Jim Peters is a regular contributor to this site who has written several times about Native Americans and Lowell. Here’s today’s installment:
Lowell has a strong history of colonization by many groups over the years. We take it for granted that Lowell will absorb a new culture every forty years or so. First, however, were the Native Americans, estimated by some to have been over thirty thousand people from five tribes; all of these tribes fell under the protection of the Pennacook Confederacy. The two most of us know of were the Pawtucket and Pentucket. We can make the case that we remember these two because of their broad accomplishments, the Souhegan not so much. I would make the case, however, that we are probably most familiar with these two because there are streets in the city containing these names.
The Native American contribution to Lowell was great. There are indicators that show that the first Native Americans settled here between eight and nine thousand years ago. Since it is believed by many that their origin was the area now in Mongolia, it can somewhat accurately be said that the first settlers in Lowell were Asian in origin.
Eight thousand years ago is before written history. It is before the Old Testament. It was a long time ago. Perhaps some stone structures survive, but we would have difficulty knowing that they may be in place with a forgotten purpose. If the Mongoloids came before written history, and since we pushed their descendants off of the land as quickly as we could, we have very little on which to base their history. We made some attempts to not forget them. We noted the baptism of their Chief. We have some writings of visits between the Native Americans and the European population, which I will delve into a bit more later. But we have very little to go on, and that makes it difficult to write their accomplishments. Suffice it to say, that they had their own government, a monarchy, they had alliances for mutual protection, and they had a confederacy.
The first Native Americans settled here and enjoyed the bounty. I described their fishing practices in an earlier article. But, there was a great deal of game and a lot of farmland, and New England was a good place to live and prosper. It is said, on a plaque on Clark Road that an ancient oak tree was used for “Pow-wows.” The sign was erected by the Tercentenary Committee of the 1930’s. Most probably, that tree was significantly smaller when the Native Americans populated the area. It might have been a good meeting place, it might not have served that purpose at all. But it was an attempt by the committee to tie into our abundant Native American heritage.
Here are my observations about our adopted ancestors:
They named the Merrimack that name because it meant “The Strong Place.” Anyone who has ever boated with me on the river knows that is an appropriate name for that river. It is powerful.
Native Americans did not live in a vacuum. Often, friends from the coast would visit others in the interior. Of course, a ten mile walk would have been a great distance.
Rarely would a Native American become a member of another N.A. “nation.” We used to refer to them as tribes. That term is derogatory. They had their own system of government and they were definitely nations.
Members of the Pawtucket nation were polygamous and marriage could be dissolved immediately by either party.
Only adults could marry.
“Indian women were affectionate wives and most devoted mothers,” according to a European witness who lived with them for awhile.
Native Americans paid homage to the sun and the stars. They worshiped thunder, lightening, rain, wind, and trees.
The location of heaven was to the southwest. I could not help but concluding, based on the most recent census figures, that some of that belief may have rubbed off on some of our former citizens.
There is a need for the local museums to include some reference to what was here before 1826. We in the Highlands were part of Chelmsford, we had our own regiment to fight in the Revolutionary War, we constructed a famous canal, the Middlesex Canal, which carried train parts to Lowell and eventually forced most transportation canals into disrepair and neglect. We regularly tolerated the Native Americans, and we named streets and rivers using Native American terms. This shows me that the early mill owners and workers had a grudging respect for their accomplishments.
In the next Native American installment, I will ponder the relationship between the early Europeans and the Native Americans, with additional emphasis on the Eliot christening.