Have Leader-Skills, Will Travel.

PART ANative Massachusetts-Maine Connections: Samoset, and Squidrayset & Black-William.


We continue herein consideration of circulating-sakamos – leaders of or from one place, but active at or in another. Fluid voluntary societal organization allowed the Wabanaki peoples this very adaptive- advantageous status-&-role of mobile-manager. (Please see prior reports for organizational details.)

Let’s review the basic points of Wabanaki society (see MM-SS-1):

The various independent Wabanaki peoples all shared an extremely fluid societal organization & an equally fluid political alliance system. Each kinship-based community had voluntary open membership, gaining & losing individual persons & nuclear families, sometimes only temporarily. Intermarriage among communities & peoples gave virtually everyone some relatives elsewhere; families enjoyed frequent travel & intervisitation.

Their flexible social organization allowed the Wabanakis constantly to move & regroup their communities, both seasonally for pleasure & economic sustenance opportunities elsewhere, and whenever under threat from natural disaster or invasion. Adept sakamos married-out their children to form widespread personal political alliance networks among traditionally-compatible neighboring communities, including those of neighboring peoples, so that in times of trouble, friends & relatives were everywhere.

A fluid, voluntary, kinship-&-marriage-based group of persons delegated to a sakamo whom they respected the reponsibility but not the authority for their welfare. Only in warfare was authority an expected feature of Wabanaki leadership. Furthermore, each of the several Wabanaki peoples had several sakamos at any one time, not only at different levels, and not only in different places, but even in the same place – where they cooperated, a single village might have two or more sakamos – and allegiance to sakamos was voluntary, therefore changeable.

We know of several examples of circulating-sakamos from the 1600s & 1700s, but the most famous case of all (and the earliest case considered herein) – that of Samoset – is also little-understood. However, it can set the stage nicely here. Readers should be advised that many conclusions drawn in ethnohistorical analysis cannot be verified to satisfaction, the scant evidence making certainty impossible. Quotation herein of the very limited sources of information should exemplify the difficulties involved. Ethnological theory (based upon cross-cultural data) helps fill-in the gaps in historical documentation as the best way yet to proceed.


In December 1620 the “Pilgrims” landed at “Plymouth”, the abandoned Patuxet Indian coastal village in today’s southeastern Massachusetts. This began their miserable first winter in New England, throughout which the Pilgrims had no meaningful contact with the neighboring Indians – Pokanoket survivors of the devastating European-disease epidemic which had struck the coastal Natives c1617. Two eye-witness primary-sources then tell us that, come spring, came Samoset, & contacts galore.

“But about the 16th of March, a certain Indian came boldly amongst them [Pilgrims] and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand but marvelled at it. At length they understood by discourse with him, that he was not of these parts [Plymouth/Patuxet], but belonged to the eastern parts [Maine] where some English ships came to fish, with whom he was acquainted and could name sundry of them by their names, amongst whom he had got his language. He became profitable to them [Pilgrims] in acquainting them with many things…. His name was Samoset. He told them also of another Indian whose name was Squanto, a native of this place [Patuxet/Plymouth], who had been in England and could speak better English than himself…, and made way for the coming of their [Wampanoags’] great Sachem, called Massasoit.” — [Plymouth Colony Governor] William Bradford* Of Plymouth Plantation (1953 edition, pages 79-80).

“He [Samoset] said he was not of these parts [Plymouth/Patuxet], but of Morattiggon [presumably Monhegan Island, the landfall for Pemaquid, Maine], and one of the sagamores or lords thereof, and had been eight months in these parts [among Chief Massasoit’s Pokanoket Wampanoags, or perhaps a wider range]…” — Mourt’s Relation* (1963 edition, pages 50-52).

Modern scholars believe that Samoset’s residence was on the Pemaquid Neck area of Bristol Maine, and that his friendship with English fishing-boat captains nearby off Monhegan Island gave him easy ship-passage around the Gulf of Maine. Certainly in 1623-24 English entrepreneur Christopher Levett* implied that “Somerset” visited him repeatedly, in the area now Portland Maine, in company with other sakamos.

But Samoset’s spending “eight months” in 1620-21 among the Wampanoags clearly implies more than just a visit. I suggest that Samoset was at least serving an ambassadorial role, if not acting as an interim sakamo in a Wampanoag community bereft of leadership because of the epidemic (some term it a pandemic) of c1617. Samoset well may have had relatives among the Wampanoag, by descent or marriage or both.

While the pre-epidemic governance of the densely-populated southern New England Native communities might have been incompatible with Wabanaki-style fluid / open sakamoship, by 1620 the decimated & reorganized coastal groups there might have welcomed it – and Samoset (although he would have spoken at least a different dialect). And there is no reason to wonder if Samoset was among the Wampanoags as either a hostage or a war-captive at that time.

