Emma Safford, Ipswich MANative Americans

Emma Jane Mitchell Safford

Across Green Street from the Ipswich Town Hall is a sign on a fence, commemorating Emma Jane Mitchell Safford. She is documented as the last descendant of Massasoit, Sachem (tribal leader) of the Wampanoag when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620. Her lineage was traced through Massasoit’s daughter, Amie. While the term “Indian Princess” is an English construct and Massachusetts was not named after Massasoit, the story is one that has endeared Ipswich residents for decades.

This sign, was provided by the Ipswich Historical Commission at the Green Street location of Emma Jane Safford's home.
This sign was provided by the Ipswich Historical Commission at the Green Street location of Emma Jane Safford’s home.
 Zerviah Gould Mitchell (seated) with her daughters Melinda (Teweelema) on the left and Charlotte (Wootonekanuske) on the right in front of their home at Betty’s Neck in Lakeville, Massachusetts. Photo dated 1883
Zerviah Gould Mitchell with daughters Melinda (Teweelema) on the left and Charlotte (Wootonekanuske) on the right in front of their home at Betty’s Neck in Lakeville, MA in 1883

Massasoit and his brother Quadequina are believed to be the “two Kings who attended with a guard of fifty armed men” that met Captain Thomas Dermer at Pokanoket in May 1619. Massasoit became an ally of the Plymouth Colony and helped them survive that first winter, still commemorated today at Thanksgiving. He died in 1661, and was succeeded by his son Metacom, known by the English as “King Philip.” After several humiliations and deaths of tribal members by the settlers, Phillip began an armed revolt known as “King Philip’s War.”

Zerviah Gould Mitchell (1807-98), a pure-blooded descendant of Massasoit and a member of the Squinama tribe, was an early spokeswoman for the rights of the Native peoples of Massachusetts. Two of her daughters Teweeleema (aka Melinda Mitchell, 1836-1919) and Wootonekanuske (Charolotte Mitchell, 1848-1930) moved to Betty’s Neck in Lakeville MA after a judge who advised them to seek possession of land they claimed were their birthright through Massasoit. The women’s story became well known, and writers, photographers and artists visited them frequently to document the last living descendants of Massasoit.

In 1824, Zervia Gould married Thomas C. Mitchell, a sailor, who was half Cherokee and half white. They lived on or near the Wampanoag reservation that existed in the area of Middleboro and North Abington and had eleven children, including Emma Jane Mitchell. The Indians living at the reservation were in a sad state of poverty, had lost much of their land to the whites, and survived by producing and selling baskets and blankets. During the summer of 1853, Zerviah Gould Mitchell moved with 14-year-old Emma Jane to Ipswich. Thomas C. Mitchell died in 1859.

Emma Mitchell Safford at 26 years of age.
Emma Jane Mitchell in 1872 at 26 years of age, when she married Jacob Safford
Photo by the anthropologist Frank Speck and dated 1923. Emma was a basketmaker and also did beadwork
Photo of Emma Jane Safford by the anthropologist Frank Speck in 1923.

In Ipswich, the mother and daughter boarded with the family of James Safford, a black man who was a descendant of a slave in the white Safford family who may himself have descended from African tribal leaders. The slave became a freeman, and married Kate, a servant of Joseph Cogswell, in 1790. Their son James married Peely Chever, and they had two children, Jane and Jacob. At 26 years of age, Emma Jane Mitchell married the eldest son, Jacob Cheever Safford. They had four children, Helen, Alonzo, Zerviah, Emma and Zervia. The daughter Helen began life with great promise but eventually died in a mental institution. Alonzo died in his youth. The father Jacob Cheever Safford died in 1907 at the age of 68, and his funeral was held at the old house on Green St. with Rev. Thomas Franklin Waters officiating.

None of the Safford children ever married. As a young woman, Emma Jane Mitchell Safford wished to blend in to her adopted community in Ipswich, but as she grew older, she embraced her Native American heritage, and became known as the Indian Princess of Ipswich. She died in 1932 and is said to have been buried in full Indian regalia.

