Waban, the Wind



(In the preparation of this paper, use was made of notes furnished through the kindness of Mr. Frederick T. Hackley ;assembled by Mr. T. H. Von Kamecke from data on Indian Sachems and Sagamores of the Nonantum tribe from the records of the Massachusetts Antiquarian Society, the State Records and the records of Major Daniel Gookin. Assistance was also rendered by Miss Mabel Parmenter of the South Natick Historical Society. Various other sources were also employed.)


[The following article about Chief Waban and the Nonantum Indians seems to be reasonably well-researched. Rev. John Eliot set about Christianizing them in the 1640's, and their willingness to cooperate with the English colonists ensured their survival. Other local tribes were not so fortunate. After the uprisings in the 1670's, the captured "savages" were incarcerated on outlying islands in Boston harbor, where many simply perished. Waban and the "praying Indians," on the other hand, were re-located in Natick, which functioned as a kind of early reservation.

Massachusetts Indians still gather each year in Natick: take a look for example at this interesting website http://www.millermicro.com/natprayind.html.  And read more about the history of the Nonantum Indians in Natick at http://www.natickhistory.com/history.html.

As far as I can discover, this process of ethnic cleansing was more or less completed with Waban's departure. There don't seem to be any more Indians left in Newton after 1681, and it was left to the railroad executives to name our town "Waban" in 1886. — Jim Mitchell]

Because the hill north of Fenwick Road was his favorite hunting ground, and to perpetuate the memory of his exemplary character, the name of an American Indian was chosen as the name of this community when the branch railroad was constructed through this locality. Waban, meaning "The Wind" or "The Spirit" in his Indian language, was born in 1604, a Nipnet of the Algonquin Indians. His birthplace was probably the old Indian village of Musketaquid, now called Concord, Massachusetts. There he lived his early life near Nashawtuck, which is now called Lee's Hill. He was not born a chief, but soon became a respected leader because of his great intelligence, wisdom and the power of his oratory. Waban was a very gifted man.

In his young manhood he married Tasunsquam, the eldest daughter of Tahaltawan who was Sachem (Indian Chief; pronounced say'-kem) of Musketaquid, and Waban became Sagamore (lesser chief) of this Assabet tribe. He spoke the Mahican (pronounced Ma-hee'-can) dialect. This was the language of all Indians who lived in New England, the Algonquin Indians. Groups of his tribe often journeyed to the ocean, which they reached at the old stone dam near Water-town Square, and camped on the neighboring hills where the mosquitoes were not so many. Here the water of the river became salt, and great quantities of fish were easily taken. Salt flats extended on either side of the channel yielding abundantly all kinds of shellfish. The name of the river was Quinobequin, meaning circular. The explorer, Captain John Smith, renamed it the Charles in honor of the young son of King James.

Before the Puritans came to the mouth of this river, exploring and fishing vessels sometimes sailed in to obtain water, tobacco, food and furs from the Indians in exchange for metal tools, liquor and trinkets. At that time the only white man living on the promontory of Boston, then called Shawmut, was a hermit named William Blaxton (Blaxtun or Black-stone), self-styled Clerk of Shawmut. He had been educated for the ministry and had a good library in his house, not far from the location of the present State House. It was one of Blaxton's customs to visit the many Indian tribes throughout New England, and in this way he met and formed a warm friendship with young Waban. Probably Waban acquired a considerable knowledge of the English language and ideas during his early association with Blaxton, causing him to establish most of his tribe in Newton.

In 1630 Governor John Winthrop came to Massachusetts (meaning "Place of Many Hills," referring to the Blue Hills) with his charter and Puritan colonists. The Rev. John Eliot came in 1631 as a substitute for the Rev. Mr. Wilson in Boston, and the following year became the minister of the church at Roxbury. He had received his degree at Jesus College of Cambridge, England, in 1622 when he was eighteen years old, and had subsequently become a Nonconformist so that he could not preach in England. In 1643 Eliot began to learn the language of the Indians, and with the end in view of preaching the Gospel to them in their own language, it became his custom to travel with Major Daniel Gookin, Commissioner to the Indians, on his visits to the tribes within New England. Thus while Gookin, who was then in his early thirties, attended to the civil claims of the Indians, Eliot taught them English and made good progress in learning their language.

