The concept of land 'ownership' was not easily or immediately understood by the Native Americans in New England.
"Originally, the Indian sachem deeded his land to the English in exchange for protection for himself and his people. The Indian believed the land would be used in common and most deeds reserved the right to hunt, fish, plant at convenient locations, set their wigwams and use the woodland trees for firewood. It appears that in some cases the English were well aware of the Indian intent to share the land without giving clear title; in numerous cases they paid for the same piece of land two or more times. Upon the death of a ruling sachem the English would obtain confirmation of an existing deed from the succeeding party with payments in money and goods. Under this agreement the sachems were willing to allow the English access to large tracts of land and in some instances their entire domain."2
In later deeds, sachems reserved the right to a particular tract of land within the territory sold, while relinquishing all claims and titles to the remainder of the land.
Early Nipmuc Deeds (see map) include:2
1643, The Lancaster Purchase: By the sachem of Nashaway to Henry Symonds and Thomas King - 80 square miles on the "Nashaway River" (no record of this deed exists, but the General Court recognized the purchase in 1653).
1644, The Tantiusque Purchase: By the sachem of Tantiusque to John Winthrop.
1655, The Eliot Purchase: By a sachem of Quabaug to John Eliot - 1,000 acres (within the bounds of the Tantiusque deed of 1644). This title was confirmed to the heirs of John Eliot on December 5, 1715.
1665, The Brookfield Purchase: From the Indians of Quabaug to several inhabitants of Ipswich.
The above deeds are believed to be the only existing records of land transactions in Nipnet before King Philip's War (1675-76).
After King Philip's War, Nipmuc and other Native Americans in 'Praying Towns' (see map of Indian Praying Towns as of 1674) within Nipnet were ordered to Natick, taken to the Bay and evacuated to islands 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.
"With the Indians no longer a formidable force in the region the English began a concentrated effort to obtain all of the unoccupied lands. They made treaties with the Indian claimants and came to terms for the land."2 While some treaties and deeds were made with Nipmuc people after King Phililp's War, in many instances English settlement occurred on lands which the Nipmuc people had vacated by force or fear for their lives.
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