The place name “Wissatinnewag” appears in only a single document preserved in the English colonial records: a letter from John Pynchon written on July 28, 1663. The original letter, written in English, is now missing, and only a printed text and a Dutch translation survive. Today, some assume that the name refers to a Native American Indian village situated in the present-day town of Gill, Massachusetts, along the northern shore of the Connecticut River near Turners Falls.1 There appears to be no other surviving seventeenth century manuscript or primary source that confirms this name for this location. The archaeological evidence and oral traditions of Native use of the falls for millenia are indisputable, but there is no indication that a separate tribal nation lived there, nor that the residents of this site were engaged in diplomatic relations with John Pynchon. Furthermore, the association of Wissatinnewag with the Connecticut River Valley overlooks the complex history then unfolding in western Massachusetts and eastern New York, where Pynchon was trying to negotiate peace with the Mohawk and Mohican and establish a truck house to expand the potentially lucrative fur trade with them. This essay endeavors to more accurately locate “Wissatinnewag” by considering the historic and linguistic context in which Pynchon’s document was originally written.
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