The Composition of Indian Geographical Names - Part 5

Part 5

_Quilutamende_ was (Heckewelder tells us[78]) the Delaware name of a place on the Susquehanna, in Pennsylvania, where, as the Indians say, "in their wars with the Five Nations, they fell by surprise upon their enemies. The word or name of this place is therefore, _Where we came unawares upon them_, &c." Without the tradition, the meaning of the name would not have been guessed,--or, if guessed, would not have been confidently accepted.

[Footnote 78: On Indian Names, in _Trans. Am. Philos. Society_, N.S.

iv. 361.]

The difficulty of a.n.a.lyzing such names is greatly increased by the fact that they come to us in corrupt forms. The same name may be found, in early records, written in a dozen different ways, and some three or four of these may admit of as many different translations.

Indian grammatical synthesis was _exact_. Every consonant and every vowel had its office and its place. Not one could be dropped or transposed, nor could one be added, without _change of meaning_. Now most of the Indian local names were first written by men who cared nothing for their meaning and knew nothing of the languages to which they belonged. Of the few who had learned to speak one or more of these languages, no two adopted the same way of writing them, and no one--John Eliot excepted--appears to have been at all careful to write the same word twice alike. In the seventeenth century men took considerable liberties with the spelling of their own surnames and very large liberty with English polysyllables--especially with local names. Scribes who contrived to find five or six ways of writing 'Hartford' or 'Wethersfield,' were not likely to preserve uniformity in their dealings with Indian names. A few letters more or less were of no great consequence, but, generally, the writers tried to keep on the safe side, by putting in as many as they could find room for; prefixing a _c_ to every _k_, doubling every _w_ and _g_, and tacking on a superfluous final _e_, for good measure.

In some instances, what is supposed to be an Indian place-name is in fact a _personal_ name, borrowed from some sachem or chief who lived on or claimed to own the territory. Names of this cla.s.s are likely to give trouble to translators. I was puzzled for a long time by '_Mia.n.u.s_,' the name of a stream between Stamford and Greenwich,--till I remembered that _Mayano_, an Indian warrior (who was killed by Capt.

Patrick in 1643) had lived hereabouts; and on searching the Greenwich records, I found the stream was first mentioned as _Moyannoes_ and _Mehanno's_ creek, and that it bounded 'Moyannoe's neck' of land.

_Moosup_ river, which flows westerly through Plainfield into the Quinebaug and which has given names to a post-office and factory village, was formerly _Moosup's_ river,--Moosup or _Maussup_ being one of the aliases of a Narragansett sachem who is better known, in the history of Philip's war, as Pessacus. Heckewelder[79] restores 'Pymatuning,' the name of a place in Pennsylvania, to the Del.

'_Pihmtonink_,' meaning, "the dwelling place of the man with the crooked mouth, or the crooked man's dwelling place," and adds, that he "knew the man perfectly well," who gave this name to the locality.

[Footnote 79: On Indian Names (_ut supra_), p. 365.]

Some of the examples which have been given,--such as _Higganum_, _Nunkertunk_, _Shawmut_, _Swamscot_ and _t.i.ticut_,--show how the difficulties of a.n.a.lysis have been increased by phonetic corruption, sometimes to such a degree as hardly to leave a trace of the original.

Another and not less striking example is presented by _Snipsic_, the modern name of a pond between Ellington and Tolland. If we had not access to Chandler's Survey of the Mohegan Country, made in 1705, who would suppose that 'Snipsic' was the surviving representative of _Moshenupsuck_, 'great-pond brook' or (literally) 'great-pond outlet,'

at the south end of _Moshenups_ or _Mashenips_ 'great pond?' The territories of three nations, the Muhhekans, Nipmucks and River Indians, ran together at this point.

'_Nameroake_,' '_Namareck_' or '_Namelake_,' in East Windsor, was transformed to _May-luck_, giving to a brook a name which 'tradition'

derives from the 'luck' of a party of emigrants who came in 'May' to the Connecticut.[80] The original name appears to have been the equivalent of 'Nameaug' or 'Nameoke' (New London), and to mean 'the fishing place,'--_n'amaug_ or _nama-ohke_.

[Footnote 80: Stiles's History of Ancient Windsor, p. 111.]

But none of these names exhibits a more curious transformation than that of '_Bagadoose_' or '_Bigaduce_,' a peninsula on the east side of Pen.o.bscot Bay, now Castine, Me. Williamson's History of Maine (ii.

