Bidwell Lore – Magnificent Mohicans Daniel Ninham and Umpachenee

Welcome to week 41 of Bidwell Lore! This week we are sharing the story of two more Magnificent Mohicans, Daniel Ninham and Umpachenee, courtesy of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. 

Daniel Ninham—also spelled Nimham—was a Wappinger (Munsee Lenape) sachem from the lower Hudson River Valley who then joined with Mohican kin in Stockbridge in the 1700s. Mohicans had as early as 1675 announced that they were confederated with the Wappinger and other lower Hudson River Valley Nations and together were one people from the east side of the Hudson River to the Housatonic River Valley. Mohican and Munsee languages, they remarked, differed very little.

Though specifically Wappinger by birth, Daniel Ninham permanently settled in Stockbridge in his lifetime and signed land deeds, petitions, and other documents in Stockbridge along with Mohican leadership and consequently became known as a “Stockbridge Indian.” With the events eventually leading to the Revolutionary War heating up, the move to Stockbridge was seen as offering some amount of security among extended relations. The Ninham clan and nearly 200 fellow Wappingers had arrived around 1756, when Daniel Ninham was 30. From this point forward, Daniel was identified as a Stockbridge Indian and is an example of the integration and fusion between our Mohican and Munsee ancestry of many smaller tribes who agreed Stockbridge was the new “capital.”

Throughout his time in Stockbridge, Mass., even while serving in elected positions such as Constable and Warden, Daniel Ninham continued to engage in land claim issues back in the Hudson Valley homelands. He petitioned in 1765 fighting to retain Wappinger lands in today’s Putnam County, and he made leases to local farmers, while being referred to in records as “Daniel Ninham of Stockbridge.” He did so in the English language, which he spoke as well. In 1766, Ninham joined three other Stockbridge Indian leaders as delegates to England to assert land claims there to the King.

In 1775 Daniel Ninham and his son Abraham joined other Stockbridge Indians driving British troops from Boston to capture Fort Ticonderoga and defeat General Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga. Both Abraham and his father along with most of the Stockbridge Indian company were killed at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on August 31, 1778, in what is considered an ambush, led by British Captain Simcoe. Daniel Ninham was credited with wounding Simcoe. Greatly overwhelmed, an aging Ninham called out to his people to flee, but valiantly said that he was old and would die there. When the dust settled the next day, Ninham’s mutilated body was found near a stream; it appears even though severely wounded he had willed himself to crawl to safety. His son Abraham was also killed on the spot, along with approximately 15 other Stockbridge Mohicans. A marker today is near to where this massacre occurred in the Bronx, on lands that were Ninham’s original homelands that he knew so well and fought to protect both through legal claims and in battle.

Ninham’s widow continued living in Stockbridge after his passing for another ten years, leaving Stockbridge to join the rest of the Tribe at the lands in New Stockbridge, New York, among the Oneida in 1788.

Chief Daniel Ninham went to extraordinary lengths in his life to stand up for land claims in his Hudson Valley homelands, to lead and serve in the Stockbridge Mission, to travel the ocean to make these cases to the King of England, and to fight with all his might up to the bitter end. He is the epitome of a Magnificent Mohican, a true hero whose legacy lives on and forever inspires us all.

Although the details of Umpachenee’s life may be vague, his beliefs and strong commitment to the rights of the Stockbridge Mohican community shine clearly through the documents preserved over the last two and a half centuries. He was known to be a “clear-headed, smart man, of a deep reach and pleasant humour,” and was recognized as one of the “best speakers” in the region.”

Mohican Sachem Umpachenee, who also went by the name Aaron Sonkenewenaukheek after his christening in 1735, was born sometime in the late seventeenth century, likely between 1678 and 1696. In the decades that followed, he married the daughter of neighboring Mohican leader Etowaukaum (who notably traveled to England as a Mohican representative in 1710), creating a strong alliance “between Hudson River Mohicans and Housatonic peoples.” Later, Umpachenee had a son, named after Etowaukaum, who was educated in New Haven by Yale missionary John Sergeant. In documents relating to the foundation of Stockbridge, Umpachenee’s focus on education is clear, remarking that the townspeople were pleased to live “together for better Instruction in the Principles” of Christianity.

In 1736, Konkapot and Umpachenee were instrumental in the decision to establish a new town at Stockbridge on six miles square of land. Previously, the tribe was “divided into two groups, one under Captain Konkapot in Housatonic (Stockbridge) and the other under Lieutenant Umpachene at the Great Wigwam in Sheffield.” A few English families subsequently joined the tribe in the new town in order to “help and Instruct” the Stockbridge Mohicans “in their husbandry.”

Umpachenee’s wigwam was originally located in what is now the Great Barrington/Sheffield region. It was reportedly over one hundred feet long, representing the presence of a truly important local figure. In addition to these lands, he owned plots throughout Stockbridge, maintaining a wigwam and a barn at today’s 16-18 Main Street. In documents, Umpachenee is variously referred to as king, governor, captain, lieutenant, sachem, and tribal speaker.

Throughout his life, Umpachenee served as a committed representative of the Stockbridge Mohicans in negotiations with colonists and missionaries, representing the tribe’s interests in various petitions alongside Sachem John Konkapot, or Pophnehonnuhwon, David Naunauneecannuck, as well as other tribal members. In a 1737 Petition, for instance, Umpachenee and other Stockbridge Mohican leaders sought to address the appropriation of their lands by neighboring settlers, fearing “not half our Families now here will be able to subsist,” and that they will not be able to support the “twenty families or more of our Nation” that had hoped to settle and enjoy “with us the means of Instruction.”

In 1751, after a protracted illness, Umpachenee died in Stockbridge. The “constant stream of visitors” were testament to his role within the community. His wife Hannah had died a decade earlier, in 1740.

Currently, the Historic Preservation Office of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community is working to have Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican cultural sites in Stockbridge included on the State and National Register of Historic Places. This biography of eighteenth century leader Umpachenee is part of the first listing the Office plans to submit. 

The above photo is of 18 Main Street in Stockbridge today, the original home site of Umpachenee in the 1700s. 

Thank you to the Stockbridge-Munsee community and Meadhbh Ginnane, Historic Preservation Intern, for their work on these articles and for allowing us to share them here.