Connection to Native Peoples

As a man of Native ancestry, Attucks would have had many reasons to resent both the colonists and the British.

By the time of Attucks’s birth around 1723, Native people knew that contact with colonists more often led to danger rather than safety. Portuguese, Dutch, and English ships began arriving in North America in the 1500s, and about a century had passed since the Mayflower arrived on Wampanoag land in 1620. Within that time, colonists had stolen the independence of Native nations and devastated Native communities through warfare, disease, slavery, indentured servitude, kidnapping, land dispossession, and scalp bounties. Attucks would have had many potential reasons to resent both the colonists and the British.

Massachusetts and other New England colonies enslaved thousands of Native people starting in the 1600s during wars sparked by English expansion into Native lands. Slavery at the hands of colonists became a shared experience for Native and African-descended peoples in New England.

Colonists also created other ways to force Native people to work for them for free. The courts routinely ordered Native people who fell into legal trouble and accumulated unpaid fines to serve white settlers. Those who needed to pay off unmanageable debts could accept formal or informal indentured servitude with the merchant, or take their chances in the courts, which could result in a longer term with masters not of their own choosing. Plunging Native people into debt was another way to get title to their land. By the 18th century, more than half of all Native men, women, and children in New England were in some form of forced servitude.

John Seller (1632–1697)

Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library

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Mapp of New England

Just 50 years before Attucks’s birth, the colonists and the Wamponoag and their allies were at war over control of Native land in southern New England in 1675-1676. The tribes ultimately lost their last-ditch effort to stop English settlement, and colonists seized more Native land across the region. Histories of this period called this war between sovereign peoples King Philip’s War or Metacomet’s War, referring to Pometacom, a Pokanoket Wampanoag sontim (sachem).

The war was one of the most brutal in colonial America. Native warriors raided most interior English settlements and destroyed several towns, killing many colonists. However, the English slaughtered thousands of Native combatants and civilians alike. Many Native people who survived the war were forced into indentured servitude and sold into West Indian slavery. One of the Native people killed by the English was a Framingham man named John Auttuck.


Paul Revere (1735-1818)
Hand colored line engraving
Reproduction courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery

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Philip, King of Mount Hope, from Thomas Church's The Entertaining History of King Philip's War

As the English presence in the region increased, Native people sought to protect themselves from violence and coercion. One perceived pathway to safety was to move to “praying towns” created by English colonists who hoped to convert Native peoples to Christianity.

Native peoples in “praying towns” adopted some English ways of living, but governed the town independently under the umbrella of imperial authorities. “Praying towns” had their own town officers and courts but did not have representation in the Massachusetts assembly.

Still, the English suspected “praying Indians” of mixed loyalties during the devastating war in 1675-1676 between the colonists and the Wampanoag and their allies, which history books commonly call King Philip’s War or Metacomet’s War. While most “praying towns” sided with the English, colonists shackled and forcibly relocated “praying Indians” of Natick and other towns to the windswept, frigid, and barren Deer Island and Long Island in Boston Harbor during the winter of 1675. Many died there due to cold, hunger, and disease. Those who returned found their homes destroyed and lands sold.


John Eliot (1604-1690)
Reproduction courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society

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Puritan minister John Eliot (1604-1690) led efforts to create “praying towns” across Massachusetts and convert Native people to Christianity. Eliot also translated the Bible into the Massachusett language. Today, these bibles have been used to help reconstruct and preserve the languages of Algonquian-speaking Native communities.

Natick was one of the first “praying towns” and has historically been linked to Attucks. There are records of people in the area with last names similar to his starting in the 17th century, and people with the Attucks surname in the 19th century claimed him as family.

Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God (The "Eliot Indian Bible")

Multiple sources indicate that Attucks was from Framingham or Natick. It is difficult to ascribe a specific tribal community to a Native person based on their place of residence in the late 18th century. Native people have always moved among different communities. As the English colonized the region, they displaced or dispossessed many Native communities from their lands, including the Massachusett, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Pawtucket, Pennacook, and Wampanoag. Because movement across territories became even more common in the wake of colonization, it is difficult to conclusively attribute Attucks’s ancestry.


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Tribal Nations Map