Sokoki - Wôbanaki, circa 1661 - circa 1748

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources. Some narratives necessarily contain invented, yet plausible, scenarios and personal attributes. Please see About This Narrative to learn more about how this person's narrative was created.

Atiwans - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War | The Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | About This Narrative |


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Throughout his life, Atiwans remained deeply connected to the Connecticut River valley.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

When he was young, Atiwans enjoyed swimming with the namasak, the fish people, among the rocks and plants beneath the surface of the lakes and rivers. In the muddy reaches beside the Great Falls at Peskeompskut, Sokoki children, like young beavers, would pile up mounds of mud and sticks, rounding them out into little domed lodges. The elders told stories about how the land had been shaped and changed in ancient times by Ktsiamiskw, the great beaver, when he had built his own giant lodge and filled up the whole valley of the Quinneticook with water.

Atiwans was taught, from an early age, how to carve a long double-pronged salmon spear for the annual fish runs, for catching the great red fish as they surged upriver at Peskeompskut, the place of the falls. During Namasak kisos(1) – the fishing moon - all the valley peoples, from Pocumtuck, Nonotuck, Agawam, and Woronoco, gathered together to fish at the falls in Sokoki homeland. In the year of Atiwan's birth, 1661 by English reckoning, the Sokwakiak caught and dried so much fish that they carried the extra down to Springfield, as a gift to John Pynchon, the English trader who bought their furs.

Relocation to Pocumtuck

In the spring of 1662, a few Kanienkehaka families took the trail over the hills to join the Sokwakiak in fishing at the falls. But there were old grievances between these tribes, and in the spring of 1663, a group of Kanienkehaka warriors followed the same trail to make war on Atiwan's village. The losses at Sokoki were so terrible that the survivors decided to walk away from Paquayag, the planting fields beside the river. Many headed north to Cowass; some went as far as the French settlements. Atiwans and his family moved south, to join his father's kin at Pocumtuck.

At Pocumtuck, the sachem Onepequin sent messages to the Kanienkehaka that they were tired of making war, and that if the Kanienkehaka wished to make peace, they would be welcome to attend a council at Pocumtuck - "Let them send us a present, then we will release their prisoners and bring a present to their country, thus to renew our old friendship." (2)

But the people at Pocumtuck were not of one mind. The Sokoki men, still mourning the loss of so many of their relatives, vowed revenge on the people they called Maguak – "man-eaters." When the Kanienkehaka ambassador Saheda and his ambassadors left Albany in July of 1664, two years after the attack on Sokoki, they were holding wampum for peace, not weapons for war. The Sokoki set out an ambush, assuming that the Kanienkehaka peace parley was a trick, and killed Saheda.

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In diplomatic negotiations, wampum was often exchanged to express the sincerity of the words spoken. Click here for more information.
Courtesy of Historic Northampton, Northampton, Massachusetts. Photo by Marge Bruchac.

The Pocumtuck leaders told Major John Pynchon of their distress at this killing, saying that "they deplore it exceedingly, repudiate the deed and swear at the Sowquackick, because they have killed the Maquas and they will have nothing to do with them." (3) The Kanienkehaka were enraged over the murder committed by what they called the "north Indians." While John Pynchon was trying to arrange a peace between these former enemies, the English at Albany were busy securing a new treaty with the Kanienkehaka. The agreement, signed on September 24, 1664, promised that the Dutch and English at Albany would make peace with the Mohican, continue trade with the Kanienkehaka, and refuse any assistance to the "Ondiakes (Sokoki), Pinnekooks (Pennacook), and Pacamtokookes (Pocumtuck)." (4)

In November of 1664, Kanienkehaka war parties, supplied with guns, powder and shot from Fort Albany, set out to the east across the road that would come to be known as "the Mohawk Trail." A large comet was visible in the sky when Kanienkahka warriors attacked the fort at Pocumtuck, killing Onapequin and his family. John Winthrop Jr. wrote to Pynchon that the survivors "are all fled from Pacomtuck & Squakeage & Woruntuck, & it seemes some of them to your parts, but there are 2 forts of them neere Springfield." (5)

Relocation to Nonotuck

Atiwans' family moved farther south along the river, with the refugees from Pocumtuck, to Nonotuck. In April of 1664, the Nonotuck had decided to build a fortified village at "Fort Hill," across the Cappawonganik, or Mill River, from the fledgling settlement of Northampton, to improve access to Pynchon's sub-traders. There, Major John Pynchon had agreed to plow the Nonotuck corn fields every year in exchange for land to settle on. (6) But Pynchon also wrote up a list of regulations for the Indians, outlawing large gatherings, gaming, work on Sundays, and the use of alcohol, but allowing them to continue using their guns in hunting beaver for the fur trade. Pynchon forbade the Nonotuck Indians to take in any more refugees from other places. (7)

While they were living at Nonotuck, young Atiwans spent much of his time in town, having struck up a friendship with the English blacksmith. The smith gave the Indian boy a newly-forged hatchet, joking that he hoped young Atiwans would remember to never use it against his English friends.

