Before the Mayflower, and shortly before the Plymouth Colony was begun, there lived in this area a substantial Indian tribe. Oddly enough, the name of the settlement and the tribe they were affiliated with remain a bit of a mystery. They may have been Nipmuc, but the Nipmucs were mostly settled along the Blackstone River somewhat to the west and south. They may have been Wamesit, but the Wamesit were somewhat more to the north, near the Merrimac River. They may have been of the Massachusett tribe, but the Massachusett Indians were mostly settled close to Boston, along the Charles River. Local historian and former City Engineer John Bigelow believed them to be of the Wamesits. This makes a certain amount of sense, since Indian ownership often centered around the rivers and the Assabet River is tributary to the Merrimac through the Concord River.
From 1616 to 1620 the Great New England Indian Plague had struck this area. More than likely it was begun by European fishermen and the Indian population seemed powerless against it. Historians described it as a hemorrhagic plague with bleeding from the ears and eyes and a yellowing of the skin. Europeans seemed totally immune. Some of the early English settlers came across large bone fields where death came so quickly that the living were unable to bury the dead.
Despite the fact that the plague had struck up and down the New England coast there are few places that bear the name of a once thriving village. One of these is the local village of Whipsuppenicke. But the name could not have been its name before the plague struck. Rather, according to Bigelow, the name means ‘place abandoned because of pestilence.’ This was its name when both the Praying Indian plantation and the English Plantation were granted in the 1650’s. The English had anglicized it to ‘Whipsuffrage’, but the first official name of Marlborough, before the town was incorporated in 1660, was Whipsuppenicke.
It seems, as well, that its abandonment was complete. Almost every nearby region was sold at one time or another by the Indians to the English. Lancaster was one of these, as were Worcester, Framingham and land to the south of colonial Marlborough. The local Praying Indian settlement of Okamakemessit was eventually sold, but the English had given this land to the Indians in 1654. It must have been considered ‘empty land’ and thus open for land grants.
In addition, Bigelow notes that the Praying Indians never resettled on the site of the previous village. This despite the fact that it was well within the boundaries of the Praying Indian plantation. It was also thought that the planting field associated with Whipsuppenicke had been abandoned, but recent research indicates that the planting field may very well have been located on what is now Royal Crest Apartments on Hosmer St. This was described as orchard land in an Indian deed selling this property from the widow of Chief Onamog to a former Scottish Prisoner of War named William Eager in 1682.
So where exactly was the village? The Colonial Records of Marlborough locate it as “one mile to the east of the village of Ockamakemessi.” This would place it on or near Hosmer Street. This area makes a great deal of sense. It was near to Fort Meadow Brook, had a wide section of south facing hillside and had a clear view of Mount Wachusett from the western slope. The latter would have been important for Indian communications.
The big mystery is that, despite the great number of houses built in this area, there have never been any great number of Indian artifacts or an Indian burial ground discovered here. It is possible that the village lay a little further to the east, closer to Spoonhill or the hills near the Country Club? Perhaps. But my favorite new theory, based on the recent revelation of the Eager purchase, is that the village was located on the site of The Heights apartment complex. This lies across Hosmer St from Royal Crest on high ground, with a protective swamp in the rear, both providing ideal security. In any case, I don’t doubt that some future digging will someday reveal the needed evidence.