Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Visit to Massasoit's Sowams

Ever since first reading Edward Winslow's account of his 1621 visit to Massasoit's residence at "Sowams", I've wondered just where this place was located.  Recently, I came across (online) a historical sketch written in 1904 by Virginia Baker: Massasoit's Town - Sowams in Pakanoket, Its History, Legends, and Traditions.  In opening she explains: ..."The ancient chroniclers often allude to Massasoit's place of residence, and the questions that naturally present themselves are: Where was this place? Why did Massasoit select it for his abode?  What is its history?" 
Reading her sketch provided me with a location and, even better, one which I could paddle to on this fairly mild "Groundhog Day".  After spending a good part of Saturday studying maps, etc., I emerged from my burrow early this morning and under the cover of darkness traveled to Barrington, Rhode Island arriving there just a little after daybreak. I launched into the Barrington River between the East Bay Bike Path and the Rt. 114/Rt. 103 bridge (opening photo).  Fog was making a valiant effort to prevent any and all from seeing their shadows.  I paddled against the incoming tide to below Tyler Point and then crossed over to the Town of Warren's shore until reaching the location given by Baker (appropriately named Baker Street).  At a shallow spot my boat's painter was tied to a post and I went ashore for the short walk to a small park alongside Baker Street...
The pictured ring of stones had me wondering if it was meant to represent a possible location of Massasoit's lodge or perhaps the spring bearing his name.  Unfortunately, there were no signs or plaques that I could find.  A little disappointed, I started heading back to the water, and almost walked into a moss covered stone bearing this tablet, on the sidewalk across the street...
It was erected by the State of Rhode Island in 1907.  With this found, my goal for the day had been successfully accomplished and from now on I'll have a physical place to envision whenever thinking of the Massasoit/Winslow encounters.  I should mention that there are other theories as to the geographical location of Sowams.  Some claim it was in Barrington and others say Bristol.

After re-launching I returned to the Barrington River and rode the incoming tide a few miles upriver to Hundred Acre Cove where small floating icebergs emerging out of the fog brought to mind the Titanic...

Solid ice was encountered a short ways above Osamequin (Massasoit's real name) Nature Trail and Bird Sanctuary.  This stately osprey nest was located nearby...

While ashore having a snack and waiting for the tide to turn, the fog began clearing and allowed me to view more of the cove...

It was chock-full of buffleheads, mergansers, Canada geese, mute swans, and seagulls.  This merganser sort of stuck around...

Upon returning to the takeout, the sun was gaining ground so I continued back around Tyler Pt. and headed a short way up the Warren River to where I could see it stretching northward...
...towards the Palmer River and Massachusetts.

Now that I've seen the possible location of Sowams, I'd have to say that Massasoit sure selected an ideal location.  This photo, taken from the confluence of the Barrington and Warren Rivers (after the fog lifted), shows the Warren waterfront and Sowams would be behind the building at the far right ....
From this location he would have had access to the Warren and Barrington Rivers as well as Narragansett Bay's upper and lower sections.  Also, the Kickemuit River was only one mile to the east and provided access to Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River.  Bounties of fish, waterfowl, oysters, quahaugs, and lobsters were there for the taking.
 
I'm really starting to appreciate this region at the 41st latitude, especially in winter. 

My trash haul for the day...

There were 30 recyclable containers and 27 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags and Styrofoam.  More than half of the trash was found at the boat ramp from which I launched. 
YTD = 231

2 comments:

George Gustafson said...

Hello, Trashpaddler,

A noble cause indeed, picking up the trash along the way. Thank you! Wouldn't it be nice if folks didn't consider the world their trash can?

On to Sowams ... I visited this site last fall, was sort of disappointed that the spring no longer exists, as far as I can tell. It IS nice that back in the early 1900's they installed that marker.

Finding sites involving the pre-colonial and colonial Indians has been challenging, but there are a few around. An interesting one is the site here in Berkley, MA where Edward Bobbit was killed by Indians during King Phillips War. Across the river from that site (in Dighton) is the stump of what used to be the Council Oak, where King Phillip met with members of other tribes, reputedly to decide to go to war. Farther down the Taunton River, once again on the Berkley side is Conspiracy Island, so called because King Phillip met there with the Indians living on Assonet Neck, probably to recruit fighters. When I stand on Conspiracy Island I get the feeling that it might be partially composed of a shell midden. Even now there are lots of oysters in there river there.

I am wondering, since you are a kayak enthusiast, have you ever traveled to the location of the Great Swamp Massacre (or Great Swamp Fight) in Kingston, RI?

Thanks, and keep up the good work.

Trashpaddler said...

Hello George, This site became even more interesting recently when Ousamequin's remains were returned to their original location in Warren, RI. The location of the burial spot was only a short distance to the south of "Massasoit's Spring".
The other sites you mention sound interesting. I have visited Conspiracy Island and the site of the Great Swamp Massacre.
Just this past week members of the Pakanoket tribe occupied land in Bristol, RI that was once their ancestral homeland. Al