The Praying Indians

The Praying Indians were followers of the great Puritan missionary to the Indians, Reverend John Eliot, who was pastor in Roxbury and began to seek out Indian converts in the 1640’s. By 1651, he had enough followers to begin an Indian town which they called Natick.  As the town of Natick began to grow, many of the converts expressed the desire to return to the lands where they had formerly resided. Within a few years, six additional Indian towns were created, including the local town of Okamma­kemesit.

Rev John Eliot

The boundaries of Okamma­kemesit were as follows … from near to Marlborough Hospital north to Wood Square in Hudson, east to about Parmenter Street in Hudson, south to a point near the Marlborough Transfer Station and Mount Ward, then west to the hospital. It was a more or less square piece of land containing 6,000 acres.

In 1656, not long after the Indian plantation was established, a group of Sudbury townsmen seeking additional land for their growing families, sought to gain a new land grant to the west of Sudbury. The General Court, knowing that many of these men were at odds with the Sudbury minister and others over land policies, gave swift approval. But the presence of the Indian grant in the same area meant that a few issues needed to be resolved. The Indians had begun to use the land from Main Street to the hospital on Prospect Hill for their planting field. As it turned out, this area would be included in the grant to the English.

A deal was struck whereby the Indians could keep their planting field.  It appears further that this was a three way negotiation, as there was another problem with a previous grant given to John Alcocke by the colony along the rich farmland on Farm Rd.  In the presumed deal, the new Marlborough settlers received a few hundred acres of Alcocke’s Farm, Alcocke received a few hundred acres of Indian land at the northwest corner of their plantation, and the Praying Indians were able to keep their planting field.  The new English town would also get first right of purchase to all lands if the Indians were to abandon their property. Unfortunately, this created motivation for the English to force the Indians off the land.

In 1663, the English were under pressure to build a Meeting House. Although incorporated in 1660, Marl­borough was slow to develop. A Meeting House for worship and public meetings was a necessary Puritan requirement and the town had still not established theirs. Finally, at the March 1663 town meeting, provisions were made to build the Meeting House. It was quickly built, but to the consternation of the Indians, it was built at the site of the present day Walker Building which was part of their planting field. It may be the only case in America of a public municipality having built their first public building outside the boundaries of the town.

With the help of Reverend Eliot and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs Daniel Gookin, Chief Onamog brokered a deal whereby the Indians would allow the Meeting House to stand in exchange for an extensive list of rules for controlling the animals that were ruining the planting field. But the English did not have enough land to establish a cemetery which was always a feature of Puritan Meeting Houses. Eventually, a cemetery was located on Spring Hill at the end of Main Street. The burying ground behind the Walker Building was not established until the next century.

Chief Onamog was described by Gookin as the ‘heart and soul’ of Okammakemesit. He was an original co-signer of the Natick incorporation and was greatly respected by the English in Marlborough. For twenty years he ruled the small tribe in relative peace with the English until his death in 1674. At his passing, there was a leadership void among the tribe that resulted in the tragic events of King Philip’s war beginning in 1675.

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