The Wampanoag //, also called Massasoit and also rendered Wôpanâak, are a Native American people in North America. They were a loose confederacy made up of several tribes.
In the beginning of the 17th century, at the time of first contact with the English, the Wampanoag lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, a territory that encompassed present-day Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket islands. Their population numbered in the thousands due to the richness of the environment and their cultivation of corn, beans and squash. Three thousand Wampanoag lived on Martha's Vineyard alone.
Traditionally Wampanoag people have been semi-sedentary, with seasonal movements between fixed sites in present-day southern New England. The men often traveled far north and south along the Eastern seaboard for seasonal fishing expeditions, and sometimes stayed in those distant locations for weeks and months at a time. The women cultivated varieties of the "three sisters" (the intercropping of maize, climbing beans, and squash) as the staples of their diet, supplemented by fish and game caught by the men. Each community had authority over a well-defined territory from which the people derived their livelihood through a seasonal round of fishing, planting, harvesting, and hunting. Because southern New England was thickly populated by indigenous peoples, hunting grounds had strictly defined boundaries.
The Wampanoag, like many indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands, have a matrilineal system, in which women controlled property (in this case, the home and its belongings, as well as some rights to plots within communal land), and hereditary status was passed through the maternal line. They were also matrifocal: when a young couple married, they lived with the woman's family. Women elders could approve selection of chiefs or sachems. Men acted in most of the political roles for relations with other bands and tribes, as well as warfare. Women with claims to specific plots of land used for farming or hunting passed those claims to their female descendants, regardless of their marital status.
The work of making a living was organized on a family level. Families gathered together in spring to fish, in early winter to hunt, and in the summer they separated to cultivate individual planting fields. Boys were schooled in the way of the woods, where a man's skill at hunting and ability to survive under all conditions were vital to his family's well-being. Women were trained from their earliest years to work diligently in the fields and around the family wetu, a round or oval house that was designed to be easily dismantled and moved in just a few hours. They also learned to gather and process natural fruits and nuts, other produce from the habitat, and their crops.
The production of food among the Wampanoag was similar to that of many Native American societies. Food habits were divided along gendered lines. Men and women had specific tasks. Native women played an active role in many of the stages of food production. Since the Wampanoag relied primarily on goods garnered from this kind of work, women had important socio-political, economic, and spiritual roles in their communities. Wampanoag men were mainly responsible for hunting and fishing, while women took care of farming and the gathering of wild fruits, nuts, berries, shellfish, etc. Women were responsible for up to seventy-five percent of all food production in Wampanoag societies.Pre-marital sexual experimentation was accepted, although once couples opted to marry, the Wampanoag expected fidelity within unions. Roger Williams (1603–1683), stated that "single fornication they count no sin, but after Marriage, (which they solemnize by consent of Parents and publique approbation...) then they count it heinous for either of them to be false." In addition, polygamy was practiced among the Wampanoag, although monogamy was the norm. Although status was constituted within a matrilineal, matrifocal society, some elite men could take several wives for political or social reasons. Multiple wives were also a path to and symbol of wealth because women were the producers and distributors of corn and other food products. As within most Native American societies, marriage and conjugal unions were not as important as ties of clan and kinship. Marriages could be and were dissolved relatively easily, but family and clan relations were of extreme and lasting importance, constituting the ties that bound individuals to one another and their tribal territories as a whole.
From 1615 to 1619 the Wampanoag suffered an epidemic, long suspected to be smallpox. Early twenty-first century research has suggested that it was leptospirosis, a bacterial infection also known as Weil's syndrome or 7-day fever. It caused a high fatality rate and nearly destroyed the society. Researchers say that the losses from the epidemic were so large that English colonists were more easily able to found their settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in later years. More than 50 years later, the King Philip's War (1675–1676) of Indian allies against the English colonists resulted in the deaths of 40 percent of the surviving tribe. Most of the male Wampanoag were sold into slavery in Bermuda or the West Indies. Many women and children were enslaved by colonists in New England.
Many Wampanoag people today are enrolled in two federally recognized tribes, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, or four state-recognized tribes in Massachusetts.
Here's a great resource for Native American research: Native Heritage Project.