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WISER NEWSLETTER

Volume 9 Issue 1                                                                                      January 2004

RESEARCH FINDINGS

As mentioned in the December 2003 Wiser 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.

Wakefield, MA, a bedroom community of Boston, has honored our ancestor in two major ways.

First, Wakefield, MA lies on the southern banks of Lake Quannapowitt. This beautiful lake was renamed in honor of our ancestor in 1847, and was formerly known as the “Great Pond” or “Reading Pond.”  It was named Quannapowitt in honor of he being one of the signers of the 1686 Indian deed. Find more information about Wakefield at the following website: www.wakefieldma.org/.

Some Wakefield residents tell of the “Indian Wall” across the center of Lake Quannapowitt.  Hundreds of years ago, the Native Americans must have used it as a shortcut to walk across the lake.  The following picture of Lake Quannapowitt is taken from a postcard sent in 1909.  The lake was also a major producer of ice that was shipped to Boston and then shipped throughout the world during the 1800s.  The ice industry at the lake continued until 1929 when the last ice warehouse was destroyed by fire.

 

 

 

I recently wrote to the Wakefield Public Library asking if they had any additional information about traditions of our ancestor.  The following was my question and their response:

Q. Question for Reference Department at the Wakefield Public Library (Lucius Beebe Memorial Library)-Lake Quannapowitt was named after my ancestor James Rumney Marsh Quannapowitt Wiser, an Indian spy for the British during King Philip's War.  Since Wakefield's town seal has the name Quannapowitt inscribed on it, I was wondering if anyone has ever found what Quannapowitt means in the native Algonquin language? Thank you-Ron Wiser

A. Answer from Reference Department at the Wakefield Public Library-Mr. Wiser - We have wondered the same thing, but unfortunately there is no documentary evidence that we've ever seen which says what his name meant. As you point out he was known as James Rumney Marsh, James Wiser, and James Quannapowitt. The latter is the modernized spelling, adopted when the lake was named in his honor in 1847. It's also spelled Quannophitt, Quonopohit, Quanaphkownatt, Quenepenett, Quanapaug, and Conophit. It is not known why he took the name Wiser.

There are numerous references to the lake's name in dictionaries of Indian place names in New England, but no one seems to have ever tracked down the original meaning -Wakefield Reference Dept.

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Second, the town seal of Wakefield, as seen below, also honors our ancestor (see scroll). The dates at the top of the seal are represented by the following historic events: Wakefield was first settled in 1638 by a small group of settlers from Lynn, MA and in 1644 incorporated as the town of Redding. The town later incorporated as South Reading in 1812 and the town name was finally changed to Wakefield in 1868. 

 

 

The lake and town seal are legacies to our ancestor’s important contribution to the early history of Massachusetts.

POSTSCRIPT

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.