|Table of Contents||Introduction|
|The Old Schoolhouse|
|Early and Colonial Description|
The Shinnecock Indian Reservation is a self-governing reservation. The reservation has a museum, shellfish hatchery, education center, cultural and community center, playground, and Presbyterian church. They currently have over 1,200 enrolled members.
Every Labor Day Weekend since 1946, the reservation hosts a powwow, based on ceremonies beginning in 1912. The Shinnecock Powwow is ranked by USA Today as one of the ten great powwows held in the United States. In 2008, the powwow attracted 50,000 visitors.
Long Island is surrounded by water and the Shinnecock became excellent sailors and fishermen. Historically the Shinnecock’s were farmers, hunters, and fishermen. The women were usually the farmers and grew such food as corn and squash. The men did the fishing and hunting.
First Contact with English Colonists. With the arrival of Europeans on Long Island, the Shinnecock began working on their boats.
Like almost all the Native American people throughout the Americas European colonization in the 1600s and later brought diseases to the Shinnecock People for which they had no immunity. These highly contagious diseases, such as smallpox, caused epidemics that nearly wiped out the whole tribe.
In the deed of East Hampton township, Pogatacut (also known as Youghco) is named Sachem of the Munansett (Manhanset); Wyandanch, Sachem of the Meuntacut (Montaukett); Momoweta, Sachem of Corchake (Corchaug); and Nowedonah, Sachem of the Shinecok (Shinnecock). 2
Cockenoe, or Cheekanoo, is listed as their interpretor.
Wyandanch receives tributary status from Mandush of Shinnecock while negotiating the outcome of the murder of Phoebe Halsey. 3
Sachem Nowedonah’s name may appear with a group of Sachems on the Thomas Topping deed as spelled Nowidatasoni. 4
Rev. Samson Occum is a school teacher to Shinnecock and Montauk Indians. 5
Southampton town demonstrates a growing concern for the over-harvesting of timberland within the town’s boundaries while also seeking to protect timberlands being utilized by the Shinnecock;
Southampton May ye 5th 1741 Ordered by the Trustees that noe timber shall be cutt nor carted in Shinecock great neck this year and any that shall cutt wood thire shall pay six shillings a load to be recovered by any Justice, a pice. 6
April 2, 1745…Voted on sd day at the above sd meting that there shall not be any timber Cut or Carted in Shenecock Great Neck on penality of Six Shillings per Load for every Load so Cutt or carted away Contrary to true intent and meaning of the act and als there shall be no timber Cut or Carted in Sebonock Great Neck on penality of Six Shillings pr. Load for every load so cut or carted as above sd. 7
While imposing these restrictions, the town was also mindful of the rights to timber accorded to the Shinnecock;
April 1, 1746, …and orded By said Trustees yt No man shall Cutt nor Cart any Timber in Shinecock or Sebonack Necks upon ye Penalty of Six Shillings a Lode…The Indians Excepted 8
Rev. Azariah Horton is preaching at Shinnecock and Poosepatuck. 5
Samson Occum and his brother-in-law, David Fowler (Montaukett) form the Brothertown Plan to move various Indians of the group first to Oneida country where David Fowler had been a missionary. This group of various southern New England displaced Christian Algonquins, Montauk and Shinnecock among them, eventually moved to Wisconsin and became the Brothertown Indian Tribe. A group, including the tribal Chairperson, June Ezold, visited the Shinnecock Museum in the 1990’s and gifts were exchanged. They also have been seeking Federal recognition. A similar group to this tribe is the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe of Wisconsin which also has a similar history of Southern New England Algonquins moving away. There are more Delaware and Mohegan Indians as a part of this group. 9
New York State Legislature passes State Law imposing three annually “elected trustees to oversee the leasing to the settlers of certain sections of the remaining territory as well as to regulate internal land affairs.” This is the beginning of the Trustee system for the Shinnecock. 10
Shinnecock begin building small frame “salt-box” houses as well as continuing wigwam construction.
