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Before Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims, There Was Patuxet

The Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620 and began a settlement called Plymouth. That's where our history classes about the region begin, but what happened before that? New England was home to 69 villages, each with a few thousand residents of the Mashpee Wampanoag people. The spot where the PIlgrams settled was previously a town called Patuxet. Wampanoag historian Steven Peters tells us what happened to Patuxet.

In 1616, we think the village of Patuxet becomes ground zero for what became the Great Dying. There was a plague that ripped through the Wampanoag nation where there are estimates of over 100,000 Wampanoag dying in just three short years. There were accounts of a French fishing ship that had wrecked off the coast of Patuxet, and of some of the fishermen coming into the village exhibiting signs of sickness, with yellowing of the skin and fever, and dying. Shortly after that, the plague just starts to rip right through the Wampanoag nation. Everyone in Patuxet either dies or fled the village, and they never returned. And that’s how the village of Patuxet ends up vacant in 1620 when the Pilgrims arrived. We know that the Pilgrims knew about the Great Dying, and they also must have known that that village of Patuxet was empty when deciding to make that Plymouth Colony.

The Pilgrims survived with the help of the Wampanoag, especially Tisquantum, who spoke English. Read what was going on in Massachusetts before the Pilgrims landed at Atlas Obscura.


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