Wampanoag Place Names along the Cotuhtikut Great River

 

Confluence of the Matfield and Town Rivers

 

While going through local history books over the past couple years, we have come across and taken an interest in the Wampanoag place names along our Great Rivers Watershed. Some of these names are familiar and are still commonly used today. Titicut, Cohannit, Satucket, Nemasket are all names that we are familiar with. Others such as Muttock (Oliver mills), Wampanquettooquash (Great Quittacas), Cheksuquetoquash (Little Quittacus) have faded into obscurity.

Many of these place names are used today to identify large areas or whole rivers. However, originally they were used to describe much more specific locations. For instance the word Nemasket is said to mean the place of fish or at the fish place. This would have been a specific spot on the river that we now call the Nemasket. It was perhaps a meeting place at the sight of a stone fish weir or a small set of falls where fish were temporarily held back for convenient catching. If two groups were parting ways to join again later, they might say we will meet at Nemasket at such and such a time. In the same way that we would say lets meet at the Five Corners or another specific location. When European settlers arrived here they took these prominent place names and used them in a much wider context, hence the Nemasket River.

As obscure as many of these names are, their meanings are even more obscure. Ducking and hiding between the pages of puritan writings, and distorted by creative historians their true meanings are often elusive. However, when the true meaning of one of these names can be found it often gives us valuable information about the past. We can use these names in much the same way that an archaeologist uses fragments of bone and stone to gain insight into lost cultures. By finding the true meaning of a place name and knowing with some certainty were that place was geographically, we too can gain insight into what our river was once like.

 

DisclaimerThe following are some of these names and their meanings as we understand them. However, we do not claim to be an authority on the subject, and welcome any help that you may be able to give us in our research.

 

Auhquannissonwaumissoo

 

We believe this is what the Matfield River was called when the Bridgewaters were first settled.

After going through many local history books we could find no reference to what the Matfield might have been called. We found it strange that all similar size rivers in the area had Indian names Satucket, Town River (Nuncketetest) and The Great River (Cotuhtikut or Titicut). It seemed that there should have been some Indian name reference to a river as large and as historically significant as the Matfield. It being the principal route to reach the Satucket and cross over from Narraganset Bay to Massachusetts Bay as well as being an important fishing sight for its abundant runs of American shad. While visiting the Middleboro town library we found an old book with copies of original deeds signed by various Wampanoag Indians who first sold the land to the settlers. In some of these deeds we found references to a river called Auhquannissonwaumissoo which we think may be the Matfield.

The spellings are often different from deed to deed. Because the Wampanoags had no written language the English spelt these words the way they sounded therefore you can find many different spellings for the same word.

In the following deeds we believe that Namunuxet or Namuneunkquassit may be a different spelling of Nuncketetest or the Town River. It could also be another spelling of the Winnetuxet River, however the geographic description in the deeds seem to fit the locations of the present day Matfield and Town Rivers. These deeds read as follows.

 

The Testimony of Massentumpain this 7th of 8 : 1673.

 

That he being at Naumosaukusset about seven years since that he heard Josiah or Wompatuck say that if he the said Josiah were absent or taken away by Death: He did give power and order to Pompanuhoo to give to Charles Pompmunit A certain parcel of land lying Betwixt two Brookes and the Great River Cotuhtikut River and so to extend unto Bridgewater Bounds the names of the Rivers one is Ahquonsooawmsooh Runing toward the Northward: and the name of the other river is Namunuxet runing toward the Northwest. All this Tract of Land being thus Bounded as above Massentumpaine saith he heard Josiah giue to Charles and desired Pompnuhoo to confirm it unto Charles.

 

 

The Testimony of George Wampei this 31 of October 1673 :

 

Who saith that Josiah Wompatuk with ye consent of George Wampei, gave unto Charles Pompmunit first of all one hundred acres of Upland. And afterward the foresaid Josiah gave unto the aforesaid Charles another tract of land lying upon the Norther side of Cotuhtikut river and lying betwixt two brookes one of ye Brookes is called Namuneunkquassit And the other Brooke is called Auhquannissonwaumissoo about one mile from Titikut River towards Bridgewater And Josiah gave this land to Charles with all Appurtenances for himself his heirs and Assigns for ever.

 

 

 

The following is from the book, The History of Taunton

 

The Indian name of Taunton varies in its spelling, as Cohanit, Cohannet, Cohannock, Quahannet, Quahannock, ect. Doctor Leland of Fall River, who made a study of Indian terminology, says of this word :

    I have not been able satisfactorily to analyze it. about the last part of the word, there can, I think, be no reasonable doubt. It comes unquestionably from the word hanna, a legitimate Algonquin term, common among the tribes south of us, signifying a river. The same radical occurs in the word Susquehanna, from susqui, branching or winding and hanna, river. The same radical appears in Rappahannock.

The prefix Co in the word Cohannet, seems most to puzzle the doctor; but he adds, "whenever found, if ever, I doubt not it will nicely describe either a section of the Tetiquet River or a smaller stream passing through this village."

The prophetic words of Dr. Leland perhaps find their fulfillment in what this ancient document from which we have quoted, states. The Indian name of Three Mile River, south of Mill River, is Nistoquahannock, containing the same radical hanna, as Cohannet. And Mr Cushman, by searching, thinks he has found the true meaning of the Indian prefix "qua," to be quick, making Quahannet to mean quick place on the river, equivalent to falls.

 

More to Come

 

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