top of page

Indian Origin of Fairhaven Names and more:

Acushnet: at the head of the river

Sconticut: Place stayed at for the summer

Nukkeekamansett: Place of the ancient structure

Nokatay: At the hunting place

Wisagansett: Place of the covering water

Nasketucket: The land between


The "Isle of Marsh" is a designation given to the portion of the Acushnet River opposite the Oxford Section of Fairhaven. This designation is first mentioned by Duane Hamilton Hurd in 1883 in his "History of Bristol County Massachusetts" Hurd describes it as "From its northern limit at Acushnet it stretches along the river until it reaches its southwest corner at Fort Pheonix, where the river broadens into an arm of the bay, forming the lower harbor of New Bedford and Fairhaven. This western water-line is broken by the marshes connecting the Isle of Marsh with the mainland, and by the peninsula on which is situated the village of Oxford. " (Hurd 1883: 267). In 1889 the "Isle of Marsh was further defined by Zeohrium Pease and George Hough, in their work New Bedford Massachusetts: Its History, Industry, Institutions and Attractions follows "Between this island and the New Bedford side is the drawbridge. North of the bridge, on the Fairhaven side, is the rocky bluff called the Isle of Marsh, which, however, is only insulated at high water." (Pease and Hough 1889:66).

The term "Isle of Marsh" was used by Alfred Lord Tennyson writing about the legend that Joseph of Aramathia had built the first church in England, stated the following:

"To whom the monk: `From our old books I know

That Joseph came of old to Glastonbury,

And there the heathen Prince, Arviragus,

Gave him an isle of marsh whereon to build;

And there he built with wattles from the marsh

A little lonely church in days of yore,

For so they say, these books of ours, but seem

Mute of this miracle, far as I have read.

But who first saw the holy thing today?

Tennyson wrote these words in his poem Idylls of the King, published between 1856 and 1885, fitting in well with the first time that this expression was used to describe the rock surrounded by marsh in the Acushnet River. I propose that it was designated "Isle of Marsh" by Hurd or some other late nineteenth century historian. 

Gosnold 1602

Recently it has been proposed that Bartholomew Gosnold named it such when he visited Buzzard's Bay in 1602 but a careful reading of the original text makes no mention of this area. What Gabriel Archer does mention is the identification of two rivers flowing out of the mainland opposite Cuttyhunk Island. These rivers may be the Paskamansett and Acushnet rivers or the Slocum and Paskamansett rivers, or the Westport and Slocum rivers, or, if they were speaking on a broader scale, the Sakonnet and Acushnet rivers (see map above). Due to the vagueness of the descriptions, it seems that every town between Little Compton (on the west [left]side of the map) and Fairhaven (on the east [right] side of the map), tries to lay claim to be where Gosnold landed, with no real proof for any of them.

Native settlement in the Fairhaven area appears to have been fairly extensive judging by the number of contact period sites and known contact period settlement locations in the town. It appears that settlement was focused along the major waterways and bays in the Fairhaven area with few sites having been identified in the interior. This may be more of a result of the sample of sites available to us at the present time, or it may reflect these areas as being a specific focus of Native life. The majority of prehistoric sites thus located are concentrated on Sconticut Neck in the Little Bay section. In this area, three sites represented only by lithic chipping debris (felsite, quartz and chert) have been identified. Unfortunately, due to the lack of any datable diagnostic artifacts, it is difficult to determine when these presumably small temporary camps were occupied. The presence of chert flakes, a material that comes from New York state, may indicate an occupation during the Early to Middle Woodland Period when this material was most extensively used, but it is not known for sure if this hypothesis is valid. All of the other archaeological sites on Sconticut Neck appear to date to the Contact Period and later. One other archaeological site in Fairhaven has been identified as having been occupied during the Woodland Period. This site was located south of Route 6 and yielded 3 Native pottery sherds, 6 quartz chipping debris and 3-quartz shatter.

