To the Mascoma Bank
67 North Park Street
Lebanon, New Hampshire:
Our reason for writing is that we have recently, after much research, come into possession of information on the origin of the name “Mascoma” which is so familiar to everyone in the region; and since your organization bears this ancient name, we wish to share this information with you.
In the more than two hundred year history of this area, many things have borne the name Mascoma: two rivers, a lake, a village, a ship, streets, a bank, businesses, fraternal organizations, a camp, clubs, and now a new school and a newspaper; but where did this name originate? It was obviously Indian, and many attempts have been made to translate it and to find a meaning, since no record could be found, left by those who had first used it for the river flowing into the Connecticut.
The Rev. Charles E. Downs, in his History of Lebanon, says the King’s surveyors, around the year 1760, were the first of the white race to identify the river with the name which it still bears. He writes that there was a faint tradition that it took its name from an Indian chief, but he prefers to try to translate the name into some description such as “beer-water” or “fish river”, since in that early time the stream abounded in fish.
We are told however, that none of the translations is satisfactory, or even correct for the spoken tongue of the Indian inhabitants of the region. So a mystery has persisted for many years, unanswered until now, when probably the foremost living expert on the Indians who once lived in the area, Prof. Gordon M. Day, Research Associate, Department of Anthropology of Dartmouth College, sends us the long-sought answer, and by doing so confirms a rejected legend known to The Rev. Mr. Downs.
Prof. Day tells us that it was the common custom to name a hunting territory for its Indian owner and that Mascoma is a proper name and not a description of something. Furthermore, he gives us documentary evidence of the existence of such an Indian who signed the confirmation to three deeds to land farther down the Connecticut Valley. This Indian name was spelled with only one variation “Masscommah” and Mascommah.” So, allowing for our habit of dropping letters from early names, the evidence is now almost irrefutable that the rivers and the lands drained by them which still bear his name were once the hunting territory of the Indian Mascommah. This fact was probably well known to the first inquirers about the region.
Mascommah was a Squakheag Indian whose last historic village was located at what is now Northfield, Massachusetts, although the tribe’s lands stretched far up the Connecticut River. The Indians had abandoned living in the upper Connecticut Valley perhaps sixty years or more before the first white settlers arrived but is still ancestral territory to them. Mascommah apparently ended his days in the mixed refugee village at Schaghticoke on the Hudson River.
So it is not too surprising that, known to surveyors, Indians and early settlers, the river was called Mascommah’s or that the name has survived, although after a few generations the reasons for its having been was forgotten because it was unrecorded.
The only known attempted representation of the Indian Mascommah is found in the 1848 official seal of Mascoma Lodge #20, I.O.O.F., of Lebanon, N. H., where he is depicted with bow in hand looking across the river valley. This might be a further confirmation of the name, as many of the charter members of the Lodge could have been told the truth about who Mascommah really was. The original seal still exists, being one of the very few items almost miraculously recovered from the ruins of the 1964 disastrous Lebanon fire which destroyed all the remainder of the Lodge property.
With sincere good wishes for a continuing interest in regional history, we are
THE LEBANON HISTORICAL SOCIETY
/S/ Robert H. Leavitt
RHL/mwr Robert H. Leavitt, Curator