Thursday, November 27, 2008

Paddling the Pakanoket Waters of Montaup

Yesterday morning I drove down to Mt. Hope Bay in Rhode Island to paddle along the shore of Pokanoket at Montaup. According to Native American Place Names of Massachusetts by R.A. Douglas-Lithgow, Pokanoket was the "Favourite hunting-ground of King Philip" and means "The wood or land on the other side of the water." King Philip, also known as Metacom, was the second son of Massasoit, the Wampanoag sachem who befriended the European settlers at Plymouth. Metacom later became the most recognized leader of an insurgency, known as King Philip's War, against the encroaching Europeans. Metacom's complaints can be seen at:

The European settlers prevailed in the conflict and Metacom was killed in 1676. Rather than being treated as a worthy adversary, he was demonized by the victors and his head was mounted on a pole in Plymouth for 25 years. My goal was to visit the place where Metacom and his people spent their happier days.
Therefore, it was only appropriate that to reach the boat landing, I would drive down Metacom Avenue to Annawamscutt Drive and just before reaching King Philip Avenue, turn right into the Mt. Hope Fishing Access. Here I launched my kayak into the very calm waters of Mt. Hope Bay. To the north was Bristol Narrows, where the tidal Kickamuit River enters. Looking across the approximately 4-mile wide bay, I could see the electric-generating plant at Brayton Point and the bridge to Fall River. Using my binoculars, I could see one of the battleships in Battleship Cove, just beyond the bridge. To the southeast, a smaller bridge crossed over the Sakonnet River. I began paddling to the south following the shoreline to Mt. Hope Point and after rounding the point, into a stiff southwest wind, found a calm refuge in Church Cove. Exiting my boat, I found an oyster shell at my feet and thought of the expression, "The World was their oyster". The land had mostly deciduous trees but there were quite a few small cedar trees close to the shoreline. It was in this vicinity that the Pokanoket branch of the Wampanoag Tribe spent their summers and I can see why. The almost daily, in summer, southwest breeze would have kept insects to a minimum, they would have had access to plentiful supplies of fish and shellfish, and with canoes would have had access to the entire Narragansett Bay and all of the rivers that flow into it. This was a commanding location. In fact, it is said that Metacom, on hearing in 1665 that a man on Nantucket, known as Assassamu, was invoking his deceased father's name, traveled by canoe from Pokanoket all the way to the west end of Nantucket Island and back. This would have been quite a trip to undertake in a canoe! Assassamu survived Metacom's intended fate when the white settlers paid a ransom of sorts.
Leaving Church Cove I noticed the Mt. Hope Bridge linking Bristol Point and Bristol Ferry about a mile to my southwest. I turned around and let the breeze from that direction help me back to where I had launched from. At the landing, a small stream was running strong with water from the previous day's rains. It provided a convenient spot to rinse the salt water from my gear.
With my gear all stowed, I decided to access the area by land. I drove down Tower Street and onto the property of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. This museum, operated by Brown University, owns 375 acres of woodland on the shore of Mt. Hope Bay. Unfortunately, the museum is closed during the week, at this time of year, so I was unable to walk the grounds.
This image by frahof shows what Wampanoag Montaup may have looked like:

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