The story of Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area is intimately tied to the character of the land as well as those who shaped and were shaped by it. Here land-form and climate combined to create an environment propitious to settlement, with a network of natural features, including river systems and forests, sustaining successive generations of inhabitants.
The lives of Native Americans, the first inhabitants of this land, are intertwined with the paths of those who settled the region, providing both tangible and intangible reminders of the past. Their stories are revealed from found artifacts, and archaeological explorations, countless landmarks and rivers go by the Native American names, or version of them, and their forest pathways and water routes have evolved to scenic roadways and riverways. The physical resources of the region influenced its use by Native Americans and new settlers. Known or yet to be revealed, they provide a narrative that links the past to the future.
Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area has been home to the Nipmuc and Nashaway, tribes within the Algonquian Indians, which inhabited the upstream portions of the Nashua River. The Nashaway tribe is now extinct, having fled and merged with other tribes such as the Nipmuc and the Pennacook. Many also died during the exile to Deer Island, Boston. Today their descendants can be found among the Native Americans such as the Abenaki of New England and Canada. The Pennacook tribe also inhabited areas along the Nashua River, in what is present-day Leominster.
The European settlers and native peoples lived peacefully for a number of years. But, the Native American way of living on the land, moving to follow the harvest and returning after the land had lain fallow for a time, was in opposition to the settlers style of building permanent housing, and shaping the land to their needs. The permanence of these homes, mills and garrisons evolved rapidly, and prevented the native peoples from using land once considered at their disposal.
The initial good will paid to the settlers eroded as their increasing numbers and need for more land took hold. The Narraganett and Wampanoag tribes abutted the Nipmuc and Nashaway tribes in Massachusetts and banded with them for the attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts, settlement that saw the capture of Mary Rowlandson, and subsequently King Phillip’s War.
The Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area is obligated, by virtue of its federal status, to undertake consultation with American Indian tribes, specifically federally recognized tribes active within or with historic ties to the region influenced by the heritage area. In both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, non-federally recognized tribes may also be helpful in undertaking interpretive and other initiatives in support of the heritage area.
Since 1992, the month of November has been proclaimed to be National Native American Heritage Month (formerly National American Indian Heritage Month), and, in addition, since 2009, the day after Thanksgiving has been designated Native American Heritage Day by the President of the United States as an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the many contributions made by Native Americans.
In so doing, the proclamation asks that we reflect not only on what we have gained, but the unfortunate chapters of violence, discrimination and deprivation that lasted far too long, and pledge to forge a brighter future of progress and hope. “Let us celebrate the traditions, languages and stories of Native Americans and ensure [that] their rich histories and contributions can thrive with each passing generations.”
Whether a recently discovered significant archaeological site along the Assabet River or Redemption Rock, a rocky ledge with a long-known history, there are Native American stories to be shared, retold and celebrated as part of our common story.
Pine Hawk Site
In the 1990s, Acton commissioned a survey in preparation for a new sewer plant. As part of any major state-funded construction, an archeological survey must be completed and as a result thousands of artifacts were found at the Pine Hawk site, revealing human habitation over 7,000 years, making this a very significant archeological discovery.
The methodical process of excavating the Pine Hawk Site began in 1999. Beyond the artifacts discovered were a number of significant features—97 in all. These were carefully recorded in scaled drawings and maps. Carbon dating was used to further inform the time of various uses at the site.
Slowly the story of Pine Hawk evolved. Artifacts revealed that small groups traveled along the Assabet River, camping briefly to hunt, fish, make tools and work hides. This happened from 7,000 to 2,000 years ago and the frequent use of the location suggests its importance.
The Acton Memorial Library showcases a collection of artifacts found at the dig along with a timeline of habitation at the site. The exhibit was funded by a grant from the Community Preservation Act and developed by Friends of Pine Hawk member Doug Halley with input from the Nipmuc Tribal Council. Most of the artifacts are kept at the Public Archeology Laboratory (PAL) in Rhode Island, which head up the dig and is responsible for the storage and care of the findings. The Pine Hawk Site has been set up for Acton-Boxborough Schools to stay informed.
Ayer Public Library
Heartbeat: A Native American Musical Experience
November 8 | 6:30 pm
An entertaining and thought-provoking multi-media celebration of Native American music and culture will be presented by percussionist and author Craig Harris. This 90-minute program combines archival recordings, a video montage and storytelling, spanning from the early powwow drums and wooden flutes to the sounds of Native-infused rock, jazz, blues and more. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Friends of the Ayer Public Library. Free; No registration required.
Mass Center for Native American Awareness & Bridgewater State University Pow-Wow
November 19 | 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
Spend the day exploring the culture of Native American peoples in celebration of National Native American Heritage Month. A variety of presentations taking place include professional educator Claudia Fox Tree’s interactive conversation about the First Nations People on identity, culture, history and female role-models and Larry Spotted Crow Mann, Nipmuc will be signing his new book Drumming and Dreaming: Algonquian Tales of the Eastern Woodland Native Americans. Jennifer Lee will construct a basket while giving a presentation on 17th Century Northeast Native American Lifeways.
Inter-tribal dancing, dance-style demonstrations, storytelling, traditional craftmaking demonstrations will all be part of the day. Native food offerings and arts and crafts will be available for purchase. Sponsored by the Mass Center for Native American Awareness, in partnership with BSU President’s Office, U.S. Ethnic & Indigenous Studies Program, and the Native American Cultural Association (student group).
