|Table of Contents||Introduction|
|Land Loss & Erasure|
Indian Fields is a settlement site for the Montaukett Indians with evidence of occupation from the pre-contact Paleo-Indian period until May, 1885. This terrain of 1200 acres of rolling grassland and brush is now a Suffolk County Park.
Maria Pharoah, one of the remaining Montauketts living in Indian Fields during the 19th centry, kept a diary, the only such document about the lifestyle of the Natives at the time, describes their self-sufficient, happy homesteading lifestyle — gathering, hunting, fishing, guiding sportsmen and selling crafts.1
The resettlement of Montaukett individuals from Indian Fields to points west reflects a desire to find work and accumulate, wealth, and goods. Leaving one’s family and homeland behind at Montauk would have been a struggle, whether the decision was to move twenty miles away to East Hampton village, to move eighty miles away to North Amityville, or to spend nearly a decade at sea.
While this likely created some conflict over one’s Native American identity and among kin relations, these moves did not necessarily destroy the tribal members’ sense of being Montaukett (see Strong 2001). Some Montauketts who left Indian Fields were listed as residents of the neighborhoods of Freetown and Eastville by the mid-nineteenth century. Like free black residents of the same neighborhoods, census takers categorized them as “free people of color,’ but their surnames-which included Pharaoh, Fowler, Hannibal, and Wright-can be traced to ancestral lineages of Montaukett heritage. Freetown and Eastville are remembered as multi-ethnic communities that were founded by free people of color who built churches together, worked together, and built futures together through marriage – but the historical legacies of these two neighborhoods are different. Read more about Freetown
Indian Fields is protected as part of the Montauk Point State Park, prohibiting further potential land development and disruption.
The late contact-period material culture of the Montaukett has been retrieved somewhat by the archaeological record of Indian Fields. The artifacts excavated by Edward Johannemann indicate habitation there from 1725 to about 1885. The excavation probably found the home of Charles Fowler (24 feet square of Anglo design with wood floors) and located other houses 30 feet square and 11 by 16 feet, as well as other structures 7 and 8 feet in diameter.
The site’s “Indian barns” showed four variations of storage shelters and a well/cool-storage structure. Faunal remains indicate that they ate a lot of turtle. (27) Ceramic fragments found (4,539) indicate that more than half of their vessels were redware, the common ware of the early days. About 25% was pearlware, 17% white ironstone, 2% earthenware, and 1.25% porcelain. When this profile is calculated for other Long Island populations, it would tell us how the Montaukett compared economically and esthetically with other groups.1
Land Loss & Erasure
After David Pharaoh died of TB, Maria and her children could not maintain the homesteading lifestyle. They were lured to move to Freetown, north of East Hampton village, by promises by Frank Benson that they could return in summer, would get a yearly annuity, and education for the children.
The Benson family, who had bought Montauk peninsula from the Town Trustees, used it as a hunting preserve and planned to develop it. The promises were empty, the Montaukett homes at Indian Field containing their deeds and records were burned, and they were driven away from their ancestral home. Other Montaukett had moved away for better livelihoods to Eastville, a Native/African American settlement on the eastern side of Sag Harbor, while others lived in enclaves in Southold, Greenport, Amityville, and scattered through the Island.
By the twentieth century the Montaukett had disappeared from the Town Records, appearing only in legal records, in newspaper articles, in oral histories (such as Maria Pharaoh’s “Diary”).1
The lawsuit begun in the 1870s to regain Indian Fields, which had been taken from them by the developer Arthur Benson and his family, was lost in 1910 (and the appeals in 1918) when Judge Abel Blackmar pronounced them to no be longer Indians. A photograph records the Montaukett‘s 1923 trip to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC seeking government aid for the return of their land; none was given in that time of rapid development.
The current generation of Montaukett descendants, numbering in the thousands around the country and in the hundreds on Long Island, are organizing at the request of Robert Pharaoh and Bob Cooper, descendants of Maria Pharaoh, to seek Federal recognition and the return of their land. They are collecting genealogies and have sponsored powwows as part of the process to secure their heritage.1
- Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 9 ↩