Posts Tagged ‘Watson Hammond’


June 2, 2012


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.



April 21, 2012

The most distinguished Indian resident of Cotuit was Lorenzo “Len” Tandy Hammond, also known as Little Bear, chief of the Wampanoag nation. About 1928 he succeeded the pioneer chief Red Jacket (Eben Quippish).

He was born in Mashpee in 1871, son of Rebecca C. Amos, who was daughter of the famous Baptist preacher “Blind Joe” Amos. His father Watson Hammond, was a leading cranberry grower who held almost every Mashpee town office, as well as being the first Indian to serve in the state legislature.

In 1910 Len bought the 1846 house of Capt. Ensign Nickerson at 93 School St. in Cotuit, where he lived for the next 50 years. He had earlier Cotuit connections in Cotuit. His father had drilled a ten inch well on Main St. in Cotuit for Capt. Jarvis Nickerson in 1880, a skill he passed on to his son.

Before moving to Cotuit Len worked as licensed master plumber for Cotuit plumber Victor Nickerson, who had a booming business of installing the first running water in village homes and businesses. Everyone remembered Len riding his bike to jobs around the village, and over to Mashpee.

Len inherited his father’s inventive genius, patenting a bicycle brake, and “The Economist”, “a simple, light, handy and self-cleaning” cranberry separator, which was sold for $25. Len’s greatest accomplishment was to invent the famous Victor well point. Leonard Peck describes it in his book, “For Golden Friends I Had” (2000), as a device driven down to water table to filter out sand. Mr. Peck mentions that Nickerson patented the idea, but does not credit Hammond. The well point was sold widely around the country for $300, and marketed in a cheap version by Sears Roebuck. Chief Vernon Lopez also credits Len with another device run down the side of a well pipe to shut off flow so that it didn’t freeze.

He was also an artist, achieving some local fame for his oil and watercolor paintings, and for sculpture in wood. At one time, Chief Earl Mills had an oil color portrait of Len’s son, Cecil. (I hope people who know of other examples of his work will let me know).

He was married to a remarkable Indian elder and leader. Lilian (Avant) Brown, known as Princess Wood Fawn was born in Mashpee in 1875 to John Avant and Susan Lowe, from two distinguished old Indian families. “Miss Lillie” was remembered by historian friend Ernestine Gray as a woman with a very even temper, ready to laugh, and sweet to all. She was always stylishly dressed, in latest hats and outfits, and modeled for the press in native garb. Their only child, Cecil, born in Cotuit in 1914, died tragically in a motorcycle crash in Quincy, but left Len and Lillie with three grandchildren, Brian, Hartley and Linda Hammond.

Lillie lived with Len in their School Street home until she died of complications of diabetes in 1954, at age 78. Len lived there alone until his tragic death five years later. On a cold winter night shortly before Christmas of 1959, Len lit his kerosine space heater, and it exploded, catching fire to his pants. He died in the hospital two days later of burns of the lower body.

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 20 April 2012.

Photo of Chief Little Bear and his niece, Ethelind Pells