Wampanoag Indians (‘eastern people’). One of the principal tribes of New England. Their proper territory appears to have been the peninsula on the east shore of Narragansett Bay now included in Bristol County, R. I., and the adjacent parts in Bristol County, Mass.
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The Wampanoag chiefs ruled all the country extending east from Narragansett Bay and Pawtucket river to the Atlantic coast, including the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Rhode Island in the bay was also at one time the property of this tribe, but was conquered from them by the Narraganset, who occupied the west shore of the bay. On the north their territory bordered that of the tribes of the Massachuset confederacy. The Nauset of Cape Cod and the Saconnet near Compton, R. I., although belonging to the group, seem to have been in a measure independent. Gosnold visited Martha’s Vineyard in 1602 and “trafficked amicably with the natives.” Other explorers, before the landing of the Pilgrims, visited the region and provoked the natives by ill treatment. Champlain found those of Cape Cod unfriendly, probably on account of previous ill treatment, and had an encounter with them. When the English settled at Plymouth in 1620 the Wampanoag were said to have about 30 villages, and must have been much stronger before the great pestilence of 1617 nearly depopulated the southern New England coast. Their chief was Massasoit, who made a treaty of friendship with the colonists, which he faithfully observed until his death, when he was succeeded by his son, known to the English as King Philip. The bad treatment of the whites and their encroachment upon the lands of the Indians led this chief, then at the head of 500 warriors of his own tribe, to form a combination of all the Indians from Merrimac river to the Thames for the purpose of driving out or exterminating the whites. The war, which began in 1675 and lasted 2 years, was the most destructive in the history of New England and was most disastrous to the Indians. Philip and the leading chiefs were killed, the Wampanoag and Narraganset were practically exterminated, and the survivors fled to the interior tribes. Many of those who surrendered were sold into slavery, and others joined the various Praying villages in south Massachusetts. The greater part of the Wampanoag who remained in the country joined the Saconnet. The Indians of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard generally remained faithful to the whites, the latter persistently refusing to comply with Philip’s solicitations to join him in the contest.
The principal village of the Wampanoag, where the head chief resided, was Pokanoket. Other villages probably belonging to the tribe were:
- Betty’s Neck
- Herring Pond
- Jones River
- Saltwater Pond