|Table of Contents||Introduction|
Niamuck was once the primary location of settlement for the Shinnecock people prior to the current Shinnecock Reservation. From the current Shinnecock Canal to the southern most land tip, the Shinnecock people existed before contact. This land was formally lost to the Shinnecock in 1703, but historical maps show continued indigenous presence until the mid 19th century.
In 1791, Rev. Paul Cuffee organized a Congressional church in the Niamuck area. Part of the church remains in the area while the other half was moved to the Shinnecock Reservation and is still used today. Cuffee was buried on the spot where the church once stood.
This place is now known as the Shinnecock Canal.
Mongotucksee (or Long Knife) who supposedly was the Montauk Sachem 200 years before – ( possibly 1470 ) – who, at that time, was highly respected by the Mohawks, Narragansetts and Pequots – cut through the canal by hand at Canoe Place (present-day Shinnecock Canal), to be able to let pass canoes through from one bay to another.
The story was that the Shinnecocks captured his son who was out hunting. Mongotucksee pursued them with 300 warriors in 50 canoes, crossing into Shinnecock Bay at Canoe Place. After victory, he cemented peace by marrying his son to the daughter of the Shinnecock sachem.” This also improved lines of communication.1
- David Bunn Martine, Shinnecock History Timeline pp.6 ↩
Migration from Niamuck to Shinnecock
During the first half of the nineteenth century many Shinnecock Indians moved eastward a few miles to their present reservation near Southampton village. There is surprisingly little record of this migration. The residence of substantial numbers of Shinnecocks in the vicinity of Ponquogue (southern tip of what is now Hampton Bays) and Good Ground (now Hampton Bays, a mile west from Canoe Place) until the early or middle eighteen hundreds is attested by maps and local histories and other authentic sources. Their residence there was unexplained by title documents, in fact it was inconsistent with them. Nowhere is to be found an explanation of how or by what right so many of the Shinnecock Indians had remained there so long, or what caused them to leave there and join their brethren on the present Shinnecock Reservation.
These mysteries of local history, and some which involve more directly a strip of land a mile long and ninety-nine feet wide running from Canoe Place to Hampton Bay, have been explored within the past two years in a Suffolk County title litigation. The suit was brought by Douglas King against Daniel Warner and others to remove cloud on title to the long narrow strip of land. King lives with his family on part of the strip and claims all of it. Most conspicuous among the “others” who were defendants were the Trustees of the Shinnecock Tribe and the “cloud” about which King most complained was a tradition, supported by ancient deeds and maps, that the Shinnecock were the true owners of the strip.
The late Supreme Court Justice Thos. J. Cuff decided on June 12, 1953. that there is no statutory authority for the suit against the Trustees so the litigation is stalemated. No regret need be felt about the “technical” nature of this decision. Much research was devoted to the rights of the respective parties but so much remains unexplained that no decision on the merits is appropriate at the present time.
The Town of Southampton starts with patents or royal grants of 1676 and 1686 which conferred upon fifteen persons, a combination of property and governmental rights. The title to the land became vested in those persons by the patents plus purchase from the Indians. By a release of 1640 followed by a deed in 1703 the Shinnecock Indians surrendered claim to all lands except they reserved to themselves a “lease” for a thousand years of about 3600 acres. This “reservation” was immediately east of the narrow isthmus called Canoe Place. It included the Shinnecock Hills and the present Shinnecock Reservation south of the Hills.
On the face of these title documents it would seem that the Shinnecocks should not have been living west of Canoe Place after 1703 but the fact was that many of them, perhaps most of them, were living there until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Certainly many of them resided in this vicinity until 1840 or even later. It is well authenticated that many Shinnecock families, perhaps the greater part of the tribe, remained at Good Ground and thereabouts for over a century after Shinnecock title to that land had been conveyed. Maps as late as · 1836 (Colton & Co. map of Long Island) and 1839 (plate 5 in Burr Atlas of N.Y. State) showed triangles, apparently a symbol for wigwams or hogans, identified by the words “Shinnecock Indians,” immedidately south from Good Ground and Canoe Place. The later map also showed them on Shinnecock Neck, so if we could put complete trust in these maps we would know the approximate date of the emigration. William S. Pelletreau, an authority on the history of Southampton, wrote in 1882 and in another history published in 1902 that the only house in Good Ground in 1800 was that of the widow Goodale, but that there were wigwams until 1830 or 1850.
A Congregational church, where the Reverend Paul Cuffee preached to his Shinnecock brethren, was built in 1791-1792 midway between Good Ground and Canoe Place, near the place still marked for his grave. The Trustees for the Town, who represented the Proprietors as previously mentioned, contributed twenty pounds towards the costs of the Indian church on condition that the Proprietors “shall have the grazing of Shinnecock Neck during the whole of the year 1792 without molestation.” (See the printed Trustees’ Records, Vol. I pages 500, 514,522, 523, 535.) The Reverend Cuffee died in 1812; the church which he founded fell into disrepair before 1830, and by 1845 its sife was grown up to bushes and trees. But the Reverend William Benjamin was Congregational minister to the Shinnecocks at some church at Canoe Place froi:p 1827 until his death in 1860. (See Prime’s History of Long Island, pages 117, il8, 217, 411. See also a mss. by Rev. James Y. Downs possessed by the Pennypacker Long Island Collection, East Hampton.)
