Photo of Wigwam Hill, taken from Choate Island by George Dexter.

The Story Behind the Story of Wigwam Hill

A 2020 article on this website by Gordon Harris describes the fascinating history of the Epes’ Farm on Castle Neck, including how in 1669 an old Indian woman with her daughter and two grandchildren sought refuge there. The old account describes them as “a company of destitute Indians from the Lake Winnipesaukee region.” They were allowed to settle on a part of Epes’ farm that became known as Wigwam Hill. After the daughter died and at her request, Epes fostered her older child, Lionel, who stayed with him when the old woman left with a son, Robin, who came for her and the younger child. This Robin returned some years later to reclaim his nephew, however, and “bound him as an apprentice to Epes’ neighbor Henry Bennett to satisfy a debt.” Epes sued in court for the return of the boy and lost the case, but may later have won on appeal.

As a researcher on Indigenous history here, I was captivated by this account, both for its romance and its tragedy. Who were these people? Where did they come from and where did they go? Why was all that happening and what did it mean? And what did it have to do with Masconomet’s Agawam Village, known archaeologically as once having occupied that same Wigwam Hill site on Castle Neck? Following are the answers I discovered.

The old Indian woman was the wife of Petuhanit, well known to the colonists as “Old Robin”. The son “Robin” who came for her at Epes’ Farm most likely was John Robin. Their other Robin sons were Peter, Samson, and Joseph. Petuhanit is described as a Nipmuc sachem with a residence at the village of Hassanamesit (Grafton). In 1648 he and his sons Peter Robin and John Robin and some others signed a deed to Nipmuc land in Middlesex County. In 1652 Old Robin Petuhanit and his family were living at their homestead on a hill on Beaver Brook in Chelmsford. They came to Ipswich to fish.

The timing of the events at Epes’ Farm most likely relate to events leading up to King Philip’s War of 1675-1676. That Old Robin’s dependents came to Epes from Lake Winnipesaukee in 1669 suggests they had previously evacuated to that distant Pennacook homeland after colonists attacked Pawtucket and Nipmuc villages around their home in Chelmsford. This included the first sack of Wamesit (later Lowell) in 1665. They were now seeking the safest place to be as hostilities were escalating and expanding into the Mass. Bay Colony’s northern frontier. Relations with colonists had been going steadily downhill. In 1646 The General Court had decreed that Indians could legally be taken into service against their will. Powwows were declared illegal. In a 1656 decree, settlers were no longer allowed to sell boats, skiffs, or horses to Indians, nor to offer Indians apprenticeship, training, or employment. In 1674 through the efforts of the Puritan missionary John Eliot and the first Indian Agent, Daniel Gookin, Wamesit was designated as one of seven Praying Indian Villages for the protection of Christian converts.

That Ipswich was a comparatively safe place to be was a legacy of the positive and steadfast relationship Masconomet (Masquenominet, aka Sagamore John) had established with John Winthrop Jr. and the English at Ipswich Plantation. In 1630 Masconomet had greeted John Winthrop, governor of the new Massachusetts Bay Colony, aboard the Arbella off the coast of Beverly-Manchester. Before his move to Hog/Choate Island, the sagamore had his headquarters at Agawam Village (Wigwam Hill) and conducted diplomacy on Castle Hill. In 1634 Masconomet successfully petitioned the General Court for the Pawtucket to be allowed to own guns, powder, and shot. That same year Agawam was incorporated as the Town of Ipswich and Chebacco Parish (Essex) was established. The General Court decreed that Masconomet must be compensated for “damage to Indian crops in Chebacco and Ipswich caused by colonists’ free-roaming hogs”. In 1639, after having sold Agawam to the English, Masconomet successfully petitioned the General Court for the return of enough land to support his family and permission to kill deer and fowl. He was granted 6 acres at Sagamore Hill, where he received a Christian burial in 1650.

