Sutro Library, San Francisco/Wikimedia
Massasoit and governor John Carver smoking a peace pipe in Plymouth in 1621.

Native History: First Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty Signed on April Fools’

Gale Courey Toensing
4/1/14

This Date in Native History: The Avalon Project at Yale University has one of the most comprehensive digital databases of Indian treaties and other documents relating to the settler colonial project on Turtle Island.

What it doesn’t have is the little known first peace treaty between American colonists and an indigenous nation: the 1621 Wampanoag-Pilgrim Treaty. According to History.com, the peace treaty between Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag Nation, and the leaders of Plymouth Colony, acting on behalf of King James I, was signed in April 1, 1621, less than a month after first contact was made between the settlers and members of the indigenous nation.

The Mayflower, with its 101 pilgrims, arrived on Turtle Island in November 1620 in what’s now known as Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. No contact was made with Wampanoag people at that time. In December, the explorers went ashore in Plymouth, where they found cleared fields and fresh running water. A few days later the Mayflower came to Plymouth and settlement began, according to History.com.

The first direct contact between Pilgrims and Wampanoags took place in March 1621, and soon after, Massasoit, the Wampanoag leader, paid a visit to the settlement, the site says. After an exchange of greetings and gifts, the two peoples signed a peace treaty agreeing to do no harm to each other, to come to each other’s aid if attacked by third parties and to have equal jurisdiction over offenders: if a Wampanoag broke the peace, he would be sent to Plymouth for punishment; if a colonist broke the law, he would be sent to Wampanoag. In addition, the Wampanoag leaders agreed to tell neighboring indigenous nations about the treaty. It was honored for over 50 years, the site says. 

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