High Points in New England

The New England Historical Society (NEHS) has provided a somewhat light-hearted survey of the highest points in each of the New England states.

The entry for Massachusetts, however, contains at least a couple of errors.

One has to do with Herman Melville:

The snow-covered mountain reminded Herman Melville of a great white sperm whale, which he named Moby Dick in his masterpiece.

The story of Moby Dick was based on an actual event known to Melville (as well as his own whaling experience). It is true that he could see Mount Greylock from his home in Pittsfield, where he wrote the book, and it may have even looked to him like a whale, but the mountain did not inspire the story.

Also, their timeline seems to me to be not quite right:

The mountain may have been named after an Indian chief, Gray Lock, who raided English settlements in Vermont and western Massachusetts during the last French and Indian war. Or it may have been named for the gray clouds that hover at its summit.

The mountain was almost certainly named after Gray Lock (or Grey Lock, or other spellings), which was the English nickname for a chieftain (war sachem)* who eluded capture for many years, and was suspected of hiding out on the mountain. Some say he is still there, waiting for the day when he can retake the land stolen from his people by the European colonists.

* Wawanolewat [Graylock, one who habitually loses the others, fools them]

Wawanolewat was the Abenaki name of the Missisquoi chief known as Chief Greylock in English. “Wawanolewat” does not actually mean “Greylock” in Abenaki– that may have been his father’s name, or it may have been a nickname of his. The actual meaning of “Wawanolewat” is “fools the enemy.”


Caveat: I have no formal training in history, so I am reporting here my own impressions from what I’ve read here and there. My understanding is the Greylock was active beginning in the time of King Philip’s War (1675-6) and continued his resistance long after that war ended. There was also a conflict called (along with other names) Grey Lock’s War (1724-6). The French and Indian War referred to in the quotation above took place in 1756-63, at which time Greylock would have had to have been over 100 years old. (Which would not be a problem if he is still alive!)

The Abenaki Indians were concerned with their own interests rather then those of the French. They were not mere pawns of the French, but allied themselves with the French because they viewed them as the lesser of two evils. They wanted to protect their way of life and prevent the English from encroaching on to their land.

There is a fairly detailed biography of Gray Lock to be found here:

GRAY LOCK (La Tête Blanche, The Whitehead, Wawenorrawot, Wewonorawed, Wawanolewat), an Indian chief at Missisquoi (near Swanton, Vt.); apparently fl. 1675-1740.


In any case, the list by the NEHS is a useful catalog; I’ve been to 4 of the 6, and have no plans to visit the other 2. I won’t go to Maine because (among other things) it is the site of the recent tragic death of my good friend Don MacGillis. And Rhode Island just doesn’t seem worth the trouble!

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