Rebecca Bunn Kellis, age 99 at the time, is quoted in a newspaper saying that she remembered going on a visit to her cousins in the Shinnecock hills area who still lived in wigwams. She said they thatched them of sea-grass and they used a large bone needle to sew the grass to the frame. She had a cousin who had a two-roomed wigwam with a fire place. 10
In December of 1876, several of the tribe’s men died in a heroic effort to save a stranded ship off the coast of East Hampton, New York.
1914 – 1915
Pageants held both in Southampton Village and Shinnecock Reservation at which Shinnecock participated in traditional clothing. 11
On April 2 – “On motion of Charles Bunn, seconded by David Kellis, it was Resolved that our assemblymen John Downs be requested to introduce a bill in the Legislature, to permit female members of the Shinnecock Tribe of Indians to vote at the annual meeting held on the first Tuesday in April in each year.”
Unfortunately, this evidently never happened because women on the reservation could not vote until the 1990’s, brought about mainly because of Shinnecock women’s groups forcing the issue. 11
The 1969 groundbreaking ceremony for the Shinnecock Community Center. The Shinnecock Community Center was primarily used for recreation sports, cultural activities, and all social events such as wedding receptions, funeral receptions, Nunnowa (Algonquian Thanksgiving), mid-winter feasts, and cultural presentations.
Mocomanto Scholarship Fund is established for the benefit of Shinnecock students to attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
The scholarship was established by Mrs. Cary Potter. Many Shinnecock people attended this Ivy League institution, which was first established as an Indian School by Eleazor Wheelock, teacher of Samson Occum.
Mocomanto was the name of one of the Shinnecock Sachems who signed the first deed with the English settlers in 1640. 12
In 1972, the Shinnecock Native American Cultural Coalition (SNACC) was formed to establish a Native American arts and crafts program. Traditional dancing, beadwork, Native American crafts, and music are studied. The Cultural Enrichment Program is a sharing and learning process that the community has engaged in to ensure that the ideals and traditions of their ancestors are passed down through the generations. It involves sharing knowledge of food, clothing, arts, crafts, dance, ceremonies, and language. 12
Shinnecock Oyster Project is begun funded by the New York Community Trust, based on the model of passive solar-fish hatchery technology inspired by trainees who attended the Lummi School of Aquaculture in Bellingham, Washington State. 13
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s – Shinnecock Oyster Project was discontinued and later revived.
Oyster resources are still utilized on the reservation, but today the Oyster Project is now closed – said to be for water pollution affecting the maturing of oysters around the Shinnecock neck.
A memorial plaque was dedicated to all the Shinnecocks who had served this country in war. The “Rock” was taken from the beach at Westwoods on the Peconic Bay stands as a testimonial to the bravery and invincibility of the Shinnecock. It is located at the flag pole, Church Street and West Road. 14
The Shinnecock continue the tradition of honoring Veterans every year.
October – Shinnecock Rev. Holly Haile Smith is first Native American woman ordained in Presbyterian Church , U.S.A., by the Presbytery of Western Colorado. 15
First Shinnecock Museum committee begins raising money for the establishment of a Shinnecock Museum to be based in the “Little Church” building that was still standing at that time. 15
In 1992 the Nation extended to resident female tribal members the right to elect tribal Trustees and vote on tribal business. In that same year, the Shinnecock established a thirteen member Tribal Council, elected for two year terms, to serve as an advisory body and communications facilitation group within the Nation. 16
On October 1st, the Shinnecock tribe receives Federal Recognition after a 32-year of petition. 17
On February 10th, 2011, The Shinnecock Indian Nation joined USET (United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.), dedicated to enhancing the development of Indian Tribes, to improving the capabilities of Tribal governments, and assisting the member Tribes and their governments in dealing effectively with public policy issues and in serving the broad needs of Indian people.
