As a true book, The Wampanoag doesn’t pull punches about violence and pestilence that swept through the areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island with the arrival of Europeans to American shores. In fact, the first page of the book asks readers to choose which of the two following sentences are true:
- The severed head of a Wampanoag chief was displayed on a pole for more than 20 years.
- The Wampanoag lived in teepees.
*Hint: The Wampanoag lived in structures called wetus
Although it doesn’t pull any punches, The Wampanoag provides a good overview of the lives of English settlers and the native peoples, including the Wampanoag and other tribes in the area such as the Massachusett, Pequot and Narragansett. We learn about a Wampanoag chief named Wamsutta and his unfortunate end. For me, it was important to learn that Wamsutta is more than a line of bed and bath linens. He was a man and a leader. He was the son of a chief and his brother who sought revenge for his death was the chief whose head sat on a pike outside of New Plymouth for twenty years. Wamsutta’s wife, Weetamoo, became chief of the Wampanoag after his death. She, too, ended with her head on a pole in Taunton, Massachusetts.
The Wampanoag reveals that by the time the pilgrims arrived in 1620, up to ninety percent of the Wampanoag population had been decimated by European diseases such as smallpox. The epidemic began in 1616 and ran through the population in approximately 3 years.
The Wampanoag is truthful, but not all gloomy. It talks about the first Thanksgiving celebration during which 91 Wampanoag attended a three-day harvest festival with the English settlers. We also learn where members the Wampanoag tribe live today and about their efforts to revive their language. Reading a true story about a people who were decimated by war, disease and conquest is never a happy go-lucky affair, but the book offers a clear-eyed look at the life and culture of the Wampanoag before, during and after their encounter with Europeans.