Nipmuck History


"New England" was first settled about 12,000 years ago by Paleo Indians. Coming from the southwest these people traveled and camped in family groups hunting the animals that inhabited the subarctic environment. The distinctive tool of these first people was the fluted spear point. Together with other cultural groups who came later, these settlers became the Algonquian family of nations which includes the Nipmuck tribes.

Throughout the Archaic Period from 7,000 B.C. to 500 B.C. the climate gradually warmed. New plants and animals appeared reflecting changes in human culture and lifestyle. The people began to visit certain territories on a systematic basis, ate a wide variety of plants and animals, developed an advanced herbal pharmacology and built houses framed of stout deciduous saplings covered with skins, bark and woven mats. About 3,800 years ago the Nipmucks were producing stone bowls, making bark, wooden and woven containers and employed a writing system, or syllabary, to leave inscriptions on bark and boulders. Ceremonial stone sweat lodges (pesu-poncks) were used for purification rituals and many of these ancient chambers can still be found at the sites of Nipmuck villages.

The introduction of pottery some 2500 years ago signaled the Woodland Period which lasted until 1492. Major towns and villages were established along the waterways and trails. Chaubunagungamaug territory was at the hub of major paths to all parts of the northeast.

The three sisters, corn, beans and squash, were introduced, the bow and arrows supplemented the use of spears and a spiritually centered lifestyle harmoniously integrated the people, animals, elements and environment into a balanced ecosystem which the European colonists failed to recognize or respect.

Tales of white traders and fisherman brought mixed emotions to the inland villagers. At first the Nipmuck tribes hoped that the presence of the foreigners would deter the Iroquoian invaders who were late-comers to the northeast and often made war against the indigenous nations, taking captives and demanding periodic tribute. Instead, the Nipmucks were caught between the fat and the fire.

As early as 1630 there is a record of a Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck known as Acouittamaug walking to Boston with his elderly father carrying a bushel and a half of corn to the starving settlers there. Just a few years later the grateful colonists were collecting bounties on the scalps of Nipmuck men, women and children.

Although scalping took its toll on the Nipmuck population, epidemic outbreaks of smallpox and other diseases claimed the lives of up to 95% of the people in many villages.

During "King Philip's War" large numbers of Nipmuck patriots fought and died in an effort to preserve their homeland and their culture. Without exception, Nipmuck sachems of virtually every clan were either shot or hanged before the sad conclusion of this heroic attempt to stem the tide of European colonization.

In spite of the tragic events of the last 350 years the Nipmuck people have escaped extinction. Through the dedicated leadership of Chief Wise Owl, Chief Spotted Eagle and Clan Mother Loving One, over 500 Nipmuck Indians are officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and are currently seeking federal status through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, United States Government.

The Chaubunagungamaug Clan regularly holds traditional Nipmuck ceremonies on its Connecticut reservation and hosts inter-tribal socials allowing all Native Americans of the area to maintain their indigenous identity and cultural heritage. The Clan has developed educational and cultural enrichment programs to share with their non-Indian friends and neighbors. Successful efforts have been initiated to reclaim disinterred remains for proper traditional burial on Indian land and legislation has been enacted to protect Indian Burial grounds from further desecration in the future.

Preserving the past is impossible. Each generation has built upon the foundations laid by its elders. Those who have gone before are still a part of us, and through us they will impart the wisdom, history, philosophy and spirituality that is the Nipmuck people to our children.

Our culture has never been static. Like the turtle who symbolizes the Nipmuck Nation we have survived by adapting to a changing world. Some of these legends date back to a time when our territory was very different in climate, landscape, wild-life and ethnologic make-up than it is today. Some were brought in accompanying gifts from other areas and some obviously developed around personalities and land-marks of local origin. These are more than stories and folk-tales of a primitive people - they are the vehicles which transport our Nipmuck identity from one generation to the next. May this precious heritage be passed on for yet another seven generations!