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1675 Massacre Site Returned to Narragansetts

1675 Massacre Site Returned to Narragansetts
November 04
14:08 2021

Massacre Site Returned to Narragansetts

It was December 19, 1675, a mind-numbingly frigid winter’s day, with a deadly blizzard roaring into Rhode Island by late afternoon.

It was a day for the Narragansetts and their cousins, the Niantics, stay inside their wigwams, close to the fire, hidden deep in Cuppi Machaug, the Great Swamp.

It was a day that almost spelled extinction for New England’s largest tribe.

The Wampanoag tribe, under Sachem Massasoit, had greeted the pilgrims in 1620 and helped them to survive that first winter. But now, 55 years later, that alliance had shattered and Massasoit’s son – King Philip – was at war with the English settlers.

Both Philip and the colonists wanted the Narragansetts to join their side. The Narragansetts rebuffed both overtures, wanting to stay neutral.

The English would have none of that, though. Three of the four United Colonies – Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and Plymouth – plotted a sneak attack against the tribe. Rhode Island Colony was not involved.

The English militia converged on the Narragansetts’ winter camp, which was protected by a wooden palisade. They surrounded the village and set fire to the walls. Hundreds of Narragansetts were killed either by the fire or when trying to escape into the woods.

The Great Swamp massacre ended the Narragansetts’ power in the region. The land remained in tribal hands until 1906, when the Hazard family gifted the land the Rhode Island Historical Society.

In the 1990s, discussion percolated about whether the spot could be conveyed to the tribe, and the issue was made a priority several years ago, said C. Morgan Grefe, executive director of the historical society.

Deed searches and research were done to understand why the land was gifted in the first place, she said.

“It is a profound part of the past. They wanted to make sure this was a place of remembrance,” Grefe said of the Hazards.

Neil F.X. Kelly, now retired deputy chief of the attorney general’s civil division, assisted the nonprofit society with clearing any legal hurdles and winning approval of the transfer from Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice B. Gibney, Grefe said.

“We are tremendously happy to facilitate this transfer and now believe it’s in the best hands,” Grefe said.

 

FEATUTRED PHOTO: New England Historical Society

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Summary: 1675 Massacre Site Returned to Narragansetts

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