Kelsey Leonard, Shinnecock, is the first Native American woman to graduate from Harvard University and Oxford University. 15
Nichol Banks and Lucille Bosley become the first women to serve in a leadership role in the tribe’s centuries-old history after being elected, along with five men, to the newly formed Trustees Council. 18
Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua (“Raspberry Star Woman”) Williams, member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, was crowned Miss Native American U.S.A. 2017-2018. She was the first contestant from New York in the sixth annual pageant, which was held in Mesa, Ariz. 19
Taobi Silva, a former tribal leader, was ticketed by federal agents while harvesting eels, who seized his net from the water, and made him wait for hours on the dock for another officer to arrive. In addition to the loss of his nets and the $500 worth of eels he had caught earlier, Silva now faces fines that could exceed $80,000. The fine goes against a 1648 fishing right and agreement between Shinnecock and the United States. 20
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 3
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 4
- John Strong, The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island from Earliest Times to 1700 1997, pp. 197-198
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 5
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 7
- Sleight, Harry, D. ed., Trustees Records: Southampton, New York 1741-1826, pt.1: 6
- Sleight, Harry, D. ed., Trustees Records: Southampton, New York 1741-1826, :34
- Sleight, Harry, D. ed., Trustees Records: Southampton, New York 1741-1826, :44
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 7-8
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 8
- David Martine, Shinnecock History Timeline, pp. 11
- David Martine, Shinnecock History Timeline, pp. 12
- David Martine, Shinnecock History Timeline, pp. 13
- Shinnecock Indian Powwow 1981 Program, pp. 11
- Shinnecock Indian Powwow 1981 Program, pp. 13
- Michael L. Lawson, Introduction of the Evidence of The Shinnecock Indian Nation, 2009 pp. 2-3
Serviceable brushes for cleaning pots were made by splitting the end of a white oak stick into small splints, the process of whittling and splitting takes about half an hour for each scrub. Large brooms were also formerly made in this style. 1
The wood “idol” 2 (seen below) was observed at Shinnecock by Rev. Azariah Horton, 1740s.
In 1840, David Gardiner reports that the Powaws, priests, or medicine-men had smal figures (carved wooden figures) that were used ceremonially.
- (M. R. Harrington, 1902: 39)
- Image from Gaynell Stone’s Indian Place Names Map, 1991
The leaders of Shinnecock seem to have given away the Shinnecock Hills area due to direct bribery in English pounds, and large quantities of alcohol, and for an additional sum of 20 pounds, which would have bought, at that time, five barrels of pork.
It seems that the backlash after the transaction from the larger number of Shinnecock was so great that it forced Southampton to modify the original agreement into providing a thousand-year lease to their own hunting lands – Shinnecock hills – which became Shinnecock reservation, from the Shinnecock canal across to Peconic bay to Southampton – 3600 acres.
The Southampton trustees wanted total removal of Shinnecock title, but later we were “given the right to, “plow, plant, cut reeds – bulrushes, such grass as they made their baskets of, and dig ground-nuts.”
Sachems represented are Pongamo (Mandush’s son), Chice, and Manamam. The Unkechaug sachem, Wyongonheot (Wiangonhut) was also included in the negotiations because of his interest in the Quogue land titles. 1
In 1799, the Indian Records Books document new restrictions on the land rights of non-resident Shinnecock and non-Shinnecock husbands, either Indians from other Long Island groups or non- Indians.
On April 19, 1799, the record showed that Shinnecock Indian Trustees (Samuel Budd, Abraham Jacob, and David Waukus) voted that non-resident Indians could not take part in the yearly draw for lease lands, but could be assigned half the land as residents for their own use. This new rule could explain the absence after 1800 of some names in earlier transactions.
The Trustees also made a vote that “No person not being an original proprietor shall draw any land by virtue of marrying” a Shinnecock woman even though his wife could still draw the same as any other female proprietor 2. However, a woman “who is not a native” shall draw equally “with any other [Indian woman] who is a native & have equal privileges” if she marries “an Indian” 2. Thus, the Shinnecock Trustees restricted the rights of nonresidents and of non-Shinnecock husbands. There is no evidence that non-Indian Justices participated in formulating this rule.
The intent of the 1799 rule is directly related to a petition to the State dated January 17, 1800, signed by “a number of the principal Indians belonging to the Shinnecocks Tribe, residing within the County of Suffolk” 3. This petition indicates that some non-Indian men marrying Shinnecock women 4 had not left with their wives as the 1799 rule had ordered.