“Miss” Emma Safford of Ipswich, who died in 1958, is said to have been the last known descendant of Massasoit. Her mother was Emma Jane Mitchell Safford, and her grandmother was Zervia Gould Mitchell.

Emma Safford's house
Emma Safford’s house was the smaller dark one on the right, which once stood across Green St. from the present Ipswich Town Hall.
Emma Jane Mitchell Safford in front of the family home on Green Street, which was across from the present Town Hall
Emma Jane Mitchell Safford
Emma Jane Mitchell Safford
Emma Safford
Emma Jane’s daughter Emma Safford was born in 1879 and spent her life here in Ipswich. After her mother died in the early 1920s, she and her sister Zervia continued to live in the family home across from the Ipswich Town Hall on Green Street. Zerviah died in 1938.
Jacob Safford was Emma jane Safford's husband. Their daughter Emma, lived until 1958.
Jacob Safford was Emma Jane Mitchell Safford’s husband. Their daughter Emma lived until 1958 in the family home on Green Street.
Jacob Safford
Jacob Safford occasionally performed in minstrel shows. Left to right, Jacob, his wife Emma Jane Mitchell Safford, daughter Zerviah, and daughter Emma, the last of the family, who lived until 1958.
Emma Safford with her bicycle
Emma Safford

The daughter Emma worked as a cleaning woman, and from her savings tried fruitlessly to help her relatives obtain a deed to their former land on the reservation, but she was never successful. Emma was small and dark-skinned, bearing resemblance to her father, but had the high cheekbones of her mother. Emma Safford descended from three races: Native Americans who were massacred, the Africans who were enslaved, and the perpetrators, the white people. She was well-liked, frequented the library and was a member of the Methodist church. Inheriting the poverty of her parents, it is said that Emma Safford lived with only the bare necessities of life, but she was determined to be self-reliant and refused to accept charity from the town. It is said by those who still remember her that she displayed kindliness and generosity to all. Emma Safford died October 30, 1958 at the age of 79 years, and is buried with her family at the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich.

Gravestone of the Safford family in Ipswich
Safford family gravestone marker is at the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich, on the far left about 3/4 high on the terraces. The daughter Emma had the stone ereced 10 years before she died.


The story of the last living descendant of Chief Massasoit, by Evangelina Austin, 1959

How very fitting and appropriate is the plan of Librarian Hester H. Mitchell to arrange a shelf in the Historical Room of the Ipswich Public Library devoted to the memory of Miss Emma Safford who traced her ancestry back some eight generations to Massasoit, who by his friendly attitude toward the early settlers “kept the Plymouth Colony from perishing that first terrible winter.

The Wampanoag Indians, in 1620, inhabited the country between Narragansett Bay and Plymouth and were about 2000 strong, Massasoit, a wise and shrewd statesman had absolute authority over the tribe. In 1621 he made a peace pact with John Carver in which he promised that none of his tribe would molest the settlers, and this promise he faithfully kept for over fifty years.

The honor of being the last of the direct blood descendants of Massasoit belongs to the late Miss Safford. She would have been happy to know that her townspeople, realizing that they have been privileged to have had living in their midst, all these years, a lineal descendant of the renowned chief, wish to pay tribute to her memory.

She was born in Ipswich, June 18, 1879, and spent her entire life here. For a number of years, after her mother’s death she kept house with her younger sister Zervia in the family home on Green Street. The last survivor of the Safford family, she lived here alone for her remaining years. She passed on to the Happy Hunting Grounds of her forefathers, October 20, 1S58. She had reached the ripe old age of seventy-nine.

On this memorial shelf will be placed clippings of historical interest about her family, her relatives and her ancestors; letters of interest from other branches of the Wampanoag Indian tribe; pictures of her parents, the family home and of her brother and sisters and of herself; some Indian relics and a portrait of her mother—known to be the “last full-blooded Indian Princess of Massasoit’s line.” There will also be several books pertaining to Indian life—–one of these printed in the Cherokee dialect, inherited from her maternal grandfather Thomas C. Mitchell of the Cherokee tribe from North Carolina, and other interesting items.

