Eliot, Gookin, and the Magunkaquog

A common name around Middlesex County is Eliot. You would be hard pressed not to see a signpost in Ashland, Natick, or any other of our neighboring communities that didn’t have “Eliot” in it somewhere.

Most of us remember John Eliot as the Puritan that “converted the heathens and ministered the settlers” around the middle of the 17th century.

A graduate of Cambridge University, he first came to the colonies in 1631, settling in Roxbury, Massachusetts. An ardent fan of the Pastor Thomas Hooker, Eliot took to the cloth and became pastor of the local church, but quickly set his sights on the Native Americans. He learned to speak Algonquian, and began preaching to the Indians in their native tongue. He translated the Bible into the language of the Nipmucs, obtained land for his new flock, and settled them (or at least tried to) in the ways of proper English society. By 1674, there were 14 communities of his “Praying Indians.”

But all of this was a difficult task for one man. A friend and neighbor of Eliot was Daniel Gookin. Gookin came to Roxbury from Virginia in 1644 looking for a more Puritan existence. They quickly became friends, and shared a common interest in the Native Americans. Gookin, who was appointed Superintendent of the Indians of Massachusetts, handled all the civil affairs while Eliot tended to the flock.

The first settlement was in South Natick in 1651. Many more followed, including the one in Ashland called Magunko (many other spellings, like Magunkkaquog, Magunksquog, Magunkook, Magwonkkommuk, etc.). The village was located on the south side of the hill near Indian Spring Rd. Later more land was granted to them for what we see today as Magunko Hill.

In 1674, Gookin described Magunkkaquog as being the “7th of the old Praying towns” located “upon a great hill which is very fertile” containing about 3000 acres of land.

I found some of the names of the locals a bit interesting. Pomhaman was the ruler of the tribe. Job Kattanamit was the teacher. Other names included Apumatquin, Jackananumquis, and William Wannekjow. Pomhaman received instruction directly from John Eliot, but surprisingly did not join the church. I’m assuming that Eliot must have had a lot of confidence in this man. Some of it might have been misplaced, however, where Pomhaman joined forces with the renegade Indian Metacomet or “King Philip” in 1675 against the colonists.

The King Philip War, while lasting nearly 3 years (1675-1678), cast a dark shadow upon the Indians. The colonists feared them, and they feared the colonists. All local Indians, whether peaceful or not, were seized and sent to Deer Island with little or no provisions. By the spring of 1677 the war had ended, but few returned to Magunko. Those who did tried to plant and resume their lives, but were driven out by rival tribes. The land was eventual sold to the trustees of “The Hopkins Donation” in 1715 and became part of Hopkinton. After the incorporation of Ashland in 1846, it became what we see today as Magunco Hill.

References: Christianity.com, Wikipedia, Ashland Historical Society.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
November 2014