Sokwakik Today: Volunteers Prepare Accessible Trail in Northfield

greenfield recorder shelby ashline mt grace trail northfield

“Since the project began, Rasku said Mount Grace has coordinated with the Abenaki, Nipmuc, Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes due to the land’s cultural significance.

“It’s had a lot of features tribal nations would appreciate,” he said, explaining the tribes could gather medicinal plants, harvest the nearby farm fields and take advantage of the water source, making the area around the pond active.

As such, Rasku said that in making the accessible trail, Mount Grace has avoided changing the terrain or excavating out of respect for the land’s Native American history.”

Read the full article by Shelby Ashline in the Greenfield Recorder here.

*****

Interpretive signage on the Ames Trail will include information about Abenaki cultural lifeways and language translations for our many indigenous relations. Aln8baodwaw8gan!

Advertisements

The Fork in the Trail, South Deerfield

south deerfield trail fork recorder sanderson

The two yellow lines forming an inverted V show the ancient fork in the road that greeted settlers at the site of the Bloody Brook ambush in South Deerfield. The solid black line follows Main Street to Long Plain Road in Whately. The red dashes show the approximate course of an abandoned path leading straight to the foot of Mount Sugarloaf and on to River Road in Whately. Both indigenous paths led to nascent Hatfield village in the 17th century. Contributed map/Peter A. Thomas

Recorder Staff, Friday, May 26, 2017

Associated with ancient bloodshed and modern fender-benders, a familiar site in South Deerfield has a deep history that reveals a forgotten footpath fork, with a long-ago abandoned leg leading straight to the southern base of Mount Sugarloaf and beyond.

We’re talking about South Deerfield’s famous Bloody Brook Corner, a sharp curve on North Main Street passing the Bloody Brook Monument, commemorating the infamous Sept. 19, 1675, King Philip’s War ambush where Capt. Thomas Lathrop and 75 colonial soldiers and militia met their doom. Back then, both forks led to the nascent Hatfield village by roughly parallel routes at slightly different elevations.

The discovery of this forgotten fork in the road at a historical landmark came to light in the mid-19th century journals of Deerfield surveyor/mapmaker/historian Epaphras Hoyt, author of “Antiquarian Researches: Comprising a History of the Indian Wars in the Country Bordering Connecticut River and Parts Adjacent,” published in 1824. Born in Deerfield, Hoyt (1765-1850) began keeping a journal late in life. These journals were handed down privately among extended Hoyt family members for 165 years before they were assembled and sold at auction for more than $30,000 to Historic Deerfield in December 2015. Now available to researchers, these important papers provide an invaluable peek into upper Pioneer Valley history, and especially into the settlement of Bloody Brook, which became South Deerfield. So, of course, this fresh information about my hometown was of great interest to me personally.

I grew up in a house overlooking Bloody Brook Corner and could see the obelisk monument across the street through the posts at the foot of my bed. Maybe there’s a curse on that site, because I was awakened from many a sound sleep by loud nighttime car crashes. As a boy, I explored the meadows, hillside pastures and North Sugarloaf ridgeline across the street without ever getting so much as a faint whiff of an ancient fork in the road there. Centuries of tillage have likely erased any trace of that ancient path, although it’s not impossible that random pieces remain on farm roads between the monument and the youth baseball diamond a mile away at the southwestern foot of Sugarloaf.

My late father, a South Deerfield native with roots reaching to the very beginning of the village, was surprised to hear of the old fork in front of his house. A veteran land surveyor, he knew that the line dividing the eastern and western lots drawn by Deerfield’s earliest proprietors was the road leading from Old Deerfield to the Whately line — passing through The Bars to Mill Village Road, across Routes 5 & 10 to South Deerfield, and down Main Street to the Whately line at Brookside Cemetery. But he had no clue that what’s known as the Pocumtuck Path had originally forked into two trails at Bloody Brook Corner.