Another book, a most interesting and unprejudiced biography of Massasoit by Alvin Weeks—–a new book, recently acquired by the library will be found on this shelf. It is for reference and not for lending. The author tells us that of Massasoit’s five children only his daughter Amey had descendants living up to the present time. He traces the lineage to Emma Safford. This author finds that all the history of the Indians, having been written by their enemies, most of it is unfair. He has talked with old warriors still living; has searched old records and he concludes as did the ‘contumacious Quaker,’ John Easten, who followed Roger Williams to the refuge of Massasoit when the Pilgrims drove him from Plymouth; that in the quarrel between the Indians and the whites, much of the merit was on the Indian side.

Mr. Weeks writes : “Nor can too high a valuation be put upon all the agencies that contributed to the success of the Pilgrims. Foremost among these agencies was the attitude of the natives toward these invaders of their domain. Had they in resentment of their treatment at the hands of the white adventurers, explorers and traders assumed a hostile attitude they could undoubtedly wiped out the colonies as fast as they could have been settled and thus set back the history of our country for at least 100 years.”

Emma Safford’s genealogy has been traced back to Amey, the daughter of Massasoit and the sister of King Philip as follows: Amey married Chief Wattuspaquin. Their son, Benjamin Tuspaquin married Wee cum and their son was called Benjamin Squin. (He fought in the French and Indian Wars in 1722, later returning to his home on his wife’s allotted land near Middleboro) He married Mercy Felix. Their daughter, Lydia Squin married a Mashpee Indian by whom she had two sons. After his death, she married Brister Gould of Abington, in 1797. Three daughters were born to them —- Lydia, Melinda and Zerviah. Born in 1807, Zerviah Gould married Thomas Mitchell, a Cherokee Indian in 1824. Four children were born to them, three girls and one boy. One daughter, Emma J. the last survivor of this family was the mother of Emma Safford.

Zerviah Gould Mitchell, then a widow, came to Ipswich with her fourteen year old daughter Emma Jane from the Indian reservation near Middleboro. This occurred during the summer of 1892. They went to board with a Negro family by the name of Safford. James Safford, the father, had been brought from the south as a young boy and was given a very decent upbringing and education. He was intelligent and well-read. At the time, his was the only Negro family in Ipswich. Several years later Emma J. Mitchell married the eldest son in this family, Jacob Cheever Safford. Four children were born to them: Helen, the oldest daughter was graduated from the Ipswich High School as valedictorian of the class of 1882, had a beautiful voice and was a member of the church choir. Alonzo, the son died in his youth.

From the obituary printed in the Ipswich Chronicle at the time of her mother’s death, we read, —”Last Princess of Wampanoags Dies. Her father was a Cherokee Indian, Thomas Carr Mitchell and her mother was a Wampanoag Indian. She was a member of the Methodist church and a regular attendant. Her complexion was of a golden copper hue; she carried her head stately as a princess should and her profile was classic Indian. A welcome smile always greeted one which at once showed her to be a kindly, sweet-tempered person. At the death of an aunt, Charlotte, two years ago, it was erroneously reported that she was the last direct descendant of Massasoit, but this honor is given to Mrs. Safford. There are two surviving daughters, the Misses Emma and Zervia Safford.”

It is interesting to note that about three generations back, the Indians, both men and women, started to leave off their colorful Indian names and to take English names. For example, the Princess Teweelema, for years a familiar figure around the State House where she came to make formal claim to the land on which she and her slater lived, took the name of Charlotte. Her sister, Princess Wootonekanuske (meaning Star of Her Tribe) was known as Melinda. These two aged sisters became nearly destitute, but in their fierce independence they refused to accept charity from the town of Lakeville. They wanted only what was due them. The land on the Indian reservation was given to the Indian tribe and heirs of the tribe while King Philip was alive. But it was gradually wrested away—–at one time the state took part of it for a water supply project offering no compensation. From first to last the white men have treated the Indians shabbily.