These petitioners noted there were “daily encroachments” and “wanton destruction” of timber and firewood on their “common” lands. They described the trespassers as “strangers who marry in among us and by virtue of such connections, claim a right.” They asked the State “to compel such strangers so marrying to go … with their wives to retire off our lands.” 5
1859 – 1880s
Real Estate Promoters and local officials eager to bring the Long Island Railroad to the East End of Long Island used questionable and possibly illegal means to break leases with Indians in Southampton and East Hampton towns a century ago and strip away their rights to 14,500 acres of prime real estate.
The most breaking of leases with the Shinnecock and Montaukett Indians, in 1859 and the early 1880s, appears today to have been accomplished by deceit, lies and possibly forgery, a Newsday examination of historical and legal records shows. While the Indians themselves raised these issues at the time, their protests were dismissed in the courts. 6
Specifically in 1859, the New York State Legislature, by the act, said that the Shinnecock conveyed their rights of the 1703 deed to the proprietors of the Village of Southampton in return for ownership of the reservation area. Pressures from the “private sector” cattle roaming over Shinnecock land, plowing land, mowing hay, and cutting wood contributed to that conclusion.
During this time, Shinnecock tribal members were also sued by whites for cutting wood on their own land – the argument being that in order to stop the unending incursions on Shinnecock land we should just sign it away.
There was a similar argument made with the Sioux for the Black Hills and the Cherokee and Choctaw in the south. In these examples, there seemed to have been fraudulent signatures on this deed, as well as not being conducted according to the stipulations for the 1790 law with the Federal Government.
It is said that the names for West Gate and East Gate roads originated in this time period during which a fence and gate were built by Shinnecock along what is now Montauk Highway in order to keep the cattle off of the rest of Shinnecock land – the current reservation. There seems to have also been a curfew against Shinnecock people at this time. 7
The latest in the encroachment of Shinnecock land is carried out by the owner of Tidewater Pub, south of Montauk Hwy, who has extended his parking lot behind his restaurant over a period of several years on land allotted to the Shinnecock Nation Museum.
The tribe responded with a letter to the owner of Tidewater Pub by a lawyer representing the Museum, for him to discontinue any further disturbance of the property or face further action. 7
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 6-7
- Papageorge 1983, 157
- Waukus et al. 1/17/1800
- Peletreau writes, “The last Indian of pure blood was known as “Joe Tony,” and he died in 1850 …The present tribe is entirely derived from Negroes, most of whom came from other places and married Indian women, thus securing a right to live on the Indian land” (Peletreau 1905, 313-314). A Joseph Tony appears on the 1840 Federal census of Southampton, apparently on the reservation. Other Tonys appear on Shinnecock documents produced between 1764 and 1815 when a Jonathon Toney was chosen Trustee. No descendants are known among the current petitioner.
- Proposed Findings for Petitioner #4 (Shinnecock Indian Nation) 12/15/2009 pp 50.
- Steve Wick and Thomas Maier, Lost Indian Land, Newsday March 22, 1998
- David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 9
Shinnecock is a neck of land, and the name may translate to ‘at the big neck.‘
This name supports the idea that the element –uniikw– means ‘neck of land.‘ Tooker noted the Dutch spelling of the name [Mochgonnekonck 1] (in the Munsee language, spoken on Manhattan), which is a key to the interpretation.
Munsee */mxwuníikwunk/ ‘at the big –uniikw-’ would be in SNEA (Southern New England Algonquian) */mhshuniikwuk/ (with /m(u)hsh-/ ‘big’, which is what Shinnecock is, with loss (in the language) or omission (by English hearers) of the whispered “m-”. (written here schwa [technically /O/] with “u” for convenience, following the Munsee practical orthography.) 2
- Tooker, Indian Place Names of Long Island, 1911, pp. XXV, 136-8
- Ives Goddard, A Note on Shinnecock in Munsee, Email Corrispondance 2017
The Shinnecock Indian Reservation is located between Hampton Bays and Southampton, NY, in the Suffolk County district. By 1859, the current borders of 800 acres (3.2 km2) were established. The reservation is three miles (5 km) west of the village of Southampton, New York.
