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Ashawagh

Land between the streams

Table of Contents
Introduction
History
Translation
Trade
Colonial Description

Introduction

Ashawagh is a pre-contact Montaukett settlement on the edge of Copeces, now Hand’s Creek. Shell heaps in the area suggest intense wampum manufacturing. This place was particularly important for hunting, fishing, and camping.

History

The Three Mile Harbor area has had an interesting and varied history, although intense settlement there, especially on the western shore and southern shore (where the Soak Hides Nature Preserve is located), is a fairly recent phenomenon. There is ample evidence that Native Americans frequented the harbor for centuries before the English settlers arrived in the early 1600’s.

The local Indians established a settlement near Hands Creek, which they called “Ashawagh”, meaning “between the branches of the creek.” They named the creek “Copeces”, which translates from Algonquin to “little place of shelter.”

When it disappeared, the settlement left behind a large shell heap that has been the object of much archaeological speculation, most of which points to an intense wampum manufacturing industry in the area. Another area of known indigenous activity is along Soak Hides Dreen (Tanbark Creek), which took its name from the use of the stream to soak hides in the tanning process. In addition, there have been many other Indian artifacts found along the western and southern shore of the harbor indicating its popularity as a hunting-fishing-camping location, though for reasons unknown, there were apparently no other permanent Native American settlements there.

Interest in the Native American influence on the western and southern shores was revived in 1944 with an Indian pow-wow sponsored by the Long Island Council of the Federated Eastern Indian League [at Springy Banks]. The event proved so popular that it was repeated each year in late August or early September into the early 1950’s. At the 1945 powwow, in addition to the colorful Native songs, dances and stories usually presented, the Montauketts and the Narrangansetts signed a peace treaty officially ending a war between the two tribes that started in 1656, possibly the longest war in recorded history. The tradition of a late summer Indian pow-wow has been taken over by the Southampton Shinnecock tribe, which participated in the Three Mile Harbor event for years.1

  1. Soak Hides Nature Preserve: Management Plan, 2001 pp. 3

Translation

Ashawagh may translate to “a place between.” (the branches of the creek)

William Wallace Tooker compared Massachusett nashaue (John Eliot) and  “in the middle”; n’ashaw-auk, “land in the middle to approximate the translation. Tooker found that the same name occured in various forms throughout New England and on Long Island; Ashawog, Assawog, Nashaway, etc.1

The Natives of that area named the creek “Copeces”, which translates from Algonquin to “little place of shelter.”2

  1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names 1911, pp. 107
  2. Soak Hides Nature PReserve: Management Plan, 2001 pp. 3

Trade

During the Woodland time period, there were trade networks linking Island villages north to the Connecticut River Valley and south to the Delaware Valley and New Jersey; the Hands Creek site (Ashawagh Village) in East Hampton was part of it, judging from the New Jersey Abbott-style pottery and argillite blades found there.1

  1.  Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 2

Colonial Description

James Truslow Adams, in his History of The Town of Southampton1, writes;

The Montauks had an extensive settlement of “half a hundred” wigwams on the west side of Three Mile Harbor.

  1. James Truslow Adams, History of the Town of Southampton (East of Canoe Place), 1918 pp. 29

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