Ipswich colonists supported Masconomet’s heirs after his death, as well as Old Robin’s dependents and the families of four other Pawtucket who stuck it out there to as late as 1730: “Old Ned” (Peckanaminet, aka Ned Acocket), Ned’s brothers Robert and Humphrey, and “Old Will” (Pumpasanoway, a kinsman of Passaconaway/Pappisseconewa, the New Hampshire grand sachem of the Pennacook Confederacy). As early as 1644 the Pawtucket along with some Nipmuc, Pennacook, and Massachuset leaders had officially pledged loyalty to the Mass. Bay Colony and neutrality during any future conflict. The Pawtucket had scrupulously observed this oath, such that–except for being disarmed briefly in 1642–they were allowed to keep their guns throughout King Philip’s War in the 1670s.

Just as “Ipswich” originally included all of what became Essex County, Indigenous peoples did not observe the boundaries of the towns we adhere to provincially today. Their activities ranged greater distances over open territory. Old Ned Peckanaminet, for example, was seen fishing off the Isles of Shoals, hunting along the Merrimack on land he sold in 1652 (for 30 pounds in payment of a debt) that became part of Andover, fishing in the Merrimack at Amesbury, planting in Newbury, and ending his days in the part of Ipswich that became Hamilton, which supported him in his old age. Old Will Pumpasanoway owned land in West Newbury, Haverhill, Merrimac, and Dracut and planted at Willl’s Hill in the part of Ipswich that became Middleton. In 1652 Old Will and his family were living in Byfield and Crane Pond Hill in Georgetown, where he ended his days. Old Robin Petuhanit fished in Plum Island Sound off Jeffrey’s Neck and had land in Chelmsford, Webster, and elsewhere in Middlesex and Worcester counties. The families of Ned, Will, and Robin were connected with the families of Masconomet and Passaconaway, as well as with each other, in a complex web of kinship and alliance. As the New England Genealogical Register shows, the families of most of the first English settlers were likewise interconnected.

In 1653 James Parker bought a hill in Chelmsford from “a peaceful Pennacook Indian named Robin”. He named his new property “Robin’s Hill” and allowed the family to continue to live in their wigwams there. James Parker became one of the 29 signers of a petition to the Mass. Bay Colony legislature for permission to appropriate the Pennacook lands that became Chelmsford and Lowell (plus parts of Dracut, Tyngsboro, Tewksbury, and Dunstable). Ten years later, in 1663, Parker sold Robin’s Hill to Thomas Barrett of Woburn. It is likely, after the property changed hands, that Petuhanit’s family was no longer suffered to live there. Hence the relocation of Old Robin’s wife, daughter, and grandchildren to safety in Ipswich in 1669.

The date that Robin came to Epes’ Farm to retrieve his nephew Lionel is not recorded, but it most likely was just before or after Pometacom’s (Metacomet’s) Wampanoag attack on South Shore colonists in 1675 that precipitated King Philip’s War. Also, the boy may have reached his majority at the age of 12. Algonquian tradition required initiation rites at puberty, an uncle’s (or father’s brother’s) responsibility to see to. If so, then the boy was 5 or 6 years old when his mother died and he came into the care of Captain Daniel Epes. Robin’s indenture of Lionel to the Bartlett family is less easily explained, but it was more likely a promise or obligation of reciprocity than a monetary debt, and it seems to have stemmed from a web of relationships between Petuhanit’s family and two Ipswich families: the Bennetts and the Perkins.

Old Robin and his sons were regarded as great friends to the English. In 1631, while fishing at Jeffrey’s Neck, Petuhanit approached John Perkins Jr., whose family occupied Perkins Island (Treadwell’s today), to warn him of an impending Tarrantine attack against the English. A hundred Tarrantines–Mi’Kmaq, Passamoquoddy, and other Eastern Abenaki raiders–were coming down the coast in 20 canoes (in other accounts the number of canoes ranges from 3 to 100, and likewise for the number of raiders, but 20 sea-going canoes paddled by 4 or 5 warriors each is the most likely). Petuhanit’s warning described a planned ambush of the English, but this Tarrantine attack was actually a retaliation against Masconomet and the Agawam Pawtucket for an earlier counter-raid. Among the spoils would be hostages to ransom and harvested corn from the Pawtucket cornfields along what is now Argilla Road. Corn did not grow well in more northern latitudes.

