A History of Tahattawan

Chief of the Nashoba Indians

Rev. John Henry Wilson
First Chaplain of Tahattawan Lodge A. F. & A. M.
Littleton, Massachusetts

Web Editor's Note:

In studying works of history, it is often necessary to consider not only the historical context of the subject, but the historical context of the work's author as well.

There were two Tahattawans in the year 1646 when John Eliot, Apostle to the Indians commenced his work of Chritianizing the Savages at Nonantum which is now Newton, Mass. Old Tahattawan the father, was chief of the Nashoba Indians. Nashoba meaning "Between Two Ponds" in the Indian Language, situated between Lake Nagog and Long Pond in what is now Littleton. Old Tahattawan was an heroic figure among the Indians. He could remember when there were no white people in Massachusetts. He could remember when first Blaxton came to settle at Trimount on the Bay, now known as Boston. He remembered the great plague of 1618 when all the Indians of the cape had been destroyed by disease, 'till between the tip of Cape Cod and the Piscattaquis River not an Indian village remained and in 1646 his little tribe of some fifty or sixty was the furthest east of any. Old Tahattawan had daughters in 1646. One, the elder, was Tassansquaw, and her, he had given in marraige to the young warrior Chief Waban, the steadiest and most reliable of all the Chieftains in the East, and it was Waban who became the first convert of the Reverand John Eliot to Christianity. The other daughter was unmarried, but in great demand. Beautiful, young and for an Indian, accomplished. And there was also his only son, the young Tahattawan.

Young Tahattawan was "light", so the historians tell us, in his youth, a merry, happy go lucky lad, not yet in the habit of taking life seriously but he was early married to the more solid daughter of the great sachem Wamesit and that helped to steady him. The English called her Sarah. His young sister, the pretty one, they called Rebeckah, though her real name was Naanasquaw.

In 1645 the Nashoba Indians applied to be made a Town, but the English, presumptuously claiming the whole land, declined to allow of it. Then Waban, the newly made Christian, intimated to his father-in-law that the English might well be afraid of an Indian Town, a collecting place where thousands of wild savages might easty assemble and grow in strength and old Tahattawan saw the point, yet he knew also that the only way the Indians could hope to survive would be to keep together. Scattered they could easily be defeated and depleted. Together they might learn the white man's superior culture and stand a fairer chance beside his greater intelligence and knowledge. His whole tribe, small as it was, did not agree with him. In vain he wasted his eloquence on them. He said to them "What have you gained while you lived under the power of the highest sachems, after the Indian fashion? They only sought to get what they could from you and exacted at their pleasure your kettles, your skins and your wampum; but the English, you see, do no such things; they only seek your welfare and instead of taking from you they give to you, "

Poor credulous Tahattawan. He believed it and he kept at them 'till he gained some converts to his way of thinking. His only ambition in his life was to save his people from the fate that was bound, sooner or later, to engulf the primitive American Indian.

He took council with his son in law, Waban. He advised the old man to become Christian. Surely the white men would not fear Christian neighbors whatever the color of their skin. So he listened carefully to the Apostle Eliot and sought out the teaching of Chnst and found it beyond words wonderful and beautiful. He became a Christian, not in words only, but in deed and he went back to the Nashobas and taught them. His son smiled and went a hunting. But his young daughter, whom he rechristened, Rebekah, on her conversion, fell in love with the message of Christ and the youth who came to teach the word. The first Christian Minister, an Indian named Naaniskcow and who, when he had become Christian, had himself [named] John Thomas. It was a love match on both sides and the old Tahattawan gave them his blessing. It was a wide departure from custom for him. He was the son of a chief, his wife had been a chiefs daughter. He had married his daughter to the son of a chief and his son to the daughter of a chief, and young John Thomas was, though a steady, sober and pious youth, only the son of a common everyday Indian, who was murdered by the Maquas, a hostile tribe, while fishing for eels at his weare. But John Thomas and his father were both Christians and the young man was serious and conscientious in his efforts to teach the Nashoba Indians.

It was in 1651 that the Natick Grant allowed to the Christian Praying Indians at Natick and this Government was planned according to advice of Jethro to Moses in the Old Testament to make them rulers of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, a sort of regimental military type of rule. The Indians at Nagog did not follow this detail out, as they were not even a hundred in number and they had a good chief.

