Tommy Ten Canoes by
A Tale of King Philip’s Scout
There once lived in New York an
Indian warrior by the name of
Peter Twenty-Canoes. Tommy
Ten-Canoes lived in New England,
at Pokanoket, near Mount Hope, on an arm
of the Mount Hope Bay.
He was not a warrior, but a runner; not
a great naval hero, as his picturesque name
might suggest, but a news agent, as it were;
he used his nimble feet and his ten canoes to
bear messages to the Indians of the villages
of Pokanoket and to the Narragansetts, and,
it may be, to other friendly tribes.
Pokanoket? You may have read Irving’s
sketch of Philip of Pokanoket, but we doubt
if you have in mind any clear idea of this
beautiful region, from whose clustering wigwams
the curling smoke once rose among
the giant oaks along the many waterways.
The former site of Pokanoket is now covered
by Bristol and Warren (Rhode Island) and
Swansea (Massachusetts). It is a place of
bays and rivers, which were once rich fishing-grounds;
of shores full of shells and shellfish;
of cool springs and wild-grape vines;
of bowery hills; and of meadows that were
once yellow with maize.
Tommy Ten-Canoes was a great man in his
day. As a news agent in peace he was held
in high honor, but as a scout in war and a
runner for the great chiefs he became a heroic
figure. There were great osprey’s nests all
about the shores of old Pokanoket on the
ancient decayed trees, and Tommy made a
crown of osprey feathers, and crowned himself,
with the approval of the great Indian
Once when swimming with this crown of
feathers on his head, he had been shot at by
an Englishman, who thought him some new
and remarkable bird. But while his crown
was shattered, it was not the crown of his
head. He was very careful of both his
crowns after that alarming event.
Tommy Ten-Canoes was a brave man.
He was ready to face any ordinary danger
for his old chief Massasoit, and for that
chief’s two sons, Wamsutta (Alexander) and
Pomebacen (Philip). He would cross the
Mount Hope or the Narragansett bay in
tempestuous weather. He used to convey
the beautiful Queen Weetamoc from Pocassett
to Mount Hope to attend Philip’s war-dances
under the summer moons, and when
the old Indian war began he offered his two
swift legs and all of his ten canoes to the
service of his chief.
“Nipanset”—for this was his Indian name—“Nipanset’s
bosom is his chief’s, and it
knows not fear. Nipanset fears not the
storm or the foe, or the gun of the pale-face.
Call, call, O ye chiefs; in the hour of danger
call for Nipanset. Nipanset fears not death.”
So Tommy Ten-Canoes boasted at the great
council under the moss-covered cliff at Mount
He was honest; but there was one thing
that Nipanset, or Tommy Ten-Canoes, did
fear. It was enchantment. He would have
faced torture or death without a word, but
everything mysterious filled him with terror.
If he had thought that a bush contained a
hidden enemy and flintlock, he would have
been very brave; but had he thought that
the same bush was stirred by a spirit, or was
enchanted, he would have run.
Tommy Ten-Canoes had been friendly to
the white people who had settled in Pokanoket.
There was a family by the name of
Brown, who lived on Cole’s River, that he
especially liked, and he became a companion
of one of the sons named James. The two
were so often together that the people used
to speak of those who were very intimate as
being “as thick as little James Brown and old
Tommy Ten-Canoes,” or rather as “Jemmie
Brown” and our young hero of the many
The two hunted and fished together; they
made long journeys together; in fact, they
did everything in common, except work.
Tommy did not work, at least in the field,
while James did at times, when he was not
When the Indian war began, King Philip
sent word to the Brown family, and also to
the Cole family, who lived near them, both
of whom had treated him justly and generously,
that he would do all in his power
to protect them, but that he might not be
able to restrain his braves.
Tommy Ten-Canoes brought a like friendly
message to Jemmie Brown.
“I will always be true to you,” he said;
“true as the north wind to the river, the
west wind to the sea, and the south wind to
the flowers. Nipanset’s heart is true to his
friends. Our hearts will see each other
The Indian torch swept the settlements.
One of the bravest scouts in these dark
scenes was Tommy Ten-Canoes. He flew
from place to place like the wind, carrying
news and spying out the enemy.
Tommy grew proud over his title of “Ten-Canoes.”
