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Who was in Sudbury before the English

This is a gathering place for sources and text about who was in Sudbury when the English arrived in 1638. We know for certain that the Nipmuc nation extended into Sudbury becasue Tantamous (Old Jethro) and Netus (William of Sudbury) settled here. And we know the Massachusett were here because Karte (Goodman) as he lived on Goodman's Hill and he is identified as Cato a Massachuset Sachem. Karte signed for the sale of land in Sudbury.

One reason this is interesting to me is the Sudbury Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission (DEI) land acknowledgement. I believe this is a brilliant statment, but, the inclusion of motivated me to gain a better understand of how was here before the English arrived. I especially like this "We are committed to becoming better stewards of the land".

As we gather here this evening to deliberate on issues that impact our community, it is essential that we also look to, and learn from, the lessons of the past. We want to acknowledge that Sudbury is located on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Nipmuc, Pawtucket/Pennacook, and Massachusett. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the people who have taken care of it throughout the generations. We are committed to becoming better stewards of the land we inhabit and learning from the failures of preceding generations in pursuit of a more just and equitable Sudbury. In the spirit of promoting justice and equality, we offer the following reflection.

The inclusion of the Pawtucket is probably true if we stretch the pre-cpntact timeframe out by decades of centuries.

The Sudbury History Center (Loring Parsonage) featured new research done by the Sudbury Historical Society"

The Nipmuc, or "fresh water people" occupied the central portion of what is now Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Their original homelands included all of central Massachusetts from the New Hampshire/Vermont borders and south of the Merrimack Valley southerly to include Tolland and Windham counties in Connecticut, as well as the northwest portion of Rhode Island. To the east, their homelands included the Natick/Sudbury area westward to include the Connecticut River Valley. The people lived in scattered villages throughout the area including Wabaquasset, Quinnebaug, Quaboag, Pocumtuc, Agawam, Squawkeag, and Wachusett. It is estimated that there were 5,000 to 6,000 Nipmucs when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620.

Subury's primary source for pre-1889 history is Hudson's History of Sudbury. Here is a quote from Chapter 2 is titled "Indians of Sudbury".

History of Sudbury, p. 21 "Part of the Indians living in Sudbury, when its territory was transferred to the English, belonged, as it is supposed, to the Massachusetts Indians who lived about Massachusetts Bay, and the remainder to the Nipmucks or Nipnets, who lived in the interior of the State. Those who belonged to the former were probably of the Mystic Indians, the chief of which tribe was in the early part of the seventeenth century Nanapashemit. The home of this chieftain was at Medford, situated on a prominent place which overlooked the Mystic River. He was killed by the Tarrentiues, a tribe of eastern Indians. After his death, his wife reigned under the name of the squaw sachem. She married Wibbacowett, the chief powwow or priest (Shattuck). She also lived near the Mystic. The subjects of this sachem or squaw probably extended nearly or quite to the Nipmuck country, as it embraced Tahattawan and his tribe at Concord.

Tribal relations so extended would probably include some of Sudbury's Indians. Such is supposed to be the case.

It is stated in the Colony Records, that, in 1637, Karte was associated with the squaw sachem at Medford in the sale of a fishing weir at Concord, " and all the planting grounds which hath been planted by the Indians there." Nataous, it is supposed, was of Nipnet origin. If these prominent natives of Sudbury had different tribal relations, so may it liave been with others less prominent ; but whether they belonged to the Nipnet or Massachusetts Indians, they all alike belonged to the great family of Algonquins... (Sale of Land in Concord with spelling Caato)

There are two interesting statements: part of the land belonged to Nanepashemet and that Karte was associated with the Squaw Sachim of Mistick.

This well researched page has lots of references which I hope to quote here: Native American Tribes in Massachusetts. Hodge first (See Massachuset entry below). Then Swanton.

Source:Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Government Printing Office, Part II, 1912. From Volume 1 Volume 2

Pennacook ( cognate with Abnaki pcnakuk, or penaflkuk, at the bottom of the hill or highland. Gerard). A confederacy of Algonquian tribes that occu pied the basin of Merrimac r. and the adjacent region in New Hampshire, N. E. Massachusetts, and the extreme s. part of Maine.
Hodge mentions Nipmuc on 13 pages - all referring to towns to the west of Sudbury. Disentangling Massachuset and Massachusetts will take more time.

Source:Swanton, John R., INDIAN TRIBES OF NORTH AMERICA, 1952

Meaning "at the range of hills," by which is meant the hills of Milton.

In the region of Massachusetts Bay between Salem on the north and Marshfield and Brockton on the south. Later they claimed lands beyond Brockton as far as the Great Cedar Swamp, territories formerly under the control of the Wampanoag.

(4) Band of Cato, a tract 5 miles square east of Concord River.

From Nipmaug, "fresh water fishing place."

The Nipmuc occupied the central plateau of Massachusetts, particularly the southern part of Worcester County, but they extended into northern Rhode Island and Connecticut. (See also Connecticut and Rhode Island.)



