Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Sholan's Weshakim to Watertown Venture

With out-of-state travel being less attractive during these Covid times I find myself taking a closer look at some Massachusetts great ponds I may have previously overlooked.  One such great pond is West Waushacum in Sterling, MA.  It and sister pond East Waushacum sandwiched the Native American village known as Weshakim where the Nashaway tribe is said to have stayed during the summer months.  One day in either 1641 or 1642 the chief sachem of the Nashaway tribe, Sholan, decided to walk "laden with peltry" to the falls on the Charles River at the head of tidewater in Watertown, about 35-miles to the east of Weshakim. History doesn't tell us if he went alone or with others.  Historian Joseph Willard does however note that after trading his pelts to a young Englishman, Thomas King, who Sholan found to be trustworthy, the sachem made the fateful decision of inviting King to visit Nashawogg (present-day Lancaster) and establish a trading post there.  He would later allow King and his associates to purchase a tract of land ten miles in length and eight in breadth with the caveat not to "molest" the Indians in their hunting, fishing, or planting places.  Thomas King with an associate Henry Symonds would build a trading post near the base of George Hill about 4 miles to the northeast of Weshakim where several Indian trails intersected.  King, however, never lived there and would die only a few years later at the young age of 29.

Yesterday at sunrise (before it got hot) I launched into West Waushacum Pond in Sterling, MA...     

...and paddled towards where the village of Weshakim may have been located, and from where Sholan began his eastward journey.  Because the pond is within the Wachusett Reservoir Watershed Protection Zone, access is limited to non-gasoline propelled small boats, canoes, and kayaks...
...which results in the pond having crystal-clear water.  No bodily-contact with the water is allowed.

A map of the pond...
   

Prior to the creation of Wachusett Reservoir in 1901 the pond was a popular summertime destination with Picnic Grounds and a Methodist Campground nearby.

Today the pond is a serene place with one tiny island...


Once I reached the pond's south end I turned about to see Wachusett Mtn. to the NW...
 
A bald eagle was encountered several times nearest the pond's east shoreline...

The eagle had fishing competition from cormorants and this kayak fisherman...
 

A railroad causeway built in the 1800's cut-off a section of the pond today known as "The Quag".  The Quag can be entered by paddling through a narrow and very shallow opening in the causeway...

The abandoned rail line is now an unpaved section of the Central Mass Rail Trail.

A blue heron in the Quag...
 
One pink water-lily stood out amidst all the white ones...
 
Cardinal flowers remind that summer's days are numbered...

The only trash encountered was in the vicinity of the rail trail overpass...

On my way home, on a fast warming day, I decided to tempt fate and try to locate where the trading post was built.  In the process one friendly local asked if I was lost.  Driving around George Hill I came across several historical markers...

...and this mention of one of the trading post's subsequent owners...
...before finally hitting pay dirt...
...which matched historian Henry Stedman Nourse's description in The Military Annals of Lancaster, Massachusetts 1740-1865: "The little plateau halfway down the sheltering hill, with fertile fields sloping to the southeast and its never failing springs was and is an attractive spot." For me, finding this marker closed the loop and made my day ...

It was within the above mentioned structure that Englishmen used the tactic of extending credit to Native Americans who weren't familiar with the concept.  When the extended credit came due and went unpaid the traders accepted land in lieu of payment and amazingly this was considered quite legal.  Dennis A. Connole in his book The Indians of the Nipmuck Country in Southern New England 1630-1750 writes: Prescott had extensive land holdings, acquiring over three hundred acres of land in the vicinity of Waushacum Ponds from the Indians, "probably in settlement of debts".  

The trading post was sold by King in 1644 to John Cowdall and he, in turn, sold it in 1647 to John Prescott (considered the founder of Lancaster).  Prescott would sell it in 1656 to John Tinker and Tinker in 1659 sold it to Simon Willard, who owned it until 1672. 

Sholan died in 1654 and was spared from seeing the disastrous fate that befell his people.

So, if he could have a do-over, would he still walk to Watertown and extend that invitation? 

Nowadays an image of Sholan looking out upon the water graces the Town of Sterling's official seal.

Sterling, MA | Freedom's Way National Heritage Area

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