Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Original Research and Opinion on the Location of “Wissatinnewag” by Howard Clark, Senior Researcher for the Nolumbeka Project, Inc.

Wissatinnewag: 1960 Massachusetts Hwy Dept Aerial Photograph
On July 28, 1663 John Pynchon wrote a letter to the Dutch “at the request of the Indians of Agawam, Pajassic, Nalwattog, Pocumtuk and the Wissatinnewag.” The sequence of the list of these tribes is south to north along the Connecticut River: Agawam (Springfield), Pajassic (Westfield), Nalwattog (Northampton/Hatfield), Pocumtuck (Deerfield), Wissatinnewag (at the falls).  A footnote in the Pynchon Papers, Vol. I, by Carl Bridenbaugh, states: “1. unidentified, but obviously a tribe of Indians in the upper Connecticut Valley, probably of the so-called Pocumtuck Confederacy.” The letter in its entirety is on page 46 of Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. XIII, page 308-309, edited by B. Fernow in 1881. Also, on page 55-56 (Pynchon Papers) Pynchon on June 25, 1666 made reference to “some of the upper Indians here which live at the falls” and the footnote says “2. Turners Falls on the Connecticut River”.

Wissatinnewag is listed in Indian Place Names of New England by John C. Huden, 1962, on page 291, as follows: “Wissatinnewag, Franklin County, Mass? Mahican ‘slippery hill’? or Nipmuck, ‘shining hill’? This was an ancient village somewhere on the Connecticut River, 1663”. It is important to note that the Pocumtuc language is Nipmuck.

In the Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico by Frederick Webb Hodge, 1912, page 965, he lists: “Wissatinnewag. A village apparently on the Connecticut River in central Massachusetts in 1663”. (Pynchon (1663) in Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York, XIII, 308, 1881.”

If one views the 1960 aerial photo taken for the Massachusetts Highway Department which shows the falls and its relationship to the Wissatinnewag site, then you can better understand how its native name meaning “shining hill” was derived. The mist from the falls which cascades onto the site would have been a much larger volume in the 1600’s, before the present power canal of today diverts a large portion of the Connecticut River through Turner’s Falls. (See Hoyt’s “Indian Wars”, (1824), page 128).

In “Indian Deeds of Hampden County” (1905) by Harry Andrew Wright pages 61 and 62, Wright shows us a copy of the first deed to Deerfield (which is now part of Greenfield) from 1666, drawn up between John Pynchon and Chaque, a Pocumtuc. Pynchon remarked about  “certain parsells of land at Pacomtuck (Deerfield) on ye further side or upper side or North side of Pacumtuck [Deerfield] River [now the present town of Greenfield].  That is to say beginning a little about where Pukcommeagon [Green] River runs into Pacomtuck [Deerfield] River & so a little way up Pukcommeagon [Green] River off to ye hill Sunsick [West Mountain] westward”.  Chaque will make reference to “Ussowack Wusquiawwag”” near the eastern part of this deeded land. On page 261 of John Huden’s Indian Place Names of New England refers to “ussowack” meaning in Nipmuck “at the end place” or “at the boundary”. The word Wusquiawwag may be referring to Wissatinnewag which lies to the east of this 1666 parcel.

Some have questioned the location of Wissatinnewag in recent years, thinking it was another name for Ausatinnoag (meaning “beyond the mountain”), a settlement near Stockbridge, Massachusetts in Mahican territory.  They claim Pynchon in writing the letter for the Pocumtuck Confederacy to the Mohawks in 1663, slipped in the name Ausatinnoag from where his abandoned trading post was, using a different spelling, one Pynchon had never used,  to protect the Mahican village from the Mohawks. One has to question why?* The Mahican tribes were at peace with the Mohawks at the time. If Pynchon wanted them protected why would he have armed them and sent them out against the Dutch and Mohawks in 1664? This was part of his “plan for the eventual conquest of the Hudson Valley”, that he was among the New Englanders who accepted the Dutch surrender in 1664 (Possessing Albany by Donna Merwick, 1991). Both John Huden and Frederick Hodge place Wissatinnewag on the Connecticut River, while at the same time placing Ausatinnoag in Berkshire County, Massachusetts (Indian Place Names of New England by John C. Huden, 1962, page 36) and Aussatinnoag at Stockbridge (Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico by Frederick Webb Hodge, 1912, page 1030). There is no confusion of the name for both these authors. The Pocumtuc/Nipmuck name Wissatinnewag, “Shining Hill”, using references from Frederick Hodge, John Huden, the Chaque deed of 1666, Pynchon’s listing of another village north of Pocumtuck on the Connecticut River and his 1666 location of a village at the falls all point to only one location. That site is below and directly in front of what is now Turners Falls and, on the other side of the river, in Greenfield.

Welcome to Wissatinnewag – a village with 12,000 years of continuous occupation. Evidence includes the many trails and three fishing stations and a burial ground. Wissatinnewag was a sacred village which had a breathtaking view of the magnificent falls and its plentiful fishing. Many tribes, including the Mohawks and beyond, added to the population of the year-round village during the fish runs. It was a place of peace to work out difference, learn new technologies (pottery, agriculture, etc.) and a place to possibly meet a future mate.

The deed to the Wissatinnewag village is currently held by the Nolumbeka Project.  For information about this organization, visit

*Excerpt from Locating “Wissatinnewag”: A Second Opinion, Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Summer 2007. Volume 35, Issue 2, Page 144
by Lion G. Miles

“John Pynchon acted as agent for the Indians of the Connecticut River Valley, those whom he called “our Indians”. He had no jurisdiction over the Mohicans of the Hudson Valley, known then as “Albany Indians” and later as “New York Indians”. Thus he had no authority in 1663 to petition the Dutch in favor of any Indians on the Housatonic. They would have sent their petitions directly to the Dutch authorities. **
**Calendar of Dutch Historical Manuscripts in the Office of the Secretary of State, Albany, New York, 1630 – 1664 (Albany: Weed, Parsons, & Company, 1865), pages 211, 291; and Documents of Colonial New York XIII, 168, 310.

William A. Sarna, professor emeritus of anthropology at the State University of New York, College at Oneonta, references Wissatinnewag on page 140 of From Homeland to New Land: A History of the Mahican Indians: 1600 – 1830 published in 2013.  Footnote 65, N.Y.C.D., page 308, states“’Wissatinnewag’ is not a linguistic/phonetic variant of Housatonic, as Bruchac and Thomas ‘Locating Wissatinnewag’ have claimed. “ (Ives Goddard, personal comment, 2009). Goddard is curator and senior linguist in the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. A specialist in Algonquian languages, he serves as the linguistic editor and technical editor of the Handbook of North American Indians.

A member of the Friends of Wissatinnewag Council of Elders and one of the last native speakers of the Western Abenaki language, Grandmother Cecile Wawanolett of Odanak, Quebec, confirmed the Algonquin sources, pointing out that "wissit" (slippery) and "noag"a little used word for "hill"would be combined to produce "Wissit-i- noag"-- an apt name of a village whose slopes extended down to the base of the falls and thus would have received a constant sparkling spray. Her photo can be found at