MARBLEHEAD — Marblehead is sprucing up one of its oldest artifacts, the deed signifying the purchase of the land the town sits on. It’s a document that was signed in July 1684. 

This memento arouses mixed feelings as it signifies both the courage of the town’s European settlers and the humiliation of the original Indian inhabitants.

The deed is to be reframed behind UV shielding glass to protect it from ultraviolet light and then returned to the selectmen’s meeting room at Abbot Hall. On Wednesday, the selectmen will hear of the discovery last year that the 330-year-old agreement was “slipping” within its frame. 

Historic Commission member Wayne Butler noticed first, according to chairman Chris Johnston. 

The Northeast Document Conservation Center of Andover was contracted to give the deed a once over, according to Johnston. They decided the deed “has held up pretty well.” The material — parchment — is in good shape. Nor has the text faded. The “iron gall ink” of the period is remarkably durable, Johnston said.

In addition to adjusting the frame, the Conservation Center has agreed to recreate the deed digitally. 

“We’re going to produce as high a quality document as we can,” said Johnston. The resulting replica will be displayed on a revolving basis in town buildings, including schools.

The deed captures a moment in Marblehead history. In the late 1600s, “For some time … certain Indians, heirs to the Squaw Sachem of Saugus, had presented claims of ownership of lands comprised in the township of Marblehead,” according to Samuel Roads’ History and Traditions of Marblehead.

At the same time, the royal charter granting ownership of the land had been revoked. Town meeting determined it was best to get their ownership on paper by satisfying the claims of the Naumkeag Indians. A price of 16 pounds was agreed to in exchange for “All ye Township of Marblehead viz. as well ye great neck” and extending to boundaries like “Forest River bridge” and “beaver brook.”

The 16 pounds was a fair price, said Johnston, not an attempt to cheat anyone. On the other hand, he acknowledges the original land grants were awarded without regard to people already claiming the land. Notwithstanding that, the deed has value because it acknowledges a history including the Naumkeag and their part in creating our world. He urges Marbleheaders to feel pride in it.

Local historian Don Doliber agrees. It was a fair bargain, “given the circumstances of the political scene at the time,” Doliber said.

The payment came in “good solid cash. Not oats and pigs. And hard cash wasn’t so easy to get,” Doliber said. Other communities making similar arrangements were less forthcoming. Moreover, a deal could be made because of good relations between natives and settlers.

The Indians were led by Joane Quanapohkownat, widow of the late sachem, or chief, Jno Quanapohkownat. By and large the nine Naumkeag signees had Christian first names, including Sarah, James and Israell. For a time they had seen the English as protectors against fierce rival tribes, Doliber noted. That had changed for many, however, with the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675. 

Even if some feel less than proud of the deed, it would be wrong to conceal it, Doliber believes. “You can’t sanitize history.” 

Rather than find fault with European ancestors, he believes it’s better to “celebrate the Indian heritage.”

Reframing the document and creating the digital copy is expected to cost no more than $4,000 from a historical commission fund.


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