Sunday, November 15, 2015

New England Sweat-Houses

New England Sweat-Houses

In her seminal work Sweat-Houses in the Southern New England Area, historian Eva L. Butler only hinted at the various construction methods used by the native people to build their sweat-houses. Due to the paucity of information, historians are generally unsure of the exact construction methods used.
It is obvious from the evidence that several distinct types of construction were used in the building of sweat-houses in this area . . . The accounts also indicate that sweating was produced by different methods, although some lack of uniformity in this as well as in the particulars of construction may be due to neglect on the part of the observer to include sufficient detail. (Butler 1945:14)
The earliest description of sweat-houses in New England is from Roger Williams who lived among the Narragansett in present-day Rhode Island.
Pesuponck; a hot house. This hot house is a kind of little cell or cave, six or eight feet over, round, made on the side of a hill, commonly by some rivulet or brook. Into this frequently the men enter, after they have exceedingly heated it with store of wood, laid upon a heap of stones in the middle. (Williams [1643]1968:236)
Williams stated only a few facts about the construction of the sweat-houses but he never mentioned the materials used. He summarized the size, shape, and described it as a, "little cell or cave." Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary may give us insight into what these words may have meant to 17th Century Englishmen.
CAVE n. s. [cave, Fr. cavea, Lat.] 1. A cavern; a den; a hole entering horizontally under the ground; a habitation in the earth . . . 2. A hollow; any hollow place . . . CELL n. s. [cella Lat.] 1. A small cavity or hollow place. 2. The cave or little habitation of a religious person. 3. A small and close apartment in a prison. 4. Any small place of residence . . . (Johnson 1756:cave, cell)
Modern Cherokee Clay Medicine Lodge
from Earth Medicine Blog
Dutch lawyer Adriaen van der Donck gave us a bit more detail when he described the sweat-houses he witnessed in present-day New York City. He wrote that the local Manhattan Island Indians constructed their sweat-houses out of clay.
Their sweating places are made of clay, and enclosed tight in the earth, with a small entrance to admit the patients within the apartments. (van der Donck [1655]1841:208)
Captive John Gyles, however, described a different type of sweat-house among the Penobscot in Maine.
They accordingly prepared many hot stones, and laying them in a heap, made a small hut covered with skins and mats; then in a dark night two of the powwows went into this hot house with a large vessel of water, which at times they poured on those hot rocks, which raised a thick steam. (Drake 1846:91)
Apsáalooke Sweat-House
Museum of the American Indian
The type of construction mentioned by Gyles, with skins and mats covering a small hut, sounds more like the sweat-houses John Josselyn described in his narrative Two Voyages to New-England. Josselyn explained that sweat-houses were made in haste with bark when an Indian was suffering with disease.
Their manner is when they have plague or small pox amongst them to cover their Wigwams with Bark so close that no Air can enter in, lining them (as I said before) within, and making a great fire they remain there in a stewing heat till they are in a top sweat . . . (Josselyn [1663]1865:103)
Yurok Sweat Lodge, California
from American Sabbatical
We also have a description from the Reverend Samuel Niles of sweat-houses he witnessed on present-day Block Island. His account differs in no large way from the others in New England, but he is the only English writer to describe them as a, "vault."
They were made as a vault, partly under ground, and in the form of a large oven, where two or three persons might on occasion sit together, and it was placed near some depth of water. (Niles [1760]1837:194)
Hoopa Valley Sweat Lodge, California
Edward S. Curtis, Library of Congress
Again we look to Johnson's Dictionary to give us some possible insight to what Niles may have been trying to describe.
VAULT §, váwlt, or váwt. n. s. [voulte, Fr.; volta Ital.; voluta, low Lat.] A continued arch. Burnet A cellar. Shak. A cave; a cavern. Sandys. A repository for the dead. Shakspeare. (Johnson 1756:vault)
Beehive Hut, New Hampshire
Dierdre C. Yelp
And still yet we find another type of construction described by English explorer John Lawson while among the Saponi in North Carolina. Although not an account from New England, Lawson's description gives us insight into how sweat-houses were constructed in a nearby Eastern Woodlands culture. Considering the paucity of information on sweat-house materials and construction in New England, Lawson's account has some value here.
Near the Town, within their clear'd Land, are several Bagnios, or Sweating-Houses, made of Stone, in Shape like a large Oven. These they make much Use of; especially, for any Pains in the Joints, got by Cold, or Travelling, (Lawson 1709:49)
Hermit Cave, Connecticut
from Stone Wings
It appears evident from the historical record that the method of sweat-house construction was dependent upon the purpose of the sweat as well as the available labor and materials. During sickness and times of distress a wetu covered with bark was sufficient. In times when speed and convenience were required, perhaps while traveling or hunting, a simple framework with mats and skins could be erected. With more time and available local clay, a more permanent and elegant structure could be made. With no available clay nearby, abundant stones could be used. It appears there simply was no singular way that sweat-houses were built.

