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Howell Homestead

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Introduction
History

Introduction

In 1657, houses were burned in Southampton village by two Shinnecock men and a black woman who served in one of the houses belonging to Eleanor Howell, widow of Edward Howell a founder of the town. The motive may have been in retaliation for the mistreatment of servants in the Howell home, or in response to roaming horses from Southampton destroying Shinnecock corn fields

Colonial authorities in Hartford sent a troop of nineteen men under the command of John Mason, who commanded the massacre of the Pequot at Mystic during the Pequot War. When Mason levied a fine of £700 on the Shinnecock community, Wyandanch went to Hartford and sent a representative to Boston to convince the authorities to reduce the £700 fine to £500. While the damage was minimal, large fines were often used as a form of control and land acquisition if indigenous communities couldn’t pay the fine.

History

John Strong describes the house burning in The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island From Earliest Times to 1700 (pp. 219-220 1997);

Several Shinnecock men and an African American woman conspired to burn down several buildings in the settlement. One of the buildings was the home of Eleanor Howell, the widow of Edward Howell, who had helped to found the town in 1640. One or more of the conspirators may have been servants in the Howell household, possibly retaliating for an unpleasant incident involving the servants of the Howells years before.

A young Indian servant woman named Hope had a child by another servant named George Wood. The town court found the couple guilty of “carnal filthiness” and sentenced them to be publicly whipped. The child was given to the Howells to serve as a domestic in their house until he reached the age of thirty1. Unfortunately, there is no further mention of Hope or her child in the town records.

According to the sparse court records from the Particular Court of Connecticut, Wigwagub, a Shinnecock, testified that he had been hired to burn the Howell home by two other Shinnecock named Awabag and Agagoneau[.1 RPCC, 22: 175-76].

Awabag gave Wigwagub a gun and Agagoneau paid him seven shillings and six pence. Another man, Auwegenum, was present when Wigwagub was hired, but his role in the affair was not mentioned. No motive was mentioned in the records, but it was not simply an act of revenge against the Howells, because several other buildings in the town were also burned.

Possibly the attacks were also related to the conflicts over the invasion of Indian planting grounds by English livestock, a common problem during this period. The Shinnecock had frequently complained to Wyandanch about the English horses that wandered into their corn fields and destroyed their crops2.

The court records did not mention the African American woman, but Wyandanch later reported that the servant woman was “far deeper in that capital miscarriage than any or all of the Indians2. It is possible that Wyandanch was attempting to shift the blame away from the Indians, but even so, his account raises questions about the relationship between the small population of African American servants and slaves and the Indians. Both groups certainly shared common frustrations in their relations with the dominant white settlers. The suggestion that a woman had taken a role of leadership in the small rebellion is also noteworthy.

When news of the house burning reached Hartford, the colonial authorities raised a troop of nineteen men, armed them with twenty-five pounds of powder and fifty pounds of shot, and sent them to Southampton under the command of John Mason, the veteran who had commanded the troops at Mystic during the Pequot War4. The mere presence of the man who ordered the massacre of the Pequot must have unsettled the Shinnecock. Mason was ordered to consult with Wyandanch about the matter and to determine whether or not any of the Indians involved in the incident were under Wyandanch ‘s authority.

Mason arrived in Southampton find that the magistrates had issued gunpowder to the townsmen in preparation fo a conflict. The town passed a resolution allowing only four representatives from Shinnecock to enter the English village. The magistrates appointed Wapeacom, Powcowwantuck, Suretrust, and James to carry on all relations between the two communities5.

There is no record of Mason’s activities in the town, but there is a reference in a later document to a Shinnecock man who killed himself to avoid “just execution” by the English6. The man may have been Wigwagub, the only one who confessed to the arson. Mason, apparently not satisfied to leave the matter at that, imposed an exorbitant fine of £700 on the Shinnecock community.

The Shinnecock, well aware of Mason’s role in the massacre of the Pequot, agreed to pay the fine, which was to be paid over a seven year period6. The fine forced them into a debt servitude which could be used both as an instrument of social control by the English and as a means to press for the sale of land to pay for the fine. For the Shinnecock, who were not yet engaged in the European economic system, the sum was an impossible burden.

Wyandanch demonstrated that the role of the alliance chief could be more than that of a passive conduit for English governance when he sent a representative with a written petition to the United Colonies session in Boston the following STepember and appealed the Connecticut court’s fine6. The Montaukett sachem’s decision to go over the head of the Connecticut court and the articulation of his arguments indicate a growing familiarity with English institutions.

When he submitted the petition, Wyandanch also sent seventy-eight fathoms of wampum to the United Colonies’ treasurer in New Haven. The wampum was undoubtedly intended to influence the commissioners9. The sachem began his presentation to the commissioners by reporting that the Shinnecock had already sustained losses from English horses that destroyed their crops. He then argued that Mason had not been fully informed about the arson when he imposed the fine. He told the commissioners that the African American woman was primarily to blame for the arson and that the Shinnecock involved was dead. Given these circumstances, argued Wyandanch, the fine was excessive. The United Colonies’ commissioner agreed with Wyandanch and asked the Connecticut court to reconsider the amount.

While the matter was pending before Connecticut court, the town of Southampton paid the widow Howell twenty shillings to repair her losses. The damage was apparently not very severe. John Mason received £20 from the town for his role in the affair. The cost of repairing the damage and paying the troops certainly did not justify a fine of £700. When the Connecticut court reconsidered the matter, they reduced the amount to £500 over a six year period10 For the Shinnecock, the reduction had little significance because the fine was stil beyond their means.

The Hartford court appointed a group of prominent Southampton men to collect the fine and distribute payment ot those who had suffered damages. The committee was empowered to “take from them a certain company of ye Indian men,” if the payments were not made11. The brief reference does not explain what was to be done with the captives, but most likely it was intended that they would be sold as slaves in the West Indies to pay the debt. Although John Ogden, a member of the committee, apparently favored such action, the magistrates refused to take such drastic measure, knowing full well that it might provoke a much more violent reaction among the local Indians The Indians were well aware of the fate which befell those shipped out to the West Indies.

Fines of the kind were often used in New England as an effective means of social control. As long as an Algonquian community remained under the shadow of the debt, the English could intervene in their community affairs. The debt was also a strategy used to obtain Indian lands. According to historian Francis Jennings, a favorite strategy of the English was “the imposition of fines for a wide variety of offenses, the Indians’ lands becoming forfeit if the fines were not paid by their due date”12. Seen later in history, the English on Long Island were to make equally effective use of this strategy.

  1. RTSH, 1 :35
  2. RCNP, 10: 180
  3. RCNP, 10: 180
  4. RPCC, 22: 176
  5. RTSH, 1:114-15
  6. RCNP, 10:180
  7. RCNP, 10:180
  8. RCNP, 10:180
  9. RCNP, 10:194
  10. RCC, 1:316-17
  11. RTSH, 2:20-7
  12. Jennings 1976: 144-45

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