Bidwell Lore – Serendipity, General George Washington, an 1100-pound Ox, Stockbridge Mohican Sachem Solomon Uhhaunnuhwaunnuhmut, and Seeking a Needle in a Haystack

Welcome to week 43 of Bidwell Lore! This week Rick Wilcox shares an article he has written about the search for the site of a 1783 Ox Roast in Stockbridge believed to have been held on the land of “King” Solomon Uhhaunauwaunmut, one of the subjects of last week’s Bidwell Lore. 

Town of Stockbridge Facilities Manager Chris Marsden, Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans Historic Preservation Manager Bonney Hartley, and archaeologist Casey Campetti, M.A. RPA, were gathered at Bidwell Park in Stockbridge, the site of a storm drainage upgrade that was funded by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Part of FEMA’s legal obligations under Federal law was to conduct a survey for any pre or post-contact cultural artifacts relating to Mohican presence. During a sidebar conversation, as they viewed nearby Laurel Hill, the trio wondered if archaeology would reveal the site of a 1783 Ox Roast that had been provided by General George Washington as a thank you to the Stockbridge Mohicans for their service in the Revolutionary War.

The mythology surrounding the ox roast had evolved over time to create an event that took place on Laurel Hill and that common knowledge suggested might reveal cultural artifacts if a survey of Laurel Hill was completed. The only likely location on the hill was the glen used as the gathering place for annual meetings of the Laurel Hill Association. A serendipitous moment unfolded when the Laurel Hill Association announced its desire to conduct a renovation of certain areas of the hill, which would require a history of the hill and a professional cultural resource survey to protect any pre- and post-contact cultural sites. To that end, I was asked to create a history of Laurel Hill from 1735 to 1853 and Karen Marshall of Stockbridge authored a history from 1853 to present.

Research for the report eventually revealed that ownership of Laurel Hill by Stockbridge Mohicans included a three-acre home lot of Aaron Shaushockkock’s father on the north side of the hill as well as brief ownership of the same lot by Aaron himself. In addition, a five-acre lot on the southern half of laurel Hill was owned by Jacob Tusnnuck. Tusnnuck and his wife Mary Wolummauck may have lived on the hill prior to his purchase of the land. By the time Mohican ownership of Laurel Hill had been established and it was confirmed that the ox roast had taken place across the river, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans had been awarded a grant to conduct an archaeological survey on the Solomon Uhhaunauwaunmut home lot.

(Side note: “King” Solomon Uhhaunauwaunmut was one of the Magnificent Mohicans in our last Bidwell Lore installment, which you can read HERE)  

View of Sedgwick Memorial, Laurel Hill, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, late 19th/early 20th century
Above is the Sedgwick Memorial At Laurel Hill, late 19th/early 20th century.

The oldest historical record of the ox roast that I was able to uncover came from David Dudley Field, Sr.’s 1829 history of Berkshire County: “At the close of the war, Timothy Edwards and others, contractors for supplying a division of the Army at West Point with provisions, were ordered by Gen. Washington (as tradition is here) to give the Indians a feast, in consideration of their good conduct in the service. An ox, weighting 1100, was roasted whole, the whole tribe partook of it, men first, and then women, according to custom. The Rev. John Sergeant (the younger) and a Mr. Deane presided at the table, and the principal men of the place attended. The feast was kept near the residence of King Solomon; and after it was over, the Indians buried the hatchet, in token that the war was past, and performed other ceremonies in their own style, for the gratification of the company. [1]Field arrived in Stockbridge in 1819 and one would wonder if he might even have been able to speak with someone who had firsthand knowledge of the ox roast a little more than forty years after the event.
Fortuitously Field’s description contained information that was not found in any other history, to include the weight of the ox at 1100 pounds, Native custom of “men first and then women, according to custom”, the presence of the Rev. John Sergeant, Jr. and possibly most important a Mr. Deane [James Dean]. Additionally, the Continental Congress had appointed Timothy Edwards, Volkert P. Douw of Albany, and General Philip Schuyler Indian agents of the Northern Department, providing a second reason why Edwards would be chosen by Washington to deliver the message and deliver the ox.
James Dean became an Indian Agent in New York, was involved in land speculation, acquired a judgeship, and later founded the town of Westmoreland, New York. His work in New York brought him in contact with the Stockbridge Indians at New Stockbridge, New York. 1783 was a time of transition for the Stockbridge people and Dean may well have been involved in their resettlement. In addition Dean’s sister Esther Colver (Culver) and her husband Nathaniel moved to Stockbridge, where four of their children were born.
Field also stated that the feast took place near the residence of King Solomon, alias Solomon Uhhaunauwaunmut, who replaced King Benjamin Kohkewenaunant to become the tribal sachem around 1771. Solomon was given the rank of Captain during the Revolutionary War and participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill leading a company of Mohican volunteers. Solomon died in 1777, at age 50, some six years before the end of the war. Given his leadership role in the tribe during the war it would seem fitting that a celebration would take place on his home site. Finally, there was a need to establish that an ox roast was a common form of celebration c. 1783. Two ox roasts in which Washington was a participant were uncovered and information about numerous other ox roasts indicated it was a common practice during the Revolutionary War era.

