Saturday, July 22, 2006
Who the Hell is Tispaquin?
Tispaquin, from what we know today, was a big guy for the 1600s, like in tall and muscular. Sort of a native American Nikolai Volkov or a Ken Norton or Shaquille O'Neill. Actually Robert Parrish. Yeah. Robert Parrish. The Chief. Sorta like that. Point is that nobody messed with him. He was born around Nemasket, now called Middleborough, Massachusetts in the mid 1600s. A native of the area, Tispaquin would today be called a Nemasket Indian, or a member of the Nemasket group of the Wampanoag or Pokonoket. The Wampanoag, led by Massasoit, were HQ'd at Montaup, alongside the mouth of the Taunton River in what is now Bristol, Rhode Island. Tispaquin was a contemporary of Massasoit's two sons, Wamsutta (Alexander to the pilgrims) and Pometacom (Phillip to the pilgrims). Massasoit was the dude who fed the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1620. Tispaquin and Pometacom were simpatico and apparently became friends and confidants. As Tispaquin entered adulthood he became the Sachem, or chief, of Nemasket, the headwaters of the Taunton (Titicut) River in southeastern Mass. He then became known as the Black Sachem of Middleborough. The name apparently came from his skin coloration, which was darker than most of the area Indians. Also, he apparently was a big mofo. When Massasoit died, Wamsutta his oldest son was next in line to be Sachem of the Wampanoags. Wamsutta was then arrested by the Pilgrims, dragged to Plymouth and died in "police custody" under murky circumstances. Put bluntly, Wamsutta entered the Plymouth "Gaol" alive and a few days later left it dead. His younger brother, Pometacom, was not too pleased by these developments even though it meant he was now Sachem. Dead brother and all. As Pometacom took the helm of the Wampanoag nation, he enlisted Tispaquin as an operational confidant, or as a "lieutenant" in the words of English writers were alive and around then. By this time, the early 1670s, the Wampanoag were getting squeezed pretty hard by the increasing numbers of English arriving on the shores of Massachusetts. The squeeze was a predictable combination of all the crap that happens when two immensely disparate cultures are forced by increasing numbers and non-increasing acreage to live nearby each other. Each group most likely felt superior in some ways and inwardly inferior in others. The whole mess devolved into a very bloody war in 1676, now called King Phillip's War. The war, which might have been inevitable anyways, was instigated in great part when Tispaquin was arrested, hauled to Plymouth and executed (drawn and quartered, no less) on the charge that he murdered an Indian named John Sassamon on the ice of Assawompsett Pond. Sassamon was an informer for the English on Pometacom's and the Wampanoag's doings. There was no actual trial. The Plymouthites summarily found Tispaquin culpable for the murder of John Sassamon and sentenced him to a gruesome execution. This pissed off Pometacom a lot and convinced him the English settlers ultimately wished that he and his people would either die and disappear or become completely assimilated into "English" society. This of course would also require Pometacom and his people to be forced to voluntarily give up all rights to their homeland, become tenants of the English, and adopt all matters of English custom, culture and religion and ... essentially disappear off the face of the planet. So Pometacom was pissed. Tispaquin could not be as pissed or as eloquent in his pissed-off-ness because his head had been chopped off in Plymouth. So that's the nutshell.