Bidwell Lore – Dispossession of Mohican Land, Part II

Welcome to week 51 of Bidwell Lore! This week we share the second half of the story of the dispossession of the Mohican lands in Stockbridge.

The Dispossession of the Mohican Land in Stockbridge – Part II

Beyond Official Documents 
One should tread lightly when depending on official documents, such as deeds, for proof of habitation by Native peoples. There is ongoing discussion on the topic as to whether or not the Berkshires served as a seasonal hunting ground or was home to more permanent settlements. Some pre-contact information suggests a more complex history. 
Discovering the Ancient Past at Kampoosa Bog, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a 1996 archaeology report by Eric S. Johnson provided information for a lay audience in which he states: “As field and laboratory work continued, it became clear that the sites were occupied over a span of as much as seven thousand years, but that most of the artifacts dated from 5,000 to 1,000 years ago or 3000 B.C. – 1000 A.D. The two sites also appeared to have been the scene of different kinds of activities. One was apparently primarily a work area, where people made and used stone knives and scraping tools, perhaps for butchering animals. The other was a living area, where people probably cooked, ate, slept, and worked.”

Kampoosa Bog in Stockbridge, MA from the air
Kampoosa Bog from the air

Sharing the Land
In 1766, Larry Lynch purchased 50 acres of land from Solomon Uhhaunnuhwaunnuhmut, land that is now in the area of the Berkshire Botanical Garden. According to Lynch family papers, after completing the sale Solomon proceeded to set up a wigwam in the back yard. It suggests that their deeding of land was really a permission of use and not a sale of land. They did, however, learn quickly to adopt the English land ownership model as a survival technique to pay off debt. With the cultural divide, not being allowed into the English economic system meant they had only land as a medium of exchange, so that 20 years later their source of income expired.  Solomon, a tribal leader and owner of a large number of parcels of land, after an uncertain period of time created a home lot on land that is now a part of Ice Glen. Land was to be used lightly, not owned, and moving from place to place allowed the environment to recover for later reuse [1]

English settler Asa Bement purchased three parcels of land from the Stockbridge Indians, including one in 1768 from “Katherine Evens Relict of John Wauwaumpequnaunt, late of Stockbridge deceased.” [2] Bement family members recorded that there were at least five wigwams on the combined tracts of land, long after Asa’s purchase. John Wauwaumpequnaunt’s wigwam was documented as being located where Chochechokeseepoo Brook [3] empties into the Housatonnuck River.

In 1739, intervale lots of two to ten acres each were surveyed for Tribal members along the river, extending on the present golf course to what is now the Route 7 and Goodrich Street intersection, where Konkapot built his home and treated that land as his home lot. [4]

A Chart by Year Indicating Indian Proprietor Lots Sold

A Chart by Year indicating Indian Proprietor Lots Sold

By 1783, as the Revolutionary War came to a close, the returning Mohican veterans who had fought alongside the patriots during the war found Stockbridge to be a very different place from the town they left at the beginning of the war. The English population had swelled in their absence and rapidly increasing debt among tribal members, whose head of household had been off fighting in the war, had accelerated the loss of their land. The Oneida tribe, grateful for the Mohican invitation to live among them during the war, offered them land 160 miles to the west at what would become New Stockbridge, New York. In order to preserve what little land remained in the hands of the Indian proprietors, they penned the following petition to the governor and senators of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as well as asking for protection from future debt. Debt, historically, had resulted in members of the tribe being imprisoned until such time as the tribal sachems were able to sell tribal land to pay those obligations. Compounding the problem, those in debt were often jailed in Albany, New York.

So began the trail of tears as tribal members began to move west to New Stockbridge, New York. This was the first of many moves which ended in Wisconsin, where today a thriving community of 1500 members works to recapture their history, culture, and language while creating a future for their children and their children’s children.

Below are transcriptions of two documents, first from the January 1783 session of the General Court, followed by the September 1783 Mohican request for a final settlement of land in Stockbridge.

The following is from the January 1783 session of the General Court

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, That John Bacon, Jahleel Woodbridge, Esq’rs, and Mr. John Sergeant, missionary to the said Indians, all of Stockbridge, be, and hereby are appointed Commissioners, to examine the sales of all lands heretofore made by any Indians belonging to the Moheakunnuk tribe, residing in Stockbridge, in the county of Berkshire, which have not been legally confirmed; and that the said Commissioners, or any two of them be, and they hereby are, authorized and impowered, if they shall judge such sales to have been justly and fairly made, and that the Indian or Indians making such sales, have received the just value thereof; in such case, and not otherwise, to confirm the same, by entering their approbation on the back of the deed conveying such lands, signed with their hands in the presence of two witnesses; which approbation so signified and attested, together with the deed, shall be recorded by the register of the said county, and that such deed thus approved, shall be of equal force and validity, with a good and lawful deed made by any subject of this Commonwealth.  
Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That any future sales or leases which the said Indians may make of any lands or buildings to them belonging, shall, on their being approved by the said Commissioners in the manner aforesaid, to all intents and purposes, be good and valid in law, and not otherwise.

