The Indians of Connecticut

As Indian legends tell it, and as anthropologists theorize, a great Indian migration from the west began in the l5th century. There appears to be conflicting information concerning the origination of the tribes of Connecticut due to the lack of good records on the subject.

The Indians who settled in Connecticut had migrated in series bringing four distinct groups of Algonkians. The Delaware Indians pushed back and/or mingled with the Algonkians, who were already living in this area. Over a period of time, people from earlier migrations formed affiliations with each other. This led to further localization of smaller tribes scattered throughout this area. The Pequots were the last migrating indians settling in Connecticut in 1600. Each Indian group can be identified and placed in the proper location on a map of Connecticut. But it is important to realize that because of friendly and unfriendly relations between various groups of Indians it is impossible to define exact boundaries of each tribe.

The northeast section of Connecticut and part of Massachusetts was occupied by the Nipmuck tribe. The southeastern section of Connecticut was occupied by the Mohegan and Pequot tribes. Often these two groups were thought of as one group, probably because Uncas, son-in-law of a Pequot tribe chief, led a band of renegades and formed the tribe known as the Mohegans.

When discussing the Indians of the valley region, confusion arises. Some experts group them with the Wappinger Confederacy, and others refer to them as a separate and distinct group. The Dutch called them the Sequin, or River Indians. For the purpose of this unit, we will distinguish them as a separate group.

The western part of the state was occupied by two groups, the Mahican, who occupied a small section of the northwest and much of New York, and the Mattabesec-Wappinger Confederacy. The latter was a loosely knit affiliation of smaller, more localized tribes, which had settled along several rivers in that section of the state.

One more event which occurred before the arrival of settlers tipped the balance of Indian influence over territories. The Pequot Conquest extended the fierce influence of the Pequot tribe over more than half of the state. Figure 6 should be of great help in illustrating this situation.

The Indians of Connecticut were a resourceful people who made extensive use of the land’s riches. They were hunter-gatherers, and they were farmers. They were capable of cultivating maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, artichokes, and tobacco. When it was time, everyone in the tribe worked at turning up the soil in the fields. Their tools were simple: sticks, clamshells, and the shells of horseshoe crabs. When the planting was finished, the women would have the responsibility of caring for the crops, excepting tobacco which was cultivated by the men. It was customary to fertilize the land with fish, and periodically to leave the fields unplanted. In some cases, hawks were used as guards of the fields to protect the crops from other birds.

The Indians used various nuts and berries for food. There was a variety of nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, and acorns. In some cases they were boiled and eaten, and in other cases they were ground up and used in breads. Wild strawberries, gooseberries, and huckleberries were also part of their diet. These were eaten raw or mixed in meal.

Those tribes which lived near a river or on the Sound fished in the summer months, and hunted for deer and moose in the fall and winter. Those tribes which did not have fishing sites subsisted on land animals throughout the year. Weapons and snares were used to catch animals. The bow that the Indian used was made of hickory, and their arrows were fashioned from reeds and tree branches with sharp stone points at the end. Snares were constructed from hemp rope and small, bendable trees.

The Indian diet was a varied one; they ate deer, moose, raccoon, rabbit, squirrel, otter, and beaver. With their spears and nets, many of them feasted on fluke, lobster, bluefish, salmon, bass, and cod. Turkey, duck, pheasant, owls, and crows were also a part of the Indian’s diet. Occasionally, seals were hunted for food and skins. The preparation of these foods was as varied as the kinds of food. Some of it was boiled, roasted, or dried in the sun; and some of it was smoked and preserved.

In the summer, the most common type of dress was the simple breech-cloth. This was made from squares of skin that was attached around the waist by a snakeskin. Occasionally, they wore leggings or a mantle about the shoulders. The type of winter dress was generally made of skins that were fashioned into leggings, moccasins, and robes. Skins were sometimes decorated with paintings. The robes were made of furs and skins from deer, bear, moose, beaver, and fox. Male children went naked until about twelve years old, and female children wore a small breechcloth from birth.

In addition to decorating their clothing, they often decorated themselves. Many would wear feathers and seashells in their hair, paint their faces and other parts of their bodies. Some were tattooed by scratching themselves with a sharp object and adding a dye to the open sore. Earrings, necklaces, and bracelets were commonly worn by male and female.

