Life Story: Weetamoo (ca. 1635-40 – ca. 1676)

Fighting for Survival in New England

The story of a Pocasset warrior and her attempts to keep her community alive.

A 17th century, 24 inch long, wooden war club featuring a wood coiled handle grip at the base and the face of a Native American warrior with piercing white eyes at the upper end of the shaft.
17th Century Native American War Club

Unidentified Maker, 17th–century Native American war club, 17th century. Fenimore Art Museum. Loan from Eugene V. And Clare E. Thaw, Thaw Collection, T0794. Photo by Richard Walker.

Weetamoo was born between 1635 and 1640 on the shores of what is known today as Cape Cod. Her father Corbitant was the sachem of the Pocasset people. The Pocasset were one of the communities of the Wampanoag Confederacy, a group that lived throughout the territory known today as New England. Weetamoo had one younger sister but no brothers, so she knew from an early age that she would become the sachem after her father. In addition to the traditional women’s work of agriculture, preparing hides, hunting small animals, fishing, and cooking, Weetamoo was trained to fight and learned diplomacy and leadership by observing her father. 

Weetamoo grew up in a world that was changing fast. Just before she was born, diseases brought by European colonists killed ninety percent of the Wampanoag population. Rival Native American communities repeatedly tried to take over Wampanoag land. At the same time, the Puritan English settlers spread out from their first settlement at Plymouth. When she became sachem, Weetamoo had to figure out how to protect her people from all these threats.

One of her strategies was to marry men who would make her position stronger. Her first marriage was to the sachem of the Saugus, another community of the Wampanoag Confederacy. When he died shortly after their wedding, she married Wamsutta, the son of the Massasoit, the great sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy. Her sister married Wamsutta’s younger brother Metacom. These marriages brought the Pocasset people close to the center of Wampanoag power. At the time of her marriage to Wamsutta, the Wampanoag Confederacy followed a policy of peaceful negotiation with the English and used their English allies to keep aggressive neighboring Native American communities away.

Wamsutta became the great sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy when Massasoit died in 1661. As the sachem of the Pocasset and the wife of the great sachem, Weetamoo’s stature in the confederacy grew. But trouble was brewing. The English colonists of Plymouth kept demanding more and more land from the Wampanoag, and the English government started to view the Wampanoag as enemies rather than allies. In 1662 Wamsutta was brought to Plymouth at gunpoint to answer for the crime of selling land to people other than the Plymouth government. While he was there, he fell ill and died. Weetamoo and her brother-in-law Metacom believed he was poisoned, and they lost faith in the English as allies from that point forward. Metacom became the great sachem of the Wampanoag, and tensions with the English continued to rise.

Metacom started attacking English settlements in 1675. He was trying to stop the further settlement of English people in Wampanoag lands. This was the start of Metacom’s War. The English called Metacom “Philip” in their official documents after his father petitioned them for an English name for his sons, so the English called the conflict King Philip’s War. At this critical moment, Weetamoo had to make a choice: continue trying to negotiate with the English or join Metacom to fight for the rights of her people. Her late husband sided with the English. But Metacom was the great sachem of her people, and he was fighting to protect all of the Wampanoag from English aggression. Weetamoo committed her warriors to Metacom’s cause. In the early days of the war, she further committed to Metacom by marrying his ally, the Narragansett sachem Quinnapin.

Weetamoo dissolved her marriage, and committed her warriors to Metacom’s cause.

By the summer of 1675 Weetamoo’s marital and family connections meant that she commanded the allegiance of every major Native American community in Metacom’s alliance. She was a powerful sachem and a feared enemy of the English people. When writing about the war, a Puritan leader described her as second only to Metacom when it came to “the mischief that has been done, and the blood that has been shed in this War.”

Metacom, Weetamoo, and Quinnapin led raids against English settlements in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island in 1675 and 1676. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Wampanoag had to stay one step ahead of the English while they tried to do enough damage to drive the English out of their lands. During this time Weetamoo gave birth to a baby, who died shortly after it was born. 

Metacom’s War proved disastrous for Weetamoo and her people. After a strong start, English counterattacks weakened the Wampanoag Confederacy. Wampanoag society was destroyed. At least 750 Wampanoag were killed during the war, and the English sold the survivors into slavery. Weetamoo drowned while crossing a river on her way to battle. Her body was found by English soldiers on August 3, 1676. She was so feared that the soldiers mounted her head on a pole outside an English settlement as proof that she had been defeated. It was also a warning to other Wampanoag that they could be next. Weetamoo’s life story stands as a testament to the ways Indigenous women fought back against the aggression of European settlers.


  • Cape Cod: A peninsula in Massachusetts Bay.
  • diplomacy: The skill of managing political relationships.
  • Great Sachem: The leader of the Wampanoag Confederacy.
  • hides: Animal skins.
  • Narragansett: An Indigenous community that has lived in present-day Rhode Island since pre-European contact. Today there is a Narragansett community in Rhode Island.
  • Pocasset: An Indigenous tribe that has lived in present-day Massachusetts since pre-European contact. Today there are Pocasset communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
  • Puritans: A group of English Protestants who left England for the New World to start their own settlements where religion would govern daily life.
  • sachem: Name for a leader in Indigenous communities in the Northeastern United States.
  • Saugus: An Indigenous tribe that has lived in present-day Massachusetts since pre-European contact. Today there is a Saugus community in Massachusetts.
  • Wampanoag Confederacy: A group of Indigenous communities that cooperated for mutual security and support in southeastern Massachusetts.

Discussion Questions

  • How did Weetamoo rise to the position of sachem in her community? What actions did she take to consolidate her power?
  • How did Weetamoo choose to respond to the aggression of the English colonial government? Why do you think she chose this path?
  • What does Weetamoo’s life story reveal about way Native Americans responded to and were affected by English colonization?
  • In what ways did Weetamoo’s life challenge traditional English gender roles? How did the English respond to her?