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the said Commissioners shall lay before the Judge of Probate, for the said county, sometime in the month of May, annually, an account of all the lots and tracts of land, the sales or leases of which they are approved as aforesaid, signifying as near as may be, the quantity and quality of each lot, the price at which the same was sold or leased, and the terms of the lease, together with the names of the Indians, selling or leasing, and the name or names of the person or persons, purchasing or hiring the same.

And be it further enacted, That the Judge of Probate for the said county, make and annual return of all the Commissioner’s proceedings as aforesaid, that shall be lodged in his office, to the Treasurer of the Commissioners of the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England, and the parts adjacent, in America.

And be it further enacted, that no Indian belonging to said tribe, shall be liable to an action in law, for any debt which he may contract from and after the first day of May next ensuing, unless the said debt shall have been approved by the Commissioners, as by this act is directed on deeds.
And be it further enacted, that the Commissioners hereby appointed, shall, on their accepting the trust by this act reposed in them, and before they proceed to transact the business aforesaid, take an oath before the Judge of Probate, for the faithful performance of the trust and powers hereby reposed in them. March 9, 1784 [5] 

Mohican Request for a Final Settlement of Stockbridge Land 1783“To the Senators and Wise-men of the Commonwealth of the Massachusetts who are about to smoke their Pipes together in doing the Great Business of the State-
        We the Chiefs of the Moheakonnuk Tribe of Indians residing in Stockbridge this day met together beg you to listen to us a few words.-
Brothers. We remember we were once great and you were small when you first came on this Island but afterwards we became small as you became great and now we are very small and you are very great. We also remember that our Forefathers have often looked to you for Protection Advice and Assistance. We will pleasure look back and consider you have always heard us, when we spoke to you. Now Brothers since we are small we look to you as children to their fathers We with you always remember as Parents do their Children.

Brothers, We will put you in mind that ever since we first see you, we were always true Friends to you in all the Wars until this present Day. In this late War we have suffered much, our Blood has been spilled with yours and many of our Young Men have fallen by the Side of your Warriors, almost all those Places where your Warriors have left their Bones, there our Bones are seen also. Now we who remain are become very poor Now Brothers. We will let you know we have been invited by our Brothers the Oneidas, to go and live with them. We have accepted their invitation—

Brothers We now tell you what we desire of you.
We wish you in your Wisdom, to make some Laws that will protect and guard us while we remain or hereafter have Occasion to come into your Government. We wish you to appoint a few of our Neighbors, whom we believe to be our Friends to have Power to take Care of the little Interest of Land we have in this Town, that has been appropriated to a public or private Use, either to sell or lease it out for us as they and we shall think best, directing them also to confirm all such Lands as we have honestly sold. We wish to have them described carefully to examine into all our Bargains for land that White People have made with us and see that we have not been cheated and endeavor to do so justly and by those who have bought of us and have not as yet had their lands confirmed to them, that when we are ready to remove, We may feel towards all our Neighbors, We wish only to reserve Power to ourselves to do a little business as Proprietors with Regard to some unappropriated Lands. We wish that the Purchasers of our Lands might pay those our Friends for their trouble –

Brothers we only ask one Thing more, that we might not be sued in the law for any future Debts we may hereafter contract. -Stockbridge Sept 2d. 1783
Jahoiakim Mtohksin
Joseph Shauquethquot
Hendrick Aupaumut
Johoiakim Hannuphtonk
Joseph Quinauquant “ [6]

Next week, in the final installment of Bidwell Lore’s Mohican story,  we will share a little bit about the tribe today.

[1] Cronan, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and Ecology in New England. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983, rev. ed. 2003).
[2] Evens, Katherine, “Relic of John Wauwaumpequnaunt to Asa Bement,” Book 5, Page 437, Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds, Pittsfield, Mass.
[3] Lake Mahkeenac outlet brook, aka Brown’s Mill Brook, aka Larrywaug Brook.
[4] Original copy of the plot plan is in the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives. Attached.
[5] Chapter 35 of the General Court, 1783 January Session.
[6] Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives holds the original document.