Stone Chamber, Massachusetts
WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0
As Ms. Butler points out in her article, the land records give us only tantalizing clues into the nature of these historic sites. In the following entry from Connecticut we see mention of a heap of stones on a lot, but no other details were given.
Daniel Comstock in 1730 deeded to his son John, land on the Thames River in what is now the town of Montville. It was 'a piece of meadow, to witt, fresh meadow at a heap of stones at a place called the Hot House.' (Land IX:149; Butler 1945:11)
What was this, "heap of stones," mentioned in the New London land records at this place called the, "Hot House?" Was it the remnants of the great hearth that heated the stones for the steam? Or was it the used stones themselves showing the action of the heating and cooling? Or could this, "heap of stones," have been a pile of rubble where a stone-built sweat-house caved in upon itself?

Stone Chamber, New York
Poughkeepsie Journal
Finally, native people themselves passed down information from generation to generation in oral histories. Some of their stories were collected by folklorists and ethnographers. In the following example collected by folklorist Charles Leland in the 19th Century there was a hint of the stone-built sweat-house in the mythology of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes in New Hampshire and Maine.
Stone Chamber, Rhode Island
Ceremonial Landscapes
Now the Bear, who had a frame as hard as a rock, felt sure that he could endure anything that a gull could, especially to become a white bear. So, with much ceremony, the Great Enchanter went to work. He built a strong wigwam, three feet high, of stones, and having put the Bear into it he cast in red-hot stones, and poured water on them through a small hole in the roof. Erelong the Bear was in a terrible steam. (Leland 1884:191)
McIntosh Chamber, Vermont
Dan Budillion
In light of these facts, some stone chambers found throughout New England cannot be historically ruled out as aboriginal sweat-houses. In fact, these structures are the only examples we know that fulfill Williams's description of being, "made on the side of a hill," or Niles's use of the word, "vault." Stone sweat-houses would also be the only construction material that could have survived the centuries. If sweat-houses were made of stone in New England, today they might look exactly like some of our enigmatic stone chambers.
Greer's Chamber, Maine
NEARA

There are many questions, few solid answers, and a community of professional archaeologists who advise governments and influence municipal policies, but who seemingly have little interest in investigating these structures. There are no laws protecting them on private land and what secrets they hold are lost to the bulldozer with every new development.

Destroyed Stone Chamber, Massachusetts
NEARA
I am not proposing that I know these stone structures in New England are ancient sweat-houses. I am merely suggesting that, according to the ethnohistorical data, they very well could be and they deserve further investigation to see if protection is warranted. We cannot recover what is lost.



References

BUTLER, Eva L. 1945. Sweat-Houses in the Southern New England Area. In Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, vol. VII, No. 1 (October 1945), pp. 11-14. Andover: Massachusetts Archaeological Society.

DRAKE, Samuel Gardiner. 1846. Tragedies of the Wilderness. Captivity of John Gyles. Chapter V. pp. 91-93. Boston: Geo. A. & J. Curtis.

JOHNSON, Samuel. 1756. A Dictionary of the English Language. London: W. Strahan.

JOSSELYN, John. [1663] 1865. An Account of Two Voyages to New-England. Boston: William Veazie.

LAND Records. vol. IX, p. 149. City Hall, New London, CT.

LAWSON, John. 1709. A New Voyage to Carolina. London.

