The Four Nipmucs of Marlborough
As told by Gary Brown of the Marlborough Historical Commission
It was in the year of 1676 that many of the Praying Indians that were settled in "Ockoocangansett" were arrested after King Philip's War. Nipmuc and other Native Americans in 'Praying Towns' within Nipnet were ordered to Natick, taken to Boston and eventually to Deer Island in the harbor; others were hunted down and killed or taken captive and sold into slavery in the West Indies. The lucky ones fled, either westward across the Connecticut River or into Canada. It was this group of Nipmuc's from the Praying town of Marlborough that were being marched to Deer Island that we speak of. In what is surmised as an attempt to escape, three adults were shot and the one infant in the arms of the parent was similarly disposed of. As a matter of convenience, they were buried where they fell. Their place of burial was where is now known as Union Street and Prospect Street.
Two hundred and fifty years passed, when in 1950, construction for a water line to a house was undertaken. As the digging began, it was discovered that there were human remains buried in the place that the water line was to be set. It is not certain as to what actually happened after the discovery; however, the remains were turned over to authorities who apparently did some research and it was determined that the remains where that of four Native Americans. The remains were eventually shipped to the R. S. Peabody Foundation at the Phillips Academy where they were placed in storage for further investigation. And there they lay, never to be looked at again until……….
In 1990, Gary Brown was doing some research on Marlborough properties and he kept on coming across a reference to "Dorchester" burials. He thought it to be unusual to be reading about Dorchester in Marlborough records. He continued to research and discovered that the reference was not to the City of Dorchester, but to the Dorchester family, the apparent owners of the property where the remains were found. His continued research led him to the documentation that spoke of the remains and their current location.
His first contact would be that of Walter Vickers, a Native American Nipmuc Chief known as "Natachaman" (NA - TACH - A - MAN), who lives in Northborough, to discuss how to get the remains back to Marlborough and eventually to a proper burial. Using a newly enacted Federal Law which in part states that "all Native American remains held in repositories must be returned to the place of their disenternment and reburied" (this was certainly the first case in Massachusetts to have the Law applied and possibly the first and only case in the United States where it was used). Using the newly enacted law, "Chief Natachaman" and Gary Brown started the process of retrieving the remains. It was necessary to enlist the aid of John Peters, a Wampanog named "Slow Turtle" and the Chief of the Massachusetts Indian Bureau (now deceased), to get the proper paper work and process in place. To properly pass the remains, it was required that the remains pass from their current place of rest into the possession of an Indian Chief, who in this case would be Chief Natachaman. In addition to retrieving the remains, a proper place of burial had to be found. Gary Brown made contact with the Cemetery Department and it was decided to bury the remains in the Old Common Burial Ground behind the Walker Building. This place of internment would be close to the original land if not on the original land which was owned by the Nipmuc Indian. To comply with current laws, it was required that a burial container be used and through the generosity of John Rowe, owner of a local funeral parlor, a proper burial vault was donated. With all in place and ready to go, all that remained was to retrieve the remains and start the burial process.
Upon being notified, the Peabody Foundation hastily prepared for some tests to determine the age of the bones. The research department at Phillips Academy did some studies on the bones and it was determined the remains were buried 250 years prior. With the tests completed, the remains were finally turned over to the friendly arms of a descendant, "Chief Natachaman".
Upon returning to Marlborough, the Chief and a Medicine Man carefully placed the remains into the waiting tomb and performed the burial ceremony. The ceremony was simple and meaningful. The Four Native American Nipmucs were returned to their rightful place in 1992.
Some time later, Louis Monti, owner of our local stone works company, donated a stone to mark the grave. It, too, was simple.
Note that the death date at the time of the inscription was a best estimate. It wasn't until the results of the test were made available, that the best scientific date was discovered. Further investigation of early history provides back up for the scientific date.
A second ceremony was held to celebrate the marking of the grave. It was performed by "Chief Natachaman", two Medicine Men and a Spiritual Leader.
So ends the story of the Marlborough Nipmucs… if you have time in your busy schedule, stop by and say a prayer. The grave is located on the I. C. Church side of Old Common cemetery near the corner of the cemetery which abuts the sidewalk to the back door of the Walker Building.
This story and picture were gifted to me by my Phillips cousin and good buddy, John Buczek, and can be seen, complete with maps, at his wonderful Marlborough MA website, listed under "Short Stories." Be sure to also read the story of Capt. Edward Hutchinson, which includes mention of the heroic actions of my ancestor, Capt. James Parker of Groton, during the King Philip War. - Sue