Letter to the Editor

Regarding the Center Business District

Dear Editor,

This letter is to express our concern regarding Phase 1 of the Center Business District Project.

On March 24, 2020, our offices were contacted by Anita Petricone, a concerned citizen of the Town of Winthrop. She described to us the scheduled Phase 1 of the Center Business District Project which is “a project to improve water and sewer infrastructure in the French Square area; and to provide street level amenities to a vibrant business district.” From the online description of Phase 1, we have learned the following:

April 6, 2020 to April 8, 2020 Phase 1 Center Business District Project

French Square will be demolished in preparation to construct a temporary parking lot. A temporary parking lot with 24 spaces will be constructed.

The current use of the site is as a memorial to Radioman Harold E. French, Jr., US Navy. According to winthropmemorials.org, Mr. French “was the first Winthrop serviceman to lose his life in WWII. He was a radioman in the U.S. Navy Reserve for four years. When war broke out he asked for sea duty, but was turned down because of a slight disability. He made a personal appeal to the War Department to overlook the disability. They agreed, but he had to take a demotion from radio operator to ordinary seaman. He was assigned to the USS Truxton, a destroyer.”

Of concern to the intertribal community is the highly sensitive archaeological nature of green spaces within the Town of Winthrop. Winthrop Center/Metcalf Historic District was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places on January 3, 2014. The registration form certified on February 4, 2010 by State Historic Preservation Officer Brona Simon, Massachusetts Historical Commission accessed from Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information System on March 27, 2020 gives the following archaeological descriptions of the area:

Each of the sites described above indicates a high potential for locating Native American sites in the district. Higher topography, possibly with a southern exposure near wetlands, may be especially sensitive for Native burials.

Since patterns of pre-Contact period settlement and subsistence in the Winthrop area are poorly understood, any surviving sites could be significant. Pre-Contact sites in the district area may contribute important information related to Native American settlement patterns and resource utilization in this area, and how Native people adapted to changing sea levels and related changing upland and coastal environments through time.

The presence of burial sites in the area, particularly cemeteries, also indicates the potential to recover information related to Native American burial customs and sacred places. The analysis of human remains from these sites may also contribute important information related to the general health of Native populations, and dietary and pathological changes that occurred through time.

A Documentary History of Chelsea: Including the Boston Precincts of Winnisimmet, Rumney Marsh, and Pullen Point, 1624-1824, Volume 1, by Mellen Chamberlain, offers this historical data:

When Samuel Maverick built his Palisade House at Winnisimmet, the region was inhabited by Indians, though greatly reduced in numbers by two causes. In 1615 the Tarratines, a powerful tribe easterly of the Penobscot, made war with the Pawtuckets, whose lands extended from the Charles to the Piscataqua, including Winnisimmet, Rumney Marsh, and Pullen Point. This war was disastrous to the Pawtuckets, of whom were the Rumney Marsh Indians. The other cause, the plague of 1616, more fatal than war and less discriminating, ravaged the New England coast.

The chief of the Pawtuckets was Nanepashemet of Lynn until the war with the Tarratines, when for safety he removed to the Mystic, near Medford, where he built a fortified house; but that did not protect him, for he was killed in 1619. He left a widow, three sons, and a daughter. Their English names were Sagamore James of Lynn; and Sagamore George of Salem, who, surviving his mother and brothers, became sachem of his tribe. The daughter was Yawata. After Nanepashemet’s death his widow gathered the remnant of the tribe to the Mystic, where she governed it, leaving local rule, to her sons. Before 1635 she married Webcowet,—who became sachem in her right. She died about 1650.

Sagamore John, as has been said, lived sometime by the Mystic, and later at or near Winnisimmet. The Charlestown records say that when the Spragues came from Salem to Charlestown in the summer of 1628, they “lighted of a place situate and lying on the north side of Charles river, full of Indians, called Aberginians. Their old sachem being dead, his eldest son, by the English called John Sagamore, was their chief, and a man naturally of a gentle and good disposition; . . . About the months of April and May, in the year of our Lord 1629, there was a great design of the Indians, from the Narragansetts, and all round about us to the eastward in all parts, to cut off the English; which John Sagamore, who always loved the English, revealed to the inhabitants of this town.”

Sagamore John seems to have been friendly to the English; and they just to him. Sagamore James died young, in 1633, and therefore was little known by the Winnisimmet people. He lived at Saugus, and married the daughter of Passaconaway, the noted chief at Penacook (Concord, N. H.).

Descendants of the Pawtuckets as recorded by Chamberlain continue in part through the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook – Abenaki People. The Cowasuck Band is in agreement with the Massachusetts State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) Brona Simon, and as such, declares that all open or green spaces of Winthrop that may undergo construction activities in regard to this proposed project must be considered to be historically sensitive archaeological sites to be protected under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) which requires tribal consolation and archaeological over sight in conjunction with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO).

North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), through its predecessor organization Boston Indian Council, was designated as the state’s liaison with resident members of the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet, MicMac Tribes, with whom the state has entered into Treaties and other Agreements. In terms of the broader intertribal scope of this commentary, NAICOB reaffirmed its collaboration with Muhheconneuk Intertribal Committee on Deer Island (MICDI) and Muhheconnew National Confederacy (MNC) in August 2017. Participating tribal governments in MICDI/MNC represent descendants of the historical tribes of: Massachusett, Abenaki, Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Narragansett, Penobscot, Sokoki, Mohican, Delaware, Paugusset/Paugeesukq, Mohegan, Pequot, Unkechaug, Montaukett, Shinnecock, Brothertown, and Schaghticoke.

NAICOB supports the decision of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook – Abenaki People and all efforts to protect: land, cultural resources, and sacred and/or burial sites.

Jean-Luc Pierite

(Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of La)

President of the Board of Directors

North American Indian Center of Boston

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