Native Americans

The Dartmouth area—in fact, all of southeastern Massachusetts, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and parts of Rhode Island—was the traditional home of the Wampanoag Indians, known as “Eastern People” or “People of the First Light.” The ranks of the Wampanoags and other local tribes were diminished following King Philip’s War, which pitted the followers of the Wampanoag leader Metacom, or “King Philip,” against the colonists. (Per capita, more lives were lost during this conflict than in any subsequent American war.) As indicated in the first research report, the home of Elizabeth’s great- grandparents, John and Sarah Warren Cooke, was used as a garrison house during the conflict, putting the couple on the front lines of battle; in fact, their neighbors Jacob Mitchell and Thomas Pope and their (unnamed) wives were killed by Indians while on their way to seek refuge there. The site of the garrison house, in present-day Fairhaven on the north side of Coggeshall Street, is commemorated with a stone marker, and according to an early twentieth-century paper written for the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, “various arrowheads, spoons, and cooking utensils” dug up from the site of the garrison were being preserved by the society as of 1904 (a search of the ODHS/New Bedford Whaling Museum’s collections did not reveal these items) (Schultz and Tougias, 116–17; George H Tripp, “The Town of Fairhaven in Four Wars,” Old Dartmouth Historical Sketch no. 5 (June 27, 1904), 9 quoted in ibid) .

Although numerous Natives were killed during the war, or were later sold into slavery or left the area, many remained, as local histories and the Dartmouth vital records bear witness. For the 1760s alone, for example, the vital records list the marriages between the Indians Job Prince and Deborah Ephraim (1763); Amos and Beck Hinckley (1764); Ichabod Prince and Elisabeth Nuncksew/No[u]nsh[a]w (1764); Abner Elisha and Hope Leveston (1766); and Patience Prince and Joseph Towanah (1768); among others. It is unclear how these people of Native descent interacted with whites, but, as noted above, like local blacks, they likely held a marginal status, particularly since some were held as slaves. Many Natives ended up taking English names and converting to Christianity, outwardly adapting to English society, while still preserving elements of their traditional culture (Schultz and Tougias, 75; Daniel Mandell quoted in same). One significant change, however, as historian Yasuhide Kawashima writes, was the erosion of female sachems’ power. As the colonists’ “male-dominated society prevailed,“ both male and female sachems’ “autonomous power declined … and women’s opportunities for political leadership considerably diminished” (15).

As the archaeological survey prepared for the town of Westport in 2004 states,“Eighteenth and nineteenth-century Native American settlement and land use patterns in Westport are not well known, but it is likely that homesteads were established in outlying sections of town that were not immediately claimed by white settlers. The presence of unmarked gravestones and small, partially undefined burial grounds attributed to Native Americans suggest that family and/or extended kin groups may have been living in proximity to these areas” (60). The survey reports that at least three cemeteries located in town are known locally as Indian burial sites, along with two additional Native cemeteries identified by Eleanor Tripp, one of which may contain gravestones with pictographs. This survey, which includes many details about the Native presence in Westport/Dartmouth, also references a petition to the Massachusetts legislature filed in 1859 by Indian residents requesting that large tracts of their lands in Westport  and  Dartmouth—then owned  by local  whites  who did  not  have  clear  title—be returned. The petition included testimony of elderly Native people who lent support  for this claim with specific information about these former settlements, however, the request was ultimately denied (59–60). This document, like the 1708 petition of the Quakers and Baptists and the 1780 petition filed by Paul and John Cuffee, are an important reflection of larger contemporary issues that provide insight into this specific time and place.