By 1675, all of the valley Natives had tired of living under English laws, and refused, when pressed by Captain Thomas Lathrop, to give up their guns and other weapons. When word came to Nonotuck of the growing success of the Wampanoag chief Metacom's rebellion, Atiwans' father, along with 15 year-old Atiwans, cut his hair, sharpened his axe, and painted his face for war. The two joined with Nonotuck sachem Chickwallop and Pocumtuck sachems Mettawampe and Chauk to strike Deerfield on September 1, and burn Northfield on September 2. On September 18, when word came that a large wagon train of English men and supplies were headed for Pocumtuck, they struck Captain Lathrop's own company, near Wequamps, at the place that would later be called "Bloody Brook." Atiwans carried his dying father away from that battle, and buried him near the Pocumtuck River, on the terrace of the Sunsick hill.

Atiwans - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War | The Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | About This Narrative |

Assault on Peskeompskut
May, 1676

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Illustration copyright Francis Back.

In April of 1676, after a long, cold, and relatively quiet winter, Atiwans helped his mother and kinfolk clear the fields so the women could once again plant corn at Pocumtuck. The valley Indians also reoccupied Sokoki, another village site that had now been emptied of its English inhabitants. (8) In May, when the shadbush bloomed, the people left the growing corn in the fields and set up their wigwams at Peskeompskut, in preparation for the annual fish run. There, they were joined by refugees from other parts of New England – old men, women, and children from Wampanoag and Narragansett territory from the southeast, who had been brought here to the safe place at the falls.

On the night of May 14, a war party brought an English captive named Thomas Reede to the camp at the falls; in the night, Reede escaped and made his way to Northampton. Five days later, Reede and Captain Turner would bring death to the fishing place. Atiwans' sisters, brothers, mother and elders were all killed during what the English would later call "The Falls Fight."

Now, standing here in the fishing place, after 15 winters and so much death had passed, with his father's old fish spear in hand, Atiwans looked around at the empty places that had once been filled with people. Looking into the future, he dreamed more abandoned villages, like abandoned beaver ponds, slowly transforming from watery marsh into solid meadow, until all evidence of the original inhabitants had vanished. The thought troubled him. When the sachem Shattookquis came to gather up the survivors, he announced that the Governor of New York had arranged another safe place for the valley peoples, in the northern part of Mohican territory, at Schaghticoke. Atiwans buried his fish spear by the falls and went west.

Atiwans - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War | The Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | About This Narrative |

Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War


At Schaghticoke, Atiwans found himself living amongst many former Connecticut River valley peoples, from Agawam, Pocumtuck, Sokoki, Nonotuck, and Woronoco villages, in Mohican territory, under the protection of the Kanienkehaka and the New York Governor. (9) He was surprised to see that two of his uncles were among the people who had already been constructing wigwams for the survivors of the attack on Peskeomskut, and he was surprised to see more valley Natives arriving each week. Governor Andros himself visited the village the first time the English supply wagons came in with food and blankets, and he made a great speech about how pleased he was to have so many good hunters living close by. Atiwans traded his old winter beaver cloak for an English gun, so that he could join the hunting in the Couchsachgrage, the beaver hunting territory in the mountains (that would later be called the Adirondacks).

The Schaghticoke Indians traveled frequently, to the east, visiting kin who had remained in the Quinneticook valley, and also heading north, to where the French had built a Catholic mission dedicated to Saint Francis, at the Wôbanaki village of Odanak. The populations of the villages of Schaghticok and Odanak changed every year, as families left the missionaries and traders and moved back into the mountains and valleys of Wôbanaki land. (10)

Return to Pocumtuck

At Schaghticoke, Atiwans and a Pocumtuck woman named Megunisqua decided to start a family, and in November of 1691 they moved, with 150 others, back to the Quinneticook valley, setting up their lodges near the confluence of the rivers, beside the Pemawatchuwatunck, just above the now-resettled English town of Deerfield. There, the women planted, and the men ranged out, hunting the old familiar territories and visiting the places where their people had lived for so many generations. (11) Atiwans taught his sons to make fish spears, and they began, once again, going north to the falls in the spring.