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Swanton Map 4 NE,
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RussellMap.jpg - 3066x2075
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NativeLandsMA - Agawam added in spring 2022
Sudbury Zoom
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NinnuockMapFromDan.png - 1520x838
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MapSNELisaBrooks.jpg - 1994x1356
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Meditation on the word 'unceded' in the Sudbury land acknowledgement

This is a meditation on the word 'unceded' in the Sudbury land acknowledgement above. It is a piece of the puzzle of the formation of Sudbury. This does not explicitly pertain to the roadside markers. I am using Hudson's spelling of Karte. It would be awesome to use consistent spelling.

Sudbury was colonized by the English. Any colonization can be seen as an act of aggressive appropriation. The term unceded is not in question, but, there are is some nuance in our Town of Sudbury, which had to recognize the "right of ancient hereditary possession" (Hudson). From an English law point of view, the land was properly transferred and this is one of the many issues that needs to be re-examined within a broader context.

There are two deeds granted to the inhabitants of Sudbury that are documented in Hudson. The first is by Karte. The deed is conveniently defined as the five square miles originally granted to the Sudbury Plantation. The second is by a group of people who transferred the 2 mile grant to the inhabitants in the 1680s. The second deed is documented in full starting on page 65 in Hudson. This occurred after the Sudbury Fight and the arrangement seems like it could easily have been under duress, hence unceded is appropriate for that deed.

I think the first deed should be acknowledged as a transfer of land that Karte made of his own free will, and to dismiss it is to take his agency away.

There are still issues about it. The first issue is the conception of the ownership of land. It was radically different between the Native Americans and the English and it would be hard to say that Karte fully understood what he was signing. In contract law, I think that ignorance of what you were signing is just tough luck and an indication that you didn't get a good enough lawyer. in a medical setting, you have informed consent. The provider should ensure the patient's understanding and consent. As far as I know (I'm not a lawyer) I don't believe that there is a corresponding notion in contract law.

The second issue is that Karte did not have the right to speak for the Nipmuc, who almost certainly inhabited the western part of the area. Exactly when Tantamous and Netus moved to Sudbury is not documented, but are both living here before 1650. It would be worth searching for the names listed win the second Sudbury deed to see if there were known to be Nipmuc or people of another nation.

John Eliot's Brief Narrative (1670)
Nipmuc history at the Hassanamisco Indian Museum (
Petition of the Inhabitants of the Toune of Marlborough
Pakachoag: Where the River Bends A video documentary about Nipmuc land in and around Worcester, Massachusetts, including the campus of the College of the Holy Cross. It covers Nipmuc/settler relations pre-settlement to today.
Ben Franklin's World episodes: Lisa Brooks

Hodge entry for Massachuset

Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Government Printing Office, Part 1, 1911, and part 1, 1912

Massachuset (Massa-adchu-es-et) p. 816
Meaning: 'at or about the great hill wadchu ' hill or mountain es ' small , et ,'' the locative. -Trumbull. Incomposition wadchu becomes adchu and adds ash for the plural. The name refers to the Blue Hills of Milton. Williams substitutes euk for et in forming the tribal designation, and uses the other as the local form. Cotton in 1708 translated the word 'a hill in the form of an arrow- head' ).

An important Algonquian tribe that occupied the country about Massachusetts bay in Eastern Massachusetts, the territory claimed extending along the coast from Plymouth northward to Salem and possibly to the Merrimac, including the entire basin of Neponset and Charles rivers. The group should perhaps be described as a confederacy rather than as a tribe, as it appears to have included several minor bodies. Johnson described the group as formerly having "three kingdoms or sagamoreships having under them seven dukedoms or petty sagamores."

They seem to have held an important place among the tribes of Southern New England prior to the coming of the whites, their strength being estimated as high as 3,000 warriors, although it is more likely that the total population did not exceed that number. Capt. John Smith (1614) mentions 11 of their villages on the coast and says they had more than 20. In consequence of war with the Tarratine and the pestilence of 1617 in which they suffered more than any other tribe, the English colonists who arrived a few years later found them reduced to a mere remnant and most of the villages mentioned Smith depopulated. In 1631 they numbered only about 500, and 2 years later were still further reduced by smallpox, which carried off their chief, Chickatabot.

Soon there after they were gathered, with other converts, into the villages of the "Praying Indians," chiefly at Natick, Nonantum, and Ponkapog, and ceased to have a separate tribal existence. As they played no important role in the struggles between the settlers and natives, the chief interest that attaches to them is the fact that they owned and occupied the site of Boston and its suburbs and the immediately surrounding territory when the whites first settled there. In 1621, when Standish and his crew from Plymouth visited this region, they found the Indians but few, unsettled, and fearful, moving from place to place to avoid the attacks of their enemies the Tarratine. Although the Algonquian Indians of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Ehode Island, taken as a whole, formed a some- what homogeneous group, yet there were linguistic differences which seem to justify De Forest (Indians Conn., 1853) in doubting Gookin's statement that the languages were so much alike that the people of the different tribes could easily understand one another. The Massachuset were more closely allied to the Narraganset than to any other of the surrounding tribes whose languages are known, the people of the two being able to understand each other without difficulty. For their customs, beliefs, etc., see Algonquian Family.

Following are the villages of the Massachuset Indians so far as known, some of them being more or less conjectural:...

Started: 2022-04-30 last update 2023-12-08, jch, aka YON - Jan C. Hardenbergh