LELAND, Charles G. 1884. The Algonquin Legends of New England. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

NILES, Samuel. [1760]1837. A Summary Historical Narrative of the Wars in New-England with the French and Indians. In Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Vol. VI. 3rd Ser. pp. 154-279. Boston: American Stationers' Co.

VAN DER DONCK, Adriaen. [1655] 1841. A Description of the New-Netherlands. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, 2d Ser., Vol. I. New York: D. Appleton & Company.

WILLIAMS, Roger [1643] 1963. Key into the Language of America, J. H. Trumbull, ed. In The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Vol. I, pp. 61-282. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Stone Prayers of Southern New England

This is a YouTube video that I made several years ago with the help and permission of photographers Larry Harrop, Peter Waksman, James Gage, and Bob Miner. Music was used by permission from Generations Drum of the Praying Indians of Natick and Ponkapoag.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Dear Massachusetts Historical Commission

Dear Massachusetts Historical Commission,

I am writing in regards to an item in your FAQ located on the Review and Compliance section of the Massachusetts Historical Commission website. (http://www.sec.state.ma.us/mhc/mhcrevcom/revcomidx.htm) Here is the entry in question:

I’m concerned that stone piles in a project area may be Native American grave markers. What should I do?
Piles or continuous walls of fieldstones are common in rural Massachusetts wherever there are rocky soils. When historians and archaeologists have conducted thorough, professional research into such stone piles, they have invariably shown that these features are not associated with the Native American settlement of Massachusetts. When it is possible to determine their origin, stone piles prove to be related to agricultural activities such as clearing of fields for pasture or cultivation, and/or marking property bounds during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pursuits that were once much more common in what may now be residential suburbs. Because stone piles or walls often marked property lines or boundaries between different land uses such as pasture and woodlot, they are often in a linear row or other geometric pattern, some of which may be consistent with cardinal compass points, solstice sunrises or sunsets, or other celestial phenomena. http://www.anthropology.ccsu.edu/fraudsweb/frauds.htm
I am quite concerned that the above entry from your FAQ discourages developers and property owners from investigating potentially important archaeological sites. Furthermore, the entry is a professionally irresponsible generalization which paints a broad brush across the entire Massachusetts landscape. It is not only historically inaccurate, flying in the face of overwhelming historical evidence, but it also directly contradicts the Commission's own mission to identify, evaluate, and protect important historical and archaeological assets of the Commonwealth.

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence we have proving that some piles of stone in Massachusetts could be Indian in origin comes to us from the mid-18th century and Dr. Ezra Stiles.

"Mr. Williams told me that on the Road from Sandwich to Plymouth there is a large Stone or Rock in a place free of stones; and that the Indians immemorially have been used, whenever & as often as they pass this large Stone, to cast a stone or piece of wood upon it. That Stones not being plenty, pieces of Wood is most commonly used, & that there will once in a few years be a large Pile on the Stone, which is often consumed by the firing of the Woods for Deer. That the Ind.s continue the Custom to this day, tho’ they are a little ashamed the English should see them, & accordingly when walking with an Eng. They have made a path round at a quarter Mile’s Distance to avoid it. There is also at a little Distance another Stone which they also inject upon, but pass it with less scruple; but are so scrupulous that none was even known to omit casting Stone or Wood on the other. The Indians being asked the reason of their Custom & Practice, say they know nothing about it, only that their Fathers & their Grandfathers & Great Grandfathers did so, and charged all their Children to do so; and that if they did not cast a Stone or piece of Wood on the Stone as often as they pass by it, they would prosper, & particularly should not be lucky in hunting Deer. But if they duly observed this Custom, they should have success. The English call them the Sacrificing Rocks, tho’ the Indians don’t imagine it a Sacrifice – at least they Kill & offer no Animals there, & nothing but Wood & Stones." (Stiles [1762]1916:252)

Dr. Stiles gives us a great deal of information concerning the Indian practice of casting pieces of stone or wood upon a sacred boulder. I think it is vital to note how secretive the Indians were and how they continued to guide Euro-Americans away from the site for as long as they could. They apparently succeeded in keeping the site hidden clear into the mid-18th century in fact.