Here, life was good until the English grew suspicious, and complained to Governor Andros that "his Indians" were a threat to the safety of the settlements. The Pocumtuck sachem Chauk, who could speak good English, reminded Andros that Major Pynchon himself had promised that the papers Chauk had signed a generation ago promised continued rights of the people to hunt and fish and plant in this place (12). But the English words were no good; after only two years back in the valley, Atiwans' extended family and community were forced by the English to leave.

The Saint Francis Mission at Odanak

In 1693, Atiwans' family went north, first to Cowass, and then to Odanak. He traded his old chipped English hatchet for a new one that looked to be its twin, from a French trader who showed up with some English ironwork. He then volunteered for a French and Indian raiding party that was assembling to strike the English settlement at Quaboug, just east of the Quineticook River. During the attack at Quaboug, Atiwans lost his new hatchet. Major Pynchon wrote that year to Governor Phipps, noting "What I much wonder at, one of the soldiers a Smith [blacksmith] of Northampton, says that one of their hatchets he knows well that he made it about a year ago." (13)

In all the years they lived at Odanak, Atiwans spent most of his time hunting, or scouting for the French soldiers, who paid for his time in blankets, guns, and powder and shot. There, the French missionaries offered them a frame house to live in. Megunisqua, tired of building new wigwams only to see them removed by the English, accepted. The first time the Black Robes invited her into the church she refused. But after six years of seeing all of her neighbors wearing the silver crosses, and hearing them speak of the protection that the white god promised, Megunisqua had to hear for herself. She and all of her children started going to the church every Sunday.

The Makings of a War Leader

In 1699, when a French officer came to Odanak for a council, he was much impressed with Atiwans. Unlike the younger men who were clamoring for adventure, this man was thoughtful, quiet, and firm, and even the most brash leaders would often look his way before making any boasts. The Frenchman put a new French musket into his hands, saying that Atiwans "had the makings of a fine war leader." In the winter of 1703, during a council with the Kanienkehaka and the Wendat, Atiwans stood up and said he was ready to carry war to Deerfield.

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While Native allies of the French continued to use their traditional weapons, they were also armed with French firearms. Click here for more information.
Courtesy Parks Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

As a war leader, it was Atiwans' job to see to the safety of a war party, to follow routes that would provide easy passage over the mountains, to secure provisions and supplies in caches, to plan their entrance into and escape from the English villages, and to accomodate the personal strengths and weaknesses of each man. The most successful Wôbanaki leaders knew that one had to lead by example and accomodation, not by force, and look out for ones' comrades more than oneself.

Atiwans - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War | The Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | About This Narrative |

The Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704

Atiwans was most familiar with the layout of Deerfield, having seen the wigwams and cornfields that had preceded it, overlain with the foundations of the English houses that were laid in ashes in 1676, and having closely watched the rebuilding in the decades after. For Atiwans, this path was one he knew even in his sleep. Even with English houses and roads in the way, he could plot every part of this territory in his mind's eye. Each part of this place called to him, as did the memories of so many of his relatives—his father, killed at Wequamps, in the battle the English called "Bloody Brook," his mother and siblings, dead at Peskeompskut; and so many others of his kin, scattered between Sokoki and Schaghticoke.

In the Midst of the Attack

Amid the noise and confusion in the early morning attack on Deerfield, Atiwans could be seen gesturing to the other Wôbanaki men, and looking to cover others' backs, even as he surged into the thickest fighting. He quickly sized up the layout of the town, and guided men to each of the houses where the town's leaders lived.

Twenty of the Wôbanakiak and Kanienkehaka had directed their attack on the house of the Reverend John Williams. As they rushed in the door, the minister ran to his dresser where he grabbed a pistol, raised it to Atiwans' chest and pulled the trigger. The dry snap echoed in the room, and all motion stopped—it took a moment for everyone to realize that the pistol had misfired. Atiwans was one of three men to seize the Reverend simultaneously; they almost laughed at their own overeagerness. (14) Atiwans casually ordered Williams to prepare himself—the minister and his family would need warm clothes for a long trek north today. He stayed to guard Williams, while his cousin ran off to help breach the defenses at the Stebbins House. Only seven men were inside that building, but they held off dozens of attackers. When the door was forced open, Atiwans's cousin was shot dead by a gun that did not misfire. (15)

Atiwans - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War | The Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | About This Narrative |

The March
February 29, 1704

Atiwans, as one of the elder members of the war party, took the lead of those Wôbanakiak who had taken captives, who were now being forced, dragged, and, in some cases, carried, as they rushed away from the burning town of Deerfield. Several of the Pocumtuck and Sokoki men were gathering up those few Indians who had died in the attack, and dragging their bodies out of the stockade, to conceal in the places beside the river where other Native dead lay buried. Atiwans was greatly saddened at the loss of his kinsman, but he was heartened when a young Nonotuck man, Wallena, joined him to help guard Williams.