572) states on the authority of Col. J. Wardwell of Pen.o.bscot, in 1820, that this point bore the name of a former resident, a Frenchman, one 'Major Biguyduce.' Afterwards, the historian was informed that '_Marche bagyduce_' was an Indian word meaning 'no good cove.' Mr.

Joseph Williamson, in a paper in the Maine Historical Society's Collections (vol. vi. p. 107) identifies this name with the _Matchebiguatus_ of Edward Winslow's quitclaim to Ma.s.sachusetts in 1644,[81] and correctly translates the prefix _matche_ by 'bad,' but adds: "What _Biguatus_ means, I do not know." Purchas mentions '_Chebegnadose_,' as an Indian town on the 'Apananawapeske' or Pen.o.bscot.[82] Rale gives, as the name of the place on "the river where M. de Gastin [Castine] is," _Matsibig[oo]ad[oo]ssek_, and on his authority we may accept this form as nearly representing the original.

The a.n.a.lysis now becomes more easy. _Matsi-a[n]baga[oo]at-ek_, means 'at the bad-shelter place,--bad _covert_ or cove;' and _matsi-a[n]baga[oo]at[oo]s-ek_ the diminutive, 'at the small bad-shelter place.' About two miles and a half above the mouth of the Kenebec was a place called by the Indians '_Abagadusset_' or '_Abequaduset_'--the same name without the prefix--meaning 'at the cove, or place of shelter.'

[Footnote 81: Printed in note to Savage's Winthrop's Journal, ii.


[Footnote 82: See Thornton's Ancient Pemaquid, in Maine Hist.

Collections, v. 156.]

The adjectivals employed in the composition of Algonkin names are very numerous, and hardly admit of cla.s.sification. Noun, adjective, adverb or even an active verb may, with slight change of form, serve as a prefix. But, as was before remarked, every prefix, strictly considered, is an adverb or must be construed as an adverb,--the synthesis which serves as a name having generally the verb form. Some of the most common of these prefixes have been mentioned on preceding pages. A few others, whose meanings are less obvious and have been sometimes mistaken by translators, may deserve more particular notice.

1. POHQUI, POHQUAE'; Narr. _pauqui_; Abn. _p[oo]'k[oo]ie_; 'open,'

'clear' (primarily, 'broken'). In composition with _ohke_, 'land,' or formed as a verbal in _-aug_, it denotes 'cleared land' or 'an open place:' as in the names variously written 'Pahquioque,' 'Paquiaug;'

'Pyquaag;' 'Poquaig,' 'Payquaoge,' &c., in Danbury and Wethersfield, and in Athol, Ma.s.s.

2. PAHKE (Abn. _pa[n]g[oo]i_,) 'clear,' 'pure'. Found with _paug_, 'standing water' or 'pond,' in such names as 'Pahcupog,' 'Paquabaug,'

&c. See page 16.

3. PaGUAN-Au, 'he destroys,' 'he slaughters' (Narr. _pauquana_, 'there is a slaughter') in composition with _ohke_ denotes 'place of slaughter' or 'of destruction,' and commemorates some sanguinary victory or disastrous defeat. This is _probably_ the meaning of nearly all the names written 'Poquannoc,' 'Pequannoc,' 'Pauganuck,' &c., of places in Bridgeport (Stratfield), Windsor and Groton, Conn., and of a town in New Jersey. Some of these, however, may possibly be derived from _paukunni_ and _ohke_, 'dark place.'

4. PEMI (Abn. _pemai-[oo]i_; Del. _pime-u_; Cree, _peeme_;) denotes deviation from a straight line; 'sloping,' 'aslant,' 'twisted.'

PUMMEECHE (Cree, _pimich_; Chip. _pemiji_; Abn. _pemetsi_;) 'crosswise; traverse.' Eliot wrote '_pummeeche may_' for 'cross-way,'

Obad. 14; and _pumetshin_ (literally, 'it crosses') for 'a cross,' as in _up-pumetshin-eum_, 'his cross,' Luke xiv. 27. _Pemiji-gome_ or _Pemiji-guma_, 'cross water,' is the Chippewa name for a lake whose longest diameter crosses the general course of the river which flows through it,--which stretches _across_, not _with_ the stream. There is such a lake in Minnesota, near the sources of the Mississippi, just below the junction of the two primary forks of that river; another ('Pemijigome') in the chain of small lakes which are the northern sources of the Manidowish (and Chippewa) River in Wisconsin, and still another near the Lacs des Flambeaux, the source of Flambeau River, an affluent of the Manidowish.