Another stone monument unquestionably erected by Indians in Massachusetts was such a remarkable structure that an entire mountain was named in its honor - Monument Mountain. The stone heap was first recorded in 1734 by John Sergeant.

"There is a large heap of stones, I suppose ten cart-loads, in the Way to Wnahtukook, which the Indians have thrown together as they have pass'd by the place; for it us'd to be their custom, every time any one pass'd by, to throw a stone upon it. But what was the end of it they cannot tell; only they say their fathers us'd to do so, and they do it because it was the custom of their fathers." (Sergeant (1734)1911:24-25)

The practice apparently continued into the 20th century in Massachusetts. Dr. Frank G. Speck witnessed the custom first-hand at Mashpee, where he snapped a photograph of a memorial brush heap. (Speck 1945:19)

The region's historical records are teeming with similar reports of stone-and-brush-piling by Native Americans during and beyond the Contact Period. (Jeune [1656]1898:24-25, Hawley [1794]1968:59-60, Belknap 1831:167, Simms 1845:632, Caulkins 1878:37-38, Halsey 1901:24, Speck 1945:21-23)

But Native American stone-piling activities in Massachusetts weren't limited to large monumental heaps of stones and brush. Reports can be found in the record of smaller stone piles that mark Indian graves. A traditional story of the Wampanoag, as recorded by Gladys Tantaquidgeon at Aquinnah, tells the story of the untimely death of an Indian mother and child, whose resting places are marked by a heap of stones. (Simmons 1986:139)

But this is not the only report of stones either used in or piled on top of graves in the region. (Putnam 1913:224, van der Donck [1655]1841:201-202, Tooker 1896:59, Marye 1920:118, Williams 1833:136, Field 1819:85, Barber [1836]1999:199, Ipswich [1667]1913:400, Moorehead 1922:90, Webster [1788]1962:621, Cothren 1854:88, Houghton 1922:65, Hall 1907:78, Randall 1873:13)

Even further evidence exists that Indians in the region built their sweathouses of stones. In the mid-17 Century, Roger Williams recorded how such sweathouses were built:

"Pesuponck; a hot house. This hot house is a kind of little cell or cave, six or eight feet over, round, made on the side of a hill, commonly by some rivulet or brook." (Williams [1643]1968:236)

That description was repeated by Cotton Mather in Massachusetts decades later:

"Their hot-house is a little cave, about eight foot over . . ." (Mather [1702]1855:558)

In Williams's description, it is important to note the use of the words, "cell or cave," and that the sweathouse was, "made," on the side of a hill. Sadly, there are no further descriptions of what materials were used to make those sweat-houses. However we can look to other sources from the region for some insight. In Mohegan territory we find the following description of a peice of land:

"Daniel Comstock in 1730 deeded to his son John, land on the Thames River in what is now the town of Montville. It was 'a piece of meadow, to witt, fresh meadow at a heap of stones at a place called the Hot House.'" (Land IX:149; Butler 1945:11)

Note that the description is a, "heap of stones," much like one would find if a, "cell or cave," constructed of stone collapsed in upon itself over time. Certainly sweathouses constructed of stone are not unknown to Eastern Woodlands ethnography. At the turn of the 18th Century, John Lawson recorded how the Saponis constructed their sweathouses:

"Near the Town, within their clear'd Land, are several Bagnios, or Sweating-Houses, made of Stone, in Shape like a large Oven. These they make much Use of; especially, for any Pains in the Joints, got by Cold, or Travelling." (Lawson 1709:49)

We also find hints of stone-constructed sweat lodges in traditional Indian stories handed down from generation to generation. Charles G. Leland collected such a story from the Mi'Kmaq in the late 19th Century.

