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Lake Winthrop's Tom's Rock

by Joanne Hulbert
September 29, 2016

The drought has brought the water level at Lake Winthrop down so low that “Tom’s Rock" is now visible. The rock is located near the southern end of the lake, near the two islands. Although much more subtle and uncelebrated than Valentine’s Rock near the north end of Lake Winthrop, as seen in the photo, Tom’s Rock is just now visible.

The drought has brought the water level at Lake Winthrop down so low that “Tom’s Rock" is now visible. The rock is located near the southern end of the lake, near the two islands. Although much more subtle and uncelebrated than Valentine’s Rock near the north end of Lake Winthrop, as seen in the photo, Tom’s Rock is just now visible, and sometimes a helpful bird lands upon it making it easier to spot. Ice fishermen and skaters may be more aware of it too, and the rock was the bane of motorboaters back when they were allowed on the lake – a curse set there perhaps by Tom’s spirit.

An essay by John Mason Batchelder tells a short and terse version of the rock’s history, but as you may suspect, there’s much more to the story than he let on in 1911. If the rock is still used today as a rite of passage by young swimmers, they are advised to be clad in more than a glad smile – just sayin’.

Story of “Tom’s Rock”

“Tom’s Rock” occupies a conspicuous position near the southern end of the lake and is no doubt the remnant of a fourth island shown on early maps of this region. Tradition says, Tom’s rock was the abode of an Indian called Captain Tom, an exceedingly blood-thirsty wretch and it was because he became so wicked or from some other cause that the island was washed away by successive storms, so that the rock alone remains to tell the tale of the scene of Tom’s cruelties. The island of “Nix’s Mate,” in Boston harbor, has a similar history.

It is of interest to note that Captain Tom was in command of the Indian village near Farm pond, in Framingham, and at a later period exercised his authority over the villages between South Natick and Grafton, making his home on his island, a summer residence, perhaps.

In the journal of John Eliot we find, under date of 1676, Captain Tom was tried for his life, condemned and executed although protesting his innocence to the last. And Mr. Eliot says: “I believe he spoke the truth.” Another authority says: “Captain Tom of the Nipmuc Indians received a commission as captain of the militia from the Colonial government and raised a company of Indians which he commanded for several years.” His Indian name was Wuttasacomponum.

Capt. Tom, with his company, often visited the neighboring plantations to exhibit their skill in military affairs, perhaps as an object lesson to the other companies. He was said to have been at Sudbury, Medfield and wherever fighting was going on. He accompanied Messrs. Gookin and Eliot on their visits to the various Indian settlements between South Natick and Grafton and was often at Mucksquit.

Tom’s Rock has been the half-way resting place of ambitious youths, who, for generations, have made the swimming across the lake one of their sacred duties. The writer once met a young gentleman who had made a successful pilgrimage, on his return, by walking round the shore, clad only in a glad smile, but who dared not attempt the return journey by water, saying gleefully: “My grandfather swam across the lake, my father also and now I have done it.”

John Mason Batchelder, 1911.

And yes, there is much more to the story about Wuttasacomponum than John Mason Batchelder told. Tom deserves a better memorial than being called a blood thirsty wretch. So, here it is:

CAPTAIN TOM’S ROCK

Both legends and history contribute to the story of a man who was said to have lived near the southeastern slope of Captain Tom’s Hill located near the border between the towns of Natick and Framingham. The name of the hill is linked to stories surrounding the tragic life and death of Wuttasacomponum of the Nipmuc tribe, a man of boundless energy and enlightened public spirit, and born to command his followers in a most unique way. An early inhabitant of Natick and a convert to Christianity, he received from the Massachusetts Colonial government a commission as a captain of militia, raised a company of his followers, and visited surrounding settlements to display their skill in military tactics. After the establishment of the praying town of Hassanamesit at Grafton he moved there and became their sachem.

The legends or history regarding Captain Tom placed him near the area where it was said he maintained a summer residence on an island near the southern end of the lake known as Wennakeening. For certain, the early pathway known as Pout Lane did pass along the shore of the lake on the way from Natick to the praying towns at Mendon and Hassanamesit. Daniel Gookin, minister at Sherborn during the later part of the 1600s, knew him well and described him as a grave and pious man, who demonstrated well his devotion to Christianity.

