FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN LEGISLATOR ON BEACON HILL

BARNSTABLE SENT THE FIRST INDIAN LEGISLATOR TO BEACON HILL

Watson F. Hammond was the first Indian ever to serve in the Massachusetts legislature, representing both Barnstable and Mashpee in 1885.

He was son of John Hammond, a Montauk Indian of Sag Harbor, Long Island, a port which had pioneered whaling in the Russian Bering Sea. John held over 50 acres of land on Mashpee Neck. Watson was born in Boston’s North End in 1837, his father died when he was seven, and he joined an uncle in Mashpee, staying at the Attaquin Hotel, whose famous innkeeper Solomon Attaquin he remembered as “Sol”.

At age 14 he sailed on the New Bedford whaling ship Liverpool to the north Pacific, as a greenhorn (an inexperienced novice) under Capt. Weston Swift. Twenty months out they were hunting bowhead whales in the Bering Sea, between Siberia and Russian Alaska. 70 miles north of the Arctic town of Nome, in the bay of Port Clarence, the ship struck a reef, and began to sink. They were rescued by Capt. Charles West’s bark Helen Augusta out of Holmes Hole on the Vineyard, which towed the wreck 167 miles to the tiny Russian port of St. Lawrence in the middle of the Bering Sea. Unable to repair the damage, the cargo was unloaded onto the Helen Augusta, and the Liverpool was set afire and sunk. The Helen Augusta took Watson home, after three years away.

At age 17, he began service as a seaman for 15 years, and returned to Mashpee in 1869 to marry Rebecca C. Amos. She was the daughter of the famous Baptist preacher “Blind Joe” Amos, who ousted the Harvard appointed minister to the Mashpee church, and led the “Woodlot Revolt”of Indian independence in an act of civil disobedience by dumping wagon loads of lumber which had been cut by white men. The ouster has a story of its own. The Reverend Phineas Fish of Santuit had been appointed by Harvard to be minister of the Mashpee church, but he was so unpopular that he was locked out by his parishioners, led by Reverend Joe Amos.

Rebecca and Watson had seven children, the oldest being Mashpee teacher and Town Clerk Charles Hammond. Watson was a keen observer of nature who showed naturalists the location of unusual pink lilies. He was also a successful cranberry grower of bogs on the Mashpee River, including Pine Grove and Tumtum bogs.

He was also a gifted inventor. In 1883 he patented a cranberry separator. In 1880 he drilled a well big enough for a ten inch pipe on Main St. in Cotuit for Capt. Jarvis Nickerson in 1880. He passed this skill on to his son, Lorenzo Hammond, also known as Chief Little Bear.

Watson held every Mashpee town office: town clerk, moderator, selectman, surveyor, and long-time treasurer, and effectively leader of the Mashpee tribe. He was also longtime deacon of the church, and onetime manager of the popular hunting lodge Attaquin Hotel in Mashpee where President Cleveland stayed on fishing vacations.

His greatest achievement was his election as the first Native American in the Massachusetts legislature. This came about when Mashpee nominated him as its most prominent citizen to serve at Beacon Hill. Mashpee’s votes were solidly Republican, the party of Lincoln, who had freed the slaves. But the voters of Barnstable far outnumbered those in Mashpee. The incumbent representative, popular clipper ship Capt. Zenas E. Crowell of Hyannis was in his last term. He died the next year. Cotuit’s Republican leader General John H. Reed may have seen a chance to bring Mashpee’s votes to the Republican cause.
Watson Hammond beat the Democratic candidate “Cranberry King” A. D. Makepeace by 77 votes out of 432. The victory celebration was held in Cotuit at the Samuel Hooper house, hosted by the Republican boss, General John Reed, with Representative Capt. Crowell graciously attending.

Massachusetts’ first Indian representative is buried near the Mashpee Indian Meeting House.

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 1 June 2012.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN LEGISLATOR ON BEACON HILL”

  1. Russell G. Handsman, PhD - Anthropology Says:

    Mr. Gould: On that 1851 voyage of the LIverpool, Watson Hammond was joined by 5 other Mashpee men, ages 12-48, including 2 other greenhands. Likely their mentor was Nicholas Pognet, age 48, a veteran of whaling voyages in the 1820s and 1830s, who also played a role in the Revolt of 1833-34. It was relatively common for Mashpee men to go whaling together although the 1851 Liverpool voyage was one the last on which there were so many – 6 of a crew of 30.

    Russ Handsman
    Mashantucket Pequot Museum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: