Wampanoag people

The Wampanoag people /ˌwɑːmpəˈn.æɡ/, also called Massasoit, or Wôpanâak, are a Native American tribe. Many Wampanoag people today are enrolled in two federally recognized tribes, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) of Massachusetts, or four state-recognized tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In the beginning of the 17th century, at the time of first contact with the English, the Wampanoag lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as within a territory that encompassed current day Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Their population numbered in the thousands due to the richness of the environment and their cultivation of corn, beans and squash. Three thousand Wampanoag lived on Martha's Vineyard alone.

From 1615 to 1619 the Wampanoag suffered an epidemic, long suspected to be smallpox, but recent research alternatively theorizes that it was leptospirosis, a bacterial infection also known as Weil's syndrome or 7-day fever. It caused a high fatality rate and nearly destroyed the society. Researchers suggest that the losses from the epidemic were so large that English colonists were more easily able to found their settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in later years. More than 50 years later, King Philip's War (1675–1676) against the English colonists resulted in the deaths of 40 percent of the tribe. Most of the male survivors were sold into slavery in the West Indies. Many women and children were enslaved in New England.

While the tribe largely disappeared from historical records from the late 18th century, its people persisted. Survivors remained in their traditional areas and continued many aspects of their culture, while absorbing other people by marriage and adapting to changing economic and cultural needs in the larger society. Although the last native speakers of Wôpanâak died more than 100 years ago, since 1993 Wampanoag people have been working on a language revival project that is producing new native speakers. The project is also working on curriculum and teacher development.

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