The village at Hassanamesit prospered as the threat of war increased in 1675. They were well on their way to prosperity, trading frequently with the nearby English farmers, living in peaceful coexistence with them, and choosing not to join forces with King Philip and his supporters. The news inevitably soon reached them that their friends and relatives at Natick were being forcibly removed to Deer Island and imprisoned on suspicion of consorting with Philip.

Their neutrality was eventually challenged. In 1675, as the inhabitants of Hassanamesit at the beginning of November were engaged in gathering, threshing and putting up a considerable crop of corn, about 300 of Philip’s warriors ambushed the men, women and children working in the fields. Being unarmed, they were at the mercy of the attackers. James Speen and Job Kattananit managed to escape while 300 of the others were carried off as captives. The warriors told them that if they went with them quietly their crops would not be destroyed and their lives spared. They were also told of the internment of their brethren at Natick and of their likely treatment by the English authorities. Captain Tom and his followers surrendered to their arguments, as they had little choice, given their unarmed status, and they were carried off en masse to a place near Quabog in central Massachusetts for the winter. James Quannapohit made a visit to the encampment in January and saw Captain Tom and his youngest son there, both sick and made lame with disease. Appearing discouraged by the plight of his family, Tom was heard to say that he was carried away from his praying town by his enemies, although he was also afraid to go to Deer Island. The warriors mocked their captives saying they had cried when they were carried away, behaving “more like squaws than men.”

Tom also said he was weary of living in captivity and greatly desired to be among the praying brethren and the English once again, and that if he could find a way to escape he certainly would. He vowed he would never fight against the English. Reports came early in the spring that Captain Tom and his family had made good on his intent to find his way back to his lands near Natick and was said to be living on the slope of his hill near Waushakum Pond in June, 1676, when Captain Henchman of the Colonial militia came calling. Tom and his family went without objection to Marlborough, then a military headquarters for the region, and he was soon taken to Boston where he was put on trial for his life. Edmund Rice testified that he saw Captain Tom at Wadsworth’s fight in Sudbury, from a distance of about 100 yards, walking with a staff and limping. Edward Cowell testified that he heard Tom and recognized him by the distinctive grumbling noise that he made when talking. And on this testimony he was condemned to die. John Eliot and Daniel Gookin were not given an opportunity to speak at the trial in defense of Tom. Eliot pleaded with the Governor that Tom be given liberty to prove that he was sick at the time of the fight at Sudbury, and Andrew Pittimee, on behalf of 80 Indians loyal to the English sent a petition asking that his life be spared. There were no sympathetic ears to receive the pleas.

Eliot wrote in his journal on June 19, 1676 that “Captain Tom was tried on his life: he was condemned upon Cowell’s oath.”

June 20, 1676: “I went to the prison to comfort him. I dealth faithfully with him to confess if it were true whereof he is accepted and for which he is condemned. I believe he saith truth.”

June 22, 1676: Boston Lecture. Afore the sermon the Marshall gave me a paper that is the printed order for the day of Thanksgiving, and after sermon he hurried away the prisoners to execution. I accompanied him to his death; on a ladder he lifted up his hands and said, I never did lift up hand against the English, nor was I at Sudbury, only I was willing to go away with the enemies that surprised us. When the ladder was turned he lifted up his hands to heaven prayer-wise, and so held them till strength failed, and then by degrees they sunk down.”

Local legend intervenes upon the sad tale of Captain Tom, Wuttasacomponum of the Nipmuc tribe. The island at Wennakeening, where Tom was said to have spent a few summers upon the shores of the pleasant waters, was said to have slipped beneath the waves, to be marked only by single rock which serves as a memorial to the site of his retreat, the disappearance of land a punishment for his alleged “dastardly deeds.” In later centuries the rock bore his name and became the spot were lake-traversing swimmers were allowed a brief rest before making their way to the opposite shore.

Joanne Hulbert, Holliston, A Good Town, 2000.

 

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Comments (2)

Fascinating! who would have ever thought that an underwater rock could be so interesting?

- Dave Schill | 9/30/16 6:10 PM

Great Story.

- Warren Chamberlain | 9/29/16 7:58 AM

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