Before Roger Conant and his group of Europeans arrived on the land that is now Salem, the area was home to the Naumkeag band of the Massachusett tribe, a nomadic indigenous population. Since members of the tribe moved throughout the region depending on the season, their villages sometimes looked abandoned with empty structures along the Massachusetts coast. The Naumkeag’s seasonal shifts eventually led to confusion and ultimately frustration with the English who while they were gone had taken over their homes and modified them according to their own tastes.
The Naumkeag viewed the situation as a misunderstanding, and they continued to treat the English settlers with kindness despite the fact that they continued to take over their homes seasonally. Even worse, the settlers brought over new diseases from Europe that led to the deaths of large groups of people from the Massachusett tribe. Still, the Naumkeag remained peaceful, even through the deaths of their own people and the repeated loss of their homes, and they worked to help the settlers learn how to produce and effective harvest in New England.
Tensions between area Native Americans and Europeans eventually led to King Philips War (1675-1678), as the relationship between members of the Wampanoag tribe and the English settlers began to diminish. During this time, the majority of the Naumkeag band were wiped out, with many suffering unfortunate deaths due to inhumane conditions while they were kept as prisoners of war. Those who did survive passed down their histories and traditions to their living descendants who serve as representatives of the tribe today.
Like the stories of many Indigenous peoples across the country, the story of the Naumkeag is unfortunate. The Massachusett spread the mentality that one should only take what they needed from the land, while they simultaneously remained peaceful in the face of settlers taking their land, homes, and more. Today, we remember the Naumkeag, and recognize that the land Salem has been built upon originally belonged to he Massachusett, a people whose peaceful spirits in the fact of adversity are admirable to Salem locals and visitors today.
The land we recognize today as Salem is Naumkeag, or fishing place, where generations of Indigenous Peoples lived and passed through for centuries. From the village upon the Naumkeag River (now known as the North River) to Sachem Nanepashemet’s fortification (now known as Castle Hill), the people of Naumkeag farmed, fished, traded, raised families, discovered, invented, created art, and above all else, honored the lands upon which you stand today. We acknowledge that this is Indigenous land and acknowledge the Massachusett tribe who continue to honor and hold this land into the present.
For further reading:
- The Massachusett Tribal Website
- Massachusett Center for Native American Awareness
- Institute of New England Native American Studies
- Naumkeag History from pioneervillagesalem.org
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