The Shinnecocks were divided into many small bands, living in villages situated along the shores of Peconic Bay and North Sea and near the adjacent creeks and bays which indent the short line. They had a stockaded village or fort at Sebonac, near the site of the present National Golf Links where important traces of their habitation have been found. Numerous shell heaps and kitchen middens have revealed the remains of refuse, fragments of pottery, and other utensils, broken bits of antlers, bones of animals, arrowheads, fish hooks and occasional pieces of woven material which have enabled archaeologists to reconstruct the habits, customs and material culture of the aborigines. 1
- Bailey, P. (1949). Long Island; a history of two great counties, Nassau and Suffolk. New York: Lewis Historical Pub. pp 119
In 1903, it had a population of 150. In 2012, the Shinnecock Nation numbered more than 1,400 people, with more than half residing on the reservation.
When settlers first arrived in the area in 1640, the Shinnecocks numbered around 2,000. They were skilled on the water, spear fishing for eel, harvesting shellfish from the bay and hunting whales from small canoes.
In the mid-19th century, New York State set aside an earlier agreement between the tribe and Southampton and reduced the reservation to its current size, a decision the tribe has never accepted.
By 1875, disease had reduced the reservation’s population to about 200. The following year, 10 Shinnecock men died helping to recover a freighter that had run aground offshore. News accounts said the loss marked the end of the tribe.
“The recent drowning of the Shinnecock Indians on board the wreck of the Circassian has nearly extirpated what was once a large and powerful tribe,” said an article in The New York Times on Jan. 11, 1877. 1
Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation are standing with other tribal leaders, elders, and community advocates calling for a more accurate census count of indigenous peoples.
“A good census count ensures that accurate data will guide funding and planning decisions for tribes and native communities for a decade,” said Shinnecock Nation Council of Trustees board member Germain Smith. 2
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[tabtext]Shinnecock[/tabtext] [tabtext]Mochgonnekonck[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer]
[tab]Shinnecock: The contemporary name used for the land and tribe occupying the land.[/tab]
[tab]Mochgonnekonck: The Dutch notation for Shinnecock.
Used in the following treaty:
“Before us the Director and Council of New Netherland appeared Wittaneymen, Sachem of Mochgonnekonck, declaring to be empowered by his brethren, named as follows, to wit Rochkouw, the greatest Sachem of Cotsjewaminck, Mamawichtouw, Sachem of Catsjeyick, Weyrinteynich, Sachem of Mirrachtauhacky, and said, as well in his own name as in that of his brethren aforesaid, that they had taken under their protection the villages named, Ouheyinchkingh, Sichteyhacky, Sicketauyhacky, Nesinckqueghacky, at which place the Matinnekonck now reside, and Rickouhacky, and request to walk in a firm bond of friendship with us and promised that the Christians should experience at the hands of his people, or of those above named villages, nothing but every kindness, and as a proof of their good disposition, they offered to go against our enemies, which he has done, and brought a head and hands of the enemy, and has agreed with us to aid our people from henceforth against the Indians our enemies, which we have accepted. In ratification of this treaty, we have given a present to the above-named chiefs, with promise not to molest them as long as he and the above-named villages remain in their duty, but to show them all possible friendship. In this testimony of the truth the original is signed by us, confirmed by our seal and handed to the chief, the seal being pendant thereto the 29 of May, 1645, in Fort Amsterdam, New Netherland” (Col. Hist. N. Y., vol. xiv., p. 60.)
Ruttenber mistakenly supposes the place to be unlocated and the Sachem Wittaneymen to be Takapousha. The brethren named show that they all belong at the east end. They were given a certificate of protection the previous year (1644) by the English, wherein Wittanaymen is spelled Weenakamin, thus proving that he was the Sachem of the Shinnecock, or Mochgonnekonck of the Dutch. 1
- Tooker, W. W., & Chamberlain, A. F. (1911). The Indian place-names on Long island and islands adjacent, with their probable significations. New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. pp 136
All of the original inhabitants of Long Island shared a common language root called “Algonquian,” which distinguished them from their Iroquois neighbors in what is now upstate New York. There are many correspondences between Shinnecock, Natick, and Narragansett in language dialect (more so than Delaware, Abnaki or Sauk). 1
The colonial peoples, in general, discouraged the survival of the language as a part of consciously destroying all vestiges of Indian culture. The language has not been entirely lost in spite of these efforts – The Shinnecock belong to the Algonquian linguistic family in the same sense the French belong to the Latin family. It appears to be very similar to the language spoken by the Mohegan-Pequot tribes (Bonvillain, 1980). 2
There was only one written source for the Shinnecock language: a Bible translated by a native man, Cockenoe de Long Island, in the mid-1600s.
