Living descendants of the Agawam IndiansPeople

Living Descendants of the Native Americans of Agawam

by M. E. Lepionka 3/6/17

Mary Ellen is a publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with a Master’s degree in anthropology from Boston University and post-graduate work at the University of British Columbia. In 2008 she retired to research the prehistory of Cape Ann and the Native Americans who lived here and to document artifacts from Cape Ann held in public and private collections. She is a member of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society.

*Photos are Pawtucket-Pennacook/Abenaki at Odanak, near St. Francis, Quebec, circa 1900, and some living descendants there today.

Masconomet gravesite

The final resting place of Masconomet, the last Sagamore of Agawam, is on Sagamore Hill in Hamilton.

Geographically, Agawam was the area from Great Neck to the end of Castle Neck in Ipswich, the site of the village by that name. Agawam really means “other side of the marsh.” They named their villages for their locations and the subsistence resources to be found there. Use of the name Agawam for the territory stretching from the Merrimack to Salem was an English invention.

Masconomet's grave
The final resting place of Masconomet, on Sagamore Hill in Hamilton

Masconomet, Nanepashemet, Passaconaway, and many other Pawtucket and Pennacook have living descendants. Descendants with the surnames Tyler, English, and Wiser, for example, are living on Cape Cod and the Islands today and elsewhere in New England. In the 1890’s some Pawtucket families were living with Narragansett around Wareham. In the 1830’s Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act resulted in the forced migration of Indians to areas west of the Mississippi River. Pawtucket interned with Nipmuc, Pocumtuc, and Mahican families at the Stockbridge, Brotherton, and Schaghticoke reservations were forced to move to the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Wisconsin, which still exists. Pawtucket interned with Mohawk have living descendants on the Iroquois reservations in upstate New York and Canada.

An Abernaki

During the 17th century there were two major Pawtucket-Pennacook diasporas. One was in 1695 from the Praying Indian Village of Wamesit (Lowell), where Pawtucket had gathered from all over and which was under attack by colonists. They escaped through the White Mountains to St. Francis, Quebec. Some descendants of those Pawtucket are living with the Abenaki today at Odanak and Becancour on the St. Lawrence. Another was in 1676 during King Philip’s War (Metacomet’s Wampanoag War), when many Pawtucket in Essex and Middlesex counties, unable to secure neutrality, escaped en masse by canoe, crossing the Merrimack into New Hampshire and Maine. Some joined the Wabanaki or Wampanoag resistance movements, and others sought refuge with former allies or with former traditional enemies. Some descendants of those Pawtucket are living in Abenaki, Pequaket, Penobscot, and Micmac communities today in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Nova Scotia.

Ipswich Riverwalk mural
An image from the Ipswich Riverwalk mural depicts the Sagamore Masconomet selling the rights to Agawam to John Winthrop Jr., who led the settlement of Ipswich.

Many descendants of Pawtucket-Pennacook do not know who they are, because their ancestors either assimilated or went into hiding and concealed their identifies. In the early colonial period some Native families in Newbury, Ipswich, Essex, Salem, and many other coastal towns indentured themselves to English families, took English surnames, practiced Christianity, worked on English plantations, apprenticed in English workshops, and went to sea on English vessels. Those assimilating successfully were no longer living as Indians.


During and after King Philip’s War, however, survivors identifiable as Indians were thrown together in internment camps and many were shipped to Bermuda and Barbados as slaves. Descendants of Pennacook Indians and Africans shipwrecked en route to slave plantations are living on St. David’s Island today, for example.

Then, between 1700 and 1750, the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony offered bounties on Indian scalps — men, women, and children — in an off-and-on campaign of state-sponsored genocide, knowledge of which has largely been suppressed. As in any holocaust, survival depended either on escape and self-exile or invisibility. In this way many Pawtucket-Pennacook and other Native people gave up their homes and possessions, religion, language, culture, knowledge and skills, communities, gene pools, and identities as Native Americans.

Native American dispersal
Members of a Quebec tribe
Members of a Quebec tribe

Today some descendants of Native Americans of the Northeast are working to reclaim or reinvent their remixed Native heritage today. Theirs is a story of survival, adaptation, and resilience in the face of 400 years of persecution and catastrophic change.

Quebec tribe

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Resources for local Native American history and dialects - (The following information is provided by Mary Ellen Lepionka of Gloucester. Download the full PDF document to which this refers. Read: Who Were the Agawam Indians Really? Mary Ellen Lepionka’s Sources Sources for Algonquian place names include William Bright’s Native American Place Names of the United States (2004, […]
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Who Were the Agawam Indians, Really? - It’s hard for people to change their stories—so embedded in deep time and official canon, even when there is a better explanation or a closer truth. I hope it will be possible to change public knowledge about the Native Americans who lived here and get closer to the truth.
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21 replies »

  1. We have been told there are two Native American burial grounds in the woods near us. Who do I contact to see pix? Thanks

  2. Thank you for this wonderful history. I am looking to speak with anyone who can give details about the first people and descendants of Malden. I know some history according to Duane Hamilton Hurd. I am interested in incorporating some tribute to first inhabitants of Malden before public meetings but would like to a bit more surety about that history from a descendants perspective.
    Thank you!!!!
    Ose Schwab

  3. I would like to know if the name Besse, Stringer, Chandler, or Westgate would be in the role call of the agawam tribe Thanks

    • I don’t know, Ted. The Pawtucket families from Agawam dispersed south to Natick and Mashpee and north to northern New England and Canada at St. Francis (Odanak). Suggest look in Native American genealogy websites. Any English name from the 17th and 18th centuries could be a Pawtucket surname, including yours. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  4. could you in claude on Walking Tour map the house of memorable Emma Safford, a descendant of the First People and beloved member of our community.

  5. Mary Ellen: I wanted to be sure that you knew about the film DAWNLAND about the Wabenaki Indians on Maine is coming to the PEM on Sept 21, 2018 at 7 pm. I am definitely attending. Let me know if you need more info.

  6. Janet, suggest do a keyword search in Google for “Cherokee Genealogy”. You’ll find many databases of Cherokee surnames and family histories.

  7. My parents Maurice Cobb& Pearl Slade. I’d like to find if any native blood. My surnames, Cobb,Slade, Knight,Styles,Moon,Benson, I have Boone,Lincoln. I have more but not find them all, I wish someone could help. I have Proctor/ Capt.leonard found Proctorsville Vt. My gramp Ira Proctor, . Chief Tecumseh & Naiomi Starr had Lydia & Moses Redfox Downing had Dicey & William Proctor had children plus Zeke.he & mom went on Trail of Tears. If someone could help me to see if I have native.plz. thank you.

  8. Mary Ellen…… I have some incredible Native American stories from my uncles hand written Ipswich genealogy .
    If you are interested in reading them let me know.
    Don curiale (former Chair of Ipswich historical commission in 1990s.)

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