Unit 2: Summary

Learning Themes:

In this unit, students explore the agreement made between Massasoit (Ousamequin), sachem of Pokanoket, his brother Quadequina, and Plymouth Colony’s elected governor, John Carver, and others. In this unit, students will use excerpts from written sources to explore why an agreement made sense, and how it may have informed key diplomatic events from the summer of 1621 through the harvest celebration later that year. Students will also use traditions such as wampum belts, gift-giving, and feasting to explore diplomacy and alliance-making.

Key Ideas

  1. The Pokanoket sachem, Ousamequin - also known to history as Massasoit - made an agreement with John Carver, the English governor of Plymouth Colony, on March 22, 1621. This seemed advantageous to both sides and laid the foundation for frequent interaction between the two communities, including at the 1621 harvest feast, known today as the First Thanksgiving.
  2. The English likely saw the agreement as a broad alliance. However, Wampanoag communities were independently governed, so they likely saw the agreement as being strictly between Pokanoket (the Indigenous community sited at present-day Bristol, Rhode Island and led by Ousamequin) and Plymouth. From Massasoit’s perspective, the English had to make individual agreements with other communities as they encountered them.
  3. The celebrations in Plymouth in the fall of 1621 may have served not only to celebrate a successful harvest, but also to reaffirm the agreement between the English and the Pokanoket. With a few exceptions, the alliance survived for nearly fifty years. Eventually, however, it could not withstand the population pressures and land use controversies that culminated in the outbreak of violence in 1675.
  4. An agreement with the English freed the Pokanoket from subjection to the Narragansett. Following the epidemics of the 1610s, the Pokanoket were left in a weakened position after disease decimated Pokanoket and other Wampanoag communities but left their Narragansett neighbors unharmed. The English took the opportunity to enlist the Pokanoket and other Wampanoag communities as allies.The English, after all, were interlopers in an already-inhabited land. They had also lost half their number to sickness in the bitterly cold winter of 1620-1621.

Learning Goals

NCSS Framework Strands:

  • Culture

  • Time, Continuity, and Change

  • People, Places, and Environments

  • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

  • Science, Technology, and Society

  • Global Connection

  • Civic Ideals and Practices

In this unit, students will:

  • Locate, access, organize, and apply information from multiple sources reflecting multiple points of view.
  • Evaluate positions about an issue based on the evidence and arguments provided and describe the pros, cons, and consequences of holding a specific position.
  • Analyze conditions and actions related to power, authority, and governance that contribute to conflict and cooperation among groups and nations or detract from cooperation.
  • Explore and describe similarities and differences in the ways various cultural groups meet similar needs and concerns.
  • Give example of how information and experiences may be interpreted differently by people from different cultural groups.
  • Compare and Contrast differing stories or accounts about past events, people, places, or situations, and offer possible reasons for the difference.
  • Explore and describe similarities and differences in the ways various cultural groups meet similar needs and concerns.
  • Give example of how information and experiences may be interpreted differently by people from different cultural groups.
  • Demonstrate how holding different values and beliefs can contribute or pose obstacles to understanding between people and groups.

Primary Sources

Essential Questions

  • What is oral history? How does it help us understand the past?
  • How can written historical sources help us understand the past?
  • What does it mean to be an ally? Are only friends allies?
  • Who is Massasoit (Ousamequin) and why might he have been interested in making an agreement between his community, Pokanoket, and Plymouth Colony?
  • Why did the English colonists want to make an alliance with Massasoit (Ousamequin)?
  • How did the terms of the agreement benefit the Pokanoket? How did they benefit the English colonists?
  • What role might this agreement have played in the 1621 harvest celebration?

Suggested Activities

Grades 2-6

  • Create a classroom contract outlining how teachers and students should interact with each other in school and in the community. What happens when someone breaks the contract?
  • Imagine you could observe the Plymouth-Pokanoket agreement negotiations in March 1621. How would you describe the events to your friends and family? You could write a book, draw a picture, record a podcast, or tell the story to a group (a practice know as “oral history”).
  • Challenge students to negotiate for a special treat (of your choosing!) only by using the game of telephone. Do they succeed? Ask them to reflect on the challenges of negotiating something as important as an alliance when not everyone speaks the same language.

Grades 7-12

  • Consider the short and long-term risks and benefits to the alliance for Pokanoket and Plymouth. What amendments or changes to the alliance might mitigate risk and improve the benefits for each group?
  • Compare what motivated Massasoit (Ousamequin) and John Carver to make this alliance. What kind of decisions did each leader face before they made the alliance?
  • Use resources for your state or the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs website to identify state or federally recognized tribes in your area. Then use the Native American Heritage resources available at the National Archives to analyze a treaty or alliance made between a tribal nation in your region and either a European colonial power or the United States. What are the terms of that treaty and how do they compare to the terms laid out in the Plymouth Pokanoket alliance?
  • In the spirit of Metacom, ask students to research a political or social issue that is significant to them and identify an action they could take to address the issue. Students can draft an opinion paper or a speech arguing their point using valid reasoning and evidence.
  • Evaluate the extent to which the alliance between Plymouth and Pokanoket was or was not upheld in a) the summer of 1621 and b) in the years after Massasoit’s death.

Additional resources