In any case, John Perkins Jr. forwarded the warning to his father, the immigrant John Perkins, who in turn alerted John Winthrop Jr., who was camped in Ipswich and exploring in Chebacco. Winthrop Jr. told his father Governor John Winthrop, who had sent his son there to identify pre-Mass. Bay Colony charter “squatters” in Agawam. Winthrop Jr. was also supposed to assess the place for a plantation in the interest of preventing the French from making further incursions down the coast. Winthrop Jr. arrived at the Castle Neck River with men from Chebacco in time to help repel the Tarrantines and did so again in 1632 with the help of men from Charlestown, and again in 1634 with men from Ipswich. It was this aid against his enemies, and no doubt knowledge of what had happened to the Pequot in 1636 down in Connecticut (they had been annihilated or enslaved by colonists), that led Masconomet in 1637 to sell Ipswich land to Winthrop Jr. and in 1638 to sell all the rest of Agawam to the English for their plantations.

Amusingly, Ipswich’s historical account of Perkins Jr.’s involvement in foiling the Tarrantine raid casts him as the hero of it (Hubbard 1680, p. 145, cited in Felt 1834, p. 209):

John Perkins Outwits the Tarentines

In 1633, Quartermaster John Perkins Jr. owned an island, “Perkins Island” that is today called Treadwell’s Island. The Tarratine or E. Abenaki Indians were mortal enemies of the native people in Agawam (Ipswich). On the evening of August 8, 1631 [sic], the Sagamore Masconomet’s encampment near Castle Hill was attacked by a band of one hundred Tarratine men who had paddled down the coast from Maine. The Abenaki apparently planned to attack and destroy the small Ipswich colony in the same undertaking. That element of the story was related by the Rev. Thomas Cobbett, the second minister of Ipswich [from Thomas Cobbett’s papers, cited in Hutchinson 1765, Vol. 1, p. 27 and Perkins 1889, pp. 8-9]:

“A credible man informs me namely, Quartermaster John Perkins, that the Tarratines or Easterly Indians had a design to cut them off at the first, when they had but between 20 and 30 men, old and young belonging to this place called Ipswich. In that instant most of the men had gone into the bay about their occasions, not hearing thereof.” It was thus that Robin, a friendly Indian, came to John Perkins when he was younger, living in a little hut upon his father’s island (Perkins Island) on this side of Jeffreys Neck, and told him that on Thursday morning early, there would come four Indians to draw him to go down the hill to the waterside in order to trick him and all who went with him, so that they could be cut off. They would arrive in 40 birch canoes, would lie out of sight in the brow of the Hill, full of Armed Indians for that purpose. Of this Mr. Perkins forthwith acquainted Mr. John Winthrop, who then lived there in a house near the water, who advised him if such Indians came, when their backs were turned to strike up the drum he had with him beside his two muskets to alert six or eight young men, who would be in the marshes having their guns ready to charge the invaders. The Indians would perceive their plot was discovered and haste away to the sea again. This was accordingly so acted and took like effect, for he told me that after this he discovered 40 such canoes being carried from the knoll by the Hill, making as fast as they could to sea. No doubt many godly hearts were lifted up to heaven for deliverance at Ipswich.”

John Winthrop made the following entry in his journal (pp. 71-72): “August 8 1632, The Tarrentines, to the number of 100, came in three [sic] canoes, and in the night assaulted the wigwam of the Sagamore of Agawam, slew seven men, and wounded John Sagamore, and James, and some others, (whereof some died after,) and rifled a wigwam of Mr. Craddock’s men, kept to catch sturgeon, and took away their nets and biscuit. The wife of James and others were carried away captives by their enemies.”

