Folktale Friday: Jack Straw

Jack Straw Monument, at the corner of Bowman Lane and Olde Coach Road. The inscription reads:

Atop a nearby hill in the early 17th century was the wigwam of Jack Straw, a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh. He accompanied him to England and remained for several years as his servant. Returning to the colonies, he was the first Christian Indian granted land. It was in the vicinity of the reservoir and schoolhouse no. 5 in the area which later became Westborough. Schoolhouse no. 5 was located about 700′ east of this site. 

Coversant in English, he served the colonists and the government as interpreter with the Indians. His name has endured in Jack Straw Brook, Jack Straw Pasture, Jack Straw Hill all to the northwest of this place. 

Near this spot was also the Rev. Thomas Hooker Trail (Bay Path) which became part of the old Indian trail to the Quonektacut River now known as the Connecticut River.

From The Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 27-30.

After the white man became somewhat established in the land, the Indians themselves were often called by English names. A few places still bear these adopted names of their Indian owners. The most interesting in Westborough is Jackstraw hill.

In his day, Jack Straw was a famous man, — the first Indian baptized in the English colonies, taken to England from Virginia, in ”Sir Walter Raleigh’s service,” proving himself a faithful friend of the white man, always ready to help him by strength or stratagem; but after all, finding that his Indian nature was the strongest part of him, he returned to this country, according to Governor Winthrop, and “turned Indian again.” (Winthrop’s Journal, I., 52.) Accepting the name he so little deserved, of Jack Straw, after one of “the greatest rebyls that ever was in England,” he continued occasionally to serve the English as servant and interpreter, and probably ended his days within the limits of this town.

So much we learn from the histories; from tradition, only that an old Indian named Jackstraw once owned all the land in the vicinity of the reservoir and No. 5 school-house, and that he had his wigwam on the summit of the hill, more than a quarter of a mile west of the school-house. He was soon forgotten, but Jackstraw hill is his monument; and so it happens that his name is spoken in .town every day. His land was granted, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, to the widow of Richard Beers, who fell, bravely defending Deerfield against the savages. This grant of land, described as being “at a place called Jack Straw’s Hill,” embraced the present town reservoir and District No. 5 school, and farms in that vicinity. (Hist. of Worc. Co., II., 1336.) There were three hundred acres in the farm.

In 1675 a party of eleven Indians attacked the house of Mr. Thomas Eames, of Framingham, he being absent, killed his wife and some of his children, and carried the rest away. In this company there were three — father and two sons — bearing the name of Jackstraw. They lived in Hopkinton. They were probably son and grandsons of the Westborough Jack Straw. They were tried, convicted, and executed, in spite of the pathetic petition which they addressed to the Court of Assistants, in which they said: “You were pleased (of your own benignity), not for any desert of ours, to give forth your declaration, dated the 19th of June, wherein you were pleased to promise life and liberty unto such of your enemies as did come in and submit themselves to your mercy, and order, and disposal;” and they further claimed that they took no active part in the massacre.

Sewall, in his Journal, thus makes record of their death: ”September 21, 1776, Stephen Goble, of Concord, was executed for the murder of Indians. Three Indians for firing Eames, his house, and murder. The weather was cloudy and rawly cold, though little or no rain. Mr. Mighil prayed; four others sat on the gallows, — two men and two impudent women, one of which, at least, laughed on the gallows, as several testifieth.” (Temple’s Hist. of Framingham, p. 78.)

This seems to have been the last mention of the Jackstraws in this vicinity. About 1845, a young Indian from Maine came to Hopkinton, and worked for Elbridge G. Rice. He was savage and ugly, and bore the name of Enoch Straw.

In the northern part of Northborough there is a sheet of water, ninety by seventy-five rods, called “Solomon’s pond,” “from the circumstance,” says Peter Whitney, in his “History of Worcester County,” published in 1793, “of an Indian of that name being drowned therein, by falling through a raft on which he was fishing.” In the early part of this century an Indian’s canoe was found sunk in the pond. It was supposed to have belonged to this Solomon.

An Indian has been said to be responsible for the old name of the pretty rounded hill on the left-hand side of the Northborough road, just before reaching the village. It was called, in deed and grants, “Licor hill,” before 1662. In 1836 it was rechristened Mount Assabet. The story about the Indian and his bottle is here given, copied from a small paper published at that time by the boys of Dr. Allen’s school.

“There was formerly, at the foot of this hill, a tavern where an Indian stopped. On his return home he passed over the hill, and sat down under a tree to take another refreshing draught, not being able to resist the temptation any longer. When he had drunk until he was entirely disabled from proceeding any farther, his bottle (one of the ancient form, in the shape of an old keg), by some unhappy accident, slipped from his grasp and rolled down the hill. The Indian eyed it wistfully on its rapid course, and, hearing the peculiar sound of the liquor issuing from its mouth, called after it, ‘Ay, good, good, good! I hear you, but I can’t get at you.’”

There were, as early as this, a few Indians in this vicinity who spoke English, but probably no tavern was built on the “cow commons” of Marlborough. The Indian, doubtless, had brought his bottle farther than the above historian supposes.

Besides these few names, there are no traces of the early Indians, except arrow-heads and spear-points turned up by the farmer’s plough, or found on the shore of North pond in Hopkinton, in the fall, when the water is low.

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