Narraganset Deed of Voluntary Submission - 1644

In 1643 a war broke out between the Mohegan people of lower Connecticut and Massachusetts and the Narragansett people of Rhode Island over the former Pequot lands. In order to protect themselves, and largely as a political move, some colonists formed a union called the New England Confederation. This confederation is often incorrectly described in generic terms as "the colonists", "New Englanders", etc but actually only consisted of the colonists in Massachusetts and part of Connecticut, but NOT the colonists in Rhode Island. This distinction is critical when considering the history of the area at this time and in understanding this document. It should never be assumed that "the colonists" as a whole were working with one tribe or another. In reality, various colonists were working against each other and therefore sided with different tribes.

After the war broke out the chief sachem of the Narragansett people, Meantinomi (also written as Miantonomo and numerous other variations), sent a large war party against the Mohegan's. The Narragansett's lost the battle and several of their people were subsequently executed, while Meantinomi was sent to the New England Confederation for trial. It's important here to consider that Meantinomi's residence was with the Rhode Island colonists, and not the New England Confederation, and therefore his conviction should not have been under their control. But the New England Confederation felt that Miantinomi had invaded natives under their protection, and also felt that they had some sort of jurisdiction or superiority over the people and lands of Rhode Island, even though the Rhode Islanders had already (recently) secured an independent royal charter from King Charles.

The confederation found Meantinomi guilty and gave him back to the Mohegan's with permission to execute him, as long as it was done on Mohegan land. He was executed, on the order of Uncas, the chief sachem of the Mohegan's.

The new chief sachem of the Narragansetts, Pessicus, who was only about 20 years old and Meantinomi's little brother, wrote to the the New England Confederation asking for their support in attaching the Mohegan people. The confederation replied negatively, they would not give their support and would wage war if Uncas and the Mohegans were attacked. Pessicus, wanting to avenge his brother, went after the Mohegan's anyway and killed 11 of their people.

Now some additional political problems should be mentioned here. In 1642 Meantinomi had sold some Narragansett land to Samuel Gorton and his followers, Rhode Island colonists in search of their own independent land. This transaction would be known as "The Shawhomett Purchase" and included the present towns of Warwick, Coventry and West Warwick but at that time would just be known as Shawhomett. However, two sachems of this land (prince's, but not the "chief sachem") named Sacononoco and Pumham, disputed that Meantinomi had not received their permission to sell the land. So Sacononoco and Pumham went to Boston and placed their land under Massachusetts rule. In 1643, at the same time the above war started between the Mohegan's and the Narragansett's, Massachusetts (now part of the New England Confederation) sent a militia to Showhomett to take control of that land. All but three of Gorton's followers surrendered to the confederation and the rest of the colonists in Narragansett, the towns of Providence, Portsmouth and Newport, united to form the colony of "Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations" under a royal charter, making them officially independent of the New England Confederation.

So you have to picture two separate groups, each consisting of colonists and natives, fighting against each other - not the more simplified idea of all the colonists against various native tribes. To clarify, one group is the New England Confederation, made up of colonists from Massachusetts and part lower Connecticut along with the Mohegan's and two small factions of the Narragansett's from the Shawhomett region (now Warwick, Rhode Island) - as well as some other native groups that do not play as much of a factor to this specific document (so I'm not mentioning them for simplicity). The other group consists of the Rhode Island colonists from the towns of Providence, Portsmouth and Newport on Rhode Island aka Narragansett Island and the Providence Plantations on the mainland, along with the landless colonists of Shawhomett, the followers of Samuel Gorton, and almost all of the Narrgansett people.

In April of 1644, in a ditch effort to protect the Narragansett's, Pessicus gave a voluntary submission of himself and his people to King Charles and England with the help of the Rhode Island colonists - and specifically under the guidance of Samuel Gorton, who had previous worked with Pessicu's brother on the Shawhomett Purchase. A deed of submission was drawn up by Pessicus and other Narragansett's with several Rhode Island colonists acting as their "attorney's and commissioners" and other colonists, including Robert Potter, son of George Potter, acting as witness to the deed. In submitting themselves to King Charles, the New England Confederation could not attack the Narragansett's, as they were under independent protection of the King. By acting as their attorney's and commissioners and witnessing the deed, the Rhode Island colonists were showing King Charles that the Narragansett people were under their protection by royal charter. This deed of voluntary submission is that very important document:

The Act and Deed of the voluntary submission of the Chief Sachem and the rest of the princes, with the whole people of the Narragansetts, to the government and protection of that honourable state of Old England. Samuel Gorton, John Wickes, Randal Holden, and John Warner are deputed by the natives, their attorneys or commissioners for executing this deed. Signed with the marks of Pessicus, Chief Sachem, Canaunicus, and Mixan, his son and heir. Witnessed by Auwashousse and Tomanick, Chief Counsellors to Pessicus. Sealed in the presence of Christopher Helme, Robert Potter, and Richard Carder.

Dated: April 19, 1644
Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 1: 1574-1660
By: W. Noel Sainsbury (editor), 1860