On a visit to Waban's wigwam on a hill in Newton a little west of Oak Square, Brighton, early in his ministry, Eliot found this sagamore to be extremely intelligent and thought that Waban, with his knowledge of English, would be a very valuable man in the Indian country. Eliot spoke of this to Gookin who shared his opinion and made Waban in 1632 the Governor of all the Indian tribes from about where Dover, New Hampshire, is to Mt. Hope in Rhode Island and west to the Connecticut River. Waban was then aged twenty-eight. In that year Governor Winthrop and others made an excursion up the Charles River with Waban.

Waban was the first Indian to be converted to Christianity by Eliot. This occurred in 1646. In the same year, on October 28th, Eliot preached his first sermon in the Indian language to the Indians in Waban's large wigwam on the southeast slope of the hill in Newton. After the sermon, which took up one and a quarter hours of the three hour conference, the Indians declared they understood it all, and Eliot distributed apples and biscuits to the children and tobacco to the men. Tahaltawan and his sannaps (braves) had come from Concord to hear Eliot. Questions of the Indians were answered by Eliot with the help of Job Netsutan, a Long Island Mohigan Indian interpreter.

Eliot's text at that first meeting was "Prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (Ezekiel 37:9)- Eliot explained the Commandments and asked if they understood; they said "Yes." There was a time for questions; the Indians asked how to get to know Christ and if God could understand prayers made in the Indian language. Eliot said that God made us all and to illustrate, said, "There is a basket. It is made of white and black straws and many other things which I do not know; but the man that made it knows; he knows all that is in it." The Indians also asked why God did not make all men good and why sea water is salt and river water fresh. (John Eliot must have needed much mental agility that day!) A drunken Indian in the assemblage asked, "Who made sack?" But the other Indians silenced him and told him that that was "a papoose question." At the close of that long, long meeting, the Indians were asked if they were tired, but said "No," and asked to hear more.

Two weeks later there was a second meeting, lasting all the afternoon. Some of the Indians cried; Waban and many of his men were so stirred that they were unable to sleep that night long ago in Nonantum. After the third meeting, Waban himself arose and began to eloquently instruct his people. Once Waban took four little boys, aged from four to nine years old, to call at John Eliot's house and asked that they be taught; so earnest was he to convey his new teaching to his people, young and old.
This Indian settlement and the surrounding vicinity Waban called Nonantum or Noonatomen, meaning "Place of Rejoicing." Waban became a missionary in earnest and his tribe, living a sober and industrious existence, became the first community of Christian Indians in North America.

Eliot continued to preach regularly at Nonantum with the help of Waban and some white missionaries. Governor Winthrop, Lieutenant Governor Dudley and many of the magistrates with Commissioner Gookin assembled at these Sunday gatherings to show the Indians that Eliot's efforts were in conformity with their will. One week the Gospel services would be at Waban's wigwam in Nonantum and the alternate week at the wigwam of the lesser ruler, Paim-bow, in Natick, to which the Governor and magistrates journeyed by canoe.

Waban was held in deep respect by all the magistrates, the Governor and Indian Commissioner. We have proof of this in the papers of Daniel Gookin who refers to what Waban called "the great sickness": "Several of them recovered, particularly WABAN, and John Thomas; the one the principal ruler, and the other a principal teacher of them, who were both extreme low, but God has in mercy raised them up; had they died, it would have been a great weakening in the work of God among them."

At the desire of Major Gookin, Waban was made Justice of the Peace by Governor Winthrop in 1646. The following is a copy of a warrant issued by Chief Waban, not in his best English, but in language which could be commonly understood by all Indians in Massachusetts at that time: "Nonantum Baye Colonie. You, you big constable, quick you catch um Jeremiah off scow, strong you hold um, safe you bring um afore me, Waban, justice peace."

Gookin says of Waban when Justice of the Peace: "When asked by a young Justice what he should do when Indians got drunk and quarreled, Waban replied, Tie um all up, and whip um plaintiff, whip um fendant and whip um witness.' " (Also, see Alien's Biographical Dictionary.)

