Bidwell Lore – The Mohican Nation and Removals Westward

Welcome to week 58 of Bidwell Lore. This week we continue to share the history of the region before the establishment of Monterey and Tyringham.  Today we discuss how the arrival of the colonists in this area changed Mohican life forever.

The Mohican Nation and Removals Westward
by Rob Hoogs

Wars Between England and France
In the 1700-early 1800s, European countries battled for control of the land called America. The French and Indian Wars were really conflicts between England and France over territories they had taken from the Native people. Natives were recruited by both sides to fight. The Revolutionary War was fought between the American colonists and England. The “Americanized” colonies no longer wanted to be governed by the Mother country. The Stockbridge Mohicans, as well as the Oneida, Tuscarora, and other Native warriors, supported the colonists in their revolution. In one battle, the Battle of Van Cortlandt’s Woods, a number of Stockbridge Mohicans lost their lives. When the surviving warriors returned home, they discovered that plans had already been made to remove them from Stockbridge.

Above is a watercolor depicting a Stockbridge Indian who fought at the Battle of Van Cortland’s Woods;
drawn by Johann von Ewald in 1784.

Effects on the Mohican Nation
The lives of the Mohicans were drastically changed by the fur trade, European missionaries, disease, and war. All of these worked together to cause a rupture of their traditional cultural practices. Their spiritual ceremonies were replaced by European customs. Fewer and fewer of the people spoke the Mohican language; thus their thought patterns about the natural world were altered. The ancient arts of basket and pottery making continued, but many other seasonal occupations were abandoned. In order to survive, the Stockbridge Mohicans adopted the trades and behaviors of their non-Indian neighbors: farming, lumbering, worshipping in church, sending their children to English schools.  Then, as the eighteenth century neared its last twenty years, their lives were to change even more drastically.

Etowaukaum, Sachem of the Mohican Nation, and father-in-law of Lt. Aaron Umpachenee. He was one of the “Four Kings” who visited England in 1710 to see Queen Anne and plead for their sovereign rights.

Removals Westward
It became apparent after the Revolutionary War, with their numbers greatly reduced and intruders (called “settlers”) using unscrupulous means to gain title to the land, that the Stockbridge Mohican people were not welcome in their own Christian village any longer. The Oneida, who had also fought for the colonists in the war, offered them a portion of their rich farmland and forest. 

The Stockbridge Mohican accepted the invitation and moved to New Stockbridge, near Oneida Lake, in the mid-1780s. Again they cleared forests and built farms. A school, church, and sawmill were built. The tribe flourished under the leadership of Joseph Quinney and his counselors. But land companies, desirous of making profits from the land, proposed that New York State remove all Indians from within its borders. 

The pressure for removal was great. Rev. John Sergeant (son of the first Rev. John Sargeant, who ministered to the tribe in the 1730-40s) recorded in his journal on August 1818, “About one-third of my church and one-fourth of the tribe (70 souls) started from this place for ‘White River.'” Their leader, John Metoxen, led the group to the White River area in what is now Indiana to settle among their relatives, the Miami and the Delaware. When they reached their destination, after about a year, they found that the Delaware had already been coerced into selling their land.

We Are Still Here
The Stockbridge Tribe, Munsee Tribe, and others eventually moved to Wisconsin where they finally were allowed to establish a permanent reservation and where they are flourishing. However, this area—the valleys of the Hudson and Housatonic Rivers—remains their sacred homeland and their spiritual and cultural heritage. The Stockbridge-Munsee band of the Mohican Tribe maintains a strong connection to this area today.

Thank you to the Stockbridge-Munsee for helping the Museum originally put this story together in 2018For those who would like to learn more about the Native story, we encourage you to visit the webpage of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community where their history is explained in more detail. 

In the next article we will continue the story of the formation and history of Township #1, today’s Tyringham and Monterey.