Coming down to the present day, Emma Safford tried until her death to get a deed to her rightful inheritance. She was obliged to live without any of the luxuries of life and deprived of many of the necessities because she could not get a deed to the land that she believed was hers. She did housework, sold valuable antiques, paid lawyer’s fees to no avail. She, too, was too proud to accept what she termed charity, Old Age Assistance from the town of Ipswich.

We remember Emma Safford as a gracious lady with a cultured voice. She was loyal to her friends. She cultivated beautiful flowers, studying horticulture and taking a course in flower arrangement. She was a regular visitor at the library, bringing many attractive bouquets to adorn the desks in the reading room. She cultivated her mind by reading good books and keeping a scrapbook of inspirational writings in poetry and prose. All through her life she has displayed the characteristics of diligence, faithfulness, integrity and kindliness, all traits which her famous ancestor, Massasoit possessed in large measure.

She was a regular attendant at the Methodist church and according to her pastor, the Reverend Auburn Carr: “She had a vivid awareness of truth in human relationships. Her determination to be always be self-reliant kept her working for an income, sometimes far beyond her strength, to the end. She refused to consider or think of receiving help from others in her strong practice of independence.”

This modest, retiring little woman was a lineal descendant of the chiefs of three different Indian tribes—The Wampanoags, the Cherokees and the Ponkapoags. Through her veins flowed also the blood of the African Negro. Thus she whose forefathers belonged to the two races, Indian and Negro, both of which have in past years been enslaved by crafty and cruel members of the white race, never held ideas of vengeance or ill-rancor but gave out thoughts of kindliness, goodwill and generosity to all who knew her.


8 replies »

  1. This is a great exposition of a remarkable woman and her family. The photographs add so much. Thank you for this.

    Worth footnoting here in the comments: not only is Emma Jane a descendant of Massasoit through her mother Zerviah Gould Mitchell and grandmother Phebe Wamsley, but she is also descended from African Americans enslaved for three generations in Abington, Massachusetts. Zerviah Gould Mitchell’s father, Brister Gould, was enslaved on an Abington farm and, at age 17, was sent to serve with the Massachusetts Militia in the Revolution. Brister’s mother Besse was born to Caesar and Flora, two people enslaved by Abington’s first minister, Rev. Samuel Brown. The origin of Caesar and Flora are unknown, but it is speculated that they came from Newbury, Mass when Rev. Brown and his wife Dorothy Woodbridge left their hometown—this means that Emma may also have roots connected to people once enslaved in Essex County. I wrote about it all here:


  2. Thank you so very much for writing this article. I love reading about Native American heritage and their importance in the growth of our nation.

  3. My name is Frederick Cowles…Emma Cowles and Henry Cowles were my grandparents..did Emma belong to the garden club..
    My grandparents went to the church on the hill..they lived on spring st…I lived at 14 green st..I was 17 when Emma died..I used to see her at her fence in yard..

  4. Monica Safford lives in Jamaica Plain. Oh, Another Safford. She is an art teacher for Special Ed! Amazing art work! The Saffords…she said. Ya. They first came to Ipswich! Oh I said.

  5. On October 28th, 1950, Emma Safford was a guest at my wedding at the Ipswich Methodist Church. Emma was a friend and next door neighbor of my grandmother, Orianna Burnham, also of Green Street. Emma had a habit of walking in the street in Ipswich, and my father, Alfred Emerson Wade would always slow his car and call: “Emma, walk on the side of the road…” I never knew Emma to accept a car ride in Ipswich.
    Elizabeth Wade Cole

  6. I remember Emma really well and very fondly. I was only a child(She died when I was eleven.) but remember she always had a kind smile and a warm greeting when she was working in her garden AND regardless of her poverty, was the most generous neighbor on Trick or Treat night-huge candy bars!

  7. Thank you! Please tell me more about what you know about the history of James Safford, a black man who was a descendant of a slave in the white Safford family who may himself descended from African tribal leaders. The slave became a freeman, and married Kate, a servant of Joseph Cogswell, in 1790.

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