Mishoon (Boat)

Plimoth Patuxet Museums
Plimoth Patuxet Museums Collections
Man wearing regalia paddles his two daughters over water in a mishoon


For Wampanoag families, mishoonash (boats) were invaluable tools for fishing, trading and transportation. The most common style was a “dugout” made from a single pine, chestnut, or oak tree and shaped using fire, stone axes, and various other scraping tools made from animal bone, shell, and stone. Most mishoonash seated two-three people; however, according to 17th-century European observers and archaeological examples, some mishoonash could hold up to 40. While the time it took to make such a vessel varied, in the 1630s or early 1640s, Roger Williams observed a man make a “mishoòn an Indian Boat, or Canoefrom a chestnut tree in 10-12 days. The unnamed craftsman brought food and fishing tools with him and constructed a shelter near his work area, which suggested to Williams that the man intended to spend significant time at the site while he finished the vessel. Mishoonash were paddled or sailed. Roger Williams noted the use of sails in A Key into the Language of America. In the Tomaquag Museum edition, Narragansett cultural leaders commented: “Their own reasoning has taught them to pull off a coat or two and set it up on a small pole, with which they will sail before a wind ten, twenty miles, or more.1


This video was made possible by a gift from the David Greenewalt Charitable Trust.

Discussion Questions

  • What vehicle did Wampanoag people use to move from place to place in the 1600s? What is the Wampanoag word? What is the English word?
  • Do you most often travel over land or water? Why do you think 17th-century people may have used water travel?
  • Who was responsible for making mishoonash? Why is it important to give thanks before making the mishoon?
  • How were mishoonash used for building relationships between people, communities, and tribal nations? Is it the same today?
  • How does making mishoonash enable Wampanoag people to preserve their culture today?


  • 1 Roger Williams, AKey into the Language of America Tomaquag Museum Edition.. Dawn Dove, Sandra Robinson, Loren Spears, Dorothy Herman Papp, and Kathleen Bragdon, ed.(Yardley, PA: Westhome Publishing, 2019), 96