However, somewhere early in the sixteen fiffies, or thereabouts, old Tahattawan was gathered into Abrahams bosom and left his son to take his place, who, to the wonder of the white men, upon assuming the authority, assumed all the digruty and strength of character of his father. With the constant friendship and devotion of his brother-in-law, John Thomas, he, now being known as John Tahattawan, ( his name, like his father's spelt a dozen different ways by the English) wisely and efficiently governed his people in the country of the Nashobas. between Nagog and Long Pond.

In 1654 John Eliot, the apostle, himself took a hand and petitioned the government of Massachusetts for the Nashoba Indians and this time with such success that for the 6th time he was able to report the establishment of a new town of Christian Indians. If all men had been of his type, the Indian problem in our land might have had a different history.

In 1660 John Tahattawan and John Thomas, his brother-in-law, the teacher and minister, were signers of an agreement with the town of Concord known as Concord's second grant.

By that time the little Indian Town of Nashoba was well known in Massacusetts. A contemporary writer described it at that time as follows:

"In this village, as well as in the other old Indian plantations, they have orchards of apples whereof they make cider, which some of them have not the wisdom and grace to use for their comfort, but are prone to abuse into drunkeness, and although the laws be strict to supress this sin, and some of their rulers are very careful and zealous in the execution of them, yet such is the madness and folly of man naturally, that he doth eagerly pursue after that which tendeth to his own destruction,"

The young Tahattawan, John, did not live long. He concientiously did what he could as Chieflan or Sachem for the fifteen years or so he held that office and with his brother-in-law, held the morals if the Indians high, as compared with others. Drunkeness and theft were comparatively slight among the Nashoba Indians, who, owing to Tahattawan and his wonderful family, became described by a visitor of that time, as sober. industrious and honest.

At the death of John Tahattawan before 1670, Pennekennit, or Pennahannit became chief. I do not know his relationship to Tahattawan. Young Tahattawan died leaving a daghter, Sarah, a widow named Sarah and a young son, a child, the last of the Tahattawans who was killed at the age of twelve, November 15, 1675 at Wamesit, near Lowell, when a party of fourteen white men armed with muskets, from Chelmsford, went to the Indian Camp and wantonly fired upon them in retaliation for the burning of a barn of which the Indians were suspected. Five women and children were wounded, among whom was the boys mother, Sarah then a widow for the second time, having had as her Second husband Oonamog, ruler of the praying Indians at Marlborough.

This happened the first year of the King Phillips War, which was also the last year of the residence of the Nashoba Indians at Nagog. And the King Philips War has nothing to do with the story of the Tahattawans. They never lived to see it. Old Tahattawan left three grandsons by his two daughters, the wife of Waban, and the wife of John Thomas. Of these three grandsons little is related of moment, except of one, Thomas Waban of Natick, son of Waban. Of the father, a contemporary historian wrote in 1674 He is a person of great Prudence and piety. I do not know any Indian that excells him. He was living in 1684 but died at Natick the following summer. Waban's son, Thomas Waban of Natick, signed in 1714, a deed to the heirs of Col. Peter Bulkeley and Major Thomas Hinchman of half of Nashoba Plantation. The two other heirs of Tahattawan who signed were John Thomas, and John Thomas, Jr. grandson of the old Tahattawan, both then of Natick. The town records of Natick were written at one time by Thomas Waban in the Indian Language and he was also Justice of the Peace in that town.

Such is the story if the Tahattawans, father and son. The King Phillips War scattered the Nashoba Indians far and wide and the tale of their dispersion is a tragedy. The last of the tribe, a humble squaw named Sarah Doublett was allowed 500 acres in 1714, which land was called the Indian New Town or Indian Farm, now called New town. But she remained there all alone until 1734, when, as the only heir, old and blind, she petititoned to sell it to pay her maintenance and it was granted for that purpose to Elnathan and Ephraim Jones of whom the latter sold it to a man named Tenney.

Tahattawan, in his day, put up a great struggle for the preservation of that part of his race which was comnitted to him. He was one of the truly remarkable heroes of his time and people. His heart was set upon leading his, people to a higher religious and social and cultural sphere. He failed because of circumstances beyond his control, but even in failure it might be said of him, and inscribed as his epitaph, as gloriously as of any Christian Martyr that ever lived.

" I have fought the good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith."

Back to Tahattawan Lodge