Marlborough may have had the closest distance from a European colonial village and a native village anywhere in the Americas. The Praying Indians of Okammakemesit had set their teepees very near to the old Howe house on Union Street. Their burial ground was at the corner of Union and Prospect Street. It is some wonder that the Indians were able to live peaceably with the English for over fifteen years.
The cultures were seriously at odds with one another. The English men did much of the outdoor work, tending to their farms with great diligence. For the natives, farming was women’s work while men were concerned with hunting, fishing, and defense. The English were very modest in dress, the natives not so much. Reverend John Eliot tried to alter the native culture by encouraging them to cut their hair and dress as the English.
Because reading the Bible was an important feature of Puritan life, Eliot wrote a translation of the Bible into the Algonquian language and taught the natives to read. Only a few of the natives learned to speak English.
Both cultures held a certain amount of disdain for the other, which sometimes degraded into contempt. The English in Marlborough made no secret of their interest in acquiring Indian land and it would eventually lead to an abrogation of Indian rights. But while Chief Onamog was alive, a level of respect was maintained on both sides.
While most of the Indian land in Marlborough was forested, the eventual sale of their land clearly delineates what the English considered to be ‘improved’ land of higher value. This included the land from our present Main Street to Union Street forming the Planting Field, the land from Union Street, north to the Assabet River at Wood Square in Hudson, some acreage at the Country Club which probably contained apple orchards, and the primary orchard and planting field where now stands the Royal Crest apartments on Hosmer St.
Primary Indian Orchard and Planting Fields
In 1674, Daniel Gookin, Administrator of Indian Affairs for the Commonwealth, made a general assessment of the condition of each of the Praying Indian towns.
Of Okammakemesit, he made the following observations:
“This village contains about ten families, and consequently about fifty souls. The quantity of land appertaining to it is six thousand acres. It is much of it good land, and yieldeth plenty of corn, being well husbanded. It is sufficiently stored with meadow and is well wooded and watered. It hath several good orchards upon it, planted by the Indians.”
“This town joins so near to the English of Marlborough … but the Indians do not much rejoice under the English men’s shadow; who do so overtop them in their number of people, flocks of cattle, etc. that the Indians do not greatly flourish, or delight in the station at present. Their ruler here was Onomog who is lately deceased, about two months since; which is a great blow to that place. He was a pious and discreet man and the very soul, as it were, of the place.”
“Here they observe the same decorum for religion and civil order as is done in other towns. They have a constable and other officers as the rest have. The Lord sanctify the present affliction they are under by reason of their bereavements; and raise up others, and give them grace to promote good order among them.”
The loss of Onomog less than one year before the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675 would prove disastrous for the Indian community faced with a general panic among the English.