Thursday, July 9, 2020

Fresh Off the Boat



According to the above monument standing at a spot overlooking the Charles River in Watertown, Massachusetts, a 21-year old Roger Clap found himself here within a day or so of having crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the ship, Mary and John.  The ship had left England on March 20, 1630 and arrived at Nantasket on May 30, 1630.  It was the second of 11 shiploads of Puritans crossing the Atlantic Ocean that spring as part of what's referred to as "The Great Migration".  However, instead of being delivered to their expected destination of Charlestown, all of the ship's more than one hundred passengers and all of their earthly belongings were unceremoniously deposited on the shore at Nantasket Point.  Now what? Roger would later write in his memoir:
"When we came to Nantasket, Captain Squeg who was captain of that great ship of four hundred tons would not bring us into Charles River, as he was bound to do; but put us ashore and our goods on Nantasket Point, and left us to shift for our selves in a forlorn place in this wilderness.  But as it pleased God, we got a boat of some old planters, and loaded her with goods; and some able men well armed went in her unto Charlestown; where we found some wigwams and a house, and in the house there was a man which had a boiled bass, but no bread that we see; but we did eat of his bass, and then went up the Charles River until the river grew narrow and shallow, and there we landed our goods with much labor and toil, the bank being steep; and night coming on, we were informed that there were hard by us three hundred Indians.  One Englishman, that could speak the Indian language, (an old Planter) went to them and advised them not to come near us in the night; and they harkened to his counsel, and came not.  I my self was one of the centinels that first night: our Captain was a low country souldier, one Mr. Southcot, a brave soldier.  In the morning, some of the Indians came and stood at a distance off, looking at us, but came not near us.  But when they had been a while in view, some of them came and held out a great bass towards us; so we sent a man with a biscuit, and changed the cake for the bass.  Afterwards they supplied us with a bass for a biscuit-cake and were very friendly unto us.  We had not been there many days, (although by our diligence we had got up a kind of shelter to save our goods in,) but we had order to come away from that place which was about Watertown, unto a place called Mattapan now Dorchester, because there was a neck of land fit to keep our cattle on."

It's really a compelling story...having ten men freshly arrived in a strange land and finding themselves about to spend the night in close proximity to three hundred Native Americans, probably the Pequusset people.  The following morning they conducted one of humanity's most basic arm's-length transactions.  For me, as a fan of history, nothing beats a first-hand narrative.

I had launched into the Charles River at Herter Park yesterday a little before 6 am and headed upriver in hopes of finding the monument marking Roger Clap's Landing.  According to the Historical Marker database some folks mentioned the monument no longer being there.  Trusting the gps coordinates provided on the web site I went ashore, climbed the steep bank, and happily found the monument right where it was supposed to be.  The text extracted from Clap's memoir still clearly tells the tale...
   
As Clap mentioned, his party was ordered to "come away from that place" and just a few days later another group of settlers led by Sir Richard Saltonstall headed up the Charles River from Charlestown.  Saltonstall's group didn't go as far upriver as Clap did and landed near the present-day Mount Auburn Hospital...

They are considered "the founders of Watertown" and their names are memorialized on the Founders Monument sculpted by Henry Hudson Kitson in 1931...
  

This monument was previously unknown to me as well as the fact that the first of my clan to arrive in America is there listed.  In fact I only stumbled upon the monument and Roger Clap's account while chasing down the previous owners of John Tinker's trading post in Lancaster.  Tinker bought the trading post from one of Watertown's founders John Prescott...but I digress.

At any rate Sir Richard gets top billing...
...while the transaction described by Roger Clap is depicted on a bas-relief and still conveys to me a powerful message...

While paddling on this section of the Charles  I encountered numerous solo rowers getting in their early morning workouts gliding up and down the river.  Also encountered was this night heron...
...and this turtle who'd seen plenty of boats before...

The Charles is certainly a different river than it was back in 1630.  Prior to 1910 when the river's outlet to the sea was dammed, it was tidal all the way up to the Watertown Falls...
...whereas these days it's pretty much one endless high tide.  However, it still gets "narrow and shallow" in places just downstream of the falls...

Another landing spot, the "Sensory Garden", is located between the Roger Clap's Landing Monument and the Founders Monument...

It's a safe bet that Clap or Saltonstall didn't encounter plastic litter back in 1630.  Yesterday they would've found this bit...
 
This DCR map has been marked to show the locations mentioned...

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Musketaquid and Petapawag

This past week I paddled the waters of two locations possessing what I think are great Native American names.

 The first, "Musketaquid", is generally understood to mean something along the lines of "grass grown river" or "place where the water flows through grass" and no section fits the above description better than the Sudbury River upriver from Sherman's Bridge in Wayland, MA.  Sky, water, and grass... 


With only an occasional tree upon which a very solemn heron greeted the morning sun...

Sherman's Bridge welcomed this paddler back to the terrestrial realm...

The second place, "Petapawag", is said to be the Native American word for the area where Nod Brook flows into the Nashua River and generally believed to mean "swampy place" or "miry place".   At a spot near the Nashua River's Petapawag Boat Launch and the intersection of Nod Road and Main Street in Groton is this stone marker...
...which mentions the first English settler, John Tinker, having "built prior to 1659 an Indian Trading Post about 500 yds easterly of this marker".  So I  headed in an easterly direction down Nod Road and came to the John Tinker Trail...
...which ends at a beautiful spot overlooking one of the Nashua's sloughs.
However, if the stone marker's mention of 500 yards is accurate the John Tinker Trail is closer to 700 yards distant. Other than the stone marker, most written historical accounts mention Tinker's Trading Post having been located near the mouth of Nod Brook so with that in mind I tried paddling to the brook's mouth from the Nashua River in hopes of finding the site.  Paddling into the brook's mouth revealed a very swampy place with only one section where there was any land high enough to fit the bill.  At the base of this small hill or ridge was this tree bearing some interesting markings... 

