The Wampanoag are a Native American people translated as The People of the First Light. They were comprised of an alliance of several tribes in the 17th century. Today Wampanoag people encompass five officially recognized tribes. They are; The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head in Massachusetts (both federally recognized), the Herring Pond, Assawompsett-Nemasket Band of Wampanoags, and Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe (Pokonoket) are recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They lived primarily in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the beginning of the 17th century. When they came in contact with the English colonists (Pilgrims of Thanksgiving lore), their territory also included the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Their population was large with records indicating 3,000 living on Martha's Vineyard alone.

The tribe largely disappeared from historical records after the late 18th century, although its people and descendants have persisted. Survivors continued to live in their traditional areas and maintained many aspects of their culture, while absorbing other peoples by marriage and adapting to changing economic and cultural needs in the larger society. Records indicate that the most recent speakers of their Massachusett language died more than 100 years ago.

Their population decline was early, sudden and severe.  After contact with the English, from 1615 to 1619, the Wampanoag suffered an epidemic, long suspected to be smallpox. Modern research has suggested that another large factor realtes to leptospirosis, a bacterial infection which can develop into Weil's syndrome (failing kidney's). Both ailment's caused a high fatality rate and decimated the Wampanoag population during this period. Researchers suggest that the losses from the epidemic were so large that colonists were able to establish their settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony more easily. More than 50 years later, during King Philip's War (1675–1676) of the Narragansett and their allies against the colonists and their Native American allies resulted in the death of 40 percent of the surviving tribe. Many male Wampanoag were sold into slavery in Bermuda or the West Indies, and some women and children were enslaved by colonists in New England.