Note the discrepancy in dates juxtaposing 1631 and 1632. The events described conflate separate Tarrantne attacks. The account involving Perkins actually refers to the 1632 raid. There was also a raid in 1631 involving “Mr. Craddock’s men”. Matthew Cradock was a trader and merchant specializing in caviar and was also in the fur trade. In the 1631 raid the Tarrantines stole Cradock’s cache of moose hides but did not inflict much damage on the Pawtucket. In 1632, in contrast, Masconomet’s visiting relatives, John (Wonohaquaham) and James (Montowampate)–sons of Nanepashemet and “Squaw Sachem” (Saunksqua), were wounded at Castle Hill, and James’ wife–a daughter of Passaconaway–was abducted (and later ransomed for beaver skins and wampum, negotiated by the trader Nathaniel Shurd). The following year both Nanepashemet sons died in their prime in the smallpox epidemic of 1633, leaving a surviving younger brother, Wenepoykin (George), and a sister (Yawata). The Nanepashemets’ is another whole story.

The upshot of all this is that Old Robin’s family had a relationship with the Perkins family beginning even before the official establishment of the Mass. Bay Colony. (John Perkins was one of the “squatters” later referred to as the “‘Old Planters”, having arrived on the Lyon with his wife, three sons and a daughter prior to the arrival of the Winthrop fleet. The Petuhanit-Perkins relationship was ongoing, with Petuhanit’s Christian sons Sampson Robin and Joseph Robin serving as guides, scouts, and interpreters for the colonists during King Philip’s War. In 1674 on the eve of that war Sampson was a “teacher” (i.e., an Indigenous Christian missionary, having been converted by John Eliot) at Wabaquasset (Windham County CT), and Joseph Robin was a teacher at Chaubunagungamaug (Webster MA).

Both Sampson and Joseph received commendations from captains Thomas Wheeler and Edward Hutchinson for their wartime service in the Quabaug (Brookfield) Campaign. Isaac Perkins, a grandson of John Perkins served with them at Quabaug, and Jacob Perkins, son of John Perkins Jr., also fought in the war.

In the negotiations attempted by Capt. Hutchinson with Quabaug Indians [Nipmuc], three Christian Indians were sent as guides and interpreters, George Memecho, and the brothers Joseph and Sampson, sons of old Robin Petuhanit deceased. These all strongly advised against the advance, and warned the English, but were in the fight with Capt. Wheeler’s men…. It is probable that the entire force under Capt. Wheeler would have been destroyed but for the fidelity and skill of Joseph and Sampson in conducting the retreat and avoiding the ambush set by the enemy (Bodge p. 275).

Despite their service, Old Robin’s sons became victims of the prevailing extreme prejudice against Indians. Sampson was killed by other scouts in Wheeler’s company during the Wachuset Campaign, and Joseph was captured and sold into slavery in Jamaica by Boston merchants. The Rev. John Eliot managed to get Joseph back, but he never regained his freedom. The war was disastrous for all Indigenous peoples of New England. Some Agawam Pawtucket had eloped to northern New England to avoid the conflict and maintain neutrality, canoeing en masse across the Merrimack. Others had gone to ill-fated Praying Indian villages at Wamesit, Hassanamisco, or Natick. Those at Natick were interned on Deer Island. Those at Wamesit were forced to flee with Wonalancet (Passaconaway’s son) to Canada where they were taken in by Abenaki communities and French Jesuit missions along the St. Lawrence. Passaconaway had abdicated to his son in 1660 after Pennacook defeat in a war against the Mohawks. Passaconaway always counseled to maintain peace at all costs with the English. The English, meanwhile, recruited the Mohawks to help clear Pennacook and Abenaki from land on the frontier to make room for English expansion. The colonists sold survivors of King Philip’s War into slavery, women and children apportioned among the towns and men to plantations in the Caribbean.

