What did we learn about Colonial People?

The Arrival of Euro-Americans (Colonists) in the Project Area

Missaucatucket was “named” Green’s Harbor by Plimoth Colony in the late 1620s. When the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 in Patuxet, a Native village that had been abandoned only because the local Native population had been decimated be plagues brought by 16th- and 17th-century fishermen, explorers and traders, their survival was entirely dependent on the welcoming nature of the people of the Wampanoag confederacy. Native peoples provided food to the starving colonists and taught them how to grow corn, beans and squash, and how to fish and hunt.

It took several years for the colonists to gain a modicum of stability and self-reliance and Native-colonist relations were amicable. But by 1630, thousands of English settlers were arriving in Massachusetts in what is known as the Great Migration, overwhelming Plimoth and spilling over into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the Boston area. Population pressure pushed colonists out of Plimoth Planation and into surrounding areas, including Green’s Harbor, where settlers arrived in the late 1620s and early 1630s. The pressure on the Wampanoag people was immense, straining relations as Native lands were “granted” to colonists, making it harder for the Wampanoags to live as they did before, free to make the seasonal rounds that were central to their economic and cultural lives.

Robert Waterman House

Into the mix, and Marshfield project area, moved Robert Waterman and his family, settling on a high-ground part of Locus 9. Waterman built a house here, not far from the river and marsh and almost certainly traveled a Native American path, now Ocean Street (Route 139), to get there. Waterman, like the Wampanoags before him, made a living by fishing in the river, conducting a coastal trade in a canoe and shallop (a small boat) via the river, hunting marsh and forest mammals and birds, and collecting wild plants. He grew corn and beans, no doubt sourced from the Wampanoag and possibly on former Wampanoag fields nearby. But he also introduced English ways of life: he had cows and pigs, and he grew wheat, apples and grapes.

Waterman built a house that was primitive but in line with structures in his native England: a small structure built on wooden posts pushed into the ground, between which were nailed walls of clapboards to form a 16x20-foot structure with a thatched roof and dirt floor. Archaeological evidence indicates that there was a small shallow cellar and a corner hearth under a smoke-hole opening in the roof. No stone or bricks were used in the construction. The house had an interesting feature: a palisaded wall, built somewhat like a modern stockade fence, buttressed the seaward side entrance. This side bore the brunt of ocean winds in winter, which blew unbroken across the marsh. Unlike Native American winter wigwams or wetus, which were located more inland, the Watermans were at the mercy of the wind and elements. And indeed, they suffered for it because the tinderbox of a house burned down, perhaps due to a windblown spark from the fireplace.

The fire charred food and organic remains in the house, thus preserving them; the acidic soils in Loci 9 and 10 left little chance that botanical and faunal remains remained. We know what season the house burned down because apples and grapes, found in the house, are only available in early fall. Charred corn and other foodstuffs suggest a pantry location. The absence of food in a corner suggests the sleeping area.