Swindler Sachem The American Indian Who Sold His Birthright, Dropped Out of Harvard, and Conned the King of England Jenny Hale Pulsipher

Publication date:
14 Aug 2018
Yale University Press
384 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
16 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

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Indians, too, could play the land game for both personal and political benefit

According to his kin, John Wompas was “no sachem,” although he claimed that status to achieve his economic and political ends. He drew on the legal and political practices of both Indians and the English—even visiting and securing the support of King Charles II—to legitimize the land sales that funded his extravagant spending. But he also used the knowledge acquired in his English education to defend the land and rights of his fellow Nipmucs.

Jenny Hale Pulsipher’s biography offers a window on seventeenth-century New England and the Atlantic world from the unusual perspective of an American Indian who, even though he may not have been what he claimed, was certainly out of the ordinary. Drawing on documentary and anthropological sources as well as consultations with Native people, Pulsipher shows how Wompas turned the opportunities and hardships of economic, cultural, religious, and political forces in the emerging English empire to the benefit of himself and his kin.

Jenny Hale Pulsipher is associate professor of history at Brigham Young University and author of Subjects unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England.

“Swindler Sachem is a major contribution to the recent efflorescence of scholarship on Native experience in seventeenth-century New England, and it merits the attention of anyone interested in settler/Indigenous relations in colonial North America” —Natalie Zacek, Western Historical Quarterly

“This fascinating book tracks the life and times of John Wompas, a Nipmuc man who lived through early colonization in New England” —Katherine Grandjean, The Journal of American History

Winner of the 2019 Norris and Carol Hundley Prize, sponsored by the American Historical Association- Pacific Coast Branch (PCB-AHA)

“Pieced together from scraps of evidence from dozens of archives, Jenny Pulsipher’s startling story of John Wompas is a tour de force of historical imagination and reconstruction.”—Richard Lyman Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus, Columbia University  

"In an act of archival wizardry, Jenny Hale Pulsipher has recreated the life of John Wompas, a trans-Atlantic traveler and one-time Harvard student whose personal experiences reveal how one remarkable Nipmuc took control of his life in the midst of never-ending challenges. Swindler Sachem expands our understanding of indigenous New England in unexpected ways."—Peter C. Mancall, author of Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson—A Tale of Mutiny and Murder in the Arctic  

"No one knows the archives of New England colonialism better than Jenny Pulsipher. Only she could recover the story of John Wompas, who got the last laugh on his many foes."—Daniel K. Richter, University of Pennsylvania