Now, thanks to Epaphras Hoyt’s resurrected journals and tireless research by retired historian Peter A. Thomas, we have a much clearer picture of the indigenous trail system between Hatfield, Deerfield and beyond. Thomas photographed and transcribed journal excerpts related to King Philip’s War and Bloody Brook before diligently searching for related papers in the dusty Historic Deerfield and PVMA archives. Despite his yeoman efforts, a couple of questions linger that may never be answered:

1.) What route did the Lathrop and his troops take from Hatfield to Deerfield to salvage winter grain before imminent Indian warfare swept the valley?

2.) What was their intended route back to garrisoned Hatfield with cartsful of grain when ambushed crossing Bloody Brook approaching the fork in the road?

Because the left fork to Sugarloaf appears to have been discontinued by the third quarter of the 18th century and was forgotten until very recently, and because the right fork became a county road and is still a heavily traveled secondary road, most historians settled on the latter as the most likely route Capt. Lathrop and his Flower of Essex troopers took that dreadful day.

However, documentary evidence in 1672 Indian deeds for Hatfield and Deerfield establish the presence of a commonly used trail crossing Sugarloaf Brook at a marked tree in the general vicinity of today’s Hagar Cross Road in South Deerfield. Likewise, the road following the river from Hatfield to Deerfield shows up on a primitive 1709 map. Also, on an August 1716 trip to the Connecticut Valley recorded in Judge Samuel Sewell’s diary, the Salem Witch Trials jurist stayed overnight in Hatfield with Col. Partridge before guide Samuel Childs of Deerfield toured him past Sugarloaf to view the Bloody Brook battleground and gravesite. Sewell’s written description strongly suggests that the route taken was the river road. Then again, Sugarloaf is on prominent display along the upper road as well, especially once you break into the sandy plain traversed by Long Plain Road. This outwash plain was, according to several archaeologists I’ve spoken to, probably open sandbanks in 1675.

Although Lathrop’s path is still a mystery that may never be solved, Hoyt’s journals provide more than enough exciting new clues to keep local-history sleuths busy for decades. Isn’t that what keeps historians’ engines revved?

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: http://www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.

Link to original Recorder article.

Sokwakik, the Change Begins: Whitelaw’s Map of Vermont 1796

whitelaw map 1796 vermont

Title – “A correct map of the state of Vermont, from actual survey :  exhibiting the county and town lines, rivers, lakes, ponds, mountains, meetinghouses, mills, public roads, &c   / by James Whitelaw, Esqr., late surveyor general ; engraved by Amos Doolittle, Newhaven, 1796, and by James Wilson, Vermont, 1810.

whitelaw-1796-windham-county

An inset detail of Windham County (click to enlarge).

wantastitquck-or-west-river

The label for the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River tributary (known today as West River) is given as “Wantastitquck or West River” – very close in pronunciation to both Wantastekw and Wantastegok.

whitelaw-1796-brattleboro-town

Let’s look at some details for Wantastegok/Brattleboro, at this relatively early date of British settlement. The east-west Turnpike which became the basis for Vt Route 9 has not been built yet (about 1800). The road existing at the time running westward was known as the Great Military Road, or the Albany Post Road, circa 1746. This was the road used for scouting and patrolling by militia between Fort Dummer (in the southeast corner of Brattleboro, not shown here) and Fort Massachusetts (in what is now Williamstown, MA) and onward to Albany, NY. It was a repurposed Native trail, a single-file footpath, as were all of the earliest roads. In fact, there is a good chance most of the roads shown on this map as dotted lines were of the same provenance. The courses of these roads as marked on the map are general and somewhat imprecise, and some are missing. The Great River Road, a major Abenaki trail running parallel to the west side of the Kwanitekw, which is now VT Route 5, was now enjoying benefits of the first bridge at the mouth of the Wantastekw/West River, opened in 1796, the year of this survey.

More to follow…

Wantastiquet

This story strikes close. I live in Brattleboro, Vermont, in the Sokwaki homeland. It’s the largest population center in the southeast corner of the present state of Vermont. It is known for having a distinctive “personality” – a diverse, tolerant, liberal town in a liberal state. But even Brattleboro seems to have turned its back and forgotten the people that belong to this land, and, for the most part, abandoned that close relationship with this wondrous landscape.

connecticut river north at wantastiquet

Looking upriver on the Kwanitekw, the Connecticut River, with the northern end of Mount Wantastiquet to the east, and the confluence with the West River, Wantastekw, just around the bend.

