists.  Such points of view have been integrated into this project to better prepare readers for a fuller consideration of the meaning and content of the "Native American Deeds" themselves.  All published references used in this narrative are listed in the back of each section.

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