The Pocomtuc - Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Robert Cyr
  • 104th Fighter Wing Equal Opportunity Office

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to honor and reflect on our local history and Native American contributions to our way of life.

Before settlers ever reached these shores, our local area here in Westfield was home to a tribe known as the Pocomtuc. Their tribal lands stretched from Southern Vermont into Northern Connecticut, and encompassed most of modern-day Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden Counties.

Unfortunately, much of the Pocomtuc’s culture, traditions, and lifestyle is lost to history. However, historians have been able to piece some things together using archeological research, the records of settlers, and what little they could infer from neighboring tribes.

While their territory stretched across three modern-day states, their principal village, Pocomtuc, was located in what is now Deerfield. There were many other villages across their territory, including the Agawam village, which was located in current downtown Springfield.

Most historians agree that these were largely self-sufficient across daily life because of the distances involved. They likely would have lived a semi-sedentary lifestyle, with their primary crops being beans, squash, and maize, supplemented with meat from local game and fish. Unfortunately, very little is known about what religious or spiritual beliefs and practices they might have had.

As European settlers arrived, the Pocomtuc suffered a series of smallpox epidemics that had a devastating effect on their population. During these epidemics, they lost even more of their population to war.

They joined in a loose alliance with the Tunxis and Narragansett tribes against the Mohegan and Pequot. Later, these tribes all ultimately joined forces to fight against the English is what was known as King Philip’s War. After the war, what was left of the tribe fled south to a village in the Hudson River area named Schagticoke. 

Peace was short lived, however, as the Seven Year’s War broke out not long after they arrived.  Because of this new war, the Pocomtuc largely merged into Abenaki tribes from the Quebec region, while other various bands headed west, or further north, often intermarrying into other local tribes. 

While subtle, various aspects of the Pocomtuc heritage endure to this day. Many of the Abenaki living in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Canada have Pocomtuc ancestry. It may be impossible to know for sure at this point, but most historians agree that at least some Abenaki traditions may stem from even older Pocomtuc practices. In the names of local areas, from the town of Agawam, to Mount Greylock, (named after a Pocomtuc chieftain), our language hints at their legacy.