Who were Nantucket’s “last Indians?”

Abram Quary.
Abram Quary (GPN4336)

For many years Abram Quary (Abraham Skootequary) was considered to be Nantucket’s “last Indian,” even though a woman, Dorcas Honorable, survived him by seven weeks. When Abram Quary died on November 25, 1854, he was said to have been 82 years old. When Dorcas Honorable died on January 12, 1855, she was said to have been 79 years old. This means that both of them were born after the lethal “Indian Sickness” of 1763–64, and they were small children during the time of the American Revolution.

After the Revolution, in the 1790s, other individuals had been identified as last Indians, namely Dorcas’s mother Sarah Tashama Esop, Isaac Tashama, Peter Micah, Joshua Chegin, and Abigail Jethro. A quarter of a century later, historian Obed Macy asserted that Nantucket’s Indians had come to an end with the death of Abigail Jethro in 1822. Yet Dorcas Honorable and Abram Quary lived on into the mid 1850s, by which time photography had come to Nantucket and both were photographed.

Dorcas Honorable.
Dorcas Honorable (GPN4321)

During their lives, both were described as being of mixed heritage. Obed Macy wrote of Abram Quary, “He did not rank among the Indians, he being half white.” Abram’s mother was Sarah Quary, daughter of Wampanoag Joseph Quary. The name Quary is an abbreviation of Skootequary and was often written as “Quady.” The Skootequary family is documented on Nantucket from the early 1700s, and some family members died during the Indian Sickness, but Sarah lived on into the 1770s to give birth to Abram. A fictionalized version of the family story by Joseph Hart makes Abram’s mother a “half-breed” woman named Judith Quary and Abram’s father a murderous Wampanoag by the name of Nathan Quibby, but Quibby had gone to his death on the gallows years before Abram’s birth.

Dorcas’s mother, Sarah Tashama, was the daughter of Wampanoag schoolmaster Benjamin Tashama. Sarah married Wampanoag Isaac Esop in 1772, a little less than a decade after both Sarah and Isaac survived the Indian Sickness. Dorcas was born around 1775. In Hart’s novel, Sarah is seduced by a white man by the name of Imbert and gives birth to Dorcas out of wedlock. The novel was published in 1834, and Nantucketers from the start confused the novel with genuine history. For two decades after its publication Abram and Dorcas lived in the shadow of Hart’s novel, their parentage in question.

Both Abram and Dorcas married but left no descendants. In 1793, around the age of 21, Abram married Abigail Dingle. He was widowed in 1806, and four years later he married Fanny Hall. From one of these unions he had a son whose death he grieved. There is no record of his second wife’s death. After an early career whaling, Abram lived alone, supporting himself by selling his baskets and by catering clambakes for townspeople. In his last years he was taken into Nantucket’s Asylum for the indigent, located on Orange Street, where it had been moved from Quaise earlier in the year of his death. His death record simply states that he was buried on Nantucket without indicating a location.

Dorcas married repeatedly and yet remained childless. For many years she worked as a domestic, and at the end of her life, she too was taken into the care of the Asylum. At her death her funeral was at the Baptist Church (probably the Pleasant Street Baptist Church), and she was likely laid to rest in the Historic Coloured Cemetery without a headstone.

Significant to Abram Quary’s belated designation as Nantucket’s last Indian was his portrait painted by German artist Hermine Dassel that hangs in the Nantucket Atheneum. The portrait emphasizes Quary’s solitude in late life and his traditional basketmaking. Dorcas, by contrast, kept out of the public eye, worked as a domestic, and was a member of the Baptist Church.

Abram Quary and Dorcas Honorable were probably the last individuals to retain something of the language and the culture of the Nantucket Wampanoags, but even they were not the island’s “Last Indians.” In 1822, the year of Abigail Jethro’s passing, Essex Boston, uncle of Black whaling captain Absalom Boston, certified that “there are among the coloured people of this place remains of the Nantucket Indians, and that nearly every family in our village are partly descended from the original inhabitants of this and neighboring places.” At the same time she did the impressive portrait of Abram Quary, Hermine Dassel also did a portrait of a young girl. The title of the portrait is “Nantucket Indian Princess,” and the model was eleven-year-old Isabella Draper, descendant of a member of the Mingo family. Isabella grew up and married but died childless. Nonetheless, there is probably no real end to Nantucket’s last Indians.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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