If you live here, you cannot escape the fact that this border town, nestled on both sides of the “Y” formed by the meeting of the West River and the Connecticut, is dominated and defined by the steep mass of Mount Wantastiquet to the east (elevation 1351′). Rising abruptly on the far bank of the river, on the New Hampshire side, its forested flanks form a steady yet subtly shifting backdrop to the comings and goings of the brick-faced Main Street. A good deal of the 4-mile-long ridge is protected public land, which thankfully keeps it in red, white, chestnut, and scrub oak; mountain laurel; white, red, and pitch pine; and rough ledge outcroppings frequented by hawks and hikers. Its name often trips up the visitor, but it is pronounced exactly as it is spelled. For the record, the mountain has had several different monikers since European settlement: Chesterfield Mountain (after the NH town within whose borders most of its bulk lies), Rattlesnake Mountain (after the population of timber rattlers that frequented its talus slopes), West River Mountain (more on that momentarily), and the current identifier, Wantastiquet. It is gratifying that the latter name has persisted, as it is very close to the Sokoki placename for this landmark.

west river spring banks

A side channel of the West River, Wantastekw, in late spring.

The challenging spelling, of course, derives from its Abenaki origin but here the story takes a turn, as often happens with transliteration of native names. The mountain is, in fact, named after the tributary river which meets the main stem at its base, so by learning the source of the name we come to understand both features. Now called the West River (and thus the West River Mountain extrapolation), the Western Abenaki know it as Wantastekw; consequently, the long mountain which faces its confluence with the Kwanitekw is Wantastegok Wajo. We’ll work our way through the meanings… Conventional wisdom has it that “West River” is a simplification of the assumed meaning of “Wantastiquet,” usually given as “river that leads to the west.” Unfortunately, that translation is substantially off-base. Working with the original form Wantastekw, let us note the Abenaki word for “west” is ali-nkihl8t and no form of that noun appears here. More to the point, Western Abenaki linguist Jesse Bruchac has lent some clarity to the meaning of wantas- :  wan- (the root inside wantas-) can mean “forget or lost.” In this case: wantas = “a lost or misplaced thing” and tekw = flow (the ending -tekw is a commonly encountered Western Abenaki bound morpheme for “flow,” as in the moving water of a river). As an illustrative aside, it is interesting to note that wantastasid = “one who gives bad traveling directions.” Gordon Day recorded its meaning rather concisely: “literally: lost river, i.e. river on which it is easy to get lost or easy to lose the right trail.”  As for Wantastegok Wajo (the mountain itself), the -ok ending is a common bound locative suffix meaning “at the place of” and wajo is a free morpheme for “mountain.” Put it all together and we have “the mountain at the place of the lost river.” It’s not the river which is lost, but rather the unfamiliar traveler.

Also, it is fair to mention that there are a number of other citations of  the river’s original name Wantastekw being translated as “waters of the lonely way,” which hearkens much closer to the true meaning than today’s West River. And in a broader sense, a further extension of the usage of the name Wantastekw is the understanding that it was used by the Sokoki (and probably the earliest Europeans) to refer to the immediate locality we now know as Brattleboro. In this case, the proper Abenaki form would be Wantastegok, which would mean simply: “at the place of the lost river.”

west river wantastekw duskA broad reach of the lower Wantastekw at dusk. 

So then, this begs the question: why was it so easy to lose one’s way? The river served as one of the main cross trails over the mountains to Otter Creek and Bitawbakw (Lake Champlain). Following its course to the headwaters, one travels northwestward 54 miles through Windham County, passing through Wantastiquet Pond in Weston, then a corner of Windsor County, before ending in Mount Holly in Rutland County. Over the ridge to Mill Creek a couple miles and Otter Creek is a clear route north and west to the expanse of Lake Champlain. The watercourses dwindle and fork many times, and the crossover at the drainage divide of the watershed would be anyone’s guess, although the trail was probably blazed by its earliest users. Was it a more difficult route to trace than the other watery Green Mountain cross trails (among them the Black, White, and Wells Rivers)?  Maybe I’ll  try to recreate it one day… a journey made by many generations.