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Seekonk History

A Historical Overview of Seekonk, Massachusetts
 

The following is a brief history of the Town of Seekonk. For more complete information you could go to the Seekonk Public Library and find The History of Seekonk in the reference section. This book was compiled largely by Dr. John Eardhart, Mr. Frank Mooney and Mr. Frederick Nelson and makes very interesting reading. Facts mentioned here are explained in much greater detail in this reference book.

 

Early Years
 

The first inhabitants of Seekonk were Native Americans from the Wampanoag Tribe. The name Wampanoag means People of the Morning Light. This name refers to the geographical area of the tribe. Living in the East they would be the first people to greet the sun each morning. The area now known as Seekonk and Rehoboth provided agricultural and water resources with abundant food supplies. During the warm summer months the Natives spent time near the rivers and oceans in what is now Southeastern Massachusetts. In the winter months the Natives lived inland, including several locations in Seekonk.  At one time there were three Native American villages in the area we now call Seekonk.
There have been many spellings of the name  Seekonk. Some of the various spellings include Seconch, Sink Hunk, Secquncke,Seaconke and Squannakonk.  Most historical scholars agree that the name is derived from two Native American words, "sucki" (meaning black) and "honck" (meaning goose). The symbol of the goose in flight is used on the Town Seal.  
The Wampanoag Indians had a very strong family oriented culture with expectations of each member of the tribe to contribute to the good of the whole. Gender roles were typical of agrarian societies. The women were entrusted with caring not only for the daily physical needs of the tribe but also with recounting the tales that kept their heritage alive.

The males had the responsibilities of hunting, fishing, and protecting the tribe. Young males spent the first years of their lives close to their mothers. When the child was about 10 years of age he would spend more time with the males. During the winter of his 13th year the boy would be expected to live in the forest by himself. In the Spring following this winter he would be welcomed back into the tribe as a warrior.

The Wampanoags were governed by a chief. This chief was advised by a council and he generally listened to and respected their advice. It was possible for a woman to be a member of the council. The position of chief usually passed from father to son.


 

Chief Massasoit
 

The chief of the Wampanoags at the time the colonists settled in Southeastern Massachusetts was known as Massasoit or Ossamequin. In English this name means yellow feather. Ossamequin's people had been seriously affected by a plague just prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. A large number of Wampanoag Indians had been killed by this illness. Most historians believe this plague to have been yellow fever.
 


 

Massasoit decided to make a peace treaty with the new immigrants for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important factor was that the Wampanoags were fearful of being overtaken by the Narragansett Indians who lived nearby. Ossamequin believed an alliance with the English would help to secure the safety of his people.


 

In 1653 Ossamequin and his son Wamsetto, also known as Alexander to the English, signed a deed granting the land that is now  Seekonk and the surrounding communities to Thomas Willitt, Myles Standish and Josiah Winslow. The Native Americans did not believe that an individual could own a piece of land. Most likely they believed they were selling fishing and hunting rights to the settlers. The Wampanoags were paid 35 pounds sterling by the English for this transaction.


 

Three of the earliest English men to settle in the area now known as Seekonk and Providence were William Blackstone, Roger Williams and Samuel Newman. These men and their followers proved it was possible to provide a living away from the coastal areas. This allowed groups of individuals to separate themselves from Puritan control. In turn this led to a greater diversity of culture and religious and philosophical freedom. It was only by forming alliances with the Native Americans in both the Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes that these early settlements were able to flourish.


 

Massasoit lived until he was 80 years old. While he lived, his people and the settlers lived in relative peace. He was followed in power by his son Wamsetto. This chief died shortly after his father and was replaced  by his brother Metacomet, also known as King Philip.

Metacomet watched as his culture and way of life was being eradicated by the white settlers. In 1675 the King Philip's War began and both sides saw this as an opportunity to claim the land for their people and their way of life. Metacomet and his people lost their struggle to save their home and the chief was killed by two colonists. He was beheaded and his head stayed on public display on a pole in Plymouth for 25 years. From this point on the land in Massachusetts Bay Colony belonged to the English settlers.

 


 

For the next 200 years the area we now call Seekonk was primarily a farming community.  Accounts of Town Meetings during these years communicate just how contentious deciding what was best for this area could be. Boundary disputes were common and the land that is now Rehoboth, East Providence, Pawtucket and Seekonk was claimed by both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In 1812 the border disputes were settled by the courts and the present town of Seekonk was incorporated. 

Very few farms still exist in Seekonk. Developers have turned the farms into housing divisions and Seekonk is used largely as a suburban home community for people who work in the Rhode Island and Boston areas. Although there has been a great deal of building in Seekonk since the Wampanoags first lived here you can still see many of the "black" (Canadian) geese which give the town its name.