MARBLEHEAD CHRONICLES: Earliest Marblehead home to Naumkeag

Marblehead is a small peninsula surrounded by ocean, with a large, deep safe harbor, and sheltering offshore islands. These are the physical elements that have always made Marblehead a desirable place to live and work.

There is some evidence that Vikings fished here along the North Shore, and European explorers, trappers and adventurers came to the area in the late 1500s.

Englishman John Smith mapped the coastline in 1616 and was the first to call the region “New England.” Geography has defined Marblehead’s settlement; its growth and personality are based on its location. 

English explorer John Smith mapped the region, naming it New England in 1616.

Before recorded history, the first known inhabitants of North America were Native Americans. It is acknowledged that the land known now as Marblehead was home to the Naumkeag band of the Massachusetts Pawtucket Tribes.

For centuries, this community moved through and lived upon this land. They followed the seasons, hunted, fished, raised families, grieved for their dead, nourished their living, shared the stories of their ancestors, and considered themselves the caretakers of this area.

The Naumkeag were a part of the nomadic Algonquin nation of Woodland tribes, who came to Marblehead in the warm seasons to live by the sea, to fish, and collect shells and salt.

Nanapashemet was the best-known Sachem, or chief of the Naumkeags. He was known at the time of the earliest European settlement.

After his death in 1617, the population of the tribe was greatly reduced by smallpox as well as inter-tribal warfare.

Nanapashemet’s wife became Squaw Sachem. She and her son Wenepoykin, known to the colonists as Sagamore George, were owners of the land that included Marblehead, which they called Massabequash, or Forest River.

When English settlers arrived, the indigenous population in Marblehead was small. In the 17th century, original native inhabitants gradually gave way to English colonists, who established a town and practiced the fishing trade.

First known as Marble Harbor, the settlers were attracted by the abundance of fish, a safe harbor, and sheltering small islands. These early settlers came not as a band of people with religious or political aims, but individually. They were mostly fishermen seeking a way to make a living for themselves and their families. 

The history of Marblehead encompasses the founding and growth of our country, its events and its people. Marblehead Chronicles is a new column that will include the stories of Marblehead, with the intention of informing and entertaining all those interested in the history of the good old town. 

Pam Peterson
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