Iyannough, Sachem of Cummaquid

Iyannough, sachem of Cummaquid, deserves to be remembered for his kindness to the Pilgrims and for his tragic fate.

Iyannough was the sachem of the Native American tribe known as the Mattachiest (Mattakeese).  His lands included what is now the Town of Barnstable, a part of West Barnstable, Sandy Neck, South and West Yarmouth and the part of Hyannis that is east and northeast of Lewis Bay.[1]

The Pilgrims’ first encounter with Iyannough occurred in the summer of 1622, approximately 18 months after the Mayflower landed in Provincetown.  A young son of Mayflower passenger John Billington wandered away from the settlement at Plymouth and became lost in the woods.  After searching unsuccessfully for several days, the Pilgrims received word from Native Americans that the boy had been found near Manomet about twenty miles south of Plymouth.  The sachem there, for unknown reasons, sent the boy to Aspinet, the sachem in Nauset.  An account of the Pilgrim’s voyage to Nauset to retrieve the boy was published in Mourt’s Relation [1622].  Its author generally thought to be Edward Winslow. [2]

A voyage made by ten of our men to Nauset, to seek a boy that had lost Himself in the woods

The eleventh day of June, we set forth toward Nauset, the weather being very fair; but ere we had been long at sea there arose a storm of wind and rain, with much lightening and thunder, in so much as a spout arose not far from us.  But, God be praised, it dured not long; and we put in that night for harbor at a place called Cummaquid, where we had some hope to find the boy.  Two savages were in the boat with us: the one was Tisquantum, our interpreter, and the other Tokamahamon, a special friend.  It being night before we came in we anchored in the midst of the bay, where we were dry at low water.  

In the morning, we espied savages seeking lobsters; and sent our two interpreters to speak with them, the channel being between them; where they told them what we were, and for what we had come, willing them not at all to fear us, for we would not hurt them.  Their answer was, that the boy was well, but he was in Nauset; yet since they were there, they desired us to come ashore and eat with them; which as soon as our boat floated we did, and went six ashore, having four pledges for them in the boat.  They brought us to their sachem, or governour: whom they called Iyannough, a man not exceeding twenty-six years of age, but very personable, gentle, courteous, and fair conditioned, indeed not like a savage, save for his attire.  His entertainment was answerable to his parts, and his cheer plentiful and various.

One thing was very grievous unto us at this place.  There was an old woman, whom we judged to be no less than an hundred years old, which came to see us, because she never saw English; yet could not behold us without breaking forth into great passion, weeping and crying excessively.  We, demanding the reason of it, they told us she had three sons, who, when master Hunt was in these parts, went aboard his ship to trade with him, and he carried them captives to Spain (for Tisquantum at that time was carried away also) by which she was deprived of the comfort of her children in her old age.  We told them that we were sorry that any Englishman should give them that offense, that Hunt was a bad man, and all the English that heard of it condemned him for the same; but for us, we would not offer them any such injury, though it would gain us all the skins in the country.  So we gave her some small trifles, which pleased her somewhat.

After dinner, we took boat to Nauset, Iyannough and two of his men accompanying us.  Ere we came to Nauset, the day and tide were almost spent; in so much as we could not go in with our shallop; but the sachim, or governour, of Cummaquid went ashore and his men with him.  We also sent Tisquantum to tell Aspinet, the Sachim of Nauset wherefore we came.  After sunset Aspinet came with great train, and brought the boy with him, one bearing him through the water.  He had not less than an hundred with him; the half thereof cam to the shallop side, unarmed with him; the other half stood aloof with their bows and arrows.    There he delivered us the boy, behung with beads, and made peace with us, we bestowing a knife on him, and likewise on another that first entertained the boy and brought him thither.  So they departed from us.

Here we understood that the Narrohigansets had spoiled some of Massosoit’s men, and taken him.  This struck some fear in us because the colony was so weakly guarded, the strength whereof being abroad.  But we set forth with resolution to make the best haste home we could; yet the wind being contrary, having scarce any fresh water left, and at least sixteen leagues home we put in again for the shore.  There we met again with Iyannough, the Sachim of Cummiquid, and the most of his town, the men, women, and children with him.  He being still willing to gratify us, took a rundlet, and lead our men in the dark a great way for water, but could find none good; but brought such as there was on his neck with them.  In the meantime, the women joined hand in hand singing and dancing before the shallop, the men also showing all the kindness they could, Iyannough himself taking a bracelet from about his neck, and hanging it upon one of us.  By God’s providence we came home that night.

The Pilgrims’ second encounter with Iyannough took place in the fall of the same year.  Following a disappointing harvest and the failure of supplies to arrive from England, the Pilgrims turned to trade with the Native Americans as the only means of avoiding starvation.  Under the leadership of William Bradford, the Pilgrims set out on a voyage across Cape Cod Bay and headed down the outer shore.  At Monomoy, now Chatham, they went ashore and were welcomed by the Native Americans who “refreshed them very well with store of venison and other victuals, which they brought them in great abundance, promising to trade with them.”  Altogether, the colonists obtained enough corn and beans from the Native Americans in Monomoy to fill eight hogsheads.

Returning to Cape Cod Bay, the Pilgrims traded for more corn and beans at Nauset, Cummaquid, and Manomet.  When they dropped anchor off Cummaquid, they were again warmly received by Iyannough, who gathered as large a supply of provisions as his people could spare.

