Right here in the heart of the city lies a trace of an ancient trailway used by the Indigenous Peoples who inhabited this region for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. This stop is located on a ridge of land looking east over the floodplain of a tidal marsh--today's downtown Providence. Much of downtown was an estuary, flooded at high tide except for a finger of land that pointed toward the east side about where the College Street bridge is today.
The Pequot Trail, leading from the tribal lands of the Pequots and Niantics in today's Connecticut, then through Narragansett lands, followed the high ground here into the marsh to that easterly pointing finger where you could wade across the river at low tide to reach the Wampanoag lands on the other side. The trail continued north to the lands of the Massachusetts, Nipmucs, and other tribes.
Weybosset (the street you're on) is a Narragansett word meaning the crossing or half-way point.
Narragansett villages, large and small, could be found every few miles along these trails and highways throughout Rhode Island. A complex network of Native communities existed across southern New England, estimated as high as 100,000 people when Europeans arrived.
This native society and its culture were disrupted by devastating conquest after the explorations of this region by Europeans in the late 16th Century. Just imagine the shock and confusion of the survivors of the "Great Dying" years of 1617-1619 when some coastal communities suffered mortality rates as high as 90%, the Wampanoag being particularly affected. Over the next fifty years, scholars estimate more than 30,000 English people arrived on the New England coast, establishing settlements, first trading and living peaceably with these First Peoples, and then as English encroachments increased, coming into greater conflict, culminating in the brutal and bloody King Philip's War of 1675-76.
Today, we still remember some of those First Peoples who lived on these lands. Massasoit and Metacomet, father and son and leaders of the Wampanoag people in peace and war. Narragansett leaders Canonicus and Miantonomi who sustained the English colonists but were ultimately betrayed by them. In 1638, Canonicus and Miantonomi made an agreement with Roger Williams over this land whose meaning is still debated today.
Despite conquest, disease, forced assimilation, and the impacts of industrialization and urbanization, the First Peoples of Southern New England have survived and continue to practice and preserve their history and tradition. Today, the Narragansett Indian Tribal Nation is one of many tribal nations that preserve their history, continue their culture, and pass down their traditions. For more information about that history, spend time exploring the First Peoples of Rhode Island Rhode Tour.