Much of their traditional culture has survived and many ancient traditions are being revived by the youth, including language classes at reservation’s Wuneechanunk preschool.
- Harrington, M. R. (1924). An ancient village site of the Shinnecock Indians. New York. pp. 281
- Stone, G. (1983). The Shinnecock Indians: A culture history. Stony Brook, NY: Suffolk County Archaeological Association. pp. 44
The Shinnecock Cultural Center & Museum is located on the edge of the Shinnecock reservation on Montauk Highway. The mission of the Shinnecock Cultural Center & Museum is to promote awareness, understanding and an appreciation of Shinnecock history and culture.
Established in 2001 as the only Native American owned and operated nongovernmental, not for profit, Native American owned and operated organization on Long Island dedicated to honoring the Ancestors and living history as Algonquin descendants.
The Museum features history spanning over the 10,00 years our people have inhabited this area now called Long Island. Built from Adirondack white pine, our facilities contains 5,000 square feet of exhibition space. Our Museum has recently added some new cultural material items to our permanent display. Originally on display at the Southampton Historical Museum in 2011, for their exhibition, 10,000 Years of Hunting and Fishing on Long Island, these items that help illustrate the different time periods of Shinnecock history: Paleolithic, Archaic, Woodland and Historic periods for their exhibition. Our Museum has now acquired these items for our main exhibit – A Walk with the People. 1
The Shinnecock presented a proposal to the Mashantucket Pequot in Connecticut, asking them to help with the financing for their museum. In 1997, the Pequots granted the Shinnecocks $200,000 for construction costs. Then the Shinnecocks turned to another Indian group, the Oneidas in upstate New York, for the design and construction of a “log cabin style” building. The Oneidas have a construction company, Beaver Creek Log Homes of Oneida, which specializes in traditional log cabin structures using Adirondack white pine logs harvested from reforested farmland. 2
- Strong, J. A. (1998). “We are still here!”: The Algonquian peoples of Long Island today. Interlaken, NY: Empire State Books.
The Old Schoolhouse
In the 1830s, the first Shinnecock school house was built where the Community Center is now located. The following year, on April 19th, the New York State Legislature allocated money for teaching Shinnecock children. Described in the book “The Shinnecock Indians” by Lois M. Hunter, former school teacher,
“Even in those days when the Indian had little to give, they raised money to help erect another school. It was during this time that Mary Rebecca Bunn Lee (Aunt Becky) taught the children.”
This first school burned in 1874 and was replaced in 1875.
In 1900, there were 46 pupils being taught by a Rev. Thomas Lockwood. The first Shinnecock tribal member to teach was Mary Rebecca Bunn Lee in the 1870’s. Lois Marie Hunter (Princess Nowedonah) also taught there before the beginning of World War II. Some Shinnecock children attended Southampton Schools much earlier as reported by James Bunn (b. 1813) in 1888, who said he attended the Southampton school in his youth.
Between 1900 and 1910, some Shinnecock pupils were allowed to attend Southampton Schools because of the poor quality of text books being supplied from New York State to the Shinnecock School. 1
The old Shinnecock School and Study Center, which was the second building, was burned to the ground during the night. 2
The November 9th, 1967 Southampton Press published a photo and caption describing the fire;
SHINNECOCK Reservation Community Center burned to the ground in the early morning hours on Monday, November 6, despite efforts of Southampton and North Sea firemen to save the old wooden structure. Combing the ruins in the blaze’s aftermath are Mrs. Shirley Smith and Princess Nowedonah (background) as Joseph Smith and Charles Smith, sons of tribal chief Red Fox, try – unsucesfully – to hold back the tears.
For 30 years [the] center served as a school; in recent months it was being used as a study hall where reservation youngsters received daily tutoring and help with their studies.
Today, the Shinnecock Community Center stands in the heart of the community where the Old Shinnecock School once stood.