After finding a spot where anything close to landfall could be made, I climbed the bank to the elevated terrace at the top... 
  A look down to my boat gives an idea as to its height in relationship to the brook/river confluence...

Of course I have no idea whether or not this terrace existed back in the 1650's, but if it did it may have been a suitable location for a trading post.  Additionally it is located just about 500 yards from the stone marker except rather than being "easterly" it's in a more northeasterly direction.

 At any rate I wonder what John Tinker might have given in trade for these specimens...
...gathered up along the way.

One thing I found troubling in reading about John Tinker was his practice of offering credit to Native Americans for up to two hunting seasons worth of furs in advance.  In A Tinker Family: The Ancestors and Descendants of Joseph Wescot Tinker by Frederick James Libbie was the following: "At this time and later, he (Tinker) was a trader with the Indians, buying beaver and other skins.  Original notes of hand are preserved, with Indian marks, showing how some of them mortgaged to him all their prospective gains for two hunting seasons."  When some Native Americans failed to deliver an adequate amount of furs he then allowed them to sell him land in order to satisfy the debt.  According to John Pendergast's The Bend in the River Tinker famously did this with one of the great sachem Passaconaway's sons, Nammacocomuck, who was imprisoned for a 50 pound debt he signed for.  Passaconaway had to sell one of the most beautiful islands in the Merrimack River, Wickasee, to get his son out of jail. 

From Petapawag I headed upriver...
 ...and ran into a rather friendly groundhog...

I'd imagine the coat he's wearing may have fetched a good sum at Tinker's Trading Post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Everything But Boganegan


This past Monday morning proved perfect for an early (0630) morning launch into the Merrimack River. I'd try locating a place not shown on any modern maps...Boganegan.  I first saw mention of this place while reading John Pendergast's The Bend in the River: A Prehistory and Contact Period History of Lowell, Chelmsford, Dracut, Tyngsborough, and Dunstable (Nashua, NH), Massachusetts.  Pendergast wrote the following about John Cromwell, the first European settler in the area which became Tyngsborough: "His dwelling was on the present site of the Pheasant Lane Mall in Tyngsborough and Nashua, just south of the Middle/Late Archaic fishing weir originally called Boganegan after an individual Indian or a small group which lived near the weir (see Map 9 from Pendergast's book above).  The prehistoric name of the area where his house was located is Naacook, 'fishing place.'  The stone piles jutting out into the river are still visible and is presently known as 'Dead Man's'.  It is about two miles north of the Tyngsborough Bridge.  At this site square holes have been driven into large stones in the river much like those which 10th and 11th century Western European seamen dropped metal pins into to moor their vessels."

This being more than enough information to whet my appetite, I paddled away from Riverfront Park and headed upriver.  Knew I'd reached the Pheasant Lane Mall upon seeing this...
...assemblage of 8 mostly submerged shopping carts, perhaps a modern-day fish weir?

The only rocks I could find that jutted out into the river were these...

...on the west shore.  

There was also this one...

...and these having a hand-laid look...

I never saw any stones with the square holes Pendergast mentioned.  I did note some large submerged rocks near the eastern shore but, again, didn't see any square holes.  If there is an ancient fish weir in this area it's probably submerged deep below the surface since the 1847-built Pawtucket Dam significantly raised the water level.

I went as far as Salmon Brook...

So while I didn't find Boganegan either on the river or on the internet, I did find some old iron tools...
...that may have dropped out of a collapsing riverbank...
...and encountered a large flotilla of ducklings...

Also found some trash which included a couple of older bottles, REX Distillers Boston, MA and CERTO...

Even came across an old Nashua and Lowell Railroad milepost overlooking the river which showed the number 6 on both sides...
...keeping things in perfect balance.

Took a last peek at the stately Tyngsborough Bridge...
...before ending my search.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Closing Out One Strange Spring



Our 'Covid Spring' paddling season has come to a close and it'll be forever remembered by me as the strangest I've experienced...a season where the earliest birds really did get the worm.  During these days of uncertainty, social distancing, and mask wearing who'd have guessed that the one thing we could reliably count upon would be ideal weather. Of course weather this good (without rain) does have a downside as the photo above showing the dam on the Nashua River in Ayer attests.    

The Nashua became one of my frequent haunts this spring joining others in my circuit such as:   
The Assabet...

 
The Squannacook/Nashua confluence...
The lower Squannacook...
...where I encountered the 'Sage of the Squannacook'...


The sloughs of the Nashua in Groton...
...where an eastern kingbird made his circuit of the yellow lillies...

The Charles between Dover and Needham...

The Concord between Carlisle and Bedford and...
The Sudbury on a rare cloudy day...


This spring also provided an opportunity to join fellow members of a winter hiking society (Erik, Jules, Jonathan, Conrad, and the society's founder, Joe) for a couple of aquatic hikes: 

Hope we didn't scare anyone when we approached the take-outs...


Trash has remained light during these Covid times with this small haul being typical...

One recent exception...

Another artist's riverside mural...

This paddler is glad to have paddled through the Covid Spring and looks forward to more of the same during the upcoming summer paddling season.  So long as the State of Massachusetts sticks to its plan of using 4 key metrics in setting the course, I'm cautiously optimistic that paddlers will continue having safe paddles and landfalls...