He felt like ten Tommies. He
wore his crown of osprey feathers like a royal
king. His ten canoes ferried the painted
Indians at night, and carried the chiefs
hither and thither.
There was a grizzly old Boston Captain,
who had done hard service on the sea,
named Moseley. He wore a wig, a thing
that the Indians had never seen, and of
whose use they knew nothing at all.
Tommy Ten-Canoes had never feared the
white man nor the latter’s death-dealing
weapons. He had never retreated; he had
always been found in front of the stealthy
bands as they pursued the forest trails. But
his courage was at last put to a test of which
he had never dreamed.
Old Captain Moseley had led a company
of trained soldiers against the Indians from
Boston. Tommy Ten-Canoes had discovered
the movement, and had prepared the Indians
to meet it. Captain Moseley’s company,
which consisted of one hundred men, had
first marched to a place called Myles Bridge
in Swansea. Here was a garrison house in
which lived Rev. John Myles. The church
was called Baptist, but people of all faiths
were welcome to it; among the latter,
Marinus Willett, who afterwards became the
first Mayor of New York. It was the first
church of the kind in Massachusetts, and it
still exists in Swansea.
Over the glimmering waterways walled
with dark oak woods came Tommy Ten-Canoes,
with five of his famous boats, and
landed at a place near the thrifty Baptist
colony, so that his little navy might be at
the ready service of Philip. It was the last
days of June. There had been an eclipse of
the moon on the night that Tommy Ten-Canoes
had glided up the Sowans River
towards Myles Bridge. He thought the
eclipse was meant for him and his little
boats, and he was a very proud and happy
“The moon went out in the clear sky when
we left the bay,” said he; “so shall our
enemies be extinguished. The moon shone
again on the calm river. For whom did the
moon shine again? For Nipanset.”
Poor Tommy Ten-Canoes! He was not the
first hero of modern times who has thought
that the moon and stars were made for him
and shone for him on special occasions.
In old Captain Moseley’s company was a
Jamaica pilot who had visited Pokanoket
and been presented to Tommy, and told that
the latter was a very renowned Indian.
“What are you?” asked the Pilot.
“I am Tommy One-Canoe.”
“I am Tommy Two-Canoes.”
“I am Tommy Three-Canoes.”
“Oh! Ah! Indeed!”
“I am Tommy Four-Canoes, and I am
Tommy Five-Canoes, and I am Tommy Six-Canoes,
and I am Tommy Ten-Canoes.”
“Well, Tommy Ten-Canoes,” said the
Pilot, “don’t you ever get into any trouble
with the white people, because you might
find yourself merely Tommy No-Canoes.”
Tommy was offended at this. He had
no fears of such a fall from power, however.
The old Jamaica pilot had taken a boat
and drifted down the Sowans River one long
June day, when he chanced to discover
Tommy and his five canoes. The canoes
were hauled up on the shore under the cool
trees which overshadowed the water. The
Pilot, who had with him three men, rowed
boldly to the shore and surprised Tommy
Ten-Canoes, who had gone into the wood,
leaving his weapons in one of his canoes.
The Pilot seized the canoe with the weapons
and drew it from the shore.
Tommy Ten-Canoes beheld the movement
with astonishment. He called to the old
Pilot, “I am Tommy Ten-Canoes!”
“No, no,” answered the Pilot. “You are
Presently the Pilot drew from the shore
another canoe. Tommy called again:
“Don’t you know me? I am—”
“Tommy Eight-Canoes,” said the Pilot.
Another boat was removed in like manner,
and the Pilot shouted, “And now you are
Tommy Seven-Canoes.” Another, and the
Pilot called again, “Now you are Tommy
Six-Canoes.” Another. “Good-bye, Tommy
Five-Canoes,” said the Pilot, and he and his
men drew all of the light canoes after them
up the river.
“GOOD-BYE, TOMMY FIVE-CANOES”
Xerxes at Salamis could hardly have felt
more crushed in heart than Tommy Ten-Canoes.
But hope revived; he was Tommy Five-Canoes
still. He was not quite so sure
now, however, that the moon on that still
June night had been eclipsed expressly for
The scene of the war now changed to the
western border, as the towns of Hadley and
Deerfield were called, for these towns in that
day were the “great west,” as afterwards was
the Ohio Reserve. Tommy having lost five of
his canoes, now used his swift feet as a messenger.
