“The Passing of Passaconoway” by Jim Peter

Jim Peters is a frequent contributor to this site. Here’s another of his essays on local Native Americans.

Time, it is often said, passes quickly. It seemed to for Passaconaway, the wise man and Chief of the Pawtucket tribe. Like many rulers, he wanted to make sure that, in his passing, there would still be peace and tranquility among the many tribes in the Pentucket confederacy. Therefore, he picked his own son, Wannalancit, as his successor. He did this before he got sick because he wanted to spend his last years in peace. He gave up his new religion, Christianity, and went back to what he grew up with and knew.

He held a grand banquet at Amoskeag Falls in what is now Manchester, NH. Many were invited and many came. He cautioned his friends and his son, saying, “Take heed how you quarrel with the English. Never make war with them.” He seemed to sense the resolve of the English, and did not want to go to war with them because of that resolve. He referred to them as the “Sons of the Great Spirit.” He also said that the Great Spirit had cast his light upon them. “Listen to my advice,” he said, “and remember it and live.” It appeared that the people in the Banquet Hall were listening intently.

The local chief was now called Nobhow or Numphow. In his final days, Passaconaway helped him by getting the English, the Massachusetts legislature, by General Court order, to give to the Pawtucket the lands of Manchester, Londonderry, Litchfield, Merrimack, and Bedford in New Hampshire. These lands were often called, at the time, the “Pine Plains.”

Some Native Americans submitted to the English in the Act of 1656, which further defined their boundaries and saw the rise to power of Major General Daniel Gookin, who became Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Massachusetts. These Native Americans had submitted themselves in allegiance to the English. For his part, Gookin acted as a judge to the Native Americans. He “had the power of the County Court” over his charges. He could and did dispense justice. If something could not be decided, it was sent to, and handled, in Boston.

The rules laid down by the English Courts were relatively lengthy and exact. Native Americans could keep their soil, unless an Englishman wanted it instead. Land could only be given under a licensing procedure of the Court. The Native American could have no alcohol, except for medicinal purposes. Since most medicines of the time consisted of a high percentage of alcohol, medicinal purposes arose fairly frequently.

Passaconaway died as an old man, without power or prestige. He died poor, in spirit and monetarily. He had done what he said he would do, he had kept peace with the Englishmen. By the time he died, liquor laws were easily overcome, and powwows, witches, and wizards were prohibited. It is said that the last Native American left Lowell upon its inception in 1826. Whether or not that last Native American was Passaconaway, or whether Passaconaway had died by that time, we do not know. But he was the last great chief of the Pawtuckets and he deserves to be remembered.

3 Responses to “The Passing of Passaconoway” by Jim Peter

  1. Arthur says:

    English Colonial sources contain some references to Passaconaway and a great deal of legend surrounds him , but I think it is certain :
    1.He was the head of the Pennacook Confedracy ;
    2.He resigned his leadership in favor of his son , Wannalancit :
    3.He died before Reverend John Eliot who passed away in 1690 ;
    4. Pasaconaway was very old man at the time of his death { usually given as 1679-1682 range. }
    I have never heard any suggestion that he was alive in the 19th Century until this article .

  2. Daniel Patrick Murphy says:

    “He seemed to sense the resolve of the English, and did not want to go to war with them because of that resolve.” The “resolve of the English” may have more to do with germs, guns, and steel as was written in the book entitled “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond. The influence of those three factors seem to have more to do with conquering the Native Americans (and others cultural groups) than ‘resolve.” Perhaps power and greed are ingredients as that are more germane than resolve.

    Daniel Patrick Murphy