Wanascatok: Wanaskatekw

wanasquatok wanaskwatekw

A deep, green pool at Broad Brook, toward the top of the main gradient, near the site of one of the first mills in Guilford, Vermont. 

Wanascatok (sometimes, later, as Wanasquatok) is the name historically attached to Broad Brook, which flows from the heart of today’s Town of Guilford, Vermont into the Kwenitekw just below the Brattleboro/Vernon line. It is recorded thus in the 1687 colonial land deed, the last of several that together constituted the Town of Northfield, Massachusetts. The deed covered an area of about 65,000 acres identified as Nawelet’s land, and was signed by that person, identified as a chief of the Squakheags, along with Gongequa, Aspiabemet, Haddarawansett, and Meganichcha (as recorded). The legality of these deeds will be discussed elsewhere; suffice it to say this document is a good primary source on several counts.

1687 nawelet wanascatok northfield deed

A transcription of the 1687 Northfield land deed by Nawelet with four others, from Temple and Sheldon’s “A History of the Town of Northfield, Massachusetts: for 150 Years, with an Account of the Prior Occupation of the Territory by the Squakheags.”

A contemporary Abenaki spelling would be Wanaskatekw, which roughly translates as “end of the river” or even “the rivers meet.” Wanask- signifies ‘an end’ or ‘a meeting’ and -tekw is ‘river’, as in ‘flowing, moving water.’ The reason for applying this name to this particular place requires a little exploration, informed by some familiarity with the lay of the land. Broad Brook is a medium-sized tributary of the Connecticut, with a watershed of 23.8 square miles. Since it is obviously not at the end of the Connecticut, the reference is likely to the end of Broad Brook itself – in other words, the point of its confluence with the larger river, the place where they meet. This, in turn, indicates that Wanaskatekw is not the name of the brook after all, but indicates the specific location at its mouth, as a landmark. This fits with its use in the 1687 Northfield deed to denote the northernmost bound of the land running up the west side of the Connecticut. For some reason,  later historians (not Native speakers) presumptively chose to spell the word as ‘Wanasquatok’, adding the ‘qua’ or kwa’ sound, but this is not the original form.

It follows that this location was familiar to the Sokwakiak inhabitants, and, by extension, the earliest Euro-colonizers (more on this elsewhere); amateur collectors, known to include Jason Bushnell, and probably Walter Needham and John Gale, were active in this immediate vicinity in the last century. The topography has all the hallmarks of a good site: fresh water, a confluence, good visibility, well-drained, sheltering hills to the west, and readily defensible. There are substantial wolhanak (rich alluvial planting lands) immediately adjacent, much of which are now submerged since the 1909 construction of the Vernon hydroelectric dam four miles downstream.

Bushnell Old Red Mill Vernon VT

A postcard for Jason Bushnell’s museum at the Old Red Mill in Vernon, VT, where he displayed his life’s collection of “Indian relics” and oddities. It burned down in 1962.

There was a convergence of trails here also. The primary north-south path on the west side of the Kwenitekw – the Great River Road – ran parallel to the Connecticut, hugging the bottom of the closely encroaching hills. And there was a path running west from here up the narrow ravine of Broad Brook itself, which rises in a steep gradient of about 200 feet in a mile and a half, to a lush valley nestled in the uplands. It is recorded that the earliest British settlers of what is now Guilford Town took this trail to stake their claims, first among them being Micah Rice at Weatherhead Hollow in 1761; it is the only ready access point to the uplands from the Long River and became the first road.

It should be kept in mind that place-name references in Algonquian language usages are nearly always directly descriptive, referring to observable natural attributes. Any place that matches a set of general descriptives may carry a similar toponym, in its own context. The name Wanascatok, or a variant, appears in several other places in New England. It fits here, once one is familiar with the circumstances.

8manosek Kwenitegok

“Where there is fishing”

At the Rock Dam on the Connecticut River, below the Great Falls at Montague/Greenfield.

Twilight in Mzatanos/Freezing Current Maker Moon (November16, 2019).

Quinneh Tuk Camp

quinneh tuk camp northfield kwenitekw

An advertisement in Arthur Percy Fitt’s “All About Northfield” (Northfield, MA, Northfield Press, 1910), found on page 108.

The Quinneh Tuk Camp for Boys, Northfield, MA:

A remarkable (rare) near-perfect phonetic transcription of Kwenitekw (kweni- + -tekw = “the long river”), the original name of the Connecticut River in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan, the Western Abenaki language.

The colonial name for Northfield, of course, was Squakheag (various spellings) which is itself a fairly faithful phonetic iteration of Sokwakik, the Abenaki name for the mid-Kwenitekw valley, viz. sokwa- + -ki + -k = “at the separated land.” We use this word today in the form “Sokoki.”

