The Pilgrims: Meeting Chief Massasoit

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Massasoit Sachem the leader of the Wampanoag tribe.

The term Massasoit means Great Sachem or leader.


Massasoit lived in the Pokanoket village in Bristol, Rhode Island. He forged critical political and personal ties with both other neighboring tribed and the Pilgrim colonial leaders.

Massasoit approached the Pilgrim colony along with his brother, Quadequina, and 60 men. They are considered the “two kings” Bradford refers to. The Pilgrim’s met them with gifts. Mayflowerhistory says “Massasoit was told that the Pilgrims only desired peace and trading. Massasoit was told that King James of England saluted him with love and peace, and accepted him as a friend and ally. Massasoit liked what he heard; the English would make powerful allies against his enemies in the region.”

“According to Colonial sources, Massasoit prevented the failure of Plymouth Colony and the almost certain starvation that the Pilgrims faced during the earliest years of the colony’s establishment.”

Emmanuel Altham wrote of Massasoit in September 1623, “And now to speak somewhat of Massasoit’s stature. He is as proper a man as ever was seen in this country, and very courageous. He is very subtle for a savage, and he goes like the rest of his men, all naked but only a black wolf skin he wears upon his shoulder. And about the breadth of a span he wears beads about his middle.”

Massasoit and the colony leaders made a pack for peace shortly after meeting. This was tested when he demanded the colonists turn over Squanto, whom he believed betrayed him. However, when Massasoit became gravely ill in March 1623, it was the Pilgrim, Edward Winslow, who nursed him back to health.

Statue of Massasoit

Winslow later wrote of his recovery, “that Massasoit said, “the English are my friends and love me… whilst I live I will never forget this kindness they have showed me.” He then warned the colonists of a plot against them.

Edward Winslow described Massasoit. “In his person he is a very lusty man, in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech. In his attire little or nothing differing from the rest of his followers, only in a great chain of white bone beads about his neck, and at it behind his neck hangs a little bag of tobacco, which he drank and gave us to drink; his face was painted with a sad red like murry, and oiled both head and face, that he looked greasily. All his followers likewise, were in their faces, in part or in whole painted, some black, some red, some yellow, and some white, some with crosses, and other antic works; some had skins on them, and some naked, all strong, tall, all men of appearance . . . [he] had in his bosom hanging in a string, a great long knife; he marveled much at our trumpet, and some of his men would sound it as well as they could.”

In 1649, Massasoit sold a tract of 14 square miles to Myles Standish to help alleviate tension and maintain peace. The site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Wampanoags and Colonists of Massachusetts Bay Colony maintained peacef ro nearly 40 years, until Massasoit’s death.

Massasoit is described as “Massasoit was humane and honest, never violated his word, and constantly endeavored to imbue his people with a love of peace. He kept the Pilgrims advised of any warlike designs toward them by other tribes.”. He even took in Roger Williams for several weeks when he was banished from the colony. Williams would go on to found Providence Plantations, which later became part of the Colony of Rhode Island.

“By 1632, Massasoit is almost always referred to by the name of Ousemequin (sometimes spelled Woosamequen), which translates to “Yellow Feather.” Massasoit lived a long life, and remained a close friend and ally of the Plymouth Colony until his death around 1661.”

Massasoit Statue

Massasoit is known to have five children. Soon after the death of Massasoit two of his sons are known to have gone to Plymouth and ask for English names.
Massasoit died around 1661 and his oldest son Wamsutta {Alexander} became leader, but he lived less than a year. His brother Pometecomet {Philip} than became leader. He is the leader for whom King Phillip’s War is named after, which occurred about a decade later.

Several statues of Massasoit exists in Pylmouth Rock, Utah, Missouri and in Massachusetts.

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