Calling it a tragedy that must be remembered, members of the Natick Nipmuc and other local tribes gathered Friday at Deer Island, a place many of their ancestors endured concentration camp conditions during King Philip's War.
Calling it a tragedy that must be remembered, members of the Natick Nipmuc and other local tribes gathered yesterday at Deer Island, a place many of their ancestors endured concentration camp conditions during King Philip's War.
The plantation, which is now the grounds of a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority sewage treatment plant, was one of five in "praying towns" in Massachusetts where colonists ordered American Indians who had converted to Christianity. Though they had converted, many colonists were still fearful of the Indians because of the King Philip War - a war where some local tribes and groups of warriors attacked colonial settlements throughout New England. In 1675, all American Indians were told to settle in one of the five praying towns or face death.
Philip was eventually defeated by the Colonists with the help of American Indians recruited from Deer Island and other praying villages.
At Deer Island, in Boston Harbor, there was little food and shelter, and many were kidnapped or sold as slaves.
Mary Anne Hendricks of the Natick Nipmuc said 500 Nipmucs were taken to Deer Island, and half of them either did not survive the conditions or were sold into slavery.
"We come here ... to the graves of our ancestors to remember what happened," said Hendricks. The Natick Nipmucs have organized the ceremony for 17 years, she said, and more and more people attend.
"I grew up in Boston, and my grandmother would tell me to look over here (to Deer Island) and tell me about what happened here," she said. "She told me to honor them, that it was a holocaust. They were brought here when they had committed no crime."
Many American Indians ended up in Bermuda, where they were sold into slavery, Hendricks said.
"I've actually met some people in Bermuda who trace their ancestry back to ours," said Hendricks, who lives in Quincy.
Hattie Best of Framingham attended the ceremony after a friend told her about the history of Deer Island.
"All of this manifest destiny turned out to be a disaster," she said. "So many people died here. You read fairy tales about the way the pilgrims (treated American Indians), but they don't add up right. I question everything."
Jeff Wyman of Dorchester, a Natick Nipmuc, said it is important to remember those who perished on Deer Island.
"I appreciate what they went through," he said. "We recognize the veterans for battling for us. I look at it the same way. These guys went through really harsh conditions so we can live."
Next year, Hendricks said, a granite memorial statue will be in place on Deer Island to explain to the public what happened during King Philip's War.
Ray Wagner of Chelmsford, who works for the Mass. Water Resources Authority, is also American Indian and came to support the Nipmucs.
"It was a great ceremony," he said. "We'll never forget them."
The MetroWest Daily News