Appears in Records From 1671 — 1688
Essay by Marjorie Leary
Awashonks was a female chief of the Sakonnet tribe of Little Compton, Rhode Island. Her real name is not known, but Awashonks was her official name as chief. It means “She who is queen.”She lived near the Pilgrims’ settlement, Plymouth Plantation, on the southern side of the bustling establishment. The Natives were not familiar with the settlers, and Awashonks helped her people and their confusion. Her life as a ruler of her Indian tribe was one of importance, and her story will inspire us all.
Awashonks’ birthdate is a mystery, aside from several doubted files. It is thought that she was born around the year 1620 after the Pilgrims arrived on the famous journey and ship, which was called The Mayflower. She was important, even before she became chief because she was the daughter of the current sachem, Corbitant.
Awashonks became the sachem of her tribe when the next chief and husband, Tosoneyin, died in 1660. She didn’t obtain the chief’s position through inheritance only, though. She was also a leader because of her strength, wisdom, and power. Though her tribe was more accommodated to a male chieftain, no one else but her would step up to the highest position. Awashonks also discussed problems with other sachems and tried to find solutions to the issues and obstacles with different tribes. Awashonks also greeted the first settler, Benjamin Church, into her territory with a peaceful welcome.
Awashonks, even before she became sachem, played her part for her tribe, and helped with problems and conflicts among the group. She participated in the signing of a peace treaty among a league of neighboring tribes and with the Plymouth Colony. Her tribe lived to the south of Plymouth Plantation, the Pilgrims’ establishment and the second successful settlement, and stretched east from the Sakonnet River. Her tribe traveled often for gatherings and other important ceremonies. Awashonks and her tribe also traded frequently with the English colonists.
Awashonks played a huge role in the war between King Philip and the English colonists. She thought only of protecting her people, and used strategies and allies to defend her tribe. By the end of the war, she had made numerous peace alliances.
It is also guessed that Awashonks agreed to make an alliance with the English as long as no more men, women, or children would be killed or shipped away as slaves. During this time period, Native Americans were forced to be sent away to places where they would be put into forced labor, against their will. Natives were abused, and Awashonks wanted to put an end to it.
Though Awashonks’ deal with the English after they won the war kept her people safe from slavery and deportation, her tribe still endured stolen land and displacement and even enslavement once more.
Awashonks had two husbands. With her first husband, Tosoneyin, she had three children, two sons and one daughter. Her second husband went by the name of Waweyewet.
Awashonks led her people through hard times. She stayed strong for her people, even when her tribe lost most of their power. The struggle for power was a problem among all tribes during this time period, including Awashonks’.
Awashonks was an aristocrat and is a symbol of strength, and though she isn’t here with us, she has a place in history. She stood to defend her tribe, to protect her people and be a leader and chief to its fullest potential.
Written by: Marjorie Leary, Grade 5 -Wilbur & McMahon School
Exhibit Text from 2020 Special Exhibition
Awashonks was the leader of the Sakonnet people after the death of her first husband Tolony. Sakonnet’s location at the far western edge of Plymouth Colony provided some protection from English interference. At first Awashonks resisted English directives, but they raised an army against her in 1671. She submitted to the king’s authority and turned over her guns to prevent that attack. A year later, the Sakonnets were in debt to Tiverton colonist John Almy and began to lose their land.
During King Philip’s War the Sakonnets were divided. Some allied with the English, some with Philip. After English troops burned their homes, Awashonks led her followers to Narragansett, where they were attacked in the Great Swamp Massacre, and then to Wachusett Mountain for the winter. The survivors followed her back to Sakonnet in the spring. In June of 1676 they allied with Benjamin Church at Treaty Rock to avoid the enslavement of their women and children.
After the war Awashonks had to ask permission from the English to resettle in Sakonnet. By 1681 it appears that she and her people were landless, living near East Main Road in a small village. They asked Plymouth for some land to farm in 1688.