The most common shelter built by the Indians was a type that was generally dome-shaped. The men would collect saplings and place them in the ground in an upright position. The saplings formed a circle of from ten to sixty feet in diameter. They were then bent and tied together. The women were given the task of weaving mats with which they would cover the dwelling. The wigwams were very good protection from the elements, and are said to have kept out the hard rains that fell on Connecticut. They also covered their dwellings with the bark of trees. A hole was cut in the top to allow the smoke of the campfire to escape. Entrance to the wigwam was made from the skin of an animal hung over an opening. The Indians usually slept upon skins or mats that were laid on the ground or upon planks of wood.

Some Indian footpaths still exist in Connecticut. It is believed that the Post Road that lies between Boston and New York closely follows an old Indian trail. The Indians would change their eating and hunting habits according to the seasons; these footpaths were the main mode of travel to and from their favorite hunting and fishing places.

Using little more than a stone ax and muscle, an Indian brave would make, in several weeks, a dugout canoe. The dugout canoe was the simplest and most widely used type of boat . Birchbark canoes were also used, but were not as common as the dugout. The birchbark canoe was made by forming a “skeleton” of a canoe with saplings, and covering the skeleton with bark. There are also reports that some Indians made use of a birchbark sailboat.

Many of their implements (axes, gouges, arrowheads, knives, and pipes) were made of stone. To start a fire, the indins would scratch a piece of flint onto a piece of rock containing iron to produce a spark.

The Indians who lived near the shore also made extensive use of shells as tools. Clamshells and the shells of horseshoe crabs were used for digging and skinning animals.

Wood was a commonly used material for making utensils. Maple wood was used to make bowls and spoons. They used wood to make pipes with beautiful carvings on them. The bark of trees was also used to make containers for holding liquids or for making arrow quivers.

Mats and baskets were woven by the women. They were fashioned from a variety of materials such as bark, leaves,and twigs. In some cases, even porcupine quills were woven into baskets. These handicrafts were often dyed.

The use of earthenware was not common in southern New England. Pipes and bowls made from clay have been found; but these were not representative of the common utensils used by Connecticut Indians.

        

- - - - Joseph A. Montagna

THE PEQUOTS

MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT TRIBAL NATION TIMELINE

The Pequots occupied the Pequot River (currently the Thames River) drainage basin in Southern New England prior to contact with Europeans. The Pequots hunted, fished, traded and prospered on their traditional lands: 250 square miles bordering the Long Island Sound. The word "Pequot" has been translated to mean "people of the shallow waters." They numbered about 8,000 just prior to European contact, which began in the early 1600s.

1620-1633

The Pequots develop trading relationships with European and Native neighbors in fur and wampum.

Fall 1633-Summer 1634

A smallpox epidemic kills thousands of Natives in Southern New England.

September 1636

The English burn a Pequot village along the Pequot River in retaliation for the murder of an Englishman and earlier conflicts, initiating hostilities that lead to the Pequot War.

Spring 1637

The colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts prepare for an offensive against the Pequot Tribe.

May 26, 1637

The combined forces of the English, Narragansetts and Mohegans attack the Pequot fort at Mystic, killing nearly all but a few of the inhabitants - about 600 Pequots.

Sept. 1638

The Pequot War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Hartford. Surviving Pequots are forbidden to return to their villages or to use the tribal name. The Tribe is divided between the Native allies of the English -- the Mohegans and the Narragansetts -- or placed into slavery among English colonists.

1640s

Robin Cassacinamon becomes the most influential Pequot leader in the decades following the Pequot War. As a diplomat, he negotiates for the return of the Pequots to some of their traditional lands in 1666.

1651

The Mashantucket Pequots are given back some of their land in Noank by the government of Connecticut.

1666

The Pequots establish a reservation of approximately 3,000 acres at Mashantucket, at the headwaters of the Mystic River.

1675

The Pequots ally themselves with the colonists in King Philip's War, a conflict between some New England tribes and the colonists.

1692

Pequot Sachem Robin Cassacinnamon dies.

1721

After decades of constant dispute with English settlers over the Pequot lands at Noank, the Pequots formally give up their planting rights there but retain their fishing rights in exchange for clear title to Mashantucket.

1754-1763

Pequots fight in the French and Indian War.

1761

Reservation land is reduced to 989 acres by the colony of Connecticut.

1775

Pequots fight in the Revolutionary War.


Indians of Connecticut Bibliography