Wetamoo (c. 1650–1676)
Wetamoo (c. 1650–1676)
Sunksquaw of the Pocassets . Name variations: Namumpam; Tatatanum; Tatapanum; Weetammo; Wetamou; Wetamoe; Weetamore; Queen Wetamoo; Squaw Sachem of the Pocasset. Born around 1650 on tribal lands of the Pocassets (now parts of Tiverton, Rhode Island, and Fall River, Massachusetts); daughter of a Wampanoag Federation sachem, Chief Corbitant of the Pocasset tribe; mother unknown; married Winnepurket, sachem of Saugus (died); married Wamsutta, also known as Alexander (died 1662), grand sachem of the Wampanoag Federation and brother to Metacom (King Philip); married Quequequamanchet (Ben); married Quinnapin (d. 1676); children: (with Wamsutta) one son (after he was taken hostage with Wamsutta, no record exists of his life).
Though the word queen is used incorrectly in reference to the Wampanoag Federation female head of state, it is clear why British colonists applied it to Wetamoo. She inherited her position, properly called Sunksquaw, from her father Corbitant, one of the most powerful sachems (chiefs) in the Wampanoag Federation.
Though Wetamoo probably only lived to be about 26, she experienced a life filled with adversity and contradictions. Of her several marriages (the first was to the sachem Winnepurket who died of disease), the most notable was that to Wamsutta (also known as Alexander) who was brother to Metacom. As the eldest son, Wamsutta succeeded his father as sachem of the Wampanoag tribe. He died in 1662 apparently from illness, but, at a time in early American history of great conflict between Indian tribes and the English, some Indians believed he had been poisoned. Succeeding Wamsutta as sachem, Metacom (also known as King Philip) intended to drive out the English settlers who were overwhelming his land. Siding with Metacom, Wetamoo was an Algonquin leader in the ensuing King Philip's War (1675–76), which, notes Douglas Edward Leach, was "one of the most serious Indian wars in all of American history…. Although the Indian uprising had been unsuccessful, it had tremendous repercussions. Fifty-two of the 90 Puritan towns had been attacked, and 12 of these had been destroyed. Far worse damage was done to the Indian villages. As many as 1,000 colonists died from direct action; the Indian number is not known. Whole tribes practically ceased to exist."
After the death of Wamsutta, Wetamoo married Quequequamanchet but left her new husband when he sided with the colonists at the beginning of the war. Her next husband Quinnapin was a Narraganset, and during the war they capturedMary Rowlandson , an English-woman held captive by the Narragansetts. Rowlandson seems to have worked for Wetamoo and provided the following description: "Wetamore, of whom I lived [with] and served all this while [was] a severe and proud dame … dressing herself near as much as any gentry in the land." Wetamoo's husband Quinnapin was a leading warrior in the infamous "Swamp Fight," where he was captured by the English and put to death. After he was killed, the Indian wars raged on.
Though we know little else about Wetamoo, we know that she was a valiant, proud warrior who continued to lead her people into battle. But by August 1676, the whites seemed to be gaining the upper hand. Supposedly, an Indian traitor revealed the location of Wetamoo's camp, leading to the capture of dozens of her warriors. Though Wetamoo escaped down river, her raft collapsed, and she drowned. When the soldiers found the body, she was beheaded. As was the English custom, Wetamoo's head was displayed on a pole.
Though ultimately unsuccessful, King Philip's War had far-reaching repercussions in New England. Notes Leach: "[E]ven though New Englanders had won and their land claims were now secure, the line of frontier settlements would not achieve their pre-1675 limits until 1720. Although the New Englanders survived the most severe test of English survival in colonial history, New England's development was set back by decades."
Bataille, Gretchen, ed. Native American Women. NY: Garland, 1993.
Leach, Douglas Edward. "Metacom," in Historic World Leaders. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1994.
Travers, Milton A. The Wampanoag Indian Federation of the Algonquin Nation: Indian Neighbors of the Pilgrims. Boston, MA: Christopher, 1950.
Deborah Jones , Studio City, California