Through Waban's example whole tribes of Indians were ' made Christians and many churches were organized, such as at Grafton (Hassanimisco), Oxford and other places. The Indians at Nonantum were industrious and pious; they were taught trades, the women eagerly learning to spin quite well. They cultivated the ground, fished and kept cattle.

Two young Indians were sent to the first President of Harvard College for education in 1645, and on June 9, 1647, John Eliot assembled a large gathering of Indians at Harvard and preached to them there.
The college charter, given by the colonists in 1650, included the education of Indians. The third of the college buildings at Harvard was specifically for the education of Indians. It was of brick and cost £400 to build.

Only one Indian ever received a degree. An Indian language primer by Eliot, printed in 1654 in the college president's house, was the first book in North America printed in the (Massachusetts) Indians' language. Eliot also translated the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew into the Indian tongue.
The first complete Bible translation by Eliot was printed at Harvard College in 1664. He was at work upon this prodigious task for seventeen years.

Waban, notable for his wisdom and leadership, in 1649 devised a short code of laws for the government of his Indians. These laws were similar to those of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for white men, except that the penalties for Indian transgressors were lighter. Some of Waban's Indian laws were as follows:

"If any man shall be idle a week, or at most a fortnight, he shall pay five shillings.
"If any man shall beat his wife, his hands shall be tied behind him, and he shall be carried to the place of justice to be severely punished.
"Every young man, if not another's servant, and if unmarried, shall be compelled to set up a wigwam and plant for himself, and not shift up and down in other wigwams.
"If any woman shall not have her hair tied up, but long loose, or be cut as men's hair, she shall pay five shillings.
"All men that wear long locks shall pay five shillings.
"If any shall kill their lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings." (Copies in the American Antiquarian Society. Drake's History.)

The fines went to the local church. This code was signed by Waban, Governor, Paim-bohou (Paim-bow), Deputy Governor, and Pennahannit, Marshall General, who attended the Indian Courts for Waban. He was called Captain Josiah. Wattasacompanum, called Captain Tom, also assisted Waban
and Gookin in the Indian Courts, being a grave and pious man.

Waban at first signed his name by making a cross, but later became a good penman, signing his name "Thomas Waban," Thomas being the Christian name given him by his English friends.

In the year 1649, John Eliot made a report to the London Corporation about his work with the Indians and made special reference to Chief Waban as follows: "that a Nipnet Indian Sagamore by name WABAN hath submitted himself to the Lord, and much desires one of our Chief ones to live with him and those that are with him."

The localities of Newton and Brighton were given by the General Court to the Proprietors of Cambridge in 1636, excepting the rights of the Indians to the lands they had improved; Cambridge being at first called New Towne. The portion which is now Newton was held as common lands of Cambridge, but was soon divided among the Cambridge settlers, becoming known as Cambridge Village until its separation, when it took the name of Newton.

Early settlers made a bargain with Waban "to keep six score head of dry cattle, on the south side of Charles River, and he was to have the full sum of eight pounds, to be paid as followeth: Thirty shillings to James Cutler, and the rest in Indian corn at three shillings the bushel, after Michaeltide next. He is to bargain to take care of them twenty-one days of this present month, and to keep them until three weeks after Michaelmas (September 29th) ; and if any be lost or ill, he is to send word into the town, and if any shall be lost through his . carelessness, he is to pay according to the value of the beast, for his default."

(With Waban's reputation for excellence of character, one doubts the need of foreseeing any lapses, but the colonists were notoriously wary of giving their trust).

Finding that some of the whites exerted a pernicious influence upon the Nonantum Indians, Eliot, in 1651, arranged for them to move with all their possessions eighteen miles up the river to South Natick, "the Place of the Hills," then a wooded wilderness. Some of the Concord Indians came to join them. There at the site of the present dam, the praying Indians built a foot bridge, three streets with house lots for each family, a fort with stockade, and a Meeting House fifty feet by twenty-five with chimneys in it. The lower floor was used as a sanctuary on Sundays and a schoolroom on week days, the upper story serving as a warehouse and place to hang outer clothing, with a room divided off to accommodate the minister. The fort was made of heavy whole logs, and the Meeting House of sawed and well-framed lumber. In front of the dwellings of the early ministers the Indians planted "Friendship Trees." There Waban's tribe dwelt in peace for twenty-four years, planting, tending cattle, trapping, fishing, hunting, spinning, making brooms and baskets, keeping the Sabbath and becoming more and more like the English settlers.