Atiwans and Wallena took personal responsibility for the minister. The members of the Williams family had been separated, and Mrs. Williams, like other white women who were so frail after giving birth, was obviously struggling. It was not clear if she was strong enough to make this journey. As they stopped at the foot of the small rising hill, just beyond the Pocumtuck River, Atiwans and Williams looked back to see the flames of the town behind them. They could hear the shouts of the militiamen that had come to Deerfield's rescue, too late.

Atiwans turned back to his captive, giving Williams a pair of warm, dry, winter moccasins to wear in place of his wet English shoes. He cast a disdainful look every time the minister audibly bemoaned his fate, mumbling bits of scripture and praying to God to "save him from the heathens." Atiwans amused himself with the thought that many of the Wôbanakiak, with their crosses and prayers, and their attention to the Catholic Priests, were more devout Christians than many of the hard-drinking, ill-mannered English. Even though he understood English perfectly well, Atiwans motioned to Wallena every time the Minister queried him, to avoid having to listen to the man's prayers.

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Moccasins like these offered better protection against the harsh winter snows than standard English shoes. Click here for more information.
Courtesy of Ken Hamilton.

On the second day, Atiwans moved from the head of the party to the rear, on hearing reports that they might be followed. When he saw Williams' wife losing even more strength, Wallena decided to allow John Williams to walk with his wife for a while, so they could pray together. They were separated again when Atiwans returned. (16)

At the river crossing Mrs. Eunice Williams fell in the icy water, and Atiwans' kinsman nearly drowned themselves trying to fish her out, caught up in her heavy skirts. Atiwans left John Willliams and ran back to the river, where he saw her gasping on the bank, blood pooling under her from renewed hemmoraging. He knew that she could not possibly survive; he turned away when one of the Pocumtuck men raised his hatchet. (17)

The rest of the party had stopped to rest, and when Atiwans returned to the lead, he told Williams that his wife was dead. The Minister broke down in heaving sobs, crying that his "God had foresaken him in this dreadful place." Atiwans, who had seen so many of his own kin killed, and who had seen his own homeland transformed from a paradise to hell by the English invaders, reproached the Minister for his weakness, and forced him to walk.

Atiwans - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War | The Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | About This Narrative |

Parting Ways
March 8, 1704

Each night, when they slept, Atiwans carefully passed a rope over Williams, who lay between Wallena and himself. The Minister was closely watched to prevent any chance at escape or plotting with the other prisoners. (18) At one of the stopping places, a Pennacook sachem had demanded that Williams be killed, but Atiwans intervened, explaining that the Praying Man might be a good tool for controlling the others. (19) Once it was determined that the other captives would obey his guidance, Atiwans used Williams as a conduit of information, to relay the message, for example, that if anyone else escaped they would all be burnt.

When the groups prepared to part ways, the captives were sorted out among the parties. Atiwans held John Williams, who watched numbly as his daughter Eunice was carried off by the Kanienkehaka, and as his son Stephen headed north with Wattanummon. Atiwans and Wallena set out with John Williams on the long route to Odanak, so as to stop at the caches and hunting sites along the way. Atiwans needed the Minister to stay strong, and alive, if there was to be any hope of ransoming him to the French.

Atiwans - Prologue | Assault on Peskeompskut | Between Metacom's War and Queen Anne's War | The Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Atiwans is a composite fictional character, representing those Connecticut River valley sachems who led war parties against the English settlers, after having relocated to northern Abenaki villages. The movements of Atiwans and his family between 1662 and 1704 are based on the actual historical records of Sokoki and Pocumtuck relocations (see citations in footnotes). The Reverend John Williams was known to have been captured by an Abenaki, whose actual name is unknown. Atiwans' actions during the 1704 attack are based on the events recorded in John Williams' account. This narrative was written by Marge Bruchac.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.

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