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



 

New Collection
New Significance
Ancient Map
Teacher's Resource Guide
New Understanding for Native American Names

 


New Collection

The specific purpose of this project is to bring focus to the subject of the Native American Deeds as recorded in Essex County and also to the Native American population, which was living here in the 17th Century.  Whereas these recorded instruments cover the geography, now known as Essex County, these Deeds are offered as an "historic collection".  Between the earliest Indian conveyance (of Nahant, circa 1630) and the last recorded Indian Deed (second Boxford Deed, circa October 1701) we encounter names of a number of important people representative of the resident Indian population during this period. To look at the Deeds without looking at the people is only half of the story. The Deeds and related material offered here places the curious at the threshold of a history of our Native Americans who "treated"(i.e., traded, negotiated and co-habitated) with the English settlers.  Many questions and answers emerge regarding this relationship.

The Native American Deeds (the documents) are the heart of this project and are offered in two formats: a facsimile of the original recording and a verbatim printed translation.  From these documents, we can further explore to learn more about the location of ancient Indian villages, their migratory life styles and how they interacted with the English until the land they owned was no longer their land. To stimulate additional interest we have cited early maps, taken abstracts from well-written local histories and well preserved town records and noted archeological surveys to provide more details to this story.

 It has been said by Will LaMoy, former Curator at the James Phillips Library in Salem, "Essex County is, if not the most, one of the most historically documented places in the United States". To offer a complete collection required locating all Indian Deeds in the ancient records at the Registry of Deeds.  They then needed to be translated to understand the context in which they were written and recorded at that point in time. A review of histories written for Essex County and for each town had to be completed to glean many scattered facts about our Native Americans.  Review of other contemporary documents written by specialists subscribing to a variety of disciplines including archeology, anthropology, and ethno-history rounded out the research for this project.

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New Significance
As one reads the "Native American Deeds" it is very clear that the English parties wanted desperately to place in a public record (namely, the Colonial Court system) written evidence of a transaction with a Native American(s) whereby, for certain consideration, there was a land deal consummated and property rights were transferred. Some of these deeds included language that, as a result of this transaction, the Indians would bring no harm to the English. This written evidence was to secure the legal interest in such property for the purchaser.  Both parties dated and signed the document with their respective signature, seal or mark. The legal description of the property was vague at first, then later more detailed in its description. There was no repository to record the information in the Indian world. Later in this project focused attention is given to how the Native Americans understood what land they owned and the extent of the boundaries. From the beginning of the Mass. Bay Colony any disputes of legal interests in the land would be resolved in the English Court system regardless of whether the plaintiff was native or non-native. 

Newly found information associated with this project has created a solid foundation to raise these documents to new heights of historical importance and educational value. Simultaneously, the research also generated a strong footing to base a new cultural context for our Native Americans, living in the 17th century, because it geographically located the villages on lands in Essex County they claimed as theirs.  The Native American Deeds are just the beginning of a fascination with the intriguing individuals who shaped our earliest history.  As we look deeper into the social structure of that Native American society, as it evolved to 1600, and then as it virtually disappeared by 1700, we find real evidence of the interaction between two very different cultures and which resulted in a drastically changed landscape.

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Ancient Map
An additional bonus coming out of the research was the discovery of An Ancient Map/Survey of Merrimack River by John Gardner, reputed to be drawn between 1639 and 1655. There will be further discussion about the importance of this map later in this book. It was one of several 17th Century iterations of the Merrimack River geography resulting from an edict by Governor John Winthrop and the General Court "to survey the Merrimack River to determine the northern most reach of the Colony’s patent" (and to using Indian guides to determine an alternate water transportation route for the fur trade, diverting southward the trapped furs of Northern New England, away from the French trading posts in Maine to the East. A special dissertation on this subject can be found in Appendix.

Teacher's Resource Guide
Ironically, a new mapping technology used at the Registry of Deeds, (referred to as "GIS" Geographic Information Systems, links computer graphics to multiple databases) has provided us with a special opportunity to create a view of history and to show the spatial relationships between the landscapes of yesterday with their respective landscapes of today. It is hoped that by combining this technology with that of the Internet and the information contained herein, it will used as a teachers resource guide to supplement "Middle School" local history (and Native American studies) curriculums.  It should also significantly help close the factual gaps in typical history textbooks, which can't relate to every town's early history.

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New Understanding for Native American Names
It was decided that by using authentic Native American Deeds, an unusual opportunity is created to learn more about the Indian names and place names that we still use today such as Cochickiewick, Masconomet, Merrimack, Pentucket, Annisquam, Saugus, Nahant, Swampscott, Chebacco, Agawam.  In addition, the "Native American Deeds", pulls together facts about a lost culture in a focused manner, which up to now has been dispersed in libraries throughout the County. By linking this hard to find information to the "collection" to the Registry of Deeds Website (salemdeeds.com) it can be easily shared with all who have interest in this subject. By increasing public access to the "Indian Deeds" also places these documents on a much higher historically important plane.

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