Maspenock in Ancient Times

Previous to European settlement, Lake Maspenock was a small body of water in the middle of the wilderness. It was oval in shape with a large peninsula extending from the eastern shoreline. Illustration of original Maspenock Pond
Illustration of original Maspenock Pond
For many centuries before white men arrived, the area around Maspenock was inhabited seasonally by many generations of Nipmuck people. There is no written historical record or archeological evidence of any permanent Nipmuck villages on Maspenock but the indigenous people of the area would have most certainly been drawn to the pond and its streams and tributaries. The English referred to the Nipmuck as "freshwater people" because that is where they tended to find them. The Nipmuck lived in shelters called Wetus, a type of bark skin teepee which was easily moved to other encampments as the season dictated. Often thought of as wanderers, they were instead careful planners and good stewards of the land upon which they lived. So much so, that it is very difficult for us modern people to find traces of them today. Image of a Nipmuck wetus
Wetu-Nipmuck Camp - John Kelley YouTube
The word"Maspenock" comes from the Nipmuck dialect of Eastern Algonquin and was first mentioned as a boundary mark in a 1691 deed for the purchase of additional land from the Nipmuck by the proprietors of the settlement of Mendon Massachusetts. This additional three square miles was purchased for three pounds of silver and became known as the "North Purchase", as it was north of the original laying-out of Mendon. The cart path leading to the area became today's Purchase Street. The first and most thorough research on the interpretation of the name Maspenock was done by historian Rev. Adin Ballou, who wrote the book, History of the town of Milford, Worcester county, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1881. "Having some curiosity to ascertain its original signification, I carefully examined the Indian vocabularies, reprinted from ancient editions for preservation. One of these was made by Roger Williams, with reference to the language of the Narragansett and kindred tribes; the other by Josiah Cotton, chiefly with reference to the Nipmuck language, into which the great Indian apostle, Eliot, translated the Bible". "If I have interpreted the Indian etymology correctly, Maspenock literally means choice fishing -place, or excellent fish-pond: from namas, fish, or relating to fish ; pepnam, to choose ; and ohke (pronounced literally, ooke, avg. auke, ock. uck, etc.), which signifies earth, land, ground, place, or some substantial object belonging to the earth." "Thus I deduce Maspenock, to mean choice or excellent fishing-place." Deadly epidemics resulting from encounters with the early white explorers ravaged the Nipmuck population and left many villages empty. Later, when the English began to settle this area, they took the empty villages and abandoned cornfields as a sign from their God that they were meant to supplant the Nipmuck as the rightful inhabitants of the land. It is important to note that the land purchases by the English colonists from Native American tribes were often fraught with conflict and controversy. Many Native American tribes resisted the colonization of their lands and resisted attempts by the colonists to purchase their lands. The land purchases that did take place were often marked by coercion, deception, and exploitation, and many Native American tribes lost their lands as a result. It is also worth noting that the concept of land ownership and land sales was often very different for Native American tribes than it was for the English colonists. For many Native American tribes, land was not seen as a commodity to be bought and sold, but rather as a shared resource that belonged to the community as a whole. The sale of land to the English colonists was often a result of the unequal power dynamic between the two groups, and many Native American tribes were forced to cede their lands under duress. Overall, the history of land purchases by English colonists from Native American tribes in Massachusetts and throughout the United States is complex and often tragic, and it is important to remember and acknowledge the ongoing impact of these events on Native American communities. On July 14, 1675, violence in "King Phillip's War' took place in Mendon, with the deaths of multiple residents and the destruction of Albee's mill. The remaining English families fled back to the safety of Braintree and Weymouth only returning in 1676 after the death of King Philip. It is these brave people that first cleared the land and settled the Lake Maspenock area. You can learn more about the Nipmuck people and their history from the Nipmuck Nation Website