In 1675 some of the wilder tribes, banded together by Metacomet, started a real war with the English settlers. He was a proud, brave, crafty leader of the Wampanoags of Poca-noket from Mt. Hope on Fall River in Rhode Island, a son of Massasoit, and became known as King Philip. He rejected Eliot's preaching saying, "Why should I give up my thirty-seven gods for your one? I care no more for your religion than that button on your coat!" Angry at the English settlers who were rapidly depriving him of the fishing, planting, hunting places and playgrounds of his Indians he started a war of extermination which was at first very successful. The Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut settlements banded together to combat Philip's forces, took firearms from the savages as fast as possible, and sent to England for more weapons.

This war brought great suffering and losses to Waban and all the other praying Indians. Hated by Philip's men for their loyalty to the English, they were also detested by those e the whites who did not know them well because of their relationship to the savages. Fifty-two of their able-bodied men were recruited for the army of the English in July and for well against their own relatives, bringing four Indian scalps to Governor Leverett for proof of their loyalty, but on August 30th they were ordered to confine themselves to five of their fourteen towns and to go no further than one mile from the center of these towns, so they could not hunt or tend their cattle. The wily Philip spread rumors to discredit them with the English, and the people of Boston became so incensed that to appease them an order was passed by the General Court to put the Natick Indians on Deer Island in October of 1675.

Six carts, a few men and a friendly, tactful Englishman named Captain Henry Prentice, were sent to remove the 200 men, women and children, arriving with no more than a half hour's notice. Catching up a few of their possessions they all assembled in an hour or two and sadly started away from their homes. Most of their possessions, including a good crop of corn, had to be left behind. Some believed they were to be shipped away and sold as slaves, many cried and prayed, but they were patient and humble without murmuring or complaining against the English. Gookin and Eliot met and consoled them at a spot in Watertown near the present Arsenal; from there, with other praying Indians, they were ferried in three boats to Deer Island, not to leave on pain of death. The other towns of the praying Indians were forcibly moved to other islands in Boston Harbor.

Their rude shelters and scant clothing were inadequate, and their food, mainly clams, was, in spite of almost continuous digging, insufficient for the 400 to 500 confined to Deer Island. Many died that winter, but there were few complaints. They were at least protected from Philip's warriors who ravaged and massacred the smaller settlements, and from the rage of the Boston English, some of whom plotted to massacre these defenseless, loyal Christian Indians on Deer Island. Eliot and Gookin were disliked for their attentions to these prisoners, and Gookin's life was threatened.
At the request of the Council at Boston, Gookin selected two of the best praying Indians from Deer Island and sent them on December 30th as spies to determine the location and intentions' of Philip's forces; the reward to be five pounds each. They performed this difficult task well, and were hustled right back to the Island. In February, 1676, the General Court voted to raise an army of 600 men with Major Savage as Commander-in-chief. As he refused to go unless he might employ the help of the Island Indians, Captain John Curtice (Curtis) was allowed to take six of these braves, including the two who had acted so well as spies. They were very cheerful at being chosen.

In April, Captain Samuel Hunting and Lieutenant James Richardson were allowed to arm and lead a company of forty eager braves who performed good service after the attack on Sudbury. More were recruited as arms arrived from England so that there were eighty in the company of Christian Indian soldiers when summer came. They were employed on all expeditions while this war lasted, and with the help of Indian allies, contributed much to its successful conclusion. The excellent conduct of these fighting men caused the English to relent, so that in May the Natick Indians were moved to the mainland at Cambridge on the Charles River, a welcome change, as some were very sick, including Waban himself. Gookin and Eliot brought the sick ones food and medicine, and soon they were well again.