- David Bunn Martine, Shinnecock History pp. 9
- David Bunn Martine, Shinnecock History pp. 11
- Conscience Point – The point of contact between English settlers and the Shinnecock
- Sebonac Site – A late woodland settlement of the Shinnecock
- Sugar Loaf Hill – An orient culture burial ground for the Shinnecock
- Weckatuck Settlement – A late woodland and early contact settlement site with sacred use.
- Bailey, P. (1949). Long Island; a history of two great counties, Nassau and Suffolk. New York: Lewis Historical Pub. pp 119
17th and 18th century
Shinnecock people were widely associated with commercial whaling as a way of supporting themselves and their family. The long expeditions rewarded tribal members whose lifestyles were transformed after the contact-period with coats, cloth, boots, stockings, powder, shot, alcohol, and eventually salt-box style housing. As the whaling industry developed, Indian whalers demanded a share of the whale oil and bones from the expeditions.
After the decline of the whale population and whaling industry, Shinnecock men and women began work in fishing, leading hunting tours, factory work, and small craft production.
The first Shinnecock Indian Labor Day Weekend Powwow began in 1946 as a way to help fund the reservation’s Presbyterian Church and as a source of revenue for tribal government budgeting.
The Shinnecock Oyster Project was formed as a source of jobs and cultural pride for the Shinnecock tribe. The project was discontinued into the 1990s due to local over-harvesting and residential development polluting the bay waters – but was later revived around 2006 by individual tribal nation families.
After 30 years, the Shinnecock Indian Nation became Federally Recognized in 2010, opening the possibility for a casino. In 2007, the Shinnecock Indian Nation proposed a gaming casino to generate revenue for economic development
Two-sided electronic billboards began construction along Sunrise Highway just west of the Shinnecock Canal, on the southernmost portion of the tribe’s bayfront property, Westwoods.
Tribal leaders said the 61-foot twin billboards on tribal land along Sunrise Highway will bring significant revenue from advertising—reportedly in the millions each year.
Despite local residents claiming the signs will be “eye-soars”, Shinnecock trustees insist that there is no local, state or federal rule stopping them. As to any suggestion that the project was a “surprise,” they say they first told town officials a year ago, and have been communicating, mostly a one-sided conversation, with state officials for many months. 1
Rising seas accellerated by climate change are threatening to eat away at the Shinnecock lands, but thanks to the efforts of Shinnecock Nation’s environmental department, natural remedies are being used to combat this: dredged sand, sea grasses, beach grasses, boulders, oyster shells. In the Spring of 2020, Shavonne Smith, director of the tribe’s environmental department, wants to expand the oyster reef designed to dissipate the energy of the waves.
What the Shinnecock are doing on their land represents what climate adaptation experts call nature-based solutions. Several such efforts are underway elsewhere. New York City’s oyster reefs are being restored to protect Manhattan from storm surges. Marsh grasses have been planted to control erosion in parts of the Florida panhandle. Mangroves have been restored in Vietnam to protect coastal communities from sea level rise and storm surges.
To what extent these natural defenses will succeed in slowing down climate hazards remains uncertain. Ultimately, it depends not on nature, but on how quickly the world as a whole reduces the emission of planet-warming gases and stems the rate of sea level rise. 1
Early and Colonial Description
After M. R. Harrington of the American Museum of Natural History Museum conducted his excavation of the Sebonac site in 1902, just a few miles north of the Shinnecock reservation, he conducted anthropological work with the contemporary Shinnecock residents. He writes 1;
DURING several summers of archaeological work on Long Island for the American Museum of Natural History I heard many conflict- ing reports concerning the Shinnecock Indians; some to the effect that the tribe was extinct, that the people on the Reserve were all negroes, and showed no Indian characteristics whatever. Other reports were more favorable. It was not until the spring of 1902, however, that I had an opportunity to visit the place, and discover the truth of the matter.