What became of the “Cuffee” church building, and what building Reverend Benjamin used when he preached to the Shinnecocks at Canoe Place until 1860, are matters of surmise. Abigail Fithian Halsey, in an article in the Long Island Forum for July 1945, said that the church organized on the present reservation in 1847 and still active there used part of the old “Cuffee” church building, moved across the Bay on the ice. She had good authority for that statement and she seems to have been equally right in saying that the little chapel which still stands on Canoe Place Road was the other part of the “Cuffee” church. Upon the latter point Pelletreau can be cited against her, because he said in 1882 that the chapel was built under the auspices of the Long Island Presbytery in 1819. Prime, on the other hand, said in 1845 that a Presbyterian church was organized in 1819 but had no house of worship and soon became extinct. Certainly the records of the Presbyterian Historical Society at Philadelphia are silent.1
- Gaynell Stone, The Shinnecock Indians – A Culture History Vol Vi. pp. 131 ↩
The Algonquian word for this locality is “Niamuck,” and its meaning is “the place between the fishing places,” or “midway the fishing place.”
This Algonquian word is first found in records of Southampton, vol ii, p. 27 viz: “Part of the Shinnecock Indians have made over all their land from Niamuck over to the old gutt westward unto Capt. Topping. ”
- H.D. Sleight, The Eighth Volume of Records of the Town of Southampton 1893 – 1927 Part Two, 1930 pp. 233 ↩
Peter John, Rev. Paul Cuffee‘s grandfather, was born between (~1712/1715 – 1800, died age 88 and buried at Poospatuck). He may have been influenced by The Great Awakening during 1741-1744, results in an emergence of zealous Native American preachers. John preached at small church gatherings at Wading River, Poospatuck, Islip and Canoe Place until his grandson Paul Cuffee became his successor and was joined into the ministry.
Rev. Paul Cuffee completed his term of service at the Connecticut convention to work as a minister at Canoe Place until his passing. During his time preaching between Canoe Place, Montauk, occasionally Islip and Poospatuck, he received annual commission from the New York Missionary Society to labor with the Long Island Indians.
After the death of Rev. Paul Cuffee (1757 – 1812), there was a local preacher by the name Rev. Joseph Corwin, who died between 1816-1820.
- James Y. Downs, History of the Shinnecocks, Pennypacker Collection pp. 15 ↩
“The Place where the Indian hayle over their canooes out of the North bay to the south side of the Island.”
This is mentioned as the west bound, in 1640, of the “Town Purchase,” or the first Indian deed for Southampton lands.
Here, the Indians had habitations. Both bays were favorite fishing places. The Shinnecock Indians claim land at, or in vicinity of Niamuck today [known as West Woods]. How this land became retained to them, after the Ogden and Cooper and Topping Purchases, and the arbitration of Governor Nicoll, concerning conflicting Indian grants, in 1666, the records do not clearly indicate. The title of land west of Niamuck, the award appears to vest in Southampton Town, who through its Trustees held the legal title and divided the equitable title among proprietor purchasers of the Patents and the lands.
When Indian trustees at tempted to sell 100 acres of woodland, near Good Ground (not Hampton Bays), on the north side near Peconic Bay, in 1890. the court invalidated the bargain and sale deed. and rejected woodcutters put on the land by the would-be purchaser; in 1925. the court sustained a suit through by the Indians, for damage, against a road foreman of Southampton, who took from this land material, gravel and marl, and the town paid judgment to the Indian Tribe. Both these suits are subsequent to the abrogation, in 1859, of the 1703 thousand-year Indian lease of Southampton lands.
Pelletreau writes of Canoe Place in 1877:
“Of the local affairs of the town none was of greater importance than the purchase of the tract of country lying west of Canoe Place. This had remained unclaimed by any town, and was not purchased from the Indians until 1662; at that time Capt. Topping purchased the tract in question, obtaining a deed from certain Indians claiming the right to make the sale. This transfer was looked upon with a jealous eye by the town at large, and after much controversy, the chiefs of the Shinnecock tribe, including the son and daughter of the great Sachem Mandush, who ruled the tribe at the time of settlement, after asserting that the deed to Capt. Topping was of no avail as given by Indians who had no right to make such transfer, by a deed bearing date Sept. 17, 1666, sell to their ‘ancient and loving friends the towns- men of Southampton,’ all the tract of land lying between “Niamoug, or Canoe Place, and Sea tuck.”1
Daniel Denton mentions Canoe Place in his Description of New York, 1670;
Canoe Place, on the South side of Long Island, near Southampton, derives its name from the fact, that more than two centuries ago, a canal was made there by the Indians, for the purpose of passing their canoes from one bay to the other, (that is across the Island, from Mecox bay to Peconic bay.) Although the trench has been in a great measure filled up, yet its remains are still visible, and partly flowed at high water. It was constructed by Mongotucksee, (or long knife,) who then reigned over the nation of Montauk. Although that nation has now dwindled to a few miserable remnants of a pwoerful race, who still linger on the lands which was once the seat of their proud dominion, yet their traditional history is replete with all those tragical incidents which usually accompany the fall of power. It informs us, that their chief was of gigantic form — proud and despotic in peace and terrible in war. But although a tyrant of his people, yet he protected them from their enemies, and commanded their respect for his savage virtues. The praises of Mongotucksee are still chaunted in aboriginal verse, to the winds that howl around the eastern extremity of the island. The Narragansetts and the Mohocks yielded to his prowess, and the ancestors of the last of the Mohiccans trembled at the expression of his anger. He sustained his power not less by the resources of his mind than by the vigor of his arm. An ever watchful policy guided his councils. Prepared for every exigency, not even aboriginal sagacity could surprise his caution. To facilitate communication around the seat of his dominion, — for the purpose not only of defence but of annoyance, he constructed this canal, which remains a monument of his genius, while other traces of his skill and prowess are lost in oblivion, and even the nation whose valor he led, may soon furnish for our country a topic in contemplation the fallen greatness of the last of the Montauks.2