Lowell200: The “Sale” of Wamesit

The ”sale” of Wamesit

The end of King Philip’s War did not bring an end to the ill-feelings of the English towards the Native Americans. On May 24, 1677, the General Court decreed that all Native Americans living in Massachusetts must remain within the bounds of their assigned towns, like Wamesit, where they could be continuously inspected, provide a list of all who resided there, and obtain a permit [from the English] prior to hunting beyond the bounds of the town. On October 12, 1681, the General Court ordered that if any Native Americans who lived at “Naticke, Punkapauge, or Wamesit” refused to remain in those places, the selectmen of the town in which they were detained were authorized to send them to the house of correction or to prison until they complied.

Whether King Philip’s War reversed sincerely held English acceptance of neighboring Native Americans or merely brought to the fore existing racial animosity, the decrees of the Massachusetts General Court from this period show that official treatment of Native Americans had changed enormously since 1655 when the Court sided with Rev. Eliot as agent for the Native Americans over competing English claims to their land.

The new attitudes toward Native Americans caused nearly all the Native Americans of Wamesit to displace to northern New England. That led Wannalancit and other tribal leaders to begin formally transferring ownership of the former “praying town” of Wamesit to their English neighbors. On November 18, 1685, Wannalancit, “the only sonne surviving of old Passaconoway, deceased, who was the great and cheife Sachem upon the Merimack River . . . for much Love and Kindness and many gifts received for above twenty years . . .” granted to Captain Thomas Hinchman, thirty acres of land on the south side of the Merrimack River at a place called “Neahamkeak near Weymesit . . . which lieth upon Black Brook . . . containing Wannalancit’s corne field and the old Indian Fort.”

On September 6, 1686, Wannalancit transferred all of Wamesit except for “the Indian field along the Concord River” to Jonathan Tyng and Daniel Hinchman. One month later, Wannalancit deed the last portion of Wamesit, the six acre field excluded from the conveyance to Tyng and Hinchman, to Jerahmell Bowers of Chelmsford. By these three conveyances, Wannalancit effectively ended Native American ownership (in the English sense) of the entire Wamesit grant. Wannalancit then disappeared from the region but eventually returned, living until his death in 1696 at the house of Jonathan Tyng near today’s Vesper Country Club.

Jonathan Tyng and Daniel Hinchman took title to the Wamesit property as representatives of a loose association of 48 men from Chelmsford who called themselves the Proprietors of Wamesit Neck. On December 14, 1686, Tyng and Hinchman signed deeds which transferred their ownership of “all that part of the Indian plantation called Weymessit” to the Proprietors, identifying Hinchman, John Fisk, and Josiah Richardson as trustees of the rest.

From a conveyance of legal title perspective, this transaction was unremarkable, but from a matter of town governance, it was unique. Per the General Court’s 1655 grant, Wamesit was a separate town, but the Proprietors of Wamesit Neck dispensed with the technicalities of local government. From the beginning of their ownership, they considered themselves to be part of Chelmsford.

This arrangement continued until 1725 when the inhabitants of Chelmsford elected Steven Pierce to represent them in the General Court. Pierce lived near today’s intersection of Parker and Chelmsford streets which was within the Wamesit grant. When he arrived in Boston to take office, the General Court refused to seat him on the grounds that he lived in Wamesit, not Chelmsford, so he could not legally represent that town.

In protest, the people living within Wamesit stopped paying taxes to Chelmsford but the matter was soon resolved when Chelmsford formally requested the General Court to annex Wamesit to it. The petition was granted on June 13, 1726, and Wamesit ceased to exist as a town and thereafter was known as East Chelmsford.

From the beginning, the Wamesit Proprietors showed more interest in dividing up the land than they did in their political associations. A certain amount of land was retained in common but a majority of it was divided into lots that were then assigned to individual owners. Many of the grantees were identified as yeomen or husbandmen indicated that their primary occupations were raising crops or cattle. Over time, the original owners died or sold their property to others and so ownership of most of the land was eventually consolidated under a handful of owners. For the most part, the former Wamesit land remained agricultural and sparsely settled. However, the evolution of New England’s economy affected the region, especially along the banks of the Merrimack and Concord Rivers.