Nipmuc Indians from all bands in Massachusetts numbered more than 15,000 at the time Europeans came to this area in 1620. Archeological records prove their presence dating back some 15,000-20,000 years ago.
Nipmucs are the original people of Worcester County, much of Central New England, and beyond -- stretching from southern New Hampshire to Springfield and down into northern CT and RI.
The people lived in scattered villages throughout the area including Wabaquasset, Quinnebaug, Quaboag, Pocumtac, Agawam, Squakkeag, and Wachusett. Their economic and subsistence cycles consisted of hunting, gathering, planting, and harvesting in their seasons. These villages were linked together by kinship ties. trade alliances, and common enemies. They lived in wetus, which could be moved to other encampments. Often thought of as wanderers, they were instead careful planners and good stewards of the land upon which they lived.
There are scattered references throughout history to Europeans landing on the coast of Canada, Maine and the islands nearby. In 1497, John Cabot landed on New Foundland establishing new fishing ground for Northern Europeans. The French attempted several times to colonize the Canadian and Maine coastlines in order to capitalize on the fur trade. Deadly epidemics resulting from these encounters ravaged the Native population. Current scholars estimated a passable 80% mortality rate. Later, when the English began to settle the area, they took the vacant villages and abandoned cornfields as a sign from God that they were meant to supplant the Indians as the right inhabitants of the land.
The tragic history of the Nipmucs also includes the period during King Philip's War in 1675-1676 in which English colonists forced-march some 500-1000 Nipmucs to Deer Island in Boston Harbor without adequate food, clothing or shelter during a bitter winter. Hundreds died and few ever returned to their native lands. The Nipmuc Nation and other tribes who were imprisoned return annually to Deer Island to mourn their ancestors. A memorial on Deer Island commemorating this historical episode awaits final funding. (Ojibway oral history tells that a sign was given and the people knew that a terrible thing was on its way to destroy the people. Therefore, they left and traveled west to new lands taking the sacred fires with them until it was safe to return to the homelands. They refer to the Indians in New England as the ones that stayed behind.)
The Nipmuc Nation possesses a rich cultural history which is celebrated and memorialized through events, artifacts, tribal traditions at institutions including Sturbridge Village, the Worcester Historical Museum, the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, MA, Harvard University in Cambridge and countless libraries, town halls and newspapers throughout the Commonwealth.