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Nipmuc Nation…We Are Still Here!

Friday, January 24, 2014


Nipmunc history in Worcester predates written records.

Worcester’s first settlers would like people to know that they are still here and living their lives just like anyone else. As Nipmuc Chief Cheryll Toney Holley says with a laugh, “When I am asked where I hunt and gather food these days, I tell them Stop and Shop! Some of us are attuned to our ancestor’s traditions and some aren’t but we are all a vital part of the greater Worcester community.”

Nipmuc history predates any written records. The people the English referred to as Nipmuc, or “fresh water people” were Worcester’s first inhabitants. These first arrivals named the area Quinsigamond, which loosely translated means the pickerel fishing place. The principal settlement of the Nipmucs was on a Worcester hill called Pakachoag as well as Tataesset (Tatnuck), and Wigwam Hill (North Lake Avenue).

Contact with Europeans

As Europeans began to move into the areas inhabited by the Nipmuc people, 80% of the native population was killed by smallpox or other epidemics due to contact with these new settlers. It is estimated that there were 5,000 to 6,000 Nipmucs when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620. Further encroachments by the English upon Indian land increased hostilities between the Nipmuc and the English colonists.

In June of 1675, King Philips War began with the seizing of Plymouth from the Wampanoags. King Philip’s War devastated the region and much of the state with heavy losses on both sides. Most of the villages from Marlboro to Grafton were destroyed. The remaining Nipmuc tribes were killed or captured and forced onto reservations in the greater Worcester area. At its completion, less than 1,000 Native Americans remained.

Recent History

Nipmuc history did not end in the 17th century, however. The Nipmucs continued to live in the Worcester area. As time went on, more Nipmucs moved into towns in search of jobs and mates. Since serving in the wars had caused a shortage of Nipmuc men, women began to marry non-Natives, especially African-Americans in order to have children, continue the tribe and for economic survival, Nipmuc activities became centered on the Hassanamisco Reservation.

In the early 1920′s, the Cisco family at Hassanamisco became tribal leaders. They created Worcester’s Mohawk Club to develop tribal educational, cultural and social events. The Nipmuc Indian Chapter of Worcester was founded in the 1950′s to provide for the educational and cultural advancement of Nipmuc people, with the hope of beginning new chapters in other cities. In 1995, there was also an effort to unite tribal members under one banner, Nipmuc Nation, while still working on federal recognition. Despite the hardship and multiple setbacks, in January 2001, the state recognized tribe received a positive preliminary finding on federal acknowledgment but were finally denied recognition in 2004.

Started by Sarah CiscoeBrough in 1962, The Hassanamisco Indian Museum, located in Grafton, is the principal repository of Nipmuc history and culture today. “The mission of the Hassanamisco Indian Museum is to perpetuate the arts, crafts, and way of life of New England's Indigenous Peoples; preserve the culture and history of indigenous people, particularly that of the Nipmuc Indian; and preserve and protect the unique character of the historic structure known as the Homestead and the artifacts housed within.”

Present Day

The museum is currently seeking funds to continue the restoration of the original homestead on the property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During renovation, some exhibits are now housed at the tribal office at 25 Main Street in South Grafton, a mile from the reservation.

“We do a number of activities on the reservation, some are private and some are open to the public,” explains Chief Holley. “For anyone wanting to learn more about our culture, we have Strawberry Moons in June and July, a Powwow in July and we offer school programs. We are still here. We are your friends, neighbors and co-workers and we are still one community and one family. We want to make sure our culture is passed on through the coming generations. After all our story is part of all our history!”

For further information log on to the Nipmuc Nation Facebook page, or the Hassanamisco Indian Museum. Check out this past Monday’s Leading in Central Ma. interview with Nipmuc Chief Cheryll Toney Holley.

Susan Wagner is the president of Susan Wagner PR. Susan Wagner PR and Best Rate of Climb have recently formed a strategic partnership to serve Massachusetts and beyond with offices in Worcester, Metrowest and Cape Cod. Together, Susan Wagner and Steven Jones-D’Agostino share their 60 years of combined experience to meet clients’ goals with integrity and creativity providing effective and measurable services. The partnership offers an extra pair of hands or an ongoing or one time basis. 


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