"Now the Bear, who had a frame as hard as a rock, felt sure that he could endure anything that a gull could, especially to become a white bear. So, with much ceremony, the Great Enchanter went to work. He built a strong wigwam, three feet high, of stones, and having put the Bear into it he cast in red-hot stones, and poured water on them through a small hole in the roof. Erelong the Bear was in a terrible steam." (Leland 1884:191)

But memorial piles, graves, and sweat-houses are not the only recorded stone constructions created by Indians in the region. There are also reports of fish weirs constructed of stone (Read 1892:14, Rau 1884:200-201, Beauchamp 1897:76), and even Indian barns or storage pits made of stone:

"On Broad Rock Farm, some of the land owned by College Tom, and still in his family, two of the Indian caches for corn can still be seen. They were small hollows in the ground roughly lined with stone, not more than a foot deep at present; perhaps three feet long and two wide." (Hazard 1893:111)

Most remarkable, however, are the reports of stone forts in the region. Queen's Fort, still extant in Rhode Island, is on the National Register of Historic Places as the site of a Narragansett Indian fort (Potter 1835:84). It features stone walls and enclosures built by Indians. Another site in Rhode Island, called Rolling Rock, also features stone walls at a site known to be Narragansett in origin. We also find a similar report of a stone fort in nearby Connecticut:

"Sir I heare a report of a stonewall and strong fort in it, made all of Stone, which is newly discovered at or neare Pequot. I should be glad to know the truth of it from your selfe, here being many strange reports about it." (Pynchon [1645]1985:12)

But no matter what anyone might believe about the history of piled stone on the Massachusetts landscape, one thing is for sure -- the Indians themselves know that many stone structures on the landscape were built by their ancestors. They are fighting for the protection of culturally significant stone structure sites all over the Eastern Woodlands, including in Massachusetts. In 2007, the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. passed USET Resolution 2007:037 calling for measures to increase awareness and protection for, "sacred ceremonial stone landscapes found in the ancestral territories," of USET, Inc. member tribes. Both the Mashpee and Gay Head tribes of the Wampanoag Nation are members of USET, Inc.

In light of the overwhelming evidence that Indians in Massachusetts did indeed pile, stack, and build with stone in historic times, and that such sites have archaeological and historic value, I ask that you remove the aforementioned entry in your FAQ. Furthermore, I request that you consider creating a new entry that gives accurate and factual information concerning the historic Indians in Massachusetts and their use of stones.

I urge you to hire experts in this field -- more and more professional archaeologists are emerging everyday to study this forgotten field. I implore you to help guide property owners and developers at discerning colonial stonework from Native American stonework. Stop the destruction of sacred sites. Keep the bulldozers from obliterating the history of a culture and people on our land. We have no idea what amazing discoveries await us.

Sincerely,
James Porter

REFERENCES

BARBER, John Warner. [1836] 1999. Connecticut Historical Collections. Reissue. Storrs, CT.: Bibliopola Press, UConn Co-op.

BEAUCHAMP, William M. 1897. Aboriginal Chipped Stone Implements of New York. In Bulletin of the New York State Museum, Vol. 4, No. 16, (October 1897). Albany: University of the State of New York.

BUTLER, Eva L. 1945. Sweat-Houses in the Southern New England Area. In Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, vol. 7 no. 1 (1945), pp. 10-13. Middleborough: Massachusetts Archaeological Society.

COTHREN, William. 1854. History of Ancient Woodbury, Connecticut. Waterbury, CT: Bronson Brothers.

FIELD, David Dudley. 1819. A Statistical Account of the County of Middlesex in Connecticut. Middletown, CT: Clark & Lyman.

HALL, Edward Hagaman. 1907. Glen Iris, A Great Gift. In The Magazine of History, Vol. V, Feb. 1907, No. 2. New York: William Abbatt.

HALSEY, Francis Whiting. 1901. The Old New York Frontier. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

HAWLEY, Gideon. [1794] 1968. A Letter from Rev. Gideon Hawley of Marshpee. In Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Ser. 1, Vol. IV. Reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation.

HAZARD, Caroline. 1893. Thomas Hazard Son of Rob't Call'd College Tom: A Study of Life in Narragansett in the18th Century. Cambridge: The Riverside Press.

HOUGHTON, Frederick. 1922. The Archeology of the Genesee Country. In Researches and Transactions of the New York State Archeological Association, Lewis H. Morgan Chapter, Vol. III, No. 2. Rochester, NY: Lewis H. Morgan Chapter.

IPSWICH Quarterly Court. (March 1667) 1913. In Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County: Volume III - 1662-1667. Salem: Essex Institute.

LAND Records. vol. IX, p. 149. City Hall, New London, CT.