Entrance fees, free parking. Indoor Pow Wow, please bring a lawn chair for seating. Visit website for full details.
Over 30,000 Native American archaeological artifacts are preserved in an exceptional collection at the Concord Museum. An assortment of predominantly stone tools found by Concord residents and amateur archaeologists reveal important information about the native peoples who lived in the Concord area from 12,000 to 10,000 years ago through 400 years ago. The majority of artifacts come from known sites, carefully documented as to date and location where found, making the Concord Museum collection unique in New England. Most that is understood about the Native Americans that lived in the area—their fishing, hunting, farming and migratory practices—comes from this material.
Benjamin Lincoln Smith, Concord resident and archaeologist, created one of the Museum’s major collections with 5,000 artifacts collected in the 1930s to 1950s from 200 sites in Concord and surrounding towns. Smith excavated The Shell Heap, a 5,000-year-old trash pile in Concord along the Sudbury River. Other artifacts from Adams Tolman and his wife Harriette, Alfred W. Hosmer and the Foss-Barrett-Brown collections came to the Museum in the late 19th century.
Admission fees apply. For full details, visit their website.
Founded by Clara Endicott Sears in 1914, Fruitlands Museum interprets a range of themes within their various museum areas. The Native American Museum houses a significant collection of artifacts, including over 300 baskets of diverse origins and materials. The exhibits honor the spiritual presence and cultural history of the first Americans, especially the New England Native culture. See website for hours. Fees apply; see website for details.
Sarah Doublet Forest
November 25 | 1:00–3:00 pm
Sarah Doublet Forest, once inhabited by the Algonquins, was named in honor Sarah Doublet (Wunnuhhew), the last native Nipmuc resident living at the Nashoba Praying Indian Village and Newtown Village. Shortly before her death she relinquished her deed to the Algonquin property.
The Nashoba Praying Indian Village was the site of the sixth Puritan Praying Indian Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the seven villages organized by the Reverend John Elliot between 1651 and 1658. It was part of Rev. Elliot’s efforts to organize the native peoples into Christian Villages, and convert them to Christianity with deeded land and Puritan style worship in an attempt to ensure their survival amidst increasing English land pressure. Allowed to choose their site, Sachem Tahattawan, an early convert, chose the land known as “nashope” and believed to be his principal residence. The Indian Plantation of Nashoba, also spelled “Nashobah”, was granted in 1651 by the General Court.
The Village thrived there until King Phillip’s War in 1675-76, when the inhabitants were rounded up and moved to Deer Island. The Nashoba Indian Plantation was sold off in parcels to English settlers seeking land. Almost completely in English hands by 1714, it was reincorporated as the Town of Littleton in 1715. A 500-acre parcel, on the rocky hill between Nagog and Fort Pond, was set aside for the Nipmucs that survived and returned from Boston Harbor island. It remained in their hands until Sarah Doublet, the last surviving member, passed away in 1736.
Today the Sarah Doublet Forest is stewarded by the all-volunteer Littleton Conservation Trust, with a network of trails that reveal the beauty of the landscape.
Angered by increased westward settlement, Wampanoag Sachem Metacomet, called King Philip by the British, led the Nipmuc, Wampanoag and Narragansett in defense of their land. In the February 1676 attack on Lancaster, Mary Rowlandson, her three children and twenty others were captured and taken into the woods for several months. With the assistance of John Hoar of Concord, MA, the release of Mary Rowlandson from captivity was negotiated atop Redemption Rock in April of 1676. Mary Rowlandson later wrote a narrative account of her capture and captivity, detailing her experience in The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.
The inscription on Redemption Rock reads:
Upon this rock May 2, 1676 was made the agreement for the ransom of Mrs Mary Rowlandson of Lancaster between the Indians and John Hoar of Concord. King Philip was with the Indians but refused his consent.
This public quarter-acre site is open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset.
Native American Communal Grinding Stone
Few may know of this unique artifact of Native American culture found on the southeast slope of Green Hill, near the intersection of Singletary Lane and Green Hill Road. . Six feet in diameter this granite stone was used to grind corn, grain and nuts. A stone pestle, usually a smooth, hand-sized stone or long, rolling-pin-shaped stone, was used to pound and grind the material into a uniform meal or flour.
While no archeological exploration has been conducted in the vicinity of the grinding stone, artifacts found in other nearby sites on Green Hill suggest it belongs to the Late Woodland period that began around 800 AD and continued to European contact. At this time the Nipmuc people lived on this land, with a population that of approximately 1600 in the Sudbury-Wayland area, and over 3,000 living between the Concord and Sudbury Rivers.
One of six known grinding stones in Sudbury, large communal grinding stones such as this are not common as food was typically prepared by each family using their own stone.
To locate the Stone, follow the self-guide Historic Sudbury Tour Map to stop #1.
Sudbury Historical Society
A vision for the history museum in Sudbury was born when Harry Rice willed his collection of Native artifacts to the Society along with funds to build a fireproof facility that would hold the artifacts that he collected over a lifetime.
There are many significant sites and stories of Native Americans in Freedom’s Way. Please don’t hesitate to contact us by email with stories you have may know.