At a court held among the praying Indians, where there was a full meeting of them, Mr. Eliot being present with Major Gookin and some other English, Waban, the Chief ruler of all Indians, in the name of all the rest made an eloquent and affectionate speech:

"We do with all thankfulness acknowledge God's great goodness to us in preserving us alive to this day. Formerly, in our beginning to pray unto God, we received much encouragement from the English, both here and in England. Since the war began between the English and wicked Indians, we expected to be all cut off, not only by the enemy Indians, whom we know hated us, but also by many English who were much exasperated and very angry with us. In this case we cried to God for help. Then God stirred up the Governor and Magistrates to send us to the Island, which was grievous to us; for we were forced to leave all our substance behind us, and we expected nothing else at the Island but famine and nakedness. But, behold God's goodness to us and to our poor families, in stirring up the hearts of many godly persons in England, who never saw us, yet showed us kindness and much love, and gave us some corn and clothing together with other provisions of clams that were provided for us. Also in due time God stirred up the hearts of the Governor and Magistrates to allow some of our brethren to go forth to fight against the enemy both to us and the English, and was pleased to give them courage and success in that service unto the acceptance of the English, for it was always in our hearts to endeavor to do all we could to demonstrate our fidelity to God and to the English and against their and our enemy. And for all these things we desire God only may be Glorified."

King Philip's war ended with his death in the fall of 1676, and Waban returned with his remaining Christians in 1677 to his village at South Natick. They found most of their possessions gone, including the sawmill which they had built on the brook that runs from Lake Waban into the Charles River at Wellesley. They were so discouraged and impoverished that they never rebuilt this mill, but the brook is still called Sawmill Brook. This mill was sawing cedar clapboards before any sawmill had been built in England.

There Waban lived in peace until his death. There is a record that he put his mark to a petition for the pecuniary encouragement of the pastor at Sherborn, the son of Major Gookin, for lecturing regularly at Natick. This letter has sixteen Indian names subjoined, Chief Waban's name heading the list. Daniel Takawaubait is the second name signed and the last is Thomas Waban, son of the first. This document Professor Stowe, himself Natick born, discovered in London. It is dated March 19, 1684.

The date of the death of Chief Waban is debated. The Massachusetts Historical Collection (Vols. IV and V) places it thus: "The death of Waban in 1685 followed by that of Gookin in 1687 removed two of Eliot's staunch friends and assistants." He apparently reached the age of eighty. A fragment of his confession, showing his intense humility and devotion: "I do not know what grace is in my heart; there is but little in me; but this I know, that Christ hath kept all God's commandments for us, and that Christ doth know all hearts; and now I desire to repent of all my sins." The last words of this grave and wise Indian Chief: "I give my soul to thee, O my Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Pardon all my sins and deliver me from hell. Help me against death, and then I am willing to die. And when I die, O help me and relieve me."

Waban left his wife and several sons. Some of his sons spelled the name WABIN or WARBEN and some took the name of Ward. His son Thomas Waban, whose Indian name was Weegrammomenet, was educated and became Town Clerk of Natick and a justice of the peace. He wrote the town records in the language of the Indians, as Natick was at first purely an Indian settlement. Chief Waban's grandson was also named Thomas Waban. As time went by, the Indians became degraded and less respected.

A story is told of a Natick Indian who went to Boston with a load of brooms and baskets and bought a drink of whiskey. Several months later he made another visit to Boston and was charged twice as much for the same amount of whiskey. When asked why the price had increased, the storekeeper replied that he had stored the liquor all winter, which was as expensive, he said, as to keep a horse. "Ugh!" said the Indian. "Whiskey no eat um much hay, but drink um lot water."

Descendants of these Indians have added to the sterling qualities of their ancestors the best principles and practices of other races, making them among the finest and most amiable of our citizens.

The Indians' ownership of lands, which they had improved in the district now Waban, was acquired by the white settlers for mill establishments on the river about 1680, a sachem called William Nehoiden of Ponkapoag acting for the Indians who owned the land downstream from their eel weir at the Upper Falls. The name of William Nehoiden appears in these various spellings: Nahaton, Ahawton, Nahanton, Hahaton; he signed his name Hahatun. By law, anyone buying land on this river bank had to agree to allow the Indians to fish there, and seine and dry their nets upon the banks.


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