The Bones of Masconomet

Masconomet was the sagamore of the Agawam tribe of the Algonquian native Americans when the first Puritan colonists arrived in Ipswich in 1633. He had survived the pandemic which killed 90% of the local native population in the early 1600′s.

Masconomet ruled all the tribal land from Cape Ann to the Merrimack River, which he sold to John Winthrop and the settlers of Ipswich for a sum of £20. The Sagamore died on March 6, 1658 and was buried along with his gun, tomahawk and other items on Sagamore Hill, formerly in the Hamlet section of Ipswich and now within the town of Hamilton. His wife is buried alongside him.

Image on the Ipswich Riverwalk mural portrays Masconomet selling all of Agawam to John Winthrop Jr.

On March 6, 1659 a young man named Robert Cross dug up the remains of the chief and carried his skull on a pole through Ipswich streets, an act for which Cross was imprisoned, sent to the stocks, then returned to prison until a fine was paid. He also had to rebury the skull and bones and build a two-foot-high pile of stones over the grave. His accomplice John Andrews was instructed to help and make a public acknowledgement of his wrongdoing.

In Native American tradition the spirit of a person is called back when his grave is desecrated, and must roam the Earth looking for his bones. After the bones are found, a proper burial ceremony must be performed by his people before he can rest.

In 1910, a stone was inscribed to mark the grave, and in 1971, a memorial service was held and a larger stone monument was erected, but it was not until 1993 that a ceremony with Native American rituals was conducted. After 355 years, Masconomet’s spirit was finally at peace. The final resting place of Masconomet is accessed by a paved road leading past the Sagamore Hill Solar Radar Observatory, and is graced with tokens of reverence. (map).


Questions of the tribe

When English settlers arrived at what was then known by the local Indians as Agawam, most of the tribe had already died from a plague brought by contact with Europeans. The land would eventually become the towns of Ipswich, Essex, Newbury, West Newbury, Newburyport, Topsfield, Boxford, Rowley, Hamilton, Wenham, Beverly, Middleton, Andover, Gloucester, Rockport, Annisquam, Bradford and Marblehead.

On June 8, 1638 the last Sagamore (chief) of Agawam, Masconomet Quinakonant signed over all the land under his control to John Winthrop Jr., representative of the English settlers of Ipswich. The deed read as follows:

I Masconomet, Sagamore of Agawam, do by these presents acknowledge to have received of Mr. John Winthrop the sum of £20, in full satisfaction of all the right, property, and claim I have, or ought to have, unto all the land, lying and being in the Bay of Agawam, alias Ipswich, being so called now by the English, as well as such land, as I formerly reserved unto my own use at Chebacco, as also all other land, belonging to me in these parts, Mr. Dummer’s farm excepted only;

And I hereby relinquish all the right and interest I have unto all the havens, rivers, creeks, islands, huntings, and fishings, with all the woods, swamps, timber, and whatever else is, or may be, in or upon the said ground to me belonging: and I do hereby acknowledge to have received full satisfaction from the said John Winthrop for all former agreements, touching the premises and parts of them; and I do hereby bind myself to make good the aforesaid bargain and sale unto the said John Winthrop, his heirs and assigns for ever, and to secure him against the title and claim of all other Indians and natives whatsoever. 

Witness my hand,Masconomet, 8th of June, 1638

On March 8, 1644. Masconomet, along with four other Sagamores, put himself, his subjects, and possessions under the protection and government of Massachusetts, and agreed to be instructed in the Christian religion. The following questions were submitted to these chiefs, who gave the accompanying replies.

First: Will you worship the only true God, who made heaven and earth, and not blaspheme?

Answer: “We do desire to reverence the God of the English and to speak well of Him, because we see He doth better to the English, than other gods do to others.

Second: Will you cease from swearing falsely?

Answer: “We know not what swearing is.”

Third: Will you refrain from working on the Sabbath, especially within the bounds of Christian towns?

Answer: “It is easy to us, we have not much to do any day, and we can well rest on that day.”

Fourth: Will you honor your parents and all your superiors?

Answer: “It is our custom to do so, for inferiors to honor superiors.”

Fifth: Will you refrain from killing any man without just cause and just authority?

Answer: “This is good, and we desire so to do.”

Sixth: Will you deny yourselves fornication, adultery, incest, rape, sodomy, buggery, or bestiality?

Answer: “Though some of our people do these things occasionally, yet we count them naught and do not allow them.”

Seventh: Will you deny yourselves stealing?

Answer: “We say the same to this as to the 6th question.”

Eighth: Will you allow your children to learn to read the word of God, so that they may know God aright and worship him in his own way?

Answer: “We will allow this as opportunity will permit, and, as the English live among us, we desire so to do.”

Ninth: Will you refrain from idleness?

Answer: “We will.”

After Masconomet and the other chiefs had thus answered, they presented the Court with twenty-six fathoms of wampum (132 feet of strung beads, their currency, the value being approximately 250 shillings). The Court in return gave them five coats, two yards each of red cloth, and a pot full of wine. Thus came the end of the Agawam nation.

Sources and Further Reading: 

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5 replies »

  1. I have an entire chapter on Masconomet in my next book, Beattieson: Legacy of an Aroostook County, ME Lad. Thanks for including informaton on the chieftain. Don Beattie in Winthrop, ME.


  2. Did you read my chapter on Masconomet in Hamilton, MA:Chronicle of a country town? Hap Daley and I were the two who arranged for placing the more recent stone to Masconomet on Sagamore Hill in 1976, the same year I wrote the book. Thanks. Donald W. Beattie formerly of Hamilton, MA. Formerly a member of the Historicla Commission and former president of the Hamilton Historical Society. I now have a great grandson living in Hamilton, MA and I hope he enjoys both the book and the sites.

    Liked by 1 person

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