The Silver Pipe of Wampanoag Legend

Massasoit and governor John Carver smoking a peace pipe (Sutro Library, San Francisco, USA)

The Wampanoag People of Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts were native Americans primarily active in the 17th century and before, though members survive today in two tribes. They numbered about 3,000 people when Europeans arrived, and their population was decimated by what was probably smallpox. They signed the first peace treaty with colonists in 1621, just a year after the arrival of the Mayflower and the pilgrims.

Some stories from the Wampanoag survive, including the legend of the Silver Pipe, which is of particular interest to pipesmokers. We all know how important pipes were to native American cultures, and the survival of a pipe story in the oral tradition is not surprising.

The leader of the Wampanoag people was Massasoit, who had a reputation for fair and reasonable decisions. King James of England sent Massasoit a pipe made of pure silver as a gift of appreciation for his wise leadership. King James is famous for authoring A Counterblaste to Tobacco, an anti-smoking pamphlet, in 1604, so it may have been difficult for him to decide on that gift, but it was cherished by Massasoit.

Years later, a warrior commended himself in battle with displays of courage and leadership, and Massasoit presented him with his silver pipe as a reward. The warrior of course loved the pipe above all his other possessions. When he aged and grew ill, and knew he was about to die, he asked his wife to bury the pipe with him. The wife swore to do so, but she secretly envied her husband and wanted the pipe for herself. When he died, she hid the pipe for her own use, pretending that she had buried it with him.

King James of England sent Massasoit a pipe made of pure silver as a gift of appreciation for his wise leadership.

When she went to her hiding place to smoke the pipe, she looked into the hole where it was secreted and saw it, and reached in. But the pipe moved away from her grasp. No matter how she tried to clutch at it, it danced out of the way and she was unable to pick up the pipe.

The wife realized the awful mistake she had made and swore to bury the pipe with her husband as she had originally promised, if only she could ever grab hold of it again.

As soon as she uttered her intent to bury the pipe, she found it in her hand and was able to return it to her husband's burial place, never to be troubled by her conscience again.

The story shows the importance of keeping promises, but the main message I take away is, don't mess with a pipesmoker's pipes. I don't know how many of us request that a pipe accompany us to the afterlife, but it's clear that those wishes should be kept.

I just hope it doesn't become a trend. I like estate pipes. They are already broken in, and they are a terrific value, so I'd prefer that we not all start taking our pipe collections with us. I know some guys I would dig up to get at their collections, so it's not particularly safe. We would have to return to the days of cemeteries staffed with guards to prevent body snatching, only now they would avert pipe theft. Just think of the rampage of hauntings that would result.

The Wampanoag had it right: Don't ever disappoint a pipesmoker.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Famous Pipe Smokers History Pipe Culture


    • Mark Fresa on July 14, 2019
    • Would the Massassoit pipe be in a museum somewhere?

    • Shawn on July 14, 2019
    • Wampanoag folklore is fascinating. If you ever make your way to Martha’s Vineyard, I highly recommend a visit to their cultural center in Aquinnah (one of the most beautiful places on the planet).

    • Gus Kund on July 14, 2019
    • OMG ! Think of the germs on that pipe !

    • Bill on July 14, 2019
    • ‘used to buy ‘kinnikinnik’ from:
      Tall Red Oak
      Lamination Moutain
      Meridian, Ct
      ps. kinnikinnik was dried leaves (variety) Natives used to smoke (not tobacco-oak, birch, maple, etc).

    • Dan H. on July 18, 2019
    • My initial thought when the warrior's wife decided to keep the pipe for herself was, "Good for her!" I hate it when the moral of the story is the opposite of all my instincts. Ha!

    • Terese Gundstrom on December 29, 2021
    • This is so fascinating to me and uplifting. Massasoit is my 11th Generation Direct Grandfather.

Join the conversation:

This will not be shared with anyone

challenge image
Enter the circled word below: