June 17, 2014

The Nashua Indians

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The Nashua (or  Nashaway or Weshacum) were a sub-tribe of the Western Abenaki branch of the Algonquain Indians. They lived along the upstream portions of the Nashua River valley in what is now the northern half of Worcester County, Massachusetts, near Mount Wachusett.

Today the Nashua are known as Nipmuc Indians

The Nashua are often associated with the Nipmuc, which, along with variants such as Nipmug or Nipnet, was the general term for all bands inhabiting central Massachusetts away from the coastlines and ending before the Connecticut River valley. The meaning of Nashaway is “river with a pebbled bottom.”

The Nashaway’s principal settlement was Waushacum (possibly meaning “surface of the sea”), a parcel of land in what is now Sterling that was located between two ponds of the same name.

The territory of the Nashua was bounded downstream (to the north) on the Nashua River by the Pennacook, a powerful tribe which had numerous alliances with the Nashua, to the east by tribes related to the Massachusett, to the south of the headwaters by other Nipmuc bands and to the west by the Connecticut River where the Pocomtuc settled.

Nashua descendants can be found amongst the Abenaki of New England and Canada or the Schaghticoke

Most of the interior tribes of Massachusettes were grouped under the Nipmuc, the largest tribe in the area, but the sub-divisions had their own sachems (chiefs) and functioned independently of each other. Although they shared the similar L-dialect and other common customs, very little evidence is shown of any confederation except for the various skirmishes with English colonists that ultimately led to King Philip’s War.

During King Philip’s War, the Nashua Sachem Monoco kidnapped a Lancaster villager, Mary Rowlandson, who later wrote a best-selling narrative about her captivity, forced journey to Canada, and eventual release.

Although now classified as Nipmuc, the bands were heavily allied and possibly confederated with the Pennacook.

At the time of the first visits of John Prescott, the appointed minister to the tribe, power was passed from Sachem Nashawhonan (Sholan) to a Pennacook chieftain descended from Passaconaway by the name of Nanomocomuck (Monoco).

Court records indicate that this sachem was charged for debts incurred for goods bought on credit and the high prices charged to them for the colonists’ goods. This ultimately led to the loss of land and tensions that led to war.

The fate of the Nashua is not known, but it can be assumed that remnants of the tribe fled the area and merged with other tribes, such as the Pennacook or the Nipmuc proper and intermarried. Whatever the case, the Nashaway as a distinct tribal entity is now extinct.

It is also known that many Nashua died from exile on Deer Island in Boston Harbor.

Abenaki Indians
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