The Wampanoag are one of many Nations of people all over North America who were here long before any Europeans arrived, and have survived until today. Many people use the word “Indian” to describe us, but we prefer to be called Native People. Today, about 4,000-5,000 Wampanoag live in New England.
The Wampanoag tribe was known for their beadwork, wood carvings, and baskets. Here are some pictures of a Wampanoag basket being woven. Wampanoag artists were especially famous for crafting wampum out of white and purple shell beads.
The Wampanoag homeland included the territory along the East Coast from Wessagusset (today called Weymouth, Massachusetts ), to what is now Cape Cod and the islands of Natocket and Noepe (now called Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, respectively), and southeast as far as Pokanoket (the area which now encompasses Bristol
The native inhabitants of the region around Plymouth Colony were the various tribes of the Wampanoag people, who had lived there for some 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. Soon after the Pilgrims built their settlement, they came into contact with Tisquantum, or Squanto, an English-speaking Native American.
From 1615 to 1619, the Wampanoag suffered an epidemic, long suspected to be smallpox. Modern research, however, has suggested that it may have been leptospirosis, a bacterial infection which can develop into Weil’s syndrome. It caused a high fatality rate and decimated the Wampanoag population.
Pilgrims settle at what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod near the abandoned village of Pahtuksut. Three years earlier, the Wampanoag had left after a smallpox outbreak ravaged the tribe.
If you’d like to learn to say a Wampanoag word, Wuneekeesuq (pronounced similar to wuh-nee-kee-suck) is a friendly greeting that means “Good day!” You can also see a Wampanoag picture dictionary here. What was the Wampanoag culture like in the past?
The majority of clothes worn by the Wampanoag were made from animal skins or birchbark before Europeans came. These included long breechclouts, leggings, long cloaks and shoulder to waist length mantles. These were made from the skins and fur of deer (buckskin) raccoon, beaver, otter and moose.
Arts and crafts were important in Wampanoag cultural life. Their basket weaving, wood carving, and beadwork became famous. Crafting wampum (white and purple shell beads) were Wampanoag artists’ specialty. Wampum beads were traded as a form currency and an art material.
A Wampanoag home was called a wetu. Families erected these dwellings at their coastal planting grounds and lived in them throughout the growing season.
The Wampanoag Indians of eastern Massachusetts played a role in helping and teaching the Pilgrims how to survive in this new land. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims along with about 90 Wampanoag Indians, including their chief, Massasoit, celebrated the fall harvest.
As more European settlers arrived, they took over much of the land where the Wampanoag had lived for thousands of years. They tried to change the Wampanoag way of life and forced them to convert to their religion. Thousands of Wampanoag had been killed, and many survivors were enslaved.
What killed so many people so quickly? The symptoms were a yellowing of the skin, pain and cramping, and profuse bleeding, especially from the nose. A recent analysis concludes the culprit was a disease called leptospirosis, caused by leptospira bacteria. Spread by rat urine.
The Spanish were among the first Europeans to explore the New World and the first to settle in what is now the United States. By 1650, however, England had established a dominant presence on the Atlantic coast. The first colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.
The Native Americans welcomed the arriving immigrants and helped them survive. Then they celebrated together, even though the Pilgrims considered the Native Americans heathens. The Pilgrims were devout Christians who fled Europe seeking religious freedom.