The Squaw Sachem Sells Her Land to John Winthrop

The community that developed into Winchester was founded in peace between two cultures.

The Squaw Sachem, whose land this was, saw enough troubles in her lifetime before the English came.

She lived through fierce, repeated, and deadly attacks upon her people by their mortal enemies, the Tarratines (Abnakis) of Maine, which, according to the traditional story, drove her and her four surviving children inland and killed her husband.

She survived a devastating plague that killed a horrifying number of her tribespeople.

She led her people while other tribal enmities and skirmishes continued.

Then the English came. Her eldest son and other sachems accepted the offers of friendship and the protection that alliances brought with them.

But again misfortune struck when her two eldest sons and more of her people were struck down by smallpox.

By the time the Squaw Sachem of the Massachusetts sold and gave her land to the English, the way had been prepared for the colonists. The more zealous Puritans called it Providence. Others would call it calamity. Either way, her people had been reduced to a fraction of their former size, were much weakened, and continued to be threatened by war and pestilence.

It is not surprising that the Squaw Sachem kept open the friendly door which her son Wonohaquaham had opened to the English and opted to share her land in peace with them.


In Winchester, Squaw Sachem has been called "Queen of Mysticke" ever since Luther R. Symmes delivered a paper in 1884 to the Winchester Historical and Genealogical Society using that name, taken from one of her deeds.

But she was queen of much more--of Salem, Concord, and other communities from Charlestown to Marblehead. Locally, she is most associated with Myopia Hill, because, while deeding other land now in Winchester to the English, she reserved the land west of the Mystic Lakes for herself and probably died there.

The term 'queen' was not an honorific. Sachems were royalty. This queen's own name (unlike her husband's and children's) has not come down to us, just her Indian title, Squaw Sachem.

According to William Wood (1634), "if there be no sachem the queen rules." Reportedly, there were other squaw sachems known to the colonists: three in Connecticut, two in Rhode Island, one other in Massachusetts.

Up to 1619 Nanepashemet had been sachem (see part 1). At his death, his sons were too young to rule in his stead. His widow, therefore, became leader.

After about a decade, however, the two eldest sons were old enough that the English recognized them as chiefs in Charlestown and Saugus (see part 2). But they both died in 1633, leaving their lands to their younger brother, still a minor.

Again there was no sachem. The settlers' deeds were executed with the Squaw Sachem. In some of those documents, her name is joined with that of her second husband, Webcowit. According to the colonial writer, Thomas Lechford, "commonly when (the king) dies the Powahe (powwow) marries the Squa Sachem, that is, the queene." Widowed in 1619, the Squaw Sachem married Webcowit sometime before 1635.

Sale of land

The land now Winchester (and surrounding communities) was never stolen or fought over. The colonists had established laws for proper, legal relations with the Indians, including land acquisition, and acted within those laws.

The Squaw Sachem began selling her lands to the colonists after her two eldest sons and a number of other Massachusett Indians succumbed to the smallpox.

Concord was sold in 1637, according to depositions taken in 1684, for "wampumpeage," hatchets, hoes, knives, cotton cloth, and shirts, plus a new cotton suit, hat, linen band, shoes, stocking, and great coat for Webcowit.

In 1637 Squaw Sachem and Webcowit signed a deed, to be effective after her death, giving the land west of the Mystic Ponds "as a small gift" to Jotham Gibbons, son of Edward Gibbons, "to acknowledge their many kindnesses." That year, they received from Edward Gibbons "36 shillings for land between the Charlestowne and Wenotomies River."

In 1638 Charlestown granted its citizens permission to settle land to the north (including Winchester). In April 1639 Squaw Sachem and Webcowit sold them the land (except the Myopia Hill parcel). After her death, the deed said, more land "to neere Salem" was to go to men of Charlestown. For this they received 21 coats, 19 fathoms of wampom, and three bushels of corn.

Although colonial documents record that the Indians "acknowledged themselves to bee satisfied" with their compensation, the selling prices today may seem cheap,. But the Indians also benefited from the alliance with a people who could and did assist the natives and who had established their military strength, particularly during the Pequot War of 1637.

Additionally, the Indians received help and goods from the settlers. In May 1640, Cambridge was ordered to give the Squaw Sachem a coate every winter for life. In 1641, Cambridge was enjoined to give her 35 bushels of corn and four coates (for two years). In 1643, the court granted her gunpowder and shot and ordered "her piece to be mended."

There were advantages to being friends with the English. There were also disadvantages, for, in exchange for the privileges they offered, the English were gradually taking over the government, not only of their own people but of the natives as well. In 1644 the Squaw Sachem and four other sachems signed a treaty of submission, agreeing to abide by the government and jurisdiction of the English colony and promising willingness to be instructed in their religion.

In addition, as the number of the English colonists continued to grow, so did their desire for land. Where there appeared to be unlimited land, collectively the English began to push the natives aside. One deed even specified "all Indians to depart" following the death of the Squaw Sachem.

Death of a Queen

For perhaps 10 years, the Winchester area was shared by a few settlers and Squaw Sachem, Webcowit, and perhaps a few others.

The queen died in 1650. Although stories have been written that, in the end, she was deaf and blind and died by drowning, there is documentary evidence. Only her death date is known since, in that year, lawsuits over the land began.

From then on, Winchester was English land. Indians passed through and camped temporarily, but they were not integrated into the growing community of settlers. After 1650 the surviving Massachusetts relocated to other homes.

Part 4

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