© Duane A. Cline 2001
The Massasoit Ousa Mequin
[The Great Leader Yellow Feather]
“In his person, he is a very lustie man, in his best yeares, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech: In his Attyre, a little or nothing differing from the rest of his followers, only a great Chaine of white bone Beades about his neck, and at it behinde his necke, hangs a little bagg of Tobacco, which he dranke and gave us to drinke; his face was paynted with a sad red like murry, and oyled both head and face, that hee looked greasily. All his followers, likewise, were in their faces,in part or in whole.painted,.some blacke, some red, some yellow, and some white; some with crosses, and other Antick [antique] works; some had skins on them, and some naked, all strong, tall, all men in appearance.”
He spoke some English, having learned it from sailors on fishing expeditions, and this further endeared him to the Pilgrims.
Very little is known about the Massasoit following the first years of Plymouth Colony, and even less is known about his life before 1620. The Massasoit’s name was Ousa Mequin (spelled variously Woosamequin, Asumequin, Oosamequen, Osamekin, Owsamequin, Owsamequine and Ussamequen). He seems to have been about 40 years old when he first appeared at Plymouth, which would put the year of his birth sometime between 1580 and 1582. Furthermore, no known written account tells us when he became Sachem of the Pokanokets at Mount Hope, which is now Bristol, Rhode Island. (The Wampanoags called it Sowwams.) From known facts, it would appear he became Great Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation sometime between 1605 and 1615. He also had residences at what is now Middleborough, and another in Raynham (near Fowling Pond) where he spent some time, and he may have had residences at other locations.
It is suggested that prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims he may have met in 1619 with Captain Dermer who sent a messenger to “Pokanokit, which bordereth on the sea; whence came to see me two kings, attended with a guard of 50 armed men.” Dermer probably met with the Massasoit and Quadequina, his brother.
Nothing at all is known of the Massasoit’s ancestry, and only two of his brothers are mentioned in the early records. Quadequina, the older of the two was sometimes referred to as one of the “two kings” of the Pokanoket, suggesting that he was the Massasoit’s chief Councilor. In spite of his important position, there is no mention in early records as to when or how Quadequina died. The younger brother, Akkompion, was Philip’s Chief Councilor, was captured along with Philip’s unnamed sister in one of the last battles of the King Philip’s War on July 31, 1676. Both Akkompion and the sister were carried off to Connecticut. There are few historical records which mention Akkompion, other than his name on several treaties and land deeds.
Ousa Mequin had only three sons and two daughters. Alexander was the oldest and his birth date was probably some time between 1621 and 1624, which would make the Massasoit well past 40 years old when he fathered his first child. Since it seems unlikely that such an important leader would wait until his middle years to choose a mate and father a family of five, it is possible the Massasoit had an earlier family when he was a young man. If so, that earlier family may have died by the plague, been killed in raids, or even captured by slave traders who sold them to some Spanish plantation in the West Indies. The truth may never be known.
His five children were Moanam (also known as Alexander and also as Wamsutta which means “Warm Heart”), Pometacomet (which means “Killer of Wolves”) also known as Philip, Sonkanuchoo, a daughter named Amie and another daughter who was unnamed in the records.
Squanto, Winslow and others traveled on a goodwill trip to visit the Massasoit in July, 1621, at his home in Pokanoket. Winslow reports that the Massasoit was told the travelers were weary and desired to rest. “He laid us on the bed with himself and his wife, they at the one end and we at the other, it being only planks laid a foot from the ground, and thin mat upon them. Two more of his chief men, for want of room pressed by and upon us; so that we were worse weary of our lodging than our journey.”
In 1623, the Massasoit sent word to his friends in Plymouth that he was dangerously sick. Winslow hurried to his side with “medicines and cordials.” Hobbomok went along as interpreter, accompanied by Master John Hamden, “a gentleman of London. When Winslow arrived he found the chief’s house full of men “in the midst of their charms for him, making a hellish noise…unlike to ease him that was sicke.”
The Massasoit was so sick he could not see Winslow, but understood he had come to help. Winslow promptly made a confection of some “comfortable conserves” and forced it through the Massasoit’s teeth on the point of a knife. Winslow reported, the Massasoit’s mouth was exceedingly furred, and his tongue so swollen he could not eat. The account continues: “Then I washed his mouth and scraped his tongue and got abundance of corruption out of the same.” Winslow then gave him some sassafrass tea. After five days the Massasoit’s condition improved and his sight returned.
As he recovered from the serious illness, the Massasoit said, “Now I see the English are my friends and love me. And whilst I live I will never forget this kindness they have showed me.”
In 1638, Winthrop said, “Owsamequin, the Sachem at Acoomemek,” upon hearing that the English were about to make war on them, came to him with sundry gifts. The governor assured Ousa Mequin that if they had not wronged the English, nor assisted their enemies, they had nothing to fear.
We hear of the Massasoit again in the autumn of 1643 when Miantunnomoh apparently got possession of some of the dominions of Ousa Mequin, and the Commisioners of the United Colonies ordered “that Plymouth labor by all due means to restore Woosamequin to his full liberties, in respect of any encroachments by the Nanohigggansetts, or any other natives…and that Wossamequin be reduced to those former terms and agreements between Plymouth and him.”
In 1653, by a deed bearing the date of 9th March, Ousa Mequin and his son Wamsutta sold another tract to Plymouth.
In 1657 the Massasoit confirmed the sale of Hog Island by his son Wamsutta to have been by his consent. And, in 1659 he sold a tract of land (now called Bridgewater) to Standish and others of Duxbury.
In 1661 the Massasoit was still living as he complained to the General Court of Massachusetts about an attack within his dominions by Oneko. The court ruled in the Massasoit’s behalf and the matter was settled.
From the relation of Dr. I. Mather, it is clear that the Massasoit lived until late in the year 1661. His words are, “Alexander being dead, [having died in 1662] his brother Philip of late cursed memory, rose up in his stead, and he was no sooner styled sachem, but immediately in the year 1662, there were vehement suspicions of his bloody treachery against the English.”
It seems that the Massasoit died between September 1661 and Dec 13, 1662, in Pokanoket Country at the age of appoximately 80 years.
Although the Massasoit refused to let the missionaries Christianize his Wampanoags and firmly refused to let himself be converted, he was always proud of his friendship with the Pilgrims.
He was a long time and faithful friend to the colonists, and likely prevented their early starvation. As long as he lived there was peace with Plymouth Colony, and he never broke his word. The obligations of the treaty with the Pilgrims were faithfully kept throughout his long life, which is an enduring memorial to his great service and his noble character. If the Massasoit had not become a great friend of the Pilgrims, Plymouth Colony might not have survived without his help.
Last modified September 24, 2001, 1999
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