LAWSON, John. 1709. A New Voyage to Carolina. London.

LELAND, Charles G. 1884. The Algonquin Legends of New England. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company

MARYE, William B. 1920. The Old Indian Road. In Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. XV, No. 2, (June 1920). Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society.

MOOREHEAD, Warren K. 1922. A Report on the Archaeology of Maine. Andover, MA: The Andover Press.

POTTER, Elisha Reynolds. 1835. Early History of Narragansett. Providence, RI: Marshall, Brown, and Company.

PUTNAM, F. W. 1913. Letter to the President of Harvard; The Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology; Reports of the President and the Treasurer of Harvard College, 1912-1913. In Official Register of Harvard University, Vol. XI, No. 1, Pt. 8 (April 20, 1914). Cambridge: Harvard University.

PYNCHON, John. [1645] 1985. The Pynchon Papers. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

RANDALL, S. S. 1873. Historical and Personal Reminiscences of Chenango-County, New York. In The Historical Magazine, Vol. 1, 3d Ser. Morrisania, NY: Henry B. Dawson.

RAU, Charles. 1884. Prehistoric Fishing in Europe and North America. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge 509. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

READ, Benjamin. 1892. The History of Swanzey, New Hampshire, from 1734 to 1890. Salem, MA: The Salem Press.

SERGEANT, John. [1734] 1911. Historical Memoirs Relating to the Housatonic Indians by Samuel Hopkins. In The Magazine of History, No. 17. New York: William Abbatt.

SIMMONS, William S. 1986. Spirit of the New England Indian Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620-1984. Hanover: University Press of New England.

SPECK, Frank G. 1945. The Memorial Brush Heap in Delaware and Elsewhere. In Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Delaware, vol. 4, no. 2, May 1945. Wilmington: Archaeological Society of Delaware.

STILES, Ezra. [1762] 1916. Extracts from the Itineraries and Other Miscellanies of Erza Stiles, D.D., LL.D., 1755-1794, ed. Franklin B. Dexter. New Haven: Yale University Press.

TOOKER, William Wallace. 1896. John Eliot's First Indian Teacher and Interpreter, Cockenoe-de-Long Island. New York: Francis P. Harper.

VAN DER DONCK, Adriaen. [1655] 1841. A Description of the New-Netherlands. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, 2d Ser., Vol. I. New York: D. Appleton & Company.

WEBSTER, Noah. [1788] 1962. Letter to Rev. Ezra Stiles, Jamuary 20, 1788. In American Anthropologist, Vol. 64, August 1962. Washington D.C.: American Anthropological Association.

WILLIAMS, Roger [1643] 1963. Key into the Language of America, J. H. Trumbull, ed. In The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Vol. I, pp. 61-282. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc.

WILLIAMS, William T. 1833. Letter to a Member of the Publishing Committee; Gardener's Narrative. In Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society: 3rd Ser., Vol. III, pp. 131-160. Cambridge: E. W. Metcalf and Co.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Split Boulders

Split Boulders
by Jim Porter
"And I have heard it reported from credible persons, that (whilst I was there in the Countrie) there happened a Terrible earthquake amongst the French, rending a huge rock asunder even to the center, wherein was a vast hollow of an immeasurable depth, out of which came many infernal spirits." (Josselyn [1663]1865:48)
John Josselyn reported the unleashing of infernal spirits when a huge rock split in half during an earthquake in what was presumably present-day Maine. While the quote is easily dismissed as a quaint superstition of the past, it may be one of the earliest contact-period references tying together Native American spirituality and stone. Josselyn made his second reference some time later when he described the reciprocal relationship the local Indians had with their healing spirit:
". . . if the sick recover they send rich gifts, their Bowes and Arrows, Wompompers, Mohacks, Beaver skins, or other rich furs to the Eastward, where there is a vast rock not far from shore, having a hole in it of an unsearchable profundity, into which they throw them." (Josselyn [1663]1865:104-105)

