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Great Swamp Land Returned to Narragansett Tribe


Great Swamp Land Returned to Narragansett Tribe


By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA


SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe gathered on Oct. 23 in the Great Swamp at what is believed to be the site of the Great Swamp Massacre.

Just a day earlier, the Rhode Island Historical Society, which has protected the land since 1906 when it was donated to the state by the Hazard family, completed the paperwork transferring ownership to the Narragansett Tribe.

Narragansett Medicine Man and Historic Preservation Officer John Brown said the effort to return the land to the tribe was initiated by the historical society and had begun several decades ago.

“A long time ago, and I’m talking, maybe, the 1970s, the historical society then wanted to transfer the land back to the tribe, but for some reason or another, those several times before, it did not happen. So, this time, it did,” he said. “It was attempted for the last 40 or 50 years, it just happened to come to us now, so the feeling is always good.”

The Oct. 23 ceremony, Brown said, recognized those who had made the land transfer possible.

“The ceremony that we held was primarily to honor the people that worked so diligently for the purpose of getting the land back to us,” he said. “So, we held that ceremony in their honor.”

The Great Swamp Massacre occurred in the winter of 1675, during “King Philip’s War,” which continued until 1676.

Wampanoag Chief Metacomet, also known as King Philip, led a confederacy of Native American forces fighting the English settlers who were colonizing their land.

The Narragansett were allied with the Wampanoag and supported the effort of the Wampanoag Tribe to take back their land in Massachusetts.

The colonists fought back, and in the winter of 1675, an army of Puritans from Massachusetts and Connecticut attacked the Narragansett at their winter camp in the Great Swamp.

It is believed that between 650 and 1,000 Narragansett men, women and children were killed. Many of the Narragansett were shot, while others died in fires set by the attackers. Many of those who survived the attack were taken captive and some were sold into slavery.

Brown said residents of the winter camp at the time of the massacre were mostly women, children and the elderly.

“They killed many of our old people and our next generation people, our young people,” Brown said. “They basically started a war with non-combatants and destroyed old men, old women, women and children, in order to further their colonial cause. So, the return of these lands marks that place that terrible place for us - that place of sorrow.”

The site will be preserved as open space and will be open to the public.

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