Oskoosooduck, 1665 - 1752
Oskoosooduck was the daughter of Eastern Pequot sachem, Momoho. Growing up in Quakataug in present day Stonington, CT, her childhood was marked by a number of illnesses, the most severe of which, in 1672, left her, as well as, her siblings and mother near death. She regained her health and as a young woman married and became the fifth wife of Narragansett sachem Ninigret II, by whom she had two sons, Charles and George. As the wife of the sachem, Oskoosooduck was involved in political affairs appearing as a signatory on a March 1709 deed, along with Ninigret and his counselors.
This royal marriage ended in violence one evening in 1717. Ninigret II, Oskoosooduck and others fell asleep in front of a fire. When he awoke, the sachem felt that his wife was lying a bit too closely to another man. Ninigret suspected her of infidelity and he slashed her cheek with a knife three times and cast her out, sending her home to the Eastern Pequots in derision. The Eastern Pequots were enraged at this treatment of one of their own and sought retribution, although by this time, Oskoosooduck’s father, the great sachem, Momoho, was dead as was his heir and youngest son Cutchamaquin, and the strength of the tribe was much diminished. Nonetheless, a military expedition against the Narragansetts was considered but the Eastern Pequot’s trustee, Col. Joseph Stanton, convinced the tribe that this was not in their best interest.
By 1723 Oskoosooduck had become active in Eastern Pequot tribal affairs, signing a petition against the infringement of tribal land rights, her name appearing prominently, second only to Momoho’s widow. Momoho's widow may or may not have been Oskoosooduck's mother, as Momoho might have had multiple wives. According to LaFantasie, Oskoosooduck's mother was Quaiapen (alias Magnus, Matantuck or Watowswokotaus). Quaiapen was executed in 1676 after being captured by Connecticut forces during King Philip's War.
Regardless of her maternal lineage, Oskoosooduck’s role as a tribal leader developed and continued through the decades with the signing of petitions and memorials in the late 1740s and early 1750s, a time when there were renewed efforts by neighboring non-natives to encroach on the rights of the tribe. By now she had resumed use of the surname Momoho, at least for ceremonial and formal purposes. The resolution of the tribal concerns in 1751, the result of the efforts by Mary Momoho and others, initiated a period of relative stability on the reservation. The tribe began to realize incomes from their land and the number of on reservation households more than doubled in the ensuing five years. It was around this time that Oskoosooduck, or Mary Momoho, by now an old woman, shared with colonists some of the customs and common practices regarding marriage and divorce, calling upon, undoubtedly, her own experiences.
At some point after her marriage to Ningret II and following her return to the Eastern Pequot reservation, Mary Momoho married again, this time to fellow Eastern Pequot Samuel Sowas. This marriage, like her first, ended violently. In mid July 1752 a jury of inquest was called to examine the aged bodies of Mary Sowas and her husband Samuel Sowas, both thought to have been in their nineties. It was determined that in a rage Sam had murdered his wife and then committed suicide by hanging himself on a nearby tree. Sam and Mary Sowas' son recounted the events of that fateful morning to the Reverend Joseph Fish providing chilling details. Their bodies were buried the next day and the funeral well attended. Among the attendees was Ben Uncas, sachem of the Mohegans, and Tom Ninigret, young sachem of the Narragansetts and grandson to the deceased Oskoosooduck. Thus ended the long and exceptionally well documented life of an Eastern Pequot woman and tribal leader.
John Winthrop, Jr. Medical Records, 1657-1669, Winthrop Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society; Summons of Sabyanatoosit; Howard Chapin, Sachems of the Narragansetts, (Providence, 1931), 95; John Wood Sweet, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830, (Philadelphia, 2003), 24; 1723.05.09.00 IP 2.2.22; LaFantasie, Corres. of Roger Williams, 578; 1749.05.23.00 IP 1.2.40; John Wood Sweet, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830, (Philadelphia, 2003), 33; Letter from Joseph Fish to the Commissioners of Indian Affairs; Summons to Examine the Bodies of Samuel and Mary Sowas; Inquest over the Bodies of Samuel and Mary Sowas; New-York Gazette, New York, NY, August 24, 1752, p.2.