Magunkaquog Praying Village

Map of Nipmuck Country
1774 Map of Nipmuck Country - New York Public Library
John Eliot was a Puritan missionary called "The Apostle to the Indians'. He founded the Roxbury Latin School in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1645. He also is credited with completing the enormous task of translating the Bible into the Algonquin language in 1660 and printed over two thousand copies that he used to preach and convert the native people. The Harvard charter of 1650 declared its mission to be "The Education of the English and Indian Youth of the Country". Harvard obtained funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, which agreed to pay for a new two-story brick building to be erected on Harvard Yard. This building, the Indian College, was completed in 1656. The building was large enough to accommodate about twenty students. At the time of completion, no Indigenous students attended the college and the building was used to accommodate English students instead. This was a disappointment to the poor students who were promised free tuition. The Indian College building housed the first printing press in the English colonies. Under missionary John Eliot's direction, that press was used to print a translation of the Bible into the Massachusett language. This Mamusse Wunneetupantamwe Um Biblum God, also known as the "Eliot Indian Bible", was the first Bible in any language printed in British North America, as well as the first full translation of the Christian Bible into a Native American language. James Printer, an Algonquian-speaking Nipmuck who converted to Christianity, did much of the translation and typesetting, and other Native Americans, such as Cockenoe, Job Nesuton, and John Sassamon, who studied at Harvard in 1653 prior to the creation of the Indian College, contributed to various parts of the translation. Eliot Bible
Eliot Bible -
James the Printer, also known as "Black James", was a celebrated "Praying Indian". He received instruction at the Charity Indian School in Cambridge and began a 16-year apprenticeship in 1659, where he developed his printing skills. It is widely believed that the book known as the Eliot Bible, which is attributed to the missionary John Eliot, was actually written and printed by indigenous individuals associated with the Harvard Indian College. There is a possibility that Eliot was unable to fully comprehend certain aspects of the book's language, as it contains concepts and narratives that incorporate Native American spiritual themes and ideas that Eliot may have considered sacrilegious and would have prohibited from being published. Despite the Harvard Charter's lofty goals, only five native students attended the Indian College at Harvard, including John Sassamon and James Printer in the 1650s. The Indian College was disbanded and demolished in the 1690s. During its brief existence, it housed the first printing press in Cambridge. Recent archaeology at the site has revealed some incredible finds, including the type likely used by Nipmuck printer James Printer to set the text of the Algonquian Bible. The chief of the Natick Praying Town was named Waban and he was the first of the sachems to embrace Christianity when he hosted John Eliot in his Wetu on October 28, 1648. By 1650, converts to Christianity had begun moving to Natick to organize what would become the first of several villages known as "Praying Towns", with the people in them known as "Praying Indians". The inhabitants of these villages would renounce their native language, ceremonies, beliefs, traditional dress, and customs. Natick was also the place where young educated Indigenous men would be trained as missionaries and sent out to convert more indigenous people to establish more Praying Towns along the frontier. Map of Praying Towns and Villages
Map of Praying Towns and Villages - Indian Brethren in English Clothes (PDF): Lea Kroner
The villagers agreed to follow strict rules to eliminate all memories of their previous way of life. The men were no longer allowed to rely on the women to do their work. They had to give up their traditional hairstyles and hygiene practices, and were forbidden from speaking their native language. Their children were sent to English schools and taught English customs. This approach became the basis for the reservations that the US government created later on, as they acquired more lands to the west. Today, many indigenous tribes are still forced to live in these reservations. The village had many other spellings in English such as Magunkkaquog, Magunksquog, Magunkook, and Magwonkkommuk. For the purposes of this project, I will refer to it as Magunkaquog. In 1674, Gookin described Magunkaquog as being the "7th of the old Praying towns" which is located"Upon a great hill which is very fertile containing about 3000 acres of land". A man named Pomhaman was the leader of the village. Job Kattanamit was the village teacher. The villagers' other names included Apumatquin, Jackananumquis, and William Wannekjow. We know that Pomhaman received his religious instruction directly from John Eliot in Natick, but he never joined the church for some reason. Even though John Eliot must have had a lot of confidence in Pomhaman by making him the village leader, it might have been misplaced as Pomhaman later joined forces with Metacomet in his war against the colonists. Magunkaquog was the seventh of what would eventually be fourteen Nipmuck praying towns recognized by the Massachusetts General Court at the request of John Eliot. The descriptions of these communities provided by Eliot and Daniel Gookin, published in 1674, provide some detail of the individual settlements before King Philip's War, which violently upended their daily lives. Magunkaquog is described as a community of between fifty and sixty people led by Pomhaman, whom Gookin described as a sober, pious, and active man. The Native American teacher for the community was named Job. Eliot and Gookin's descriptions often depict the praying towns as small communities of several families who lived in English-style dwellings, walked English-style streets, and gathered in English-style meeting houses that served both as schools and places of religious worship. Following the Mendon attack during King Philip's War, on August 30, 1675, the Massachusetts Council issued a proclamation ordering Native Americans who wished to prove their loyalty to the English to be confined to five praying villages. The proclamation also authorized anyone to kill and destroy any Native American more than a mile from one of these plantations, unless they were escorted by an Englishman or fetching corn. The five villages they were confined to were Natick, Ponkapoag, in what is now Canton, Nashoba, in Littleton, Wamesit, in Lowell, and Hassanemesit, in Grafton. The Native Americans living in other praying villages, including those in Magunkaquog, were ordered to one of these villages. The residents of Magunkaquog were then further removed to Deer Island in Boston Harbor at the height of King Philip's War in 1675 and remained there until the conflict's conclusion in 1676. We