Bidwell Lore – The Dispossession of the Mohican Land in Stockbridge

Welcome to week 50 of Bidwell Lore! This week we begin the story of the dispossession of the Mohicans land in Stockbridge.

Wnahtukook [1]
“A small council meeting in July of 1734 in a simple village along the Housatonic River in Massachusetts would affect the course and survival of a nation. The issue under consideration would demand four long days of discussion, reflection, hope and apprehension. A captain in his early forties and a lieutenant in his late thirties, both weighted with the future prospects for their people, would figure prominently in the council decision. The captain’s name was Konkapot, [2] the lieutenant was Umpachenee [3] and they belonged to the Housatonic tribe of Mohicans. Each was principal man in villages that lay eight miles apart on the Housatonic River, among the steep Berkshire Hills of southwestern Massachusetts.” [4] 

The pre-contact villages were merged into one at Stockbridge with the creation of Indian Town. Konkapot’s village was said to be in the Great Meadow, which today consists of the golf course and fields following the river upstream to the current east end of Park Street.  What follows is a transcription of the official Stockbridge Town Charter from 1737.

May 7, 1737

    JONATHAN BELCHER Esquire Captain General and Governour in Chief in and over His Majestys Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England in America TO ALL unto whom these Presents shall come GREETING.
     WHEREAS the Great and General Court or Assembly of His Majestys Province of the Massachusetts Bay aforesaid, at their session held in Boston the seventeenth day of March one thousand seven hundred and thirty five DID give and grant to the Housatannuck Tribe of Indians a Township not exceeding the quantity of six miles Square of Land, and Authorized and Impowered John Stoddard, Ebenezer Pomroy and Thomas Ingersole, Esquires, a Committee to lay the said Township unto said Indians in upper Housatannuck lying and being above the mountain and upon the Housatannuck river, the said Indians to be Subject to the Law of this Province made and passed in the thirteenth year of King William the third Chapter twenty first, with respect to said lands; and impowered the said Committee to lay out to the Reverend Mr. John Sergeant their minister, and Mr. Timothy Woodbridge their school-master one sixtieth part of said land for each of them their heirs and assigns; and also to lay out a sufficient quantity of land within said Township to accommodate four English Families that shall settle the same, to be under the Direction and Disposition of the Committee, and the said Committee were further Impowered to dispose of the lands that were reserved to the said Indians in the Town of Sheffield in order to make Satisfaction so far as the same will go to the Proprietors and owners of the land as aforesaid; and were also Impowered to give the Proprietors of the upper Housatannuck that live below the mountain an Equivalent in some of the ungranted lands of the Province next adjacent to upper Housatannuck, Sheffield and the said granted Town; and the Committee were then further Impowered to make the Proprietors of upper Housatannuck above the mountains an Equivalent in some of the unappropriated land of the Province the same to be a full Satisfaction for such of their lands as were granted to the Housatannuck Tribe as aforesaid; and whereas the Committee Impowered as aforesaid in April seventeen hundred thirty six by a Seuveyor and Chainmen on an oath Surveyed and laid out the said Township on both sides of Housatannuck river, and reported their Doings In the premises to the Great and General Court at their Session held the twenty sixth day of May one thousand seven hundred thirty six, the bounds of which are as follow vizt, Beginning at a monument of Stones laid up, East three Degrees fifteen minutes north four hundred and fifty perch from Joakim Vanvalcumburgs house, thence north nine Degrees east fifteen hundred and six perch to a large white ash marked with Stones about it, thence west nine Degrees north, nineteen hundred and twenty perch to three little hemlocks and a maple marked, on which the letters N. A. S. D. K. are set, thence South nineteen hundred and twenty perch to a great white oak and black oak marked N. A. thence east nine Degrees south nineteen hundred and twenty perch, thence north nine Degrees east four hundred and fourteen perch to the monument first mentioned.
       And whereas the Council and House of Representatives of said Province at their Session held the twenty fourth day of November last be their vote desired me to issue a Patent under the Publick Seal of the Province to the Housatannuck Tribe of Indians of the Township lately Granted to them by this court agreeable to the form of the Grant; all of which in and by the records of the said General Assembly, reference thereto being had, doth fully appear.
      KNOW YE THEREFORE, That I said JONATHAN BELCHER, Esquire Governour agreeable to the above recited Grant and vote pass’d by the Council and assembly respectfully, and pursuant to the Power and authority contained and Granted in and by HIS MAJESTYS Royal CHARTER to the Governour and General assembly of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay aforesaid HAVE granted ratified and Confirmed, and by these presents DO fully freely and absolutely Grant Ratify and Confirm unto the Housatannuck Tribe of Indians their heirs and assigns The aforesaid Tract of land or Township situate and Described as aforesaid, with and under the Savings and Reservations made to the Reverend Mr. John Sergeant minister, Mr. Timothy Woodbridge Schoolmaster, and the lands set off to the four English Families as foresaid, with all the Estate right Title use Property and interest of the Province aforesaid therein and thereunto TOGETHER with all and Singular the soils, swamps, meadows, rivers, rivulets, ponds, pools, woods, underwoods, Trees, Timber, Herbage, Feeding, Fishing, Fowling and Hunting, Rights members Hereditaments, Emoluments, profits, privileges and appurtenances thereto belonging or in any ways apportianing TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, the said Tract of land or Township with all other the aforesaid premises Emoluments profits privileges and appur’ces thereto belonging with and under the Savings and Reservations aforesaid,unto the said Housatannuck Tribe of Indians and to their heirs and assigns TO their use and behoof forever, [5] YEILDING rendering and paying therefor unto our Sovereign Lord KING GEORGE the Second His Heirs and Successors one fifth part of all Gold and Silver oar, and precious Stones, which from time to time and at all times hereafter shall happen to be found gotten or obtained in any of the said lands and premises, or within any part or parcel thereof in lieu and stead of all rents, Services, Dues, Duties, and Demands whatsoever for the said lands and premises and for every part and parcel thereof. IN TESTIMONY whereof I the said JONATHAN BELCHER Esquire Governour have Signed these Presents, and caused the Publick Seal of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay aforesaid to be hereunto affixed Dated at Boston aforesaid the Seventh day of May 1737; In the Tenth year of HIS MAJESTYS Reign. J. Belcher
By his Excellencys Command J. Willard Secty.

