Contact Period (1500–1620)
The first documented accounts of Native and non-Native interactions along the shores and harbors of Old Dartmouth (the original territory from which Westport was subdivided) indicate that these areas were inhabited by Native American groups affiliated with the Wampanoag tribe (Denison 1879; Ellis 1892; Howland 1907). The MHC (1982) notes a large Contact Period regional core extending from Buzzard’s Bay to Narragansett Bay, and native population concentrations along the Acushnet, Paskamansett, and Westport rivers.
In 1602, Englishman Bartholomew Gosnold reportedly landed at Gooseberry Neck in Westport and Round Hill in Dartmouth, where he encountered natives bearing gifts of “skins of wild beasts, tobacco, sassafras root, turtles, hemp, artificial strings colored (wampum) and such like things” (Ellis 1892:18; Hurd 1883). John Winthrop reported that the Native Americans living in the Old Dartmouth area were known by the name “Nukkehkammes” (Glennon 2001).
Both branches of the Westport River were likely occupied by the Acoaxset (Acoaxet) Native American group and intensively exploited for their diverse riverine and marine resource base, potential planting grounds, and land and water transportation routes. Among the primary overland native trails was the Old Rhode Island Way, a major transportation corridor linking Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island. The route passed through the Head of Westport along Old County Road and Route 177 (Worth 1908:10). A north-south trail network may have existed along Davis, Gifford, and Drift roads to Westport Harbor; and trails paralleling the West Branch along present-day Old Harbor and Cornell roads have also been conjectured (MHC 1981a). These Native trails, in addition to water routes, would have provided access between coastal resources and interior areas several miles to the north.