know that some form of the village was still operating after the war because two years later, Magunkaquog reappears in the documentary record in a report resulting from a Mohawk raid there in 1678 that involved the kidnapping of twenty-two women and children. In its complaint to New York colonial authorities, the Massachusetts General Court requested that all captives be returned and the Mohawk raiders be punished. In their own defense, the Mohawk noted that the residents of Magunkaquog had "A Castle so well fortified with stockades", which they interpreted as evidence of the settlement's warlike posture. Generations of archaeologists in New England spent decades searching in vain for the Praying Villages. Native American graves had been unintentionally disturbed by construction work at various sites over the years. Still, ironically, during that same period, no archaeological evidence of the actual settlements was ever encountered by the groups looking for them. It wasn't until 1997 that a group of researchers, using historical references, descriptions by Eliot and Gookin, and the latest techniques designed to locate archaeological sites found the village of Magunkaquog. Steve A. Mrozowski , Heather Law Pezzarossi , Holly Herbster , and D. Rae Gould, wrote The Archaeology of Magunkaquog, which was compiled during two summers of excavation on Magunco Hill in what is now Ashland Massachusetts. Much of the work involved uncovering the remains of a dry-laid stone foundation along with a rich array of other artifacts, which turned out to be the remains of the "Meeting House" of the seventeenth-century Magunkaquog settlement. Map of Magunkaquog Excavation Site
Map of Magunkaquog Excavation Site
Archaeologists discovered a foundation from the seventeenth-century which was not built with mortar and was relatively small by modern standards. The foundation was roughly 12 by 9 feet and did not have a symmetrical shape. The western wall of the foundation had an apparent footing for a round or crescent-shaped structure, which raises the question of whether this could have supported a small tower. This structure may have been viewed as a defensive work by the Mohawk. Archaeologists discovered two musket balls at the site, indicating that a possible engagement might have occurred there. Interestingly, both of the balls were cut in half, which suggests that they were purposefully altered to inflict greater human damage. Experts in weapons analysis believe that this was a common practice during battles to increase the lethality of muskets. Magunkaquog Artifacts
Map of Magunkaquog Artifacts
While we may never know for sure whether these artifacts are linked directly to the conflict described in the 1678 documents, it seems highly probable given the site's location on the slope of Magunco Hill and the preponderance of artifacts dating to the very period of the Mohawk raid. This last point is important for two reasons. First, it confirms that Magunkaquog residents returned to the settlement after King Philip's War and that the structure found on Magunco Hill is very likely the meeting or "Fair House" for the Magunkaquog settlement the Mohawks raided in 1678. It is possible that the rounded part on the southwestern wall of the foundation was used to support a tower-like structure. However, no sign of the stockade mentioned by the Mohawks, who had attacked the site, was found. Outside the foundation, the only notable archaeological feature was a large hearth containing animal bones, charcoal, and several large quartz cobbles that seemed to have been heated on purpose to extract crystals. Sixteen such crystals were found in the foundation area, three of which were probably buried on purpose in the corners of the structure. This practice has also been found in an eighteenth-century Mohegan foundation in Connecticut by archaeologists Craig Cipolla and James Quinn, who work for the Mohegan Tribe. John Murphy, who analyzed the quartz collection from Magunkaquog as part of his master's thesis, has found compelling archaeological evidence of the spiritual significance of quartz crystals among the indigenous peoples of southern New England for over 4,000 years. The evidence indicates that quartz crystals were considered to be of religious significance for the indigenous populations of the Americas as a whole. The site yielded various material culture classes, with over 6,600 pottery fragments found, accounting for almost 50% of all artifacts, but fewer vessels than expected. The ceramics included red earthenware for cooking and food prep, and a North Devon Plain milk pan, the earliest English artifact found, dated 1625-1660. As a group, these ceramics look remarkably similar to those recovered several decades ago from cemeteries associated with the "Praying Town" period. Although excavating Native American cemeteries is not an acceptable practice today unless conducted under the guidance of tribes, excavations conducted decades ago do provide some information about earlier lifestyles. The Natick and Punkapoag Native American cemeteries contained a Fulham stoneware jar that was crafted at the Magunkaquog site. When compared to the material recovered from Magunco Hill, the similarities are striking. Almost identical combed-slipware vessels were found in the Magunkaquog, Natick, and Punkapoag collections, indicating that they originated from a common source (John Eliot) who received assistance from English patrons in the form of such goods. It is believed that the Mohawk raid of 1678 destroyed a community that was then resettled after the war and imprisonment on Deer Island. Evidence suggests that this community had a structure resembling a "castle" and that Native cultural practices continued in the area up to 1749. Despite documents indicating that Harvard College purchased the greater Magunco lands in 1719, early eighteenth-century bottle glass found in the area suggests that Native use persisted even after Hopkinton was established. The archeological investigations conducted on Magunkaquog suggest that the villagers embraced new ideas and technologies while still maintaining their traditional way of life. The meeting house on Magunco Hill served as a hub for gathering, teaching, and sharing, making it a dynamic space during a transformative period in history. Despite the stated desire of many "Praying Indian" leaders to remain neutral in the conflict, many Nipmuck joined with Philip. The conflict had a long shadow, straining relations between English and Native peoples of southern New England beyond reconciliation. Yet it seems that the residents of Magunkaquog returned to their home after the war and continued to live in the area as more and more English colonists migrated to New England. The building on Magunco Hill bears witness to a long-standing indigenous presence and their cultural practices. Although the evidence suggests that Native Americans stopped using the site somewhere between 1730 and 1750, the history of the praying Indian communities did not end with the collapse of the building. You can learn more about the Nipmuck people and their history from the Nipmuck Nation Website