The Wanderings of Sarah Conomog

When the Praying Indian Plantation of Ockammakemesit was broken up, the local Praying Indians had to choose where to go. Most went to Natick where they had relatives. But some had ties to the Wamesits in present day Tewksbury. This included Sarah Conomog, widow of the local chief Onamog who had died in 1674. As widow of the chief, she had retained much of his power in the absence of any other recognized Sachem.

Sarah was the daughter of Wamesit Sachem Sagamore John and was first widowed of John Tohatooner of Nashoba (Concord) with whom she had a son in 1663. She then came to Marlborough and was married to Onamog. The Wamesit tribe was subject to the Pennacooks whose primary area of influence was along the Merrimac River and its tributaries. This included the Concord River, and to some extent, the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers, both of which flow into the Concord River. Wannalancet, son of Passaconaway was their Chief Sachem. Wannalancet had tried to remain neutral at the outset of King Philip’s War which didn’t settle well with either the English or the warring Indians.

Museum in the Streets Sketch of Chief Onamog and Sarah Conomog by Donna Berger

After the ‘Incident’ at Marlborough, Captain Samuel Mosely went north to try to ‘encourage’ Wannalancet to join with the English. But when Wannalancet heard of his coming, he withdrew. Mosely proceeded to burn the Indian homes and destroy their food supply. For this he was censured but not punished by the English authorities. Wannalancet withdrew further into what is now New Hampshire and didn’t trust the English from that point onward. But neither did he trust the warring Indians so he remained at a distance.

Some of the Wamesits, mostly the old and women and children including Sarah Conomog, had remained at their home. The warring Indians seeking to put the neutral or friendly Indians at odds with the English, would frequently burn barns or haystacks and leave evidence implicating those who would not join them. On November 15, 1675, they burnt the barn of Lieutenant Richardson of Chelmsford. In retaliation, fourteen townsmen approached the Wamesit encampment and two of the men opened fire on the defenseless Indians. Five women, including Sarah Onamog, and two children were wounded, and Sarah’s twelve year old son, stepson to Onamog, was killed.

The two shooters were arrested and tried, but the jury found them innocent for ‘want of evidence’. The Wamesits left to seek Wannalancet. Most of them, driven by hunger, did return, including Sarah who returned in mid December.

In February of 1676, the Wamesits once again feared that the enemy Indians would create an incident and they would be blamed. They asked colonial authorities to intervene, but when the Colony delayed, the Wamesits, now beset once again by townspeople, fled north with those who could travel. Those who remained behind, mostly the blind and the lame, were trapped in their wigwams and burnt alive.

After most of the hostilities were over, in August of 1676, the Wamesits returned, their numbers reduced by sickness and slaughter. In the years following the war, they became targets of the Mohawks, so they once again fled north.

Sarah Conomog returned after the war and settled at Natick. Her name appears on most of the early deeds that transferred improved land to the English. This included the ‘planting field’ land between Main Street and Union Street in Marlborough which was given over to Secretary of Indian Affairs Daniel Gookin who had planned to open a regional school for the Indians. Also included was the land from Union Street to lower Hudson St. which was sold to Thomas Martin, whose daughter, Dorothy, married Joseph Howe, descendant of Abraham. Much of this land remained in the Howe family for centuries. A recent discovery also showed that she sold her husband’s planting field on Hosmer St,, the subject of a future multi part story.

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