The General Court of Massachusetts Bay granted this medal during the 17th-century conflict known as the War with the Indians of New England, later called King Philip’s War. The English were losing to this indigenous alliance against colonial expansion until they pursued a full-scale effort to recruit Christian Indian scouts from a forced internment camp the English had established on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. While some Indians from the Praying Town of Natick and the Mohegan nation had assisted the English from the beginning, large-scale recruitment of men from Deer Island did not occur until the spring of 1676, when the English faced “frequent and violent” raids and every expedition to locate the encampments of the resistance had failed. As the missionary Daniel Gookin observed, “After our Indians went out, the balance turned of the English side.”
This medal was most likely given to the eighty men who formed an Indian company based in Charlestown under Captain Samuel Hunting. Officers of this company included Andrew Pittimee (of Natick), James Quanapohit (of Nashaway and Natick), John Magus (of Natick), Job Kattenanit (of Hassanamesit), and James Speen (of Natick), all of whom had been interned on Deer Island. Some of the Native men who served the English lost their lives in the war, but many returned to their Praying Towns. They petitioned to prevent the execution and enslavement of their relations who were falsely declared enemy combatants by the colony. Some were instrumental in securing land rights and in negotiating with the English after the war. Many of their descendants continue to serve as leaders in the Nipmuc communities in the state of Massachusetts today.
The image on the medal is based on the Massachusetts seal, which was part of a marketing campaign to draw English settlers to the new colony. In the original seal, the Indian figure is portrayed saying, “Come over and help us,” a reference to the missionary project. Ironically, it was the English who often required help, whether in navigating an unknown territory, learning to subsist upon native foods, or winning a war.
—Lisa Brooks (Abenaki)