The same prefix or its equivalent occurs in the name of a lake in Maine, near the source of the Alligash branch of St. John's River. Mr.

Greenleaf, in a list of Indian names made in 1823,[83] gave this as "BAAM'CHE_nun'gamo_ or _Ah_P'MOOJEE'_negmook_." Th.o.r.eau[84] was informed by his Pen.o.bscot guide, that the name "means 'Lake that is crossed;' because the usual course lies across, not along it." There is another "Cross Lake," in Aroostook county, near the head of Fish River. We seem to recognize, and with less difficulty, the same prefix in _Pemigewa.s.set_, but the full composition of that name is not clear.

[Footnote 83: Report of American Society for Promoting Civilization of the Indian Tribes, p. 52.]

[Footnote 84: Maine Woods, 232.]

PEMI- denotes, not a _crossing of_ but _deviation from_ a straight line, whether vertical or horizontal. In place-names it may generally be translated by 'sloping' or 'aslant;' sometimes by 'awry' or 'tortuous.' _Pemadene_, which Rale gives as the Abnaki word for 'mountain,' denotes a _sloping_ mountain-side (_pemi-adene_), in distinction from one that is steep or precipitous. '_Pemetiq_,' the Indian name of Mount Desert Island, as written by Father Biard in 1611, is the Abnaki _peme'teki_, 'sloping land.' _Pemaquid_ appears to be another form of the word which Rale wrote '_Pemaa[n]kke_,' meaning (with the locative suffix) 'at the place where the land slopes;' where "le terre penche; est en talus."[85] _Pymatuning_, in Pennsylvania, is explained by Heckewelder, as "the dwelling place of the man with the crooked mouth; _Pihmtonink_" (from _pimeu_ and _'t[oo]n_).

[Footnote 85: Abnaki Dictionary, s.v. PENCHER. Compare, p. 545, "_bimk[oo]e_, il penche naturellement la tete sur un cote."]

WANASHQUE, ANASQUI, 'at the extremity of,' 'at the end;' Abn.

_[oo]anask[oo]i[oo]i_, 'au bout;' Cree, _wannusk[oo]tch_; Chip.

_ishkue_, _eshqua_. See (pp. 18, 19,) _Wanashqu-ompsk-ut_, _Wonnesquam_,[86] _Winnesquamsaukit_, _Squamscot_. _Wonasquatucket_, a small river which divides North Providence and Johnston, R.I., retains the name which belonged to the point at which it enters an arm of Narragansett Bay (or Providence River), 'at the end of the tidal-river.' A stream in Rochester, Ma.s.s., which empties into the head of an inlet from Buzzard's Bay, received the same name.

_Ishquagoma_, on the upper Embarras River, Minnesota, is the 'end lake,' the extreme point to which canoes go up that stream.

[Footnote 86: _Wonnesquam_ (as should have been mentioned on the page referred to) may possibly represent the Abnaki _[oo]anask[oo]a[n]a[n]mi[oo]i_ or _-mek_ 'at the end of the peninsula'

('au bout de la presqu'ile.' Rale).]

Names of _fishes_ supply the adjectival components of many place-names on the sea-coast of New England, on the lakes, and along river-courses. The difficulty of a.n.a.lyzing such names is the greater because the same species of fish was known by different names to different tribes. The more common substantivals are _-amaug_, 'fishing place; _-tuk_ or _sipu_, 'river;' _ohke_, 'place;' Abn. _-ka[n]tti_, 'place of abundance;' and _-keag_, _-keke_, Abn. _-khige_, which appears to denote a peculiar _mode of fishing_,--perhaps, by a _weir_;[87] possibly, a _spearing-place_.

[Footnote 87: Schoolcraft derives the name of the _Namakagun_ fork of the St. Croix river, Wisc., from Chip. "_namai_, sturgeon, and _kagun_, a yoke or weir."]

From the generic _namaus_ (_namohs_, El.; Abn. _names_; Del.

_namees_;) 'a fish'--but probably, one of the _smaller_ sort, for the form is a diminutive,--come such names as _Nameoke_ or _Nameaug_ (New London), for _namau-ohke_, 'fish country;' _Namasket_ or _Nama.s.seket_ (on Taunton River, in Middleborough, Ma.s.s.) 'at the fish place,' a favorite resort of the Indians of that region; _Namaskeak_, now Amoskeag, on the Merrimack, and _Nam'skeket_ or _Skeekeet_, in Wellfleet, Ma.s.s.

