History of the Pigwacket

In 1740, the death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, set of the War of Austrian Succession. The War would have ripple effects felt around the world in Rochester. When Charles IV died his daughter, Maria Theresa was left to take his place. France and Prussia challenged her authority declaring she was not eligible to assume the various thrones held by the Hapsburgs because she was a woman. The British and Dutch who had long been enemies of the French supported Austria. Great Britain did not get involved in the war until late 1743. In March 1744, war was officially declared between France and Great Brittan. In May, the news reached the French colony at Nova Scotia. The French wasted little time in attacking British ports. The war soon spread to British holdings in New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The war front in the American colonies is known as King George’s War.

Native Americans were often drawn in to colonial wars as allies for the colonists. War could be a valuable source of income for natives but could also be devastating to native families because Native American men suffered high mortality rates in conflicts.

Native Americans also sided with the French during colonial conflicts with the British. Eastern Abenaki in Maine often sided with the French but by the outbreak of King George’s War the Abenaki were suffering from internal conflicts and the southern Abenaki known as the Pigwacket sided with the British.

However, not all of the Pigwacket wished to take sides and fight in the war. In July 1744, several Pigwacket leaders went to Boston to ask the Governor for a safe place to settle during the duration of the war. The Pigwacket wanted to locate to an area in which they had friends. The colonial government denied this request instead choosing a settlement where they could keep a close eye on and make sure they did not get involved in the war against the British. The other option given to the Pigwacket people was to return to where they came from and face a harsh treatment from both sides of the war parties.

The Pigwacket were moved to Castle Island where they were put to work making snowshoes. A colonial committee had been charged with investigating the situation at Castle Island and decided to send the Pigwacket to “English Families, as shall be willing on reasonable Conditions to receive them…” The colonial government wanted to move the Pigwacket further away from the war front, ideally south of Boston. However, they had difficulty finding a town that would welcome them.

By 1746, the Pigwacket found a home in Rochester.  The people of Rochester were willing to host the war refugees and provided some land at Attansawomuck Neck now known as Mattapoisett Neck for the Pigwacket to live. Local residents Noah Sprague and Benjamin Hammond, Jr. were appointed by the colonial committee to act as guardians. These men provided the Pigwacket with necessary tools such as axes, hoes and a fishing boat with funds given by the committee.

Noah Sprague sent bills to the committee to have them pay for materials and goods used by the Pigwacket people including wood cut from his swamp that was used to make baskets and dishes, cedar shingles and picked green apples. Sprague even charged the committee thirty pounds for “extradinary Travlle & care” he had provided.

The Pigwacket people felt the reservation they had been placed on was too confining and they were not happy with their situation. A Rochester resident complained that the Pigwacket were “insolent and surly” and asked the General Court to remove them from Rochester. A General Court committee investigated the situation and accused local residents of selling liquor to the Pigwacket and providing poor guardianship.

The Pigwacket stayed in Rochester but were moved to another tract of land northwest of the Witch Rock on New Bedford Road. By the early 1900s, this area of land had been “given up to woods and huckleberry pastures” and was known in Rochester as Pigwacket.

In 1748 many of the Pigwacket left and returned home. However, some settled with Native Americans in Dartmouth, Freetown and Middleboro. The name Pigwacket survives today in Mattapoisett as Pigwacket Lane but the location of this street does not correspond with the location of the Pigwacket settlement over two centuries ago.

Kyle DeCicco-Carey

2 Responses to “History of the Pigwacket”

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  1. Joyce (Thompson) Magan says:

    I grew up at “Witch Rock” in Rochester. It would have been more interesting to see the rock, and, to learn about the beliefs that the Indians thought that “witches would rise through the cracks when there was a full moon”. I am a descendant of the Abernaki tribe, and it was very interesting to learn more about the Pigwacket Indians.

  2. christina says:

    I am a descendant of the Abenaki, much of my family is from VT or just over into Canada , or from NH .Pigwacket sounds like that is the tribe they were from.Is there a way to tell exactly which tribe.last names?

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