Among other casualties of King Philip’s War was John Bennett, second eldest son of immigrant Henry Bennett of Ipswich, killed by Nipmuc at the Battle of Bloody Brook in South Deerfield. Old Robin’s family was connected to the Ipswich Bennetts as well as to the Perkins family. And the Bennetts and the Perkins were connected to each other, both through marriage and as neighbors. In 1651 the immigrant Henry Bennett married Lydia Perkins of Perkins Island. Lydia’s father was Jacob Perkins, a son of the John Perkins Jr. who 19 years earlier had received Old Robin’s warning that the Tarrantines were coming. Jacob’s son, Jacob Perkins Jr., who later served in King Philip’s War with Old Robin’s sons, was Lydia’s brother.

In 1654 Henry Bennett bought from Jonathan Wade a 200-acre farm on Castle Neck Creek, abutting Samuel Symonds’ land and including Castle Neck, Hog Island, and part of Plum Island.

Samuel Symonds was the Deputy Governor of the Mass. Bay Colony for Ipswich Plantation. In 1640 John Winthrop Jr. had sold his Masconomet land between Labor in Vain Creek and Chebacco Creek, including Castle Hill and Argilla Farm, to Symonds, who was his son-in-law. In 1660, Symonds in turn sold 300 acres of this land to his daughter Elizabeth and his son-in-law, Captain Daniel Epes (aka Epps). Samuel Symonds was actually already related to the Epes by his own father’s second marriage (in England in 1637) to Samuel’s mother, Martha Reade, who was the widow of Capt. Daniel Epes’ father! In any case, that was how Epes and Bennett become neighbors.

In 1684 when Daniel Epes unsuccessfully sued Henry Bennett in General Court for “enticing away and harboring his Indian boy”, Jacob Perkins (Henry’s father-in-law) and Jacob Perkins Jr. (Henry’s brother-in-law) both served as witnesses on Henry’s behalf. We may never know what obligation Old Robin’s family had to the Bennetts that caused them to remove Lionel from Daniel Epes’ Farm and indenture him to Henry Bennett. In Algonquian tradition the rule of reciprocity was a moral absolute, quite specific, applicable to both tangible and intangible “property”, and observed over generations until fulfilled. The court brief states only that “Lionel had been regularly indentured to Bennett by his grandmother and uncle, who had been living on Epes’s bounty, and had promised to give the boy to him.” The phrase “living on one’s bounty” meant living “in lieu of the bounty” that one could otherwise receive as payment for delivering Indian scalps to the nearest courthouse. Massachusetts issued its first official bounty commissions in 1688, a government-sponsored policy of eradication that continued off and on up to the War of Independence. Other towns in Agawam had people like Daniel Epes and Henry Bennett who sheltered (while also often exploiting) “their” Indians.

That is the story behind the story of Wigwam Hill. The history of these interlocking family dramas and traumas begins to fade. I could not find Epes’ later appeal in the records of the Court of Assistants, nor confirm if it was successful, as a principal source claims. And we hear no more about Lionel. In 1686 the last Pawtucket and Pennacook lands in Massachusetts were sold to the English or taken. In 1698 Henry Bennett sold his farm to John Wainwright. Daniel Epes died and Daniel Jr. inherited and sold the Epes homestead to John Patch III. And in 1700-1701 Masconomet’s grandchildren–Samuel and Joseph English, John Umpee, and a granddaughter and their spouses, signed quitclaim deeds to Ipswich and the other towns carved out of Agawam. Descendants of Old Robin Petuhanit, Old Ned Peckanaminet and his brothers, Old Will Pumpasanoway, and Sagamore John Masconomet may very well be living here today.

Despite their service, Old Robin’s sons became victims of the prevailing extreme prejudice against Indians. Sampson was killed by other scouts in Wheeler’s company during the Wachuset Campaign, and Joseph was captured and sold into slavery in Jamaica by Boston merchants. The Rev. John Eliot managed to get Joseph back, as well as his wife and children, but he never regained his freedom.


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