A Key to A Bit of Native American Language In Holliston – Cont’d

Thank you, Reporter readers, for your comments about Native American language in Holliston. Your feedback inspires me to continue with the story. I had saved up a couple of words that require more explanation, and here, the language fun – and a bit of genealogical fun – continues.

Perhaps, during your wanderings around Holliston, you came across that alluring, romantic-sounding word: Wenakeening.  We have preserved the word into our town’s history with Wenakeening Woods, and therefore, the word deserves an extended comment. Where did the word come from? A quick look in the Natick dictionary leaves us rather clueless.

First, there is the question occasionally asked: Why is the lake called ‘Winthrop?’ – a good question. Back in the 17th century, when land hereabouts was being grabbed up by colonists, Dean Winthrop, son of THE John Winthrop of 1630 Boston fame, acquired a tract of land with a boundary of a certain pond west of Dedham – and therefore, the body of water became known as Dean Winthrop’s pond. It is highly unlikely that Dean ever paid a visit to the pond – he was aware of it only on paper. The 1793 map of what was then Holliston shows “Winthrop’s Pond” which, at that time, was partly shared by Medway – the town boundary cut it clearly in half.

The history, legend and lore about Wen[n]akeening, Winnekeening, or Winnekenning, or however one wants to spell it, is part of Medway history as well as Holliston’s. Eventually, after a few land swaps, Holliston acquired the entire pond, and today, Medway remains just a very short distance southward. Wennakeening owes a debt of gratitude to our neighbor as it is immortalized in a romantic poem written in 1883 by Anson Daniels of Medway:

Uriel Waldo Cutler (1854-1936), a writer and historian, was born and raised in Holliston at the home named “Wennakeening.” In the 1880 U.S. Census, Waldo’s occupation was “language tutor.” Waldo’s father was Uriel Cutler – also the son of another Uriel Cutler married to Abigail Morse, whose family also had connections to the land where the Cutler-Morse home stood.  Another Cutler associated with Waldo, his second cousin once removed, Frederick Morse Cutler also plays a role in defining the words in question. We can imagine that they spent a few moments reviewing their respective family trees to establish their relationship. Frederick was born in New Jersey but was no doubt aware of his local family connections. Indeed, he knew them so well that Frederick, who died in 1944, he rests in peace in Lake Grove Cemetery not far from Waldo.


The Morse-Cutler homestead, Highland Street, Holliston.

According to this photo, there seemed to be a continuing variation on how to spell Wennakeening! Waldo’s interest in history, as well as language, carried him as far as Worcester, where he was a teacher and became the president of the Worcester Historical Society in 1922. His cousin Frederick Morse Cutler was also involved in the society as the chairman of the society’s bicentennial committee.

Research into the word’s origin lures us into the distant, misty past of legend and lore. Frederick Morse Cutler, equipped with worthy genealogical credentials, took on the task in 1913. He published an article in the local newspapers where he theorized that the name was formed from “wunnegen,” signifying, “it is good” or “it is pleasant.” Checking the Natick dictionary, ‘wunnegen’ does appear with a discussion about a definition of “good, or pleasant.”. The translations have been varied: pleasant waters? Smile of the Great Spirit? And yet, the word does sound romantic, steeped in mysterious history, and it falls trippingly off the tongue and inspires great poetic musings. That is good enough.

 Frederick wrote several books about Massachusetts military history. His books are available ready to read on the internet. Waldo was a writer of romantic fiction. In 1904, he wrote his own interpretation of the Arthurian legends in Stories of King Arthur and His Knights. In Cutler’s introduction, he endeavored to re-tell the tales in an updated form that would be more acceptable to readers in “this age of hurry.”   If you are curious, an audio version of the book is available on Librivox and on www.loyalbooks.com.  Also, an edition is available on Google Books.  In 1932, he published Jottings from Worcester’s History

Waldo Cutler resided at 63 Lancaster Street in Worcester just across the street from the Worcester Art Museum – a fitting place for him, despite having left Wennakeening behind. Professor Uriel Waldo Cutler died April 22, 1936, at his home in Worcester. In his will, he gave Wennakeening to his niece, Rachel Cutler.  He surely would have mourned the loss of the family home in the 1970s when a fire erupted in the house while it was undergoing extensive renovations.

Frederick also took on the task of defining another local word – Mucksquit – the village established in the 17th century by John Eliot, missionary to the Indians, at the southern end of the lake called Wennakeening. The location was well-known by the Native Americans that traveled along Pout Lane from Natick to their lands near Grafton. Eliot encouraged the Native Americans to stay put in one place long enough for him to find them in order to preach to them.

            The Morse and Cutler families were familiar with Native Americans passing by on Pout Lane that traversed their property as the path wandered by the Lake. Some of Waldo and Frederick’s ancestors experienced the routine arrival of groups coming or going to Natick via the path that ended up spending the night on the house floor and leaving in the morning just as quickly as they arrived. The Morses and Cutlers were used to the unannounced guests and took them in stride, calmly retreating to their lofts to sleep until the room below cleared.

Frederick Morse Cutler figured the word is from Mukkoshqut, a contraction of Mogki-oshk-ut, a place “where there is much grass.”  ‘Muck’ does appear in some words, such as ‘Nacommuck,’ a point of land running into the pond,’ an apt description of the location of Mucksquit. The translation may not be perfect, but it seems to be more reasonable than the convolutions around Wennakeening. The old southern end of Holliston near Medway was once called Mucksquit, or “Squit.” Would the present residents of that neighborhood embrace it once again? Time will tell.

We have such whispers from times past and we are richer for having Wennakeening – no matter how it is spelled – and Mucksquit to remind us of our history. Wennakeening is permanently with us with Wennakeening Woods, but as for Mucksquit, perhaps we can come up with something to preserve the word.

A panoramic view of Lake Winthrop – Wennakeening – the view from Norfolk

Street, looking southwest toward the ancient site of Mucksquit on the far shore.

We leave to history the words and deeds of our predecessors. Perhaps next, there are other words that still exist in regions surrounding Holliston, words that we sometimes see every day and others that  will invoke reminders of history.

Joanne Hulbert

3 Comments

  1. Ellin Austin on August 8, 2021 at 5:52 am

    Thanks Joanne. Another excellent article on Holliston’s history! Keep them coming!

  2. Paul Atwood on August 27, 2021 at 7:39 am

    As a frequent wanderer of the verdant Wenakeening Woods, I applaud your historical diligence and beseech you to continue your ruminations.

  3. joan elaine morse on September 7, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    As a “Morse” I wonder how 1840 Emily fit in…Joan Morse

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