Podawazwisen Sokwakik: Council Rock at Squakheag

 

northfield-marker-council-rock

Photo above from Lisa Brooks’s “Our Beloved Kin” webguide to the book of the same name (2018).

Looking at confluences of kinship, trade, travel, community in the homeland…

It starts with a narrative from the conventional historic perspective, looking back to the past, situating it in the frame of celebrated cultural domination and advancing civilization – in other words, linear time and the paradigm of progress.  First reference is J. H. Temple and George 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: and with Family Genealogies” (1875).

sheldon temple history of northfield title page

“Council Rock was a noted spot in Northfield’s early history. It was a huge mass of pudding-stone that cropped out in the middle of the town street, just against the south Warwick road. The rock rose three feet above the general level of the ground, was nearly flat on the top, and about 20 X 30 feet in diameter. Here the old men were accustomed to gather, on summer evenings, to hear the news, discuss politics and tell stories ; and the boys were on hand, to listen to the stories, or have a game of goal. About the year 1821, the rock was blasted away, and the fragments put into a stone wall, which stands a little way to the south-east. The travelled way, which formerly ran on the east side of the rock, now passes directly over the centre of its ancient bed.”

Note: Nowadays, the “south Warwick road” is the Gulf Road, which is called Maple Street within the village itself.

council rock map squakheag northfield ma

Another account (“All About Northfield: A Brief History and Guide”, by Arthur Percy Fitts, 1910), quotes the former, but with a slight update, stating:

“The traveled way formerly ran on the east side of the [council] rock, which was blasted away in 1821, and still more when the state road was built : but the bare rock ledge is still visible in the highway.”

mary rowlandson captivity narrative 1682

From Mary Rowlandson’s very early captivity narrative, we can read of her entry into the Sokoki village of Squakheag in 1676 with her Native captors, on this very same path. The Gulf Road led to an intersection with the north-south river path, and, beyond, to a crossing over the Kwenitekw. An early attempt at land claims and settlement by the Massachusetts Bay colonizers had been met with multiple raids and many deaths, and abandoned the year before.

“THE SEVENTH REMOVE: After a restless and hungry night there, we had a wearisome time of it the next day. The swamp by which we lay was, as it were, a deep dungeon, and an exceeding high and steep hill before it. Before I got to the top of the hill, I thought my heart and legs, and all would have broken, and failed me. What, through faintness and soreness of body, it was a grievous day of travel to me. As we went along, I saw a place where English cattle had been. That was comfort to me, such as it was. Quickly after that we came to an English path, which so took with me, that I thought I could have freely lyen down and died. That day, a little after noon, we came to Squakeag, where the Indians quickly spread themselves over the deserted English fields, gleaning what they could find. Some picked up ears of wheat that were crickled down; some found ears of Indian corn; some found ground nuts, and others sheaves of wheat that were frozen together in the shock, and went to threshing of them out.”

******

The story of the removal of Council Rock in 1821 is told in Herbert Parson’s “A Puritan Outpost: A History of the Town and People of Northfield, Massachusetts” (1937):

field home council rock wall

It’s interesting to consider that this great stone presence in the midst of the road – which came to be seen as an obstacle to the carrying-on of the affairs of the Town of Northfield – was, for so many long years, actually the point upon which the trails intentionally converged. It wasn’t “in the way’ – it was the locus, the lodestone, the place of wisdom. It was the destination for Native diplomacy, ceremonies, exchanges, feasts, storytelling, reunions, and long discussions held by the community of Sokoki Abenaki, with their kin up and down the valley.

“Pod-”  to blow (as with air or water), by extension to breathe out/speak/smoke

“Podawaz” to smoke, speak with someone. Thus, to council. To exchange breath imbued with the message-carrying of smoke.