"Swampscott" - word's meaning

What is the meaning of "Swampscott" as spoken by native Indians?

Experience Swampscott's sea shore through their senses, as you explore the word's various meanings.

  • natives by sea, Massachusetts
  • red rock
  • beautiful water place

"At the red rock"

Walter Thompson

"Swampscott", according to Walter Thompson,

"It is composed of two Indian words, a substantive, Ompsk, and an appellative, Musqui, meaning respectively (a standing) rock and red; with the local affix ut. Musqui-ompsk-ut means literally "at the red rock". This by contraction became M'squompskut, and then, the English dropping the initial m, Squampskut, Swampscot, Swampscott."

The adjacent picture is of Red Rock.

"Broken waters"

Porter Sargent

"Swampscott" also relates to the sea. Porter Sargent writes that

"The original derivation of Swampscott, "Wonnesquamsauke," is said to mean "broken waters," referring perhaps to the "stern and rock-bound coast" against which the surf breaks."

This meaning is illustrated by an image of the water breaking on today's sea wall.

"The pleasant water-place", "beautiful water-place"

Elijah Haines, R.A. Douglas-Lithgow

The same alleged origin has a different, more positive, meaning, writes Elijah Haines:

"Swampscott, contracted from wonnesquamsauke, (Alg.), "the pleasant water-place.""

Similarly, R.A. Douglas-Lithgow translates "Swampscott" to mean "beautiful water-place."

The child here contemplating a beach in Swampscott seems to agree.

These ambiguities are confirmed by the US Geological Survey,

"Various derivations are given this word - from the Indian word, wonnesquamsauke, "pleasant water place;" from m'iqm-ompsk, "red rock," or "at the red rock;" or from another Indian word meaning "broken waters.""

Though "Swampscott" may have meant a definite idea, these meanings do all appear along its shore: "red rock", "broken waters", and "pleasant water place." For proof, let us contemplate this spot near Lynn's Red Rock Park.


Douglas-Lithgow, Robert Alexander, 1909, Dictionary of American-Indian place and proper names in New England
Haines, Elijah Middlebrook, 1888, The American Indian
Sargent, Porter E., 1917, A Handbook of New England
Thompson, Waldo, 1885, Swampscott: historical sketches of the town
US Geological Survey, Bulletin: Issue 257