Unraveling Six Generations of Nipmuc Sarahs

Because land passed through the females of our matriarchal tribe, 

Sarah Robins (abt. 1689 – bef. 1750), 

Sarah Muckamaug (1718 – 1751), 
Sarah Burnee (1744 – 1812), and 
Sarah Boston (abt. 1787 – 1837)

all occupied the “Muckamaug Allotment” in what is now Hassanamesit Woods in Grafton, MA. The total allotment was approximately 197 acres including the 106 acre plot shown below.

Sarah Mary Boston (21 February 1819 – 10 February 1879) was born and raised on the Muckamaug parcel but married and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts as an adult.
Sarah Ellen Walker (abt, 1845 – 15 October 1892) is the step-daughter of Sarah Mary Boston and the natural daughter of her husband, Gilbert Walker. Born in New York, she lived in Worcester for most of her life. 

Sarah Robins is believed to be the daughter of Robin Petavit, the Nipmuc sachem who led the Hassanamesit Nipmuc community in the latter half of the 17th century. She married Peter Muckamaug and lived in Providence, Rhode Island until 1729 when she returned to Hassanamesit and settled on her land. Sarah participated in a 1744 petition to the MA Bay legislature to remove and replace the Hassanamisco guardians. The Nipmucs felt that the guardians were corrupt and stealing their trust funds. They also asked for the guardians live closer to Hassanamesit so that the Nipmucs did not have to travel so far to receive their monies. 

Peter Muckamaug died around 1744 and two years later Sarah remarried. She and her husband, Thomas English remained on the Muckamaug parcel until Sarah’s death around 1749.

Sarah Muckamaug was the daughter of Sarah Robins and Peter Muckamaug. She lived in Providence, Rhode Island where she was indentured to the Brown family. After her father’s death in 1744, she returned to Hassanamesit and settled on her mother’s land. While living in Providence, she married Aaron Whipple and had 4 children – Rhonda, Abigail, Abraham, and Joseph. When she returned to Hassanamesit, she left Whipple (who was reportedly abusive to her) and her three eldest children in Providence. After her mother’s death in 1749, Sarah took over the homestead and married African-American Fortune Burnee. One of the first things the young couple did was to sell off land to build an English-style house. It seems from the records that still exist, that the Burnee house was the first English-style house to be built by Nipmucs living on Hassanamesit. 

Sarah Muckamaug did not live in her new home for long. She became ill and was forced by the guardians to live with and be cared for by Hezekiah Ward. After her death, Hezekiah demanded payment for his services which necessitated the sale of some of the Muckamaug land.

Sarah Burnee was the daughter of Sarah Muckamaug and Fortune Burnee. She was only seven years old at the time of her mother’s death. In 1768, her older brother, Joseph Aaron challenged Sarah for the right to the Muckamaug land. A long court battle ensued with Joseph winning half of the homestead. Joseph and his wife were childless so when Joseph died in 1808, he left his half of the land to Silas Fay, an English farmer.

Sarah Burnee married twice – to Prince Dam sometime before 1768 and to Boston Phillips in 1786. She had no known children with Dam but did have a boy and a girl with Boston Phillips – Ben and Sarah. Boston died in 1798 after a long illness that is much discussed in the existing guardian accounts. By order of the town selectman, Boston was removed from his home and cared for by English neighbors. After his death, Sarah was forced to sell 20 acres to pay for the debt incurred by his illness. Sarah Burnee herself died around 1812.

Sarah Phillips, or more often, Sarah Boston was now the matriarch of the Muckamaug parcel. She was quite famous and stories about her are still told. She had two children – Joseph who was born in 1813 and Sarah Mary who was born in 1818. She died in 1837, the last Nipmuc Sarah to live on that homestead. At the time of her death, the Muckamaug parcel had dwindled to less than 20 acres.

Sketch of Sarah Boston’s home

In 1854, Sarah Mary Boston petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for permission to sell the remaining acreage. Sarah Mary had married prominent African-American barber Gilbert Walker and lived in Worcester. The land was sold and turned into an apple orchard. Sarah and Gilbert raised Gilbert’s daughter, Sarah Ellen Walker. There is not nearly as much in the records about the two Worcester Sarahs as there is on the Hassanamesit Sarahs. It appears that Sarah Ellen never married and died in 1892 from epilepsy.

A team from the University of Massachusetts has for several years been excavating the Muckamaug parcel now known as Hassanamesit Woods. They have uncovered material culture that further illuminates the lives of these Nipmuc women. I look forward to learning more about these generations of Nipmuc Sarahs.



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