But Josselyn was by no means the only European to record this type of worship to a spirit dwelling inside stone. The first such reference belongs to the Jesuit priest and missionary Jean de Brébeuf. While among the Hurons, he recorded the propitiation of a spirit in the hollow of an important rock:
". . . they hold that in the hollow of this Rock there is a Demon, who is capable of making their journey successful; that is why they stop as they pass, and offer it Tobacco, which they simply put into one of the clefts, addressing to it this prayer, Oki ca ichikhon condayee aenwaen ondayee d'aonstaancwas, etc., 'Demon who dwellest in this place, here is some Tobacco which I present to thee; help us, guard us from shipwreck, defend us from our enemies, and cause that after having made good trades we may return safe and sound to our Village.'" (Brébeuf [1636]1898:165)
The practice was apparently fairly widespread. For example, John Lawson reported a very similar practice among the Saponis and Tutelos along the border between North Carolina and Virginia at the start of the 18th Century:
"The next day, we went over several Tracts of rich Land, but mix'd with Pines and other indifferent Soil. In our way, there stood a great Stone about the Size of a large Oven, and hollow; this the Indians took great Notice of, putting some Tobacco into the Concavity, and spitting after it. I ask'd them the reason of their so doing, but they made me no Answer." (Lawson 1709:57)

Lawson's report shows more than just a similar practice among Eastern Siouan people. It also indicates some level of secrecy in regards to the ritual. The Indians accompanying Lawson wouldn't divulge the reason for their offering. Such secrecy is an indication of the depth of self-preservation so strongly ingrained in Indian society even at a date so early in the 18th Century.

Traces of similar beliefs can be found in the folklore and oral traditions of the Indians in the Northeast. Noted anthropologist Frank Speck collected a folktale at Scaticook in the early 20th Century about a ghost dwelling in a hole in a rock. Whiskey replaces tobacco as the offering of choice in this more modern retelling. But the essential elements are present, as one would expect to find in oral traditions passed down from generation to generation over three centuries.
"This is the story of Peter Sky. They said that he lived north of here. He used to go by a swamp that lay near a road. One dark night he and some one else went to town and got some whisky. Then they came down that road until they reached the swamp. They took their whisky down there and began to drink when they had found a nice place to sit on. Soon they fell to quarreling over their whisky, and in the fight that followed Pete was killed. The other Indian got away and was never heard of again. But the next day some people coming by found Pete's body there and a rock with a hole in it close by. That rock was never noticed much by the Indians thereafter until one dark and foggy night, when some of them went down to the swamp on their way home to drink something they had bought. They heard noises from the rock, and one of them poured some of the goods into the hole. Immediately there was a voice from the rock. It called for more, and they kept on pouring whisky in until the voice was the voice of a drunken man. The rock will 'holler' now on foggy nights if you pour whisky into it." (Speck 1928:278; Simmons 1986:125)

As John Josselyn reported in the 17th century, the spirits dwelling inside a rock or boulder can be unleashed should the rock be split in half. One story collected by Speck indicates that Pauwaus among the Mohegan may have spent time in the woods at night splitting stone. Since the story was collected decades after the widespread religious conversion of the 19th Century, the Pauwau has been turned into an evil spirit to be feared, and the place where he once practiced his spirituality is a place to be avoided.
"A ghost still holds forth on the steep hillside among the rocks. Some of the Indians, in fact most of them, have at one time or another heard the clinking maul and wedge of someone splitting stone there on dark nights." (Speck 1928:254)
"Dr. Speck the Old Indian Stone Cutter has been dead over 30 years and when the moon is full he comes out to work and you will have to pass right by the quarry where he works and you will be sure to hear him. We think you had better stay with us tonite!" (Simmons 1985:157)
In this Seneca myth published by Jeremiah Curtin, we learn that the power to split stone came from the most powerful spirits themselves:
"The man gave his hatchet to Stone Coat, who looking at it, rubbed the edge of it with his hand and without knowing it, gave the hatchet such power that it was harder than anything else in the world. 'Show me what you can do with this thing,' said Stone Coat. The man struck a rock. The rock split open. Stone Coat was terribly frightened. He thought that the power came from the man. 'This man,' said he in his mind, 'is as strong as we are. Maybe he can kill us.'" (Curtin 1922:510)

