indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island

Gay Head Aquinnah Cliffs

Cliffs at Aquinnah-Gay Head

Turtle Island: Storytelling Peopling North America:How? North American Culture Areas of Native Americans Maps

Wampanoag, People of the First Light

Creation Story for Martha's Vineyard | Geologic Formation USGS | Samuel De Champlain 1605 Journal
Plymouth Harbor Maps| Wampanoag Today
| Suggested Lessons

The Creation Story for the Wampanoag at Martha's Vineyard is currently located at the official tribal website. It is also located here :

Moshup is believed by our tribe to be responsible for the present shapes of Martha's Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, Noman's Land, and Nantucket. He is a benevolent being of gigantic frame and supernatural power. He was sometimes thought of as the devil by those who did not understand him. Moshup's favorite daily food was a broiled whale, which he usually ate whole at a meal. He also threw many whales on the coast for the supper of the Wampanoag.

In those olden times, whales came close to shore for they had not learned to fear pursuit. From near the entrance to his den on the Aquinnah Cliffs, Moshup would wade into the ocean, pick up a whale, fling it against the Cliffs to kill it, and then cook it over the fire that burned continually. The blood from these whales stained the clay banks of the Cliffs dark red. The coals of the largest trees (which Moshup plucked up by the roots), the bones of the whales, shark's teeth, and petrified quahogs that are still found today in the Cliffs are the refuse from Moshup's table. The Aquinnah Cliffs are a sacred place to our tribe. They are imprinted with one hundred million years of history.

Our tribal logo shows Moshup, bigger than life, holding a whale while standing on top of the Cliffs near the entrance to his gigantic den.

"Moshup was the first schoolmaster. From his home on the Cliffs he taught the people respect.... He also taught us to be charitable - for when he had great stores of fish he gave of his abundance."

--a tribal member
For additional information regarding Noepe (Martha's Vineyard), as called by the Wampanoag, visit this page on the official website, http://www.wampanoagtribe.net/Pages/Wampanoag_Way/other

Geologic Formation of Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, USGS information is located at the following site: Geologic History of Cape Cod, Massachusetts The site is complete with several easy to read maps and the conclusion is that many of the remaining features of Cape Cod and the surrounding islands owe their existence to glaciation and the retreat of the glaciers. Subsequent to that there was sea level rise, and shoreline erosion and depostion. Furthermore, roughly 15,000 years ago the ice had completely retreated well north into the Gulf of Maine and away from Southern New England.

Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635), from France, journeyed through much of the East Coast as far south as Virginia and finally ended in the Quebec area. His own story as an explorer and the chronicles of the journeys he made in his day are insightful. Champlain also contributed many of the earliest maps of the New England coastline and a particular map of the Plymouth area also has his own description of what he encountered there.

"They gave me one of their hooks, which I took as a curiosity."
(Champlain, Chap. 8, page 77)

"Our canoe landed to give them some bagatelles, at which they were pleased."
(Champlain, Chap. 8, page 77)

The Pilgrim Hall Museum has a simple to read transcription of his journal entry regarding his study of Plymouth harbor and encounter with the natives in 1605 and a link to his transcribed journal, Voyages of Samuel de Champlain 1604-1608 has also been included. The journal was transcribed from the French in 1878 by Charles Pomeroy Otis, Ph.D. To find Champlain's narrative in the journal regarding Cape Cod, start at Chapter 8 and a description of the map drawn of the area will resemble the documents provided at the Pilgrim Hall.

Three maps of the area that Champlain described are provided below. Plymouth and the cove it sits on as it looks today, 2013. The image is a screen shot from Google Earth and free to use. It shows the actual location of barrier islands or spits that were present in Champlain's map of 1605.

Geologists study the coastline of Cape Cod and Massachusetts for sediment erosion and deposition. The coastlines of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have been on the move for thousands of years. What if Champlain had not run his ship aground on this journey? He named the area Mallebar, "bad bar" after his problem here.

Port St. Louis Map
Port St. Louis or Plymouth Harbor from Voyages of Samuel De Champlain 1605

Champlain Map of Plymooouth Hardbor annotated
Annotated map from Samuel de Champlain Voyages 1605 (current markings)


Plymouth today screen shot from Google Earth

Screen shot from Google Earth of Plymouth Harbor.
What has changed in regards to the maps above?

The Wampanoag of today are active in the Cape Cod area and the island of Martha's Vineyard. Two major groups of the Wampanoag are federally recognized and their official websites are included here: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe located at the southwest corner of Cape Cod in Mashpee and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard and often referred to as Aguinnah, "the shore or end of the island".

Both groups are active and working in the direction of reclaiming their own language of Wopanaotaok and teaching the tribal members. Jesse Little Doe Baird, Mashpee Wampanoag, leads the way in training her own people in the Wampanoag language. Jesse Little Doe BairdIt is a feat to bring back a language that has been silent for over 7 generations. To learn more about the project, visit Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project for more information.

Finally, a video produced by Independent Lens explains how the Wampanoag feel about their presence and reclamation of their language, We Still Live Here. There are short excerpts of the film available as introductions to the main theme available on youtube.com


Jesse "Little Doe" Baird at
NEH Summer Scholars, July 2013
Photo taken by Diana T. Mackiewicz

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Suggested Lessons:

1. The primary source provided, Champlain's journal for his voyage is an accessible document for aspiring historians but the entries made by Champlain in French and then translated later in 1878 create concern. Were terms left out that might clarify the observations of Champlain?

2. Read Champlain's description of the Natives as they approached him in the document beginning on page 88. Students will be exposed to a contrary viewpoint about Natives from 1605.

3. Maps provided illustrate the overall abilities of Champlain and his crew for recording their finds on the voyage. Champlain runs aground in Plymouth Harbor and names the area Mallebar, "bad bar". There is a point here for speculation which will activate the student's curiosity. What if Champlain had not run aground and he had built a fort/trading post at this location? Take into consideration the information provided by the USGS regarding the geologic formation of this area.

4. The Google Earth map of present day Plymouth and the other maps, how do they compare. What can be said about the explorers at this time? Were they accurate? Is there much difference between 2013 and 1605 in the landforms?

5. Moshup is the giant in the creation story for the Wampanoags. The cliffs at Aquinnah are well documented on the Internet and a study of the cliffs and the overall geography and geology of the island tells a scientific story. How does the story of Moshup coincide with the geologic story? Review the Aquinnah logo on the main page, look for Moshup and other details that are illustrated from the story. **

** For more information regarding Moshup read the book, Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquideon, by Melissa Jane Fawcett, University of Arizona Press, AZ, 2000; especially chapters 11 and 12.

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This site was created by Diana T. Mackiewicz at the NEH Summer Institute "Native Americans of New England: A Historical Overview," administered by the Five Colleges, Inc. and held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA, Summer 2013. Last updated August, 2013.