We may never know the details of Samoset’s stay (& about other puzzling-persons’ links) unless & until we maximize our analytical skills by teamwork-study of Native Massachusetts-Maine connections (“NaMa-MeCo” for short).


Elements for a potential informal “NaMa-MeCo” research team already exist, but independently. Three scholars of my acquaintance currently are studying different aspects of early-historic (even prehistoric) connections between Native peoples of today’s Massachusetts & Maine. These links often have been referred to, or flatly stated without details, by earlier researchers – including Fannie Hardy Eckstorm*, a major Maine ethnohistorian who died in 1946. New research is much needed, and from both ends of the “Ma-Me” links.

David Stewart-Smith started his study of the Merrimac-River-based Pennacook Confederacy with investigation of the vast kinship network created by paramount-sakamo Passaconaway’s strategic marrying-out of his children. Pennacook influence was stretched thereby to extend from the Mystic River in the Boston area to the Androscoggin River of Bath-Brunswick Maine, both inland & along the coast.

Emerson W Baker has made a comprehensive study of the early land-deeds sought by colonial Englishmen from local & regional sakamos. Baker’s findings about the deed-granting sakamos throughout southwestern Maine, combined with Stewart-Smith’s Pennacook kinship studies, lead me to insist upon hyphenating Abenaki-with-Pennacook in my own recent writings & to urge others to do likewise. (To me, “Abenaki-Pennacook” now seems as partnered in Colonial Northeast as “Anglo-Saxon” does in Dark-Ages Britain.)

Deborah Brush Wilson has reinterpreted the Damariscotta Maine Oyster-Shell Mounds (especially the giant Whaleback & Glidden Mounds) as ancient Native ceremonial sites, not trash-middens. In her studies she used & called attention to a far-too-ignored storehouse of Maine Indian oral-traditions, published in 1893 by Penobscot elder Joseph Nicolar*: The Life & Traditions of the Red Man. Nicolar relates that Natives from the Massachusetts area traditionally & regularly visited the Maine coast. Too often oral-traditions are not used by historiographers because they are “dateless” – yet herein we would be foolish not to heed Nicolar’s “NaMa-MeCo”message, if only to use it as reinforcement of a trend.

My own priority in “NaMa-MeCo” study is the need to learn more, from the Massachusetts end, about both an early sakamo of the Presumpscot River-mouth area and the man who was lynched because of supposed association with him. The little already known to me about these two persons is told below, and in the telling, readers can see the wheels of ethnohistorical research turning, slowly piecing together a collage of ethnological sense from miscellaneous historical scraps & tatters, which seldom contain enough stated details to achieve fullest certainty.


Let’s start this section with a quote from Fannie Hardy Eckstorm’s* Indian Place Names of…Maine… (1941, p 161):

“Scitterygusset. A creek near the mouth of the Presumpscot [River, in Falmouth ME].
The name is said to have been that of Squidrayset, a sachem of Lynn, Mass., who deeded land here [in Maine, in 1657 – see below]. It [the S-name] survives in many uncouth forms [spellings]…,varying from Squidraysit to Squethequinset….”

Alas, Eckstorm cites no source(s) for her statement that Squidrayset was “a sachem of Lynn, Mass.”, and no history book about the Lynn area that I have found mentions him. Furthermore, no conceivable spelling of the S-name that I have tried appears in the card-file of the Massachusetts Archives, to help us detail a “Ma-Me” link. So let’s now consider the very few already-known contexts for S-man in Maine.

In 1623-24, English entrepreneur Christopher Levett* both made and wrote-up (1624) A Voyage Into New England, particularly focusing on the area of today’s Portland Harbor. He visited the first-falls of the Presumpscot River, and stated: “Just at this fall of water the sagamore or king of that place hath a house” (1988 edition, p 43). Although Levett does not then name that chief, he later refers to “Skedraguscett” (p 49), and we may assume (as all modern scholars have assumed) that the waterfall-sagamore and Skedraguscett are one-&-the-same-person.

Levett’s account tells of frequent intervisitations among sakamos, and of their warm hospitality to him. Indeed, he seems to have got along very well with Wabanaki leaders, because he relates that he was adopted by several sakamos (collectively) as their “cousin” (p 44). Levett had to return to England on business in summer 1624, but he promised his new cousins that he would come back to Maine soon. Unfortunately, problems in England repeatedly prevented him from doing so, and thus Levett’s unique detailed reporting of his voyage & encounters with sakamos has no sequel.

Squidrayset’s next-known encounter with an Englishman was vastly different from adopting & adieuing Levett, but indications are that it was the newcomer’s fault, not the Native’s. Let’s let Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop’s* own account state all that I know about it.

