Drawing of Weetamoo from John Frost’s Frost’s Pictorial History of Indian Wars and Captivities (1873). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Amy-Jane Humphries

Weetamoo (c. 1635-1676) was a ‘sunksqua’, or chief, of the Native American Pocasset tribe. She was the daughter of Corbitant, who had been chief of the tribe himself, and was born in present-day Rhode Island. She was killed during King Philip’s War, after military defeat.

It was not unusual for a woman to lead tribes of the Wampanoag Confederacy, of which the Pocasset was part. Weetamoo was a strong and capable ruler. She married five times, but she was never subordinate to her husbands. Her marriages successfully widened her kinship network.

It is believed that she had a child with her second husband, Wamsutta of the Pokanoket tribe. His brother would later go on to wed Weetamoo’s sister, further tying their tribes together. Little is known of Weetamoo’s third marriage but her fourth union was dissolved.

This was because her fourth husband, Petonowit, sided with the English in King Philip’s War. Her final husband tied Weetamoo and her tribe closer to the alliance against the colonists and involved Weetamoo closely with the war.

Weetamoo was heavily involved in efforts to remove her people, and other members of the Wampanoag tribes, out of the warzone. During this period, she was observed by a Colonist called Mary Rowlandson who had been taken captive in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Weetamoo was said to have been richly adorned, covered in bracelets and necklaces, and she wore “several sorts of jewels in her ears.” The Colonists openly belittled Weetamoo as the war went on. She was increasingly described as ugly, aggressive, and subhuman due to her heritage.

When Weetamoo drowned in the Taunton River as she tried to escape the war, the Colonists focused their outrage upon her body. She was beheaded, and her head was displayed on a pole in Taunton, to the horror of members of her tribe that had survived. It was a truly cruel act.

Recommended Reading

Jeff Ostler, Joshua L. Reid, and Susan Sleeper-Smith, eds., Violence and Indigenous Communities Confronting the Past and Engaging the Present (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2021).

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