_M'squammaug_ (Abn. _mesk[oo]amek[oo]_), 'red fish,' i.e. salmon, gave names to several localities. _Misquamacuck_ or _Squamicut_, now Westerly, R.I., was 'a salmon place' of the Narragansetts. The initial _m_ often disappears; and sometimes, so much of the rest of the name goes with it, that we can only guess at the original synthesis.

'_Gonic_,' a post office and railroad station, near Dover, N.H., on the Cocheco river, was once '_Squammagonic_,'--and probably, a salmon-fishing place.

_Kauposh_ (Abn. _kaba.s.se_, plu. _kaba.s.sak_), 'sturgeon,' is a component of the name _Cobbosseecontee_, in Maine (page 26, ante), 'where sturgeons are plenty;' and _Cobscook_, an arm of Pa.s.samaquoddy Bay, Pembroke, Me., perhaps stands for _kaba.s.sakhige_, 'sturgeon-catching place.'

_Aumsuog_ or _Ommissuog_ (Abn. _a[n]ms[oo]ak_), 'small fish,'--especially alewives and herrings,--is a component of the name of the Abnaki village on the Kennebec, _A[n]mes[oo]k-ka[n]tti_; of _Mattammiscontis_, a tributary of the Kennebec (see p. 25, ante), and _probably_, of _Amoscoggin_ and _Amoskeag_.

_Qunnosu_ (pl. _-suog;_ Abn. _k[oo]n[oo]se;_ Old Alg. _kino[n]je_; Chip. _keno'zha_;) is found in the name of _Kenosha_, a town and county in Wisconsin; perhaps, in _Kenjua_ or _Kenzua_ creek and township, in Warren county, Pa. _Quinshepaug_ or _Quonshapauge_, in Mendon, Ma.s.s., seems to denote a 'pickerel pond' (_qunnosu-paug_).

_Maskinonge_, i.e.[n]je_, 'great pike' or maskelunge, names a river and lake in Canada.

_Pescatum_, said to mean 'pollock,' occurs as an adjectival in _Peskadamioukka[n]tti_, the modern _Pa.s.samaquoddy_ (p. 26).

_Naha[n]m[oo]_, the Abnaki name of the 'eel,' is found in "_Nehumkeag_, the English of which is _Eel Land_, ... a stream or brook that empties itself into Kennebec River," not far from Cobbissecontee.[88] This brook was sometimes called by the English, _Nehumkee_. The Indian name of Salem, Ma.s.s., was _Nehumkeke_ or _Naumkeag_, and a place on the Merrimac, near the mouth of Concord River (now in Lowell, I believe,) had the same name,--written, _Naamkeak_.

[Footnote 88: Col. William Lithgow's deposition, 1767,--in New England Historical and General Register, xxiv. 24.]

In view of the ill.u.s.trations which have been given, we repeat what was stated in the beginning of this paper, that Indian place-names are not _proper names_, that is unmeaning marks, but significant _appellatives_, each conveying a _description_ of the locality to which it belongs. In those parts of the country where Indian languages are still spoken, the a.n.a.lysis of such names is comparatively easy.

Chippewa, Cree, or (in another family) Sioux-Dakota geographical names may generally be translated with as little difficulty as other words or syntheses in the same languages. In New England, and especially in our part of New England, the case is different. We can hardly expect to ascertain the meaning of all the names which have come down to us from dead languages of aboriginal tribes. Some of the obstacles to accurate a.n.a.lysis have been pointed out. Nearly every geographical name has been mutilated or has suffered change. It would indeed be strange if Indian polysyntheses, with their frequent gutturals and nasals, adopted from unwritten languages and by those who were ignorant of their meanings, had been exempted from the phonetic change to which all language is subject, as a result of the universal disposition "to put more facile in the stead of more difficult sounds or combination of sounds, and to get rid altogether of what is unnecessary in the words we use."[89] What Professor Haldeman calls _otosis_, 'that error of the ear by which words are perverted to a more familiar form,'[90] has effected some curious transformations.

_Swatara_,[91] the name of a stream in Pennsylvania, becomes 'Sweet Arrow;' the _Potopaco_ of John Smith's map (_p[oo]tuppag_, a bay or cove; Eliot,) on a bend of the Potomac, is naturalized as 'Port Tobacco.' _Nama'auke_, 'the place of fish' in East Windsor, through _Namerack_ and _Namalake_ to the modern 'May Luck.'

_Moskitu-auke_, 'gra.s.s land,' in Scituate, R.I., gives the name of 'Mosquito Hawk' to the brook which crosses it.[92]