“1631, October 22. The governor [Winthrop himself] received a letter from Capt Wiggin of Pascataquack [today’s Portsmouth NH], informing him of a murder committed the third of this month at Richman’s Isle [today’s Richmond Island, off Cape Elizabeth ME], by an Indian sagamore, called Squidrayset, and his company, upon one Walter Bagnall, called Great Watt, and one John P—, who kept with him. They, having killed them, burnt the house over them, and carried away their guns and what else they liked…. This Bagnall … was a wicked fellow, and had much wronged the Indians [by dishonest dealings in fur-trading].” — John Winthrop* Winthrop’s Journal (1908 edition, Volume 1: page 69).

“1633. About the beginning of this month of January the pinnaces [sailing vessels; sent out from Pascataquack], which went after the pirates [renegade Englishmen; totally unrelated to the Indian-Bagnall murders], returned, the cold being so great as they could not pursue them [the pirates]; but, in their return, they hanged up [lynched] at Richman’s Isle an Indian, one Black Will, one of those who had there murdered Walter Bagnall.” — John Winthrop* Winthrop’s Journal (1908 edition, Volume 1: page 98).

If this Black Will who was lynched by unsuccessful pirate-hunters at Richmond Island (ME) was the very same person as the Black William / Poquanum who was sakamo of Nahant (MA), it is odd that Governor Winthrop did not say so. Why odd? First because Boston-based Winthrop and William were almost neighbors, and second because Poquanum is known to have “sold” (= agreed to share? — or to vacate?) Nahant to Thomas Dexter in 1630 “for a suit of clothes & a jews’-harp”.

Nonetheless, modern scholars assume that Black Will and Black William probably were one-&-the-same-person, but they cannot explain for certain why William repeatedly would have been at Richmond Island in both 1631 and 1633. Fur-trading (earlier with Bagnall and later with his successors) is the simplest answer, but there might have been more to it than just that. Let’s consider a potential personal connection between William and Squidrayset.

Inasmuch as the peninsula of Nahant today is joined to coastal Lynn on Boston’s Northshore, Squidrayset, if he really had a Lynn connection, would have been an actual abutter of Poquanum. Furthermore, if so, these two sakamos probably would have been related by descent or marriage, and intervisitation among relatives would have brought the two men together often, especially at the same trading-post and in strong common-cause against a dishonest trader there.

Black Will’s lynching at Richmond Island in January 1633 alone would have been reason enough for Squidrayset and his band / village community to absent themselves for a while from the area of today’s Greater Portland – perhaps up the Presumpscot into the far reaches of the Lakes Region. However, there was another disaster to contend with soon after: the major smallpox epidemic of 1633-34 which ravaged the Natives of much of coastal New England, causing not only mortality but relocations & regroupings as well. The epidemic well may have kept Squidrayset & his community far away even longer than the lynching may have. That Sqidrayset really was away we can be just as certain as we can get.

John Winter was the trade-agent in residence at Richmond Island during the 1633-34 Indian epidemic.Two excerpts from his letters to Robert Trelawney*, his boss in England, provide some local details.

[April 1634] “The trading heare abouts with the Indians is not worth any thing, for heare is no Indian lives nearer unto us then 40 or 50 myles, except a few about the River of Salko…” – Trelawney Papers, p 461. [Note: Bridgton ME is 40 miles straight-line from Richmond Island off Cape Elizabeth ME]

[10 August 1634] “Theris a great many of the Indyans dead this yeere, both east and west from us, & a great many dyes still to the eastward from us.” — Trelawney Papers, p 47. [“us” = at Richmond Island]

Wherever he was in 1634, “Scitterygusett of Casco Bay Sagamore” on 27 July 1657 signed a deed with fisherman Francis Small of Casco Bay to (share? or abandon?) a very large tract of land on the Presumpscot River. Again, as in the case of Poquanum who “sold” Nahant 27 years before, we only can guess what the sakamo believed he was giving, or giving-up — this time for an annual coat to wear and gallon to drink. The yearly payment certainly seems more like rent or lease payments than an outright purchase.

Although “Scitterygusett’s deed”* is referred to repeatedly thereafter, I know of no later mention of S-man himself. Considering that he may have had a prior sakamoship in Massachusetts before he met Levett at Presumpscot first-falls in 1623, Squidrayset must have been born in the last quarter of the 1500s, and was approaching the fullness of years by 1657.

As the first “known” sakamo of the Presumpscot area, and therefore of the Sebago Lake drainage valley, Squidrayset has a top priority in my own research. Learning his fullest-possible identity is a goal for me, starting with the question of whether he also had another, wholly-different, name — in either Maine or Massachusetts.. The “NaMa-MeCo” trail may seem cold, but hopefully it is not beyond recall eventually.


