By Daniel Tobias Hinchen, Reader Services
Not long after I started working here in the library at the MHS I took an interest in 17th-century topics with the hope that I could better serve those researchers studying the time period by pointing them to specific collections relevant to their search. A specific collection that comes up time and again is the Winslow family papers II*, a small but very fascinating collection for its documentation of the late 17th century in and around Plymouth County, primarily from the vantage point of a family central to the history of that locale and including two of the early governors of the county, Edward and Josiah Winslow. For this post, I look at a single document from that collection which dates to 1675 at the outset of Metacom’s, or King Philip’s, War. This document came to my attention during a class visit in which it was used as a show & tell item by a colleague, and I have since used it myself. Until now, though, I was ignorant of its contents.
The letter displayed in various class visits, written by Plymouth governor Josiah Winslow to “Weetamoo and Ben her husband,” is only half the story, it turns out. Looking more closely, I found that there is an earlier letter contained on the same paper. The first letter is from a man named John Brown, writing to Gov. Winslow from Swansey to inform him about the movements of the local natives and the unrest that is taking hold. The second part is a draft of a letter that Winslow wrote to Weetamoo (Weetamoe, Weetamo), the female sachem of the Pocasset Wampanoag, encouraging her to remain friends of the Plymouth settlers and not be lured into alliance with Philip, her brother-in-law.
N.B. : These are only rough transcriptions. I did my best to retain the original spelling and punctuation (or lack of). Brackets [ ] indicate a best-guess; blank spots filled with underscoring _____ indicate missing text.
Swansey June 11: 1675
Sir some lines of mine I understand came to your hand Unexpected to you and not intended by me the hast & Rudenes whereof I did intend to excuse to the person to whom I did direct it. the matter where of I still beleve for they have bin and are in arms to this day as appears by the witness of Inglish of Credit yea this day there is above 60 double armed ^men and they stand upon ther gard on reson is say they is because they heare you intend to send for phillip but they have sent there wifes to Narrogansent all or some and an Indian told me this day That he saw 20 men came to phillip from Coweset side and they flock to him from Narroganset Coweset pocasset showomet Assowomset from whence ther Came 3 men ye Last nigh well armed after there Coming to phillips town & ower within night they gave us an Alarm by 2 guns & 1 in ye morning before day and ye continued warninge of ye drum and the above said Indian told me that he heard that ye passages betwixt tanton & us were garded by Indians and yt ye younger sort were much set Againts ye Inglish and this day one Indian this day Leift both work and wages saying he wase sent for to fight with ye Inglish within 2 dayes the truth is they are in a posture of war there has bin sene above 150 [togeathere at once] how many in private there be we [kow not but for] further intelligence ye bearer is able to informe Sir I reit onely this by my Commision I have not power to set [awash] ye Lawes are unserten ye providence of god hath prevented me from Weighting uppoun you for inlargement here in . theres not appointed a councell of your war in our town I thought good th to aquaint you^ here with I am in hast And Reit your and my … youres to serve
On the back side of the folio – or the “back cover” of Brown’s missive is a small note that provides some geographic clarifications:
Cowesett between ye Narragansett Country (properly so called) and Pawcatuck River
Pocasset – Tiverton
Shawomet – Barrington Warwick
Assawomsett – Middleboro
Inside the folio we have the letter that Winslow addressed to the Pocasset leader based upon the intelligence he received from Brown a few days earlier.
To Weetamoo, and Ben her husband
Satchems of pocasset
Ffriends and Neighbors
I am informed yt phillip ye sachem of Mount hope contrary to his many promises and ingagements; and yt upon no ground provocation nor unfairness in the least from us, but meerly from his owne base groundles feare is Creating new trobles to himself & us; And hath [indeavored] to ingage you & your people with him, by intimations of notoriouse falshoods as if wee were secretly designeing mischeef to him, and you, such unmanly treacherouse practices as wee abhor to thinke of, and yt hee hath also _________________against you if you shall deny to help him; I am _____________[hath] prevayled very little [with] you, except it bee to some few of your giddy inconsiderate young men; if it bee fact, as I am willing to believe it may; you shall finde us allwayes redy to acknowledge & incourage your faith fullness, and protect you also so farr as in us lyeth from his pride & tirany; And if you Contynew faithfull, you shall assuredly reape ye fruite of it to your Comfort, when hee by his pride & treachery hath wrought his owne ruine. As a testimony of your contynued friendship I desire you will give us what intelligence you may have, or shall gather up, yt is of concernment, and you shall not finde mee ungratefull, who am and desire to contynew
your reall ffreind
June 15 ∙ 75
Again, there is some additional information on the facing page. First, is a block of text that serves as delivery instructions for Brown’s letter:
These ffor the Honnered Josiah Winslow Esquie Govenor of his Magtis Colony of New plymouth These with speed at Marshfeild or plimouth
Another bit, written to the right of and perpendicular to this, reads:
Mr. Brown to Gove Winslow & the Gove to Weetamo 15th June 1675
A last piece of text, apparently added by Winslow, identifies his writing as a draft:
Swansey. June 11 ∙ 75
From Lieut. Jno Browne.
& a copie of mine to Weetamoo
Stay tuned for future posts here on the Beehive where I hope to provide more information about the characters involved with this correspondence. In the meantime, you can search our online catalog, ABIGAIL, to see what else we have about the early colonies, and then consider Visiting the Library to do some research!
*The Winslow family papers II, along with many other documents from the MHS Collection, is available digitally from the database “Frontier Life: Borderlands, Settlement & Colonial Encounters” created by the UK-based company Adam Matthew Digital, accessible at the MHS and other participating libraries.