As mentioned in January’s newsletter, our ancestor James Rumney Marsh Quanapohkit Wiser was born in 1636 (probably in Rumney Marsh, now known as Chelsea, MA) and died in 1712 in Natick, MA. James was the first of his family to use the surname Wiser. To date, we still do not know why he took this as a last name, but we believe that Quanapohkit may have meant “Wiseman or Wiser” in his native language.
After a little more research, it seems unlikely that Quanapohkit means “Wiseman or Wiser”. I would guess based upon the following examples that Quanapohkit probably meant “long pond.”
The Wakefield Public Library offered these alternative spellings of our ancestor’s name Quanapohkit; Quannophitt, Quonopohit, Quanaphkownatt, Quenepenett, Quanapaug, and Conophit.
We do have the meaning of many Algonquin words (native language of the Massachuset people).
The prefix “Cano, Quana, Quinna, Quan, Quine, and other variations” must mean “long” based upon the following examples:
Canopaug-a long pond, brook and swamp and village in North Scituate, on the east side, sometimes spelled in deeds Quonopaug. The brook rises from the swamp and runs westerly to the Moshwansicut river.
Quanduck-long stream or river.
Quinebaug- “long watery open place” or more succinctly, “long pond”.
Quinnatisset-“long small place or little long river”
We must note that one of the alternative names for Quanapohkit is Quanapaug, and it’s meaning is noted above in three places. It would therefore seem likely that our ancestor’s name Quanapohkit probably meant in the native language, “long pond”.
However, there is some confusion on this, as there is a reference to “two descendants of Nanapashemet-Quanapaug and Quanapohit, living on Deer Island who had become Christians taking the names of James and Thomas. They became spies for the English during King Philip’s war for a promise of payment of 5 pounds each. King Philip has put a price on their heads but they managed to escape his wrath.”
Therefore, it is possible that Quanapohkit and Quanapaug were two different people. However, it seems more likely both were referred to as Quanapohkit or Quanapaug, this being a family name in addition to their surname “Rumneymarsh or RumneyMarsh”.
My cousin, Robert Raymond, also has a theory about how the Wiser surname evolved that I would like to share with you:
Just in the last couple of months I've started to entertain a different possible origin for the surname Wiser. I've thought it would be interesting to find out the time frame in which he started using the surname Wiser.
It would not surprise me if it occurred after being hated and rejected by fellow native Americans for spying for the British, after his incarceration on Deer Island for being native American, after his forced resettlement in Natick, after the return of his uncle, Sagamore George who had his eyes gouged out by the British and was then sold into slavery in the Caribbean—and then to return to live out his final, blind days in James' house--James, who shared his Christian surname, Rumneymarsh.
(I'm writing from memory here, so if any if this doesn't sound factual, it probably is because I've got my facts mixed up.)
I've started to entertain the possibility that James came out of King Phillips' War a disillusioned man, questioning his early decision of allegiance to the British. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could no longer carry the surname attached to his pain. Maybe he would have preferred never using an English surname again. But assimilation by the whites probably had a way of requiring an English surname. What new name to assume, then? Perhaps he chose a surname that reflected his feelings about his life's decisions, his sufferings and his betrayals.
Just a theory--one that might easily be disproved by a timeline showing what names he used at what times...Robert Raymond
Unfortunately, we probably never will find the actual answer for how our “Wiser” name originated as our surname? But for those of us with the surname “Wiser”, or with “Wiser” ancestry, we can be very proud of the legacy left by these men and women we now know as our ancestors.
Over the years as I have corresponded with all branches of the “Wiser” family, in almost every case, relatives have shared the Native American tradition with me. They have also shared the hesitancy of older family members to discuss family history because of the stigmatism and prejudice attached to being Indian in earlier days. I’m grateful we now live in a day when the majority are appreciated and recognized for who they are and what their contributions have been in making this a better country.
Once again, thanks for any suggestions in regards to our family newsletter. Please contact me at or at 6 Baton Rouge, Roswell, NM 88201, or at (505) 623-2534.