One of the most well-known split-boulders in New England's Indian Country is one once revered by the Wampanoag. During later historic times, the boulder would play a prominent role as a boundary marker separating Indian land from English land on the island of Martha's Vineyard.
"An arbitrarily chosen trail led us winding through scrub pine and oak trees, past the weed-choked foundations of a colonial-era farmstead, and up a gradual peak, until it ended at a boulder split by a deep diagonal crack sitting atop a wooded hill. This landmark, our tourist literature explained, was called Waskosim’s Rock and figured prominently in the oral tradition of the island’s Indians . . . A classic New England stone wall extending from the boulder into the forest added a poetic element to the scene . . . With the hilltop juncture of Indian and English symbols piquing my imagination, at first opportunity I asked a 'Vineyarder' about the place, sparking a conversation that went something like this: 'Oh, the wall,' he answered, 'that’s the Middle Line.' 'The Middle Line?' 'That’s right. It divided whites and Indians in the old days. We built half,' he said, referring to the colonists, 'they,' the Indians, 'built the other. Before that, the rock divided two tribes.'" (Silverman 2004:xix-xx)
"WASKOSIM'S ROCK and MIDDLE LINE were boundaries that divided Wampanoag land from Mayhew land for about ten to twenty years. Middle Line was a straight line drawn from Waskosim's rock across the Island to Menemsha Pond. Looking toward Menemsha Pond, the land on the right was Wampanoag and the land on the left was Mayhew. Today, Waskosim's marks a different boundary between the towns of Chilmark and West Tisbury. Waskosim means 'new stone' in Wampanoag." (Waskosim's (n.d.):Chilmark)
Although the evidence is not conclusive, there are still traces that can be gleaned from the records that give us some indication of what Indians might have believed about spirits dwelling in rocks during the contact period. We can even find some indications that Indians may have actually split stones apart for ritual purposes.

Despite the early secrecy and scant information about how Indians were using stones as part of their spiritual practices, there is some agreement between the traces we find in historical records, folklore, and oral traditions, and the impressive number of split-filled and split-wedged boulders we find at stone structure sites. The connection seems to be more than just coincidence.

BRÉBEUF, Jean de. [1636] 1898. Hurons. In The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610—1791, Vol. X. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers.

CURTIN, Jeremiah. 1922. Seneca Indian Myths. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company.

JOSSELYN, John. [1663] 1865. An Account of Two Voyages to New-England. Boston: William Veazie.

LAWSON, John. 1709. A New Voyage to Carolina. London.

SILVERMAN, David J. 2004. Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community Among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, 1600–1871. New York: Cambridge University Press.

SIMMONS, William S.; Frank G. Speck. 1985. Frank Speck and "The Old Mohegan Indian Stone Cutter". In Ethnohistory, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring 1985), pp. 155-163. Durham: Duke University Press.

SIMMONS, William S. 1986. Spirit of the New England Indian Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620-1984. Hanover: University Press of New England.

SPECK, Frank G. 1928. Native tribes and dialects of Connecticut: A Mohegan-Pequot diary. In Forty-Third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1925-1926. pp. 199-287. Washington: G.P.O.

WASKOSIM'S Rock. (n.d). Nashawahkamuk (Chilmark). In Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head - Aquinnah official website. Retrieved February 11, 2008. http://www.wampanoagtribe.net/Pages/Wampanoag_Way/chilmark

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The sculpture pictured below was created by the famous artist Cyrus E. Dallin and it is titled Menotomy Indian Hunter. It stands in tribute to the First Nation of the Mystic Valley. It can be found in Robbins Park between the Robbins Library and Town Hall in Arlington, MA.




The earliest name for the Town of Arlington, MA was the Village of Menotomy. Obviously an Algonquian word, for more than 100 years it was believed that Menotomy meant, "swiftly flowing water." For more than 100 years people had it wrong.

You can read the booklet in PDF format titled The True Meaning Of Menotomy by author Jim Porter at this link:

http://www.menotomyjournal.com/truemeaningofmenotomy.pdf

The booklet includes an explanation of how and why people got the translation wrong, and an in-depth explanation of what the word actually means. Also included is a timeline of the First Nation of the Mystic Valley as related to the land owned by the last Queene of Misticke, the Squaw Sachem of the Pawtucket.