Through the combination of their success in trading with the Native Americans and inhospitable weather, the Pilgrims were forced to leave their bounty behind in Nauset and Cummaquid.  Bradford asked the Native Americans to protect their provisions until they could return in a subsequent voyage adding that if the provisions were found in good order they “would take it as a sign of their honest and true friendship” and if not “they should smart from their unjust and dishonest dealings.”   Early in 1623, the Pilgrims returned to find that the Native Americans had kept their promises.  They were able to retrieve their provisions and bring them back to Plymouth. 

In spite of the friendly dealings between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans on Cape Cod, relationships between the parties along the coast deteriorated in the following months.  The lack of food and attempts by the colonists to take provisions from the Native Americans may have been the underlying cause of these frictions, but tensions were exacerbated by unpleasant and threatening encounters between key individuals.  Friendship and mutual support quickly turned into mistrust and suspicion. 

The colonists decided to take action.  Led by their military captain Myles Standish, a band of Pilgrims attacked several warriors of the Massachusetts tribe.  Standish killed a warrior named Pecksuot, while others killed his companion Wituwamet and after which they hanged Wituwamet's teenage brother.  Wituwamet's head was put on a pole and brought back to Plymouth where it was placed above the fort in the barbaric custom of the English.  

Word of these events so alarmed the Native Americans in the area that many deserted their homes and fled into the swamps and remote islands.  Fearful that returning to their villages meant certain death, the Native Americans throughout the region were unable to plant the crops on which their survival depended.  By summer, they had begun to die at a startling rate.  Just about every notable sachem on the Cape died in the months ahead, including Canacum at Manomet, Aspinet at Nauset, and the 'personable, courteous and fair conditioned' Iyannough at Cummaquid.  According to the modern author Nathaniel Philbrick, before Iyannough died, word reached Plymouth that the handsome young sachem had “in the midst of these distractions, said the God of the English was offended with them [the colonists], and would destroy them in his anger.”[3]

In 1861, long after Iyannough’s death, David Davis and Patrick Hughs overturned a brass kettle while plowing a field in Cummaquid, MA.  Beneath this kettle, they found a skeleton positioned in a sitting position.  “The kettle covered the skull; a stone pestle lay beside the right arm; the decayed remains of a bow and arrow rested beside the left arm; and near the feet were a [iron] hatchet, an earthen dish, and pieces of black and white wampum.  Historians and antiquarians concluded that the skeleton was that of the sachem Iyannough himself – a logical deduction, but nothing more.”[4], [5]

Arguments that support the view that these remains were, in fact, those of sachem Iyannough are based on the location of the gravesite and the artifacts found in the grave.  The gravesite is located on land of the Mattakeese and in the general area where Iyannough is believed to have entertained the Pilgrims in the spring of 1621.  Furthermore, the brass kettle and iron hatchet were of English origin, so the earliest they might have been acquired by the Native Americans in this area was 1614 when Captain John Smith first mapped the coastline.   Soon after the time of Iyannough’s death the Native Americans of the Cape adopted the religion and practices of the English settlers and it ceased to be customary to bury an individual with their material possessions.[6]

The skeleton and artifacts were given to Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth MA and displayed in a glass case for many years.

Additional Information

In 1894, the Cape Cod Historical Society marked the site of the grave in Cummaquid with a slate tablet.[7]  The inscription refers to the sachem’s kindness to the Pilgrims at the time they were trying to locate the young boy who was lost:

On this spot was buried the


The friend and entertainer

of the Pilgrims, June, 1621

Erected by the Cape Cod Historical Society

While the remains discovered in 1861 were thought to be those of sachem Iyannough, examination of the skeleton by the curator and staff of Pilgrim Hall concluded that they were actually the remains of a young woman.  According to the document prepared by the Department of Interior the skeleton and most of the associated funerary objects were repatriated to Frank James of the Wampanoag Tribe.[8]  On August 12, 1964 these remains and artifacts were reinterred in a private burial spot near the original gravesite.[9] 


[1] “Iyannough,” Pictorial Tales of Cape Cod, Hyannis: Tales of Cape Cod, Inc., June 1961, p. 4.

[2] As reproduced in D. G. Trayser (ed.). Barnstable: Three Centuries of a Cape Cod Town. Parnassus Imprints: Yarmouthport, MA. 1971, pp. 176-7.

[3] Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Viking: New York, 2006, p. 154.

[4] Trayser, op. cit., p. 178.

[5] A document published by the U.S. Department of Interior in 1998, attributed the discovery of the remains to Amos Otis.  This document also referred to a copper kettle instead of a brass kettle.  See National NAGPRA, “Notice of Inventory Completion for Native American Human Remains from Plymouth, MA and an Associated Funerary Object from Barnstable, MA in the Possession of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA,” Federal Register: August 14, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 157)], August 18, 1998, p. 43722; also available at


[6] “Iyannough,” op. cit, pp. 3-4.

[7] Trayser, op. cit., p. 178

[8] Department of Interior, op. cit.  This document states that the remains and funerary objects were repatriated in 1974.  This date is inconsistent with the August 12, 1964 date of re-interment sited in Pictorial Tales of Cape Cod, January 1999, pp. 15.  

[9] Louis Cataldo, “Iyannough,” op. cit., January 1999, pp. 14-16.