The Contact Period appears fairly well represented in Fairhaven, possibly indicating a substantial Native population either before or after the 1616-1618 epidemic. This epidemic was European in origin and wiped-out up to 90% of the population of some communities. Fairhaven, which appears to have had several Native communities throughout the 17th into the 18th century, may not have suffered as severely as some, or it may have been resettled. Native communities are recorded in the local history as being located at the following locations:

the site of the Cooke garrison house near Sycamore Street and Howland Road

Little Bay on Sconticut Neck

Nukkeekummansett on Sconticut Neck (may be part of Little Bay settlement)

Nokatay on West Island



New Boston Road

Evidence of the community near the site of the later Cooke garrison was uncovered in the early 20th century. At this time numerous small hills were being leveled off in the area and a burial was found in a fetal, what they called a "sitting", position with wampum wound around the wrists and a brass kettle over the head. Extensive deposits of oyster, clam and quahog were also found along with three "pewter" spoons with iron handles and a quantity of artifacts which the workers took to be indicative of a village being located nearby. This area was about 500 southwest of the Cooke garrison site. Another record tells of a skeleton being found with the nose of a bottle resting upon the mouth an 8" key which the discoverers believed may have come from the "garrison prison cell".

Another burial ground may have been at the northern terminus of Sycamore Street.

The largest settlement in Fairhaven was located in the vicinity of Little Bay where a cemetery buried deep in bullbriar and grape vine, bears witness to the Christian Indians of the later 17th and 18th century. This cemetery measures 16 x 13.5 x 11.8 x13.5 meters with graves that are not aligned east to west in the Christian fashion, but southwest to northeast, a pre-Christian Native traditional orientation. The center of the Christian Indian settlement on Sconticut Neck was located on the corner of the main road and Seaview Avenue where Rainbow Variety now stands. Here, a Christian Indian school stood and further south on the opposite side of the main road the Union Chapel was located. This was the community of Nukkeekummansett. In 1698 Reverend Samuel Dansworth and Rindall Rawson said that 20 families and 120 inhabitants lived here. These families were:





















The first Native preacher here was William Simon, who was ordained as a minister by the Native preacher Japhet of Marthas Vinyard. Simon died around 1722 during the smallpox epidemic and was said to have been the first person buried in the Native cemetery.

In the 1700s Nukkeekumanset became a reservation.

The Natives recorded as living on Sconticut Neck in the late 1700s and early 1800s were:

Benjamin and Cain Abel who served in the revolution

Benjamin Obadiah

John Pond

Ephraim Simon

John Solomon


John and Sarah Obadiah

Phebe Pendall

Samuel Pendalson

The last recorded Sconticut Neck Native was Martha Simon died 1859-1860.

Natives were also living at Naskatucket. This Christian Native settlement had its center at the corner of Route 6 and Mill road.

Archaeologically evidence for the community on Sconticut Neck has been recovered on the shores of Little Bay. At the Naskatucket River site, testing revealed a site covering approximately 300 x 150 meters. Fieldwork recovered a mixture of Native and European artifacts including 1 quartz Madison point, 1 quartz projectile point tip, 256 pieces of quartz chipping debris, 6 pieces of felsite chipping debris, 5 pieces of rhyolite chipping debris, 2 pieces of Pennsylvania jasper chipping debris, 1 piece of argillite chipping debris, 1 piece of New York chert chipping debris, oyster and quahog shell, 2 rhyolite bifaces, bone, fish vertebrae, 6 quartz bifaces, 1 rhyolite projectile point midsection, 1 quartz scraper and 1 olive green glass scraper.

Nearby, evidence of the 18th century occupation of the community was found in the form of a site measuring 100x150 square meters. At this site delft, redware, pipestem, combed slipware, flint strike-a-light, prehistoric ceramics, bottle glass and 2 shell midden deposits were encountered attesting to Native occupation of the site circa 1750.

One other contact period site, not counting the one at Cooke's garrison, has been identified on land belonging to a Mr. Howard in 1845. At this site a copper or brass projectile point was found with two Native skeletons.

