In May of 1681, Sarah Onamog, widow of Chief Onamog of the Praying Indian town of Okammakemesit, was given permission by the General Court to sell her husband’s land of about 60 acres of woodland and meadow. Because there were few land transactions of this type, it was thought that this permission was associated with the purchase of the village land by Thomas Martin that extended from Union St to Hudson St along Bolton St. This land amounted to 49 acres.
Recently, due to a genealogical investigation by Jennifer Ehle, it was discovered that the 60 acre permission was more likely associated with the sale along Hosmer St of certain valuable orchard land to a one time Scottish prisoner of war and soldier of King Philip’s War by name of William Eager, ancestor to Ms Ehle.
This sale is remarkable in a number of ways. First because it was by far the single most valuable piece of property the English purchased of the Indians in Marlborough. Second because it was virtually unknown until recently. Third because the story of the man who bought the property and the method of financing are so fascinating.. Fourth because the history of the land itself would make it unique in the history of the city of Marlborough..
There were three prior purchases of developed Indian land by the English in the 1680’s. Prior to this, Sarah Onamog had transferred ownership of the ‘Planting Field’ to Daniel Gookin, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1677. He had planned to start an Indian school there but the hysteria of the post war years prevented any such endeavor. The first of the land purchases was by Thomas Martin who paid less than 10 shillings per acre for his 49 acres. There are 20 shillings in an English pound. In 1684, Samuel Stow paid 12 shillings per acre for 20 acres in two plots between Hosmer and Concord St. But the Eager purchase was for one pound per acre for 60 acres, nearly twice the value of other ‘developed’ Indian land. Since all three sales were determined by Daniel Gookin, it clearly shows how valuable this land was.
How this purchase was ignored by history is a mystery. Charles Hudson says only that “He (Eager) was one of the proprietors of the Ockoocangansett Plantation purchased of the Indians in 1684.” My own investigations have thus far completely missed it. The architectural survey done for Marlborough historic properties associate it only with the larger purchase of 5800 acres of Indian land engineered by John Brigham and vetoed by the General Court. Despite the veto, 30 acres were distributed to everyone with previous grants in Marlborough and there were about 30 homesteads on the land in 1700. The defective deed was finally accepted by the General Court in 1716. This will be dealt with in a separate article. We now know that the history in regards to William Eager/Augur was in error. Regrettably, this information has been widely distributed, including on such websites as the Scottish Prisoners of War website and numerous genealogical investigations.
Were it not for the tenacious genealogy of Ms Ehle we still would not know of it. Nevertheless, it was hiding in plain sight. Once it became known, it was simple to find the deed, the boundaries, and the backstory. It continues to amaze me that Marlborough’s colonial past is still capable of revealing such new and exciting facts.
Of the man William Eager (Augur) much more can be said, and his story will be the topic of the next few columns. Suffice it to say that when he came to America he almost surely came as an indentured servant. The Scottish Prisoners of War were captured by the troops of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650’s. About 150 of them were sent to America as virtual slaves. The rise of Mr. Eager to a stature wherein he could purchase such valuable land is certainly a story of the triumph of immigration in America.
As for the land itself, it may very well have been part of the much older village of Whipsuppenicke which was purported to have been located at the top of the hill on Hosmer St. I now begin to doubt that location. Whipsuppenicke Village was wiped out by the great Indian plague that ravaged New England from 1615 to 1620. If the primary planting field was at Royal Crest Estates as we now believe, then it is quite likely that Whipsuppenicke was nearby, very possibly on the land now owned across Hosmer St by The Heights Apartment Complex.
Up until the 1950’s Royal Crest was orchard land which no doubt went back to its initial Indian ownership. It almost certainly operated as an orchard for over 300 years, and possibly as much as 350 years or more.
Next article: William Eager, Scottish Prisoner of War