Map from an early 20th century book called "Glimpses of Stockbridge" from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Library
On the above map, from an early 20th century book called “Glimpses of Stockbridge” from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Library, you can see Laurel Hill and Ice Glen in the lower right section of Stockbridge, to the lower left of the words “South Lee”

Stockbridge resident and New York Times map maker Vaughn Gray placed a footnote at the bottom of some of his 20th century Stockbridge maps that read: “Drawn somewhat by conjecture.” That would most certainly apply to the difficulty in trying to locate on a map either the ox roast or Solomon‘s home site. Indian Town when created in 1737 was six miles square or 36 square miles or 23,040 acres making up present-day Stockbridge and West Stockbridge. Finding the remains of an 1100-pound ox and items related to its roasting might be something akin to finding a needle in a haystack. However, locating the home site of Solomon Uhhaunauwaunmut, it turns out, was more like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, albeit one of many pieces.
Some of the pieces of the puzzle, it turns out, were already available, as several years ago I had spent a number of months gathering approximately 250 Stockbridge Mohican deeds from the Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds in Pittsfield and the 18th century handwriting encouraged me to transcribe them for ease of reading. Common practice in deed research would be to start with a current owner and trace back in time until reaching a Mohican property owner. That practice, however, can take many hours and require looking at hundreds of deeds for a single plot of land. A more practical approach, in this case, was to create a jigsaw puzzle of deeds from the 18th century. To add to the difficulty those deeds did not create a snapshot for a moment in time but could cover a spread of 20 or more years. Fortunately, most of the Mohican deeds gave sufficient descriptions of current and previous owners allowing the puzzle pieces to fit.
Because of his standing in the tribal hierarchy, Solomon Uhhaunauwaunmut had been granted a large number of parcels of land containing hundreds of acres, so the key was to find a reference to his home lot. Fortunately, there were a number of references to his home lot in historical literature and primary source documents. That resulted in locating his home lot of about four acres of land on the Town of Stockbridge property of Ice Glen. Primary source documents mention Solomon having a house, suggesting an English-style home as opposed to a wigwam. The pieces of the puzzle having been assembled now the search would begin with the archaeologist seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack.
As the result of a grant given to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community by the Stockbridge Community Preservation Act Committee, permits for an archaeological dig were sought and obtained from the state in 2019 on what is believed to be the home site of Solomon Uhhaunauwaunmut. Although I am not at liberty to divulge the results of that study, I can say that enough evidence was uncovered to prompt the Community Preservation Act Committee to award a second grant for continued archaeological work in 2021.
In addition, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community applied for and received a grant from the U.S. Park Service to perform an archaeological study, on and around the site of the 1739 meeting house, also to begin in 2021. Hopefully we can continue this story via Bidwell Lore later in 2021…

[1] A History of the County of Berkshire, Massachusetts, in two parts: General View of the County & Account of the Several Towns, Chester Dewey and David Dudley Field, Sr. 1829, printed by Samuel W. Bush, Pittsfield.

Thank you to Rick Wilcox for writing this article.

Next week we will share a few more stories of Magnificent Mohicans.