Historical Period

The Native name for the portion of Fairhaven that was located along and at the head of the Acushnet River was Cushenagg, meaning at the head of the river, and was originally part of what the colonists called the Dartmouth Purchase. This purchase, which included what is now Dartmouth, New Bedford, Westport, Fairhaven and Acushnet, consisted on approximately 115,000 acres (The Archaeology of New Bedford on this site). This purchase happened in 1652. At this time the Native leaders Massasoit and his son Wamsutta sold to John Cooke and others "all tracts of land lying three miles eastward from a river called Cushenagg, with all rivers, creeks, meadows, necks and islands, and from the sea upward so high that the English may not be annoyed by the hunting of the Indians in any sort of their cattle." This was purchased for cloth, moose skins, axes, hoes, 15 pairs of breeches, 8 pairs of stockings, 8 pairs of boots, 1 iron pot, and 10 shillings. One of the first settlers to come to what is now Fairhaven was John Cooke who arrived here circa 1660. His home has been traditionally placed at Oxford Village and his grave is on what was once called "Burial Hill" on Poverty Point (Allen 1996:7)

Some of the other early proprietors of Dartmouth mentioned in William Bradfords deed who settled on the east side of Acushnet were:

Seth Pope

Thomas Taber

Jonathan Delano

Isaac Pope

Lettice, Samuel and Mark Jenney

Valentine Huddlestone

Samuel, William and John Spooner

Joseph and James Tripp

Daniel and Edmund Shearman

Aaron Davis

The most extensive landholder in what is now Fairhaven was John Cooke. Cooke's land was located near present day Coggeshall Street, Howland Road, Alden Road and North Street. Local tradition states that Cooke's garrison was located near the lower end of Coggeshall Street while his house was located at the top of a nearby hill on the site of today's Oxford School. Along with the garrison and house, local historians believe that Cooke also built barracks, a blockhouse and a prison. Essentially the way the town history described it, Cooke's site sounds like a military compound. It is more likely that Cooke had a house that he fortified to be used as a garrison house and place of refuge for all his neighbors in time of war. There is no documentary evidence that he had any of these other structures.

Fairhaven figured prominently in the events of King Philip's War in 1675-1677. The first incident in the war that occurred in Fairhaven was early in the war in 1675 when Thomas Pope, his son John 22, daughter Susannah and her husband Ensign Jacob Mitchell were killed while fleeing on horseback from their house to the garrison where Mitchells children were sent the day before (Allen 1996:13). This event is believed to have taken place near Frog Pond, which is the former Mill Pond now Cushman Park. The Natives involved in this incident were believed to include Popanooie and John Num. Following this attack, Cooke's house was attacked. Popes garrison, believed to have been a palisaded house on the west side of Sconticut Neck Road was not attacked. Local history states that another garrison on Popes Island may have been attacked. This garrison house, because it was made of stone was later used to detain prisoners including the infamous "Little Eyes".

John Cooke and John Delano are known to have left their farms and set out with Captain Benjamin Church in pursuit of the Pokanoket Natives, especially King Philip (Metacomet) himself. Cooke and the ruins of his homesite figure prominently in Church's history of the war. The ruins of Cooke's house were decided as the meeting place for two bands of Church's men in 1676 (Slotkin and Folsom 1978:438). Before it was burned, Cooke's house probably also would have been one of the stopover locations used by the militia during the course of the war. Cooke himself was present at some of the most decisive battles and captures during the war. He was the English man who was paired with the Native Alderman during the ambush of King Philip in August of 1676. It was Cooke's gun that misfired, allowing Alderman to have the dubious distinction of killing Philip (Slotkin and Folsom 1978:451). Cooke was also present at the capture of Annawaon, one of Philip's aged and trusted councilors (Slotkin and Folsom 1978:456). In fact, prior to the ambush of Annawon, Church had turned to Cooke and asked him what he thought of their plan, to which Cooke replied "I am never afraid of going any where when you are with me." (Slotkin and Folsom 1978: 456).

In 1680, following King Philip's War, Cooke sold to his son-in-law Thomas Taber his whole sixth part of one of the shares of upland and meadow. His farm extended across the Acushnet River to Alden Road for about ¼ of a mile both north and south of North Street. Part of this six acre purchase later, in 1760, became Poverty Point and Oxford Village. Taber's house was located behind the home now standing on 181 Main Street, A stone back wall with chimney remains standing there (Allen 1996:19). There is an 1850 painting of the house showing a Native woman named "Indian Annis" standing in front of the house.

Aside from the Native sites, the only other late 17th century artifactual evidence recovered from Fairhaven was found in 1950 when Antonio Lopes, while plowing a field near Shaws Cove on his family farm, uncovered a 1697 William III 5 shilling coin (Allen 1996: 9)

copyright 2002 Craig S. Chartier Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project

bottom of page