To conclude this Part A of Mawooshen Memos Sakamo Series item 3 (MM-SS-3A), and to look ahead to Part B (3B), it seems appropriate to mention a later tragic failure of the theoretical link between English Massachusetts and Maine, which occurred after the Massachusetts Colony’s governmental takeover of the Province / District of Maine in the last half of the 1600s, and long before Maine became an independent State in 1820.

Wabanaki Chief Polin determined that “Skitterygusett’s deed” had not taken away Native fishing rights on the Presumpscot River, but that nonetheless the colonists’ dams had stopped the seasonal fish-runs. So Polin went to Boston in August 1739, and actually convinced the Governor & Council to decree that fish-ways be built into the Presumpscot River dams. “The System” had worked, for once, in favor of the Indians! Yet back on the Maine frontier, Boston’s decree was ignored with impunity. The government was unable or unwilling to enforce the decree that Polin patiently had obtained. Understandably, in frustration, Polin then took to the warpath, and in 1756 lost his life for the Native cause, in a raid on what is today’s Windham ME, on the Presumpscot.

More about Polin, and accounts of other circulating-sakamos of the 1700s, will be the subjects of Part B.

Although it depicts a rather pompous sakamo, the following passage (written by an Englishman residing in coastal Pennacook country in the early 1630s) is too vivid to ignore. It appears internally in Chapter 5 (titled Of Their Apparel, Ornaments, Paintings, & Other Artificial Deckings) of William Wood’s (1635) NEW ENGLAND’S PROSPECT*. It well exemplifies the genre of biased antique Euramerican accounts from which ethnohistorical anthropology must seek data about Frontier-Encounter-Era Native Americans.

“xxx But a sagamore with a humbird in his ear for a pendant, a black hawk on his occiput for his plume, mowhacheis for his gold chain, good store of wampompeag begirting his loins, his bow in his hand, his quiver at his back, with six naked Indian spatterlashes** at his heels for his guard, thinks himself little inferior to the great Cham. He will not stick to say he is all one with King Charles. He thinks he can blow down castles with his breath and conquer kingdoms with his conceit xxx”

The logo shown at the right and used here for this Sakamo Series of Mawooshen Memos is a silhouette of a 19th-century drawing (probably based on Wood’s 1630s statement, just quoted) supposedly depicting 17th-century Pennacook paramount-sakamo Passaconaway.

*NEW ENGLAND’S PROSPECT. William Wood [1635, 2nd Ed]. Edited by Alden T Vaughan (1977). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press [1993, 1st Paperback Ed]. Pages 84-85.

** “A variant of ‘spatterdash’—a kind of legging worn to protect trousers from spatter. Here used figuratively.”—p 85 of Vaughan (1977).


  • BRADFORD, William. Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. A New Edition, the Complete Text, with Notes & an Introduction by Samuel Eliot Morison. 1953 NY: Alfred A Knopf.
  • ECKSTORM, Fannie Hardy. Indian Place-Names of the Penobscot Valley & the Maine Coast. University of Maine Studies, 2nd Series, No 55, Nov 1941. Reprinted 1960, Orono ME: University Press.
  • LEVETT, Christopher. A Voyage Into New England, Begun in 1623 & Ended in 1624. Pages 33-68 of Maine in the Age of Discovery — with Notes & an Introduction by Roger Howells Jr. 1988 Portland: Maine Historical Society.
  • MOURT’S RELATION, A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Edited with an Introduction & Notes by Dwight B Heath from the Original Text of 1622. 1963 Bedford MA: Applewood Books. [NOTE: Some scholars attribute joint-authorship of Mourt’s Relation to William Bradford and Edward Winslow.]
  • NICOLAR, Joseph. The Life and Traditions of the Red Man. 1893 Bangor ME: C H Glass, Printers.Reprinted, with a New Introduction by James D Wherry, 1979 Fredericton NB: Saint Annes Point Press.
  • SCITTERYGUSETT’S DEED TO FRANCIS SMALL. Casco Bay, 27 July 1657. Part I, Folio 83, in Book I of York Deeds. 1887 Portland ME: John T Hull.
  • TRELAWNY PAPERS. Edited by James Phinney Baxter. 1884 Volume III of Documentary History of the State of Maine. Portland: Maine Historical Society.
  • WINTHROP, John. Winthrop’s Journal, The History of New England 1630-1649. Edited by James Kendall Hosmer. 1908 2 Volumes NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Reprinted 1966 NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc. (In the Original Narratives of Early American History Series, General Editor J Franklin Jameson).