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From the Diary of Samuel Sewall 27 July 1676:

Sagamore John comes in, brings Mattoonus and his sonne prisoner. Mattoonus shot to death the same day by John’s men.

Sagamore John surrendered in Boston roughly two weeks before John Alderman shot Metacom, the act which effectively ended King Philip’s War, save for a few skirmishes in Maine. Sagamore John’s surrender did not end the atrocities, however.

Sagamore John was a Nipmuc Sachem from Pakachoag in Worcester County. In 1674, he witnessed the deed transferring to Daniel Gookin eight square miles of good Pakachoag land for a mere 12 pounds in New England currency. The down payment for the land consisted of two coats and four yards of cloth. Gookin promised to pay the rest in three months.

Gookin and his friend Reverend John Eliot were instrumental in establishing Pakachoag as one of the towns of Praying Indians. Matoona,  a Christian convert, thanks to Gookin,  served as a Constable at Pakachoag under the authority of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Matoonas’ son, Nehemiah, ran afoul of Massachusetts’ law in 1671. Nehemiah was accused of murdering an Englishman, Zachary Smith. The traditional narrative, here reproduced from Samuel Gardner Drake’s The Old Indian Chronicle, runs like this:

“Zachary Smith, a young Man, in travelling through Dedham, stopped for a Night at the House of Caleb Church, a Millwright, then residing there. He left, the next Morning, and, when he had been gone about half an Hour, three Indians came along, and went the same Way which Smith had gone. As they passed Church’s House they behaved insolently, throwing Stones and using insulting Language. They were known to the English, having been employed as Laborers among them in Dorchester, and had said they belonged to King Philip. These Indians, on overtaking Smith, killed him for some little Effects which he had about him, and his Body was found “near the Sawmill” in Dedham soon after.”

Matoonas’ son Nehemiah was framed for the murder, and executed. He was beheading in boston commonhanged and beheaded. His skull sat on display atop a pole next to the gallows for over five years. Let the record show that the accounts against Nehemiah agreed on neither the sex of the victim nor the town in which the act was perpetrated, let alone the identity of the killer. Matoonas naturally harbored a grudge.

Sagamore John encouraged King Philip. Allied with Nipmuc warriors from Pakachoag and elsewhere, Sagamore John fought for Metacom during Wheeler’s Ambush and the Siege of Brookfield. Matoonas, a leader among the Nipmuc forces, was instrumental during the early raid on Mendon, the initial Massachusetts Bay settlement attacked in the War (the previously attacked settlements were in Plymouth Colony).

Anticipating defeat, Sagamore John ostensibly repented his decision to fight for Metacom. Boston’s Governor and Council offered pardons to those who surrendered. Sagamore John took advantage of the offer, pledged loyalty in exchange for protection, and left Boston unharmed.

On 27 July 1676, Sagamore John returned to Boston with 180 followers and, conspicuously, Matoonas and another of Matoonas’ sons as his captives, bound with ropes.

King Phillips War

King Phillips War

 

It took several minutes for Boston authorities to condemn Matoonas to death. Sagamore John “volunteered” to perform the execution. His men allegedly helped. Matoonas was led to Boston Common, tied to a tree, and shot. Boston, still not satisfied, made sure that Matoonas was beheaded. His skull was skewered atop a pole so it could see squarely into the eye sockets of his son’s skull but a few feet away.

Sagamore John and 19 others who had surrendered later fled town for the woods and back to Pakachoag. The remainder who surrendered did not fare well at the hands of Boston officials. Three were soon executed, accused of torching a house in Framingham; later, eight more were shot in Boston Common. Slave traders bound for the West Indies shackled thirty more. The rest were condemned to life on Deer Island where, without shelter, malnourished, most sickened and slowly died.


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From the Diary of Samuel Sewall 7 July 1685

“Brother Moody visits us. General Court sits in the Afternoon. Time is spent in ordering a Drum to beat up for Volunteers about 30. Samson Waters, Capt., to go with Mr. Patteshal’s Brigenteen to fetch in two Privateers that this morn are said to be in the Bay, a Sloop and Shalop, in the Shalop, Graham.”

Massachusetts Bay Colony declared piracy a capital offense on 15 October 1673. Pirates had been killed before that, too, but the retribution had not been codified outside the pages of the Bible.

“This Court doeth order, & be it hereby ordered and enacted, that what person or persons soever shall piratically or ffeloniously seize any ship or vessel… or rise up in rebellion against the master, officers, merchants or owners…every such offender, together with their complices, shall be put to death.”

a pirate hanged

a pirate hanged

In 1684, Massachusetts Bay put even sharper teeth into its law. It became unlawful to for anyone to “enterteyne, harbour, counsel, trade, or hold any correspondence by letter or otherwise with any deemed to be privateers.”

By the mid 1680’s, piracy had become a terrifying and destructive commonplace along the coast from Maine to Virginia. To combat the growing frequency of pirate and privateer attacks near Massachusetts Bay, the ranking official of a harbor or town was empowered to muster armed forces against the suspect, jail him, and bring him to trial.

If convicted, the pirate would meet his Maker on either Bird Island or Nix’s Mate, both small islands in Boston Harbor. Once owned by John Gallop, Nix’s Mate became the premier place for not only hanging pirates, but also displaying their bodies, even if the knaves had been executed elsewhere. Boston officials let the dead bodies sway and slowly, gently decay in the salty harbor breeze. The bones of pirate William Fry flapped from the gibbet for many months.

Nix's Mate

Nix's mate

On the morning of 7 July 1685, Boston officials heard the story of Captain John Prentice, who had just arrived in Boston from New London, where his ship had a brush with a sloop commanded by Captain Veale, a known pirate. Captain Prentice told the Boston General Court that not only Veale’s sloop, but fellow pirate Captain Graham’s shallop was in the harbor. Captain Prentice had exchanged gunfire with Veale in New London, and told Boston officials that Veale may have purchased several carriage guns from John Wheeler in New London.

The Court wasted no time. It beat the drums to call volunteers to set sail under Captain Samson, on Richard Patteshall’s brigantine, in pursuit of Veale and Graham. Few men answered the call. The Court then ordered that, “For their Incouragement, that free plunder be offered to such as shall voluntarily list themselves.” This tactic helped, since one of Prentice’s men had previously testified that the pirates were stowing booty including silver plate and fine clothing.

Captain Samson was instructed to bring prisoners back to Boston for trial, alive, unless otherwise necessary.

Three days later, the ship returned to port, empty-handed but successful, as the pirate ships had fled Massachusetts Bay.


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