Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Massasoit

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MASSASOIT, Indian chief, b. in what is now Massachusetts about 1580; d. there in the autumn of 1660. His dominions extended over nearly all the southern part of Massachusetts, from Cape Cod to Narragansett bay, but his tribe, the Wampanoags, once supposed to have numbered several thousand, had been, shortly before the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, reduced to about 300 warriors by a disease supposed to have been yellow fever. In March, 1621, three months after the founding of Plymouth, an Indian named Samoset entered the town and exclaimed in English, which he had learned from the Penobscot fishermen, “Welcome, Englishmen!” He announced himself as the envoy of Massasoit, “the greatest commander of the country.” After some negotiation the latter came in person and was received with due ceremony. A treaty of friendship was then completed in few and unequivocal terms. Both parties promised to abstain from mutual injuries, and to deliver offenders; the colonists were to receive assistance if attacked, to render it if Massasoit should be unjustly assailed. The treaty included the confederates of the sachem, and is the oldest act of diplomacy recorded in New England. It was sacredly kept for fifty-four years, the friendly disposition of Massasoit toward the colonists never relaxing. His residence was within the limits of what is now the town of Warren, R. I., near an abundant spring of water which still bears his name. Roger Williams, when banished from the Massachusetts colony and on his way to Providence, was entertained by him for several weeks at this place. Massasoit was humane and honest, never violated his word, and constantly endeavored to imbue his people with a love of peace. He kept the Pilgrims advised of any warlike designs toward them by other tribes. In person, says Nathaniel Morton in his “New England's Memorial,” he was “a very lusty man in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech.” Two of his sons were named Wamsutta and Pometacom. Soon after the death of Massasoit these sons went to Plymouth and requested the Pilgrims to give them English names. The court named them Alexander and Philip. The former became chief sachem, but died within a year, and was succeeded by his brother Philip (q. v.).