He still had hopes of doing great
deeds, else why had the moon been eclipsed
on that beautiful June night?
But an event followed the loss of his five
canoes that quite changed his opinion. As
a messenger or runner he had hurried to the
scene of the brutal conflicts on the border,
and had there discovered that Captain Moseley,
the old Jamaica pirate, was subject to
some spell of enchantment; that he had two
“Ugh! ugh! him no good!” said one of the
Indians to Tommy; “he take off his head
and put him in his pocket. It is no use to
fight him. Spell set on him—enchanted.”
Tommy Ten-Canoes’ fear of the man with
two heads, one of which he sometimes took
off and put in his pocket, spread among the
Indians. One day in a skirmish Tommy saw
Moseley take off one of his enchanted heads
and hang it on a blueberry bush. Other Indians
saw it. “No scalp him,” said they.
“Run!” And run they did, not from the
open foe, but from the supposed head on the
bush. Moseley did not dream at the time
that it was his wig that had given him the
Across the Mount Hope Bay, among the
sunny headlands of Pocassett, there was an
immense cedar swamp, cool and dark, and in
summer full of fire-flies. Tommy Ten-Canoes
called it the swamp of the fire-flies. It was
directly opposite Pokanoket, across the placid
water. A band of Indians gathered there,
and covered their bodies with bushes, so
that they might not be discovered on the
One moonlight night in September Tommy
went to visit these masked Indians in four of
his canoes. He rowed one of his canoes, and
three squaws the others. On reaching the
fire-fly cedar swamp the party met the
masked Indians, and late at night retired to
rest, the three Indian squaws sleeping on the
shore under their three canoes.
Captain Moseley had sent the old Jamaica
pilot to try to discover the hiding-place of
this mysterious band of Indians. The Pilot
had seen the four canoes crossing the bay
from Pokanoket under the low September
moon, and had hurried with a dozen men to
the place of landing. He surprised the party
early the next morning, when they were disarmed
The crack of his musket rang out in the
clear air over the bay. A naked Indian was
seen to leap up.
“Stop! I am Tommy Ten-Canoes.”
“No, Tommy Five-Canoes,” answered the
Pilot; “and now you are only Tommy Four-Canoes.”
Saying which, the Pilot seized the
A shriek followed; another, and another.
Three canoes hidden in the river-weeds were
overturned, and three Indian squaws were
seen running into the dark swamp.
“And now you are Tommy Three-Canoes,”
said the Pilot, seizing the seventh canoe.
“And now Tommy Two-Canoes,” seizing the
“And only Tommy One-Canoe,” taking
possession of the ninth canoe. “And now
you are Tommy No-Canoes, as I told you you
would be if you went to war,” said the Pilot,
taking according to this odd reckoning the
Indian’s last canoe.
But Tommy had one canoe left, notwithstanding
the dark Pilot had taken his tenth.
He was glad that it was not here. It would
have been his eleventh canoe, although he had
but ten. He knew that the Pilot was one of
Moseley’s men, the Captain who put his head
at times in his pocket or hung it upon a
bush. Poor Tommy Ten-Canoes! He uttered
a shriek, like the fugitive squaws, and
“Don’t shoot at him,” said the old Pilot to
his men. “I have taken from him all of his
ten canoes; let him go.”
Tommy had not a mathematical mind or
education, but he knew that somehow he
had no eleventh canoe, and that one of his
ten canoes yet remained. And even the old
Pilot must have at last seen that his count of
ten was only nine. Tommy fled to a point
on the Titicut River at which he could swim
across, and then made his solitary way back
to the shores of Pokanoket and to his remaining
canoe, which did not belong to mathematics.
One morning late in September Tommy
Ten-Canoes turned his solitary canoe towards
Cole’s River, near which lived his boy friend,
James Brown. He paddled slowly, and late
in the dreamy afternoon reached the shore
opposite the Brown farm. He landed and
tied his one canoe to Jemmie Brown’s boat,
in which the two had spent many happy
hours before the war.
The canoe was found there the next day;
but Tommy Ten-Canoes? He was never seen
again; he probably sought a grave in the
waters of the bay.
But he had fulfilled his promise. He had
been true in his heart as “the north wind to
the river, the west wind to the sea, and the
south wind to the flowers.”