November 1739 map of intervale plats in Stockbridge, MA
The above map from November of 1739 shows parcels on what is mostly the current Stockbridge Golf Club land. The south end plots belonged to Capt. Konkapot and are at the north end of what is now Goodrich Street. Konkapot protested the land divisions.

One large dispossession of land was based on a 1765 petition and resolve to and from the Great and General Court: On January 8th, 1765, Tribal leaders Jacob Cheeksonkun, David Naunauneekaunuck, Benjamin Kokhkeweaunaut, Solomon Uhhaunnauwaunmut, Johannis Motohksin, Daniel Quan, Jonas Etowwaukaum, Ephraim Paumpkhaunhum, Hendrick Willammauump, and John Naunauhphtaunk petitioned the Great and General Court laying out all the issues that had surfaced by their inability to sell their land to repay debt. They proposed two things in their petition as quoted below. First that they be able to “make sale and have good title to any of their out lands” and second that the Great and General Court approve a divisional line running north-south from a brook on the Lenox/Richmond line to the Great Pond, then to the Great Pond outlet (Chochechokeseepoo Brook) to the Housatonnuck River and then following the river south to the Great Barrington line. Land above the Old Housatonnuck line [6] and east of the divisional line would be deeded to the English and land west of the divisional line; in particular, unappropriated land in what is now West Stockbridge would be approved for sale by the court.  A reading of the Indian Proprietor Records prior to the Great and General Court’s resolve, approving land sales by the Tribal members, makes clear that all the Tribe gained was the right to have good title and sell the land in what is now West Stockbridge.

Petition to the Great and General Court, January 8, 1765.
“Your petitioners and the Stockbridge Indians in general are
proprietors in the common Lands in the Township The Town plot
and Settlement being on the eastwardly side of the Town The west part [7]
which is five miles from the Settlements [8] and yet lies in common
To the Indians and cannot be improved by them nor any living
at such a diſtance but might be of great advantage to the
Indian proprietors as their neceſsities required To make sale of
Those out Lands such as can no other way obtain the Neceſsaries
of life. The proprietors having already allowed each proprietor to lay
out in Said common land some forty some Sixty acre
lots. If the Great and general ^ court should not judge it expedient that
The Stockbridge Indians should have the same common privileges
As his Majestys english Subjects have your petitionrs humbly have
They enjoy have liberty (piece of page missing) as their occasion and neceſsities call for
To make sale and give good title to any of their out lands be
ing in the weſt part of the Town from a brook coming from
the Northweſt emptying into the great pond and from a
brook [9] coming out of said pond at the south end and empty-
ing into the river and from where Said brook enteries into
the river west of the river to the South line of the Town which
whole tract lying west of Said brooks pond and river being Moun-
tainous and a diſtance will never be of advantage to the
Indians in any other way but by sale when their needs require
To pay the debts of such as can no other way be relieved.” [10]

Referencing the map “Compiled Plan of ‘Indian Town’ or Stockbridge” (below), the reader will note that the upper right or northeast corner of the map is shaded for all the land east of the divisional line and north of the Old Housatonnuck line. All the land in the shaded area was in time transferred to English ownership. The transfer of land by the Indian Proprietorship Committee took place in 1766. It is important to note their description of Rattlesnake Mountain includes all the land in northeast Stockbridge, including the Lake Mahkeenac watershed. It should also be noted that the English took land far in excess of what was allowed by the deed and ending up with ¼ of Stockbridge’s land in a so-called land swap. The English then proceeded to acquire all the land on the west side of Lake Mahkeenac over the next 20 years by acquiring land for forgiveness of debt.

1750 Compiled map of Indiantown (Stockbridge)
“Compiled Plan of ‘Indiantown’ or Stockbridge.” Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds, Pittsfield, Mass. Colonial Records Book.

Next week we will share Part II of this article, on the Dispossession of the Mohican Land in Stockbridge.

[1] “Bend in the River” Konkapot’s village, Stockbridge Golf Course, aka Great Meadow.
[2] Alias Pohpneounuwuh.
[3] Alias Sonkenewenaukheek.
[4] Frazier, Patrick. The Mohicans of Stockbridge. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), page 1.
[5] Emphasis added. Well not quite forever, but at least 1737 to 1818.
[6] Running east-west at approximately Rattlesnake Mountain Road.
[7] Now West Stockbridge.
[8] Now Stockbridge center.
[9] Chochechokeseepoo Brook.
[10] January 8, 1765. “Petition to the Great and General Court,” Courtesy of the Yale Indian Papers Project.

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