Moshup, Whales, and Wampanoag Maritime Narratives

The Indian communities of coastal southern New England and Long Island have important cultural ties to the sea.  This is exhibited in their histories, story-telling, activities, and art.  Here are some examples.

As related by Thomas Cooper, a Native of Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard in 1792:

“The first Indian who came to the Vineyard, was brought thither with his dog on a cake of ice.  When he came to Gay Head, he found a very large man, whose name was Moshup. He had a wife and five children, four sons and one daughter; and lived in the Den. He used to catch whales, and pluck up the trees, and make a fire, and roast them. The coals of the trees, and the bones of the whales, are now to be seen. After he was tired of staying here, he told his children to go and play ball on a beach that joined Noman’s Land to Gay Head. He then made a mark with his toe across the beach at each end, and so deep, that the water followed, and cut away the beach; so that his children were in fear of drowning. They took their sister up, and held her out of the water. He told them to act as if they were going to kill whales; and they were all turned into killers , (a fish so called). The sister was dressed in large stripes. He gave them a strict charge always to be kind to her. His wife mourned the loss of her children so exceedingly, that he threw her away. She fell upon Seconet, near the rocks, where she lived some time, exacting contribution of all who passed by water. After a while she was changed into a stone. The entire shape remained for many years. But after the English came, some of them broke off the arms, head, &c. but most of the body remains to this day.  Moshup went away nobody knows whither. He had no conversation with the Indians, but was kind to them, by sending whales, &c. ashore to them to eat. But after they grew thick around him he left them.”

Below is the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribal seal depicting Moshup at the multicolored clay cliffs of Gay Head with sperm whale in hand.

Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Seal

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2 Responses to Moshup, Whales, and Wampanoag Maritime Narratives

  1. Brent says:

    I think Tashtego, one of the harpooners in “Moby Dick,” was a Gay Head Indian.

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