The Fort Dummer Ford and Ferry Crossing

fort dummer meadow flood 1909

Photo from Brattleboro Historical Society: looking south on April 16, 1909, from a point on the abandoned road that climbs the bank from Chase’s Cascade on Venter’s Brook, below the “Cotton Mill”.

In this vintage photo, the Connecticut River is flooding the Hunt Farm (upper right) and Meadows, due to the construction of the Vernon Hydroelectric Dam, completed in 1909. On the far upper left you can see the ferry road (red arrow) that came down the bank on the Hinsdale (east) side of the river. The path is overgrown, but it is still there; as the leaves begin to fall you can find the trail and walk down to the now-abandoned Boston & Maine Railroad bed. The barn marked with the blue arrow still stands at the intersection of NH Rt. 119 and Old Brattleboro Road. The relocated Vernon Road (now VT Rt. 142)  – moved to accommodate the rising water level – is obvious in the mid ground with its parallel guard rails.

The ferry mentioned here (red arrow again) has, of course, much older stories attached to it. It crossed the Kwenitekw to the site of Fort Dummer on the west bank (later, the Brooks farm) near where the short trees can barely be seen (green arrow) projecting from the floodwaters, just beyond the railroad’s telegraph poles (yellow arrow). Fort Dummer (built in 1724 and pre-dating the ferry by decades) was strategically built here because it was a traditional fording place for Abenaki travellers and later by the soldiers and first settlers – of course, that’s why the trails led to this point. Those foot paths later became the first colonial roads – thus Old Brattleboro Road (blue arrow again). The cemetery used by the Fort Dummer garrison and early settlers lies just east of this intersection on a knoll to the north side of the road. The current NH Rt. 119 from this point south to the NH State Liquor Store is a relatively recent replacement route (this is the point where the Old Brattleboro Road rejoins its new counterpart).

A Bit Part in CRC’s Source-to-Sea Journey Video

Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and I have an appearance in this newly released documentary from the Connecticut River Conservancy. At 8:40 into the video, we share some indigenous perspectives on the essential role the Kwenitekw plays in the landscape of life here.

Rev. Ezra Stiles Visits Wantastegok, 1763

ezra stiles diary excerpt

From Rev. Ezra Stiles’ travel diary, circa 1764, recounting a visit to the confluence of the Wantastekw/West River and Kwenitekw/Connecticut River. He traveled widely and recorded faithfully. This excerpt is from a trip up from his home base in Connecticut state, to scout what became the chartered town of Wilmington, VT. Note his references to particulars: There is no underbrush. White Ash trees 100 feet to the limbs and 4-5 feet in diameter at the base.

How did this happen? Indigenous people practiced a sophisticated permaculture. A nuanced, sustainable forest management regimen – working with water, fire, topography, seasonal changes, succession. This was and is not happenstance, circumstantial, or the divine gift of god. This is demonstrable evidence of reciprocal relationship in motion, the give and take of constant creation.

Mark Bushnell at VTDigger: Uncovering Vermont’s Stone Carvings

Bellows Falls Petroglyphs 1866

Note: Mark Bushnell is a Vermont journalist and historian. He is the author of “Hidden History of Vermont” and “It Happened in Vermont.” Mark called me for comments as he was putting this VTDigger column together.

When Rev. David McClure of Dartmouth College ventured down the Connecticut River to Bellows Falls in 1789, he was on a scientific mission. As a natural philosopher – what we might today call a scientist – McClure was interested in stone carvings he had heard about from a local man. The carvings, cut into an outcropping on the Vermont side of the river, depicted a series of faces.

“The figures have the appearance of great antiquity,” McClure wrote, noting that the British colonists who first settled the area a half-century earlier had observed them. The faces were life-sized images consisting of a simple oval with markings for eyes, nose, mouth and perhaps ears, McClure wrote. Some had lines sticking out of their heads that various observers have taken to be feathers, horns or rays.

McClure’s was apparently the first written account of the carved rocks, which have been described as the oldest pieces of art in Vermont. How old? Though experts agree the carvings were made by Native Americans, they are unwilling to ascribe a specific date, or even era, to the petroglyphs, which literally means “stone carvings.” They could be anywhere from 300 to 3,000 years old.

The written observations of McClure and subsequent visitors during the 19th and early 20th centuries are invaluable because they offer a snapshot of these artifacts, which have been changing over time. If descriptions of the petroglyphs have varied since McClure’s visit, so too have the interpretations of their meaning.

Read the full article in VTDigger here.