Although an Indian reservation in name, little is apparent at first glance to indicate that such is the fact; it seems to be a negro settlement pure and simple. But a closer examination shows that many of the people have Indian blood. Some are black and woolly headed, having at the same time facial characteristics distinctly Indian. Others have the straight hair and light color of the Indian, but the flat nose, large dull eyes, and thick lips of the negro. A few of the men are typically Indian. Of these, Wickam Cuffee is the best example. He is Indian in color and feature, and claims to be full blooded, but the slight curl in his hair seems to point to some admixture. He speaks with a Yankee accent, and gladly tells all he knows of the old times. Andrew Cuffee, the blind ex-whaler, also presents many Indian characteristics, while Charles Bunn (with a slight tinge of negro) and John Thompson (part white) are good types. Very few of the young men show Indian characteristics. A number of the women are pure or nearly pure blooded Indian. Among them are Mary Brewer (who died December 6, 1902), Mary Ann Cuffee, and Mrs. Waters. The preponderance of women over men is accounted for by the drowning of most of the Indian men when the ship Circassian, stranded off Easthampton, was destroyed, on December 31, 1876, by a sudden storm. Then it was that the corpses of the Shinnecock salvers, each encased in a mass of frozen sand, were found scattered along the bleak ocean beach from Amagansett to Montauk. Thus perished the flower of the tribe – the expert whalers who had sailed on many successful voyages out of Sag Harbor or New Bedford – the men whom their white neighbors still speak of as being “noble- looking, strong, and tall.”
Many of the survivors, especially the younger ones, have left the reservation, and are now scattered abroad. The only Indian children seen during my entire stay were visitors from Shinnecock families settled elsewhere.
Wigwams are distinctly remembered by all the old people, who describe them as follows:
Poles were bent into intersecting arches until a dome-shaped frame was made from ten to twenty feet in diameter. After all the poles had been tied firmly together, and horizontal strips put in place, the whole was thatched with a species of grass, called ” blue vent,” put on in overlapping rows, and sewed fast to the strips. When the top was reached, a hole was left open for the escape of smoke, and the edges of the aperture plastered with clay to prevent the thatch from catching fire. The ground plan was circular or oval, sometimes divided into rooms by partitions of wattle- work and thatch. The door frame was an arched pole, the door of wood, or sometimes merely a curtain of skin or mats. An elevated bench or couch of poles generally encircled the interior, beneath which the goods were stored. In at least one case, at a place where poles were difficult to procure, the floor was dug out in the middle so as to leave a shelf around the wall which answered the purpose of bed, seat, and table. The fireplace was in the centre. Even to-day outdoor storehouses are made by digging a hole and covering it with a roof of poles and thatch.
Wooden mortars were in general use. These were of two sizes: large, with a wooden or stone pestle, for preparing corn; and small, with stone pestle, for grinding herbs. I have been unable to procure specimens of the former, but succeeded in locating, and, after much argument with the owner, purchasing a very old herb mortar made of wood, together with its original stone pestle, handed down several generations at least, in the family of John Thompson. These mortars were made of sections of the trunk of the pepperidge tree, sometimes called tupelo or sour-gum, the wood of which is noted for its toughness and freedom from splitting. The hollows in the mortars were made by laying on live coals and scraping out the charred portion, renewing the coals until the required depth was reached. White oak and maple splints were used in the manufacture of baskets, which were either cylindrical or low-sided, the latter being oblong or circular. Fancy baskets, into whose composition sweet grass entered, were formerly made, but this art has become extinct. The only basket manufactured to-day is the cylindrical type identical with those made by the whites. The splints were sometimes dyed yellow, it is said, by a decoction of the inner bark of a species of oak. The “pack basket” was frequently used half a century ago for transporting burdens of all kinds. It was carried on the back by means of a band across the forehead. Eel traps were also made of the oak splints. Serviceable brushes for cleaning pots are made by split- ting the end of a white oak stick into small splints, the process of whittling and splitting taking about half an hour for each “scrub.”
Large brooms were also formerly made in this style. Broad flat wooden ladles were common in old times; but few are left today. Many of these resemble closely the butter ladles of the whites. Bows were of hickory, and as long as the men who used them. I doubt if any bows can now be found outside of a private collection. Corn was prepared as hominy and samp, or as ” suppawn” (corn meal mush), but the favorite way was to hull the corn with wood ashes, wash it free of lye, pound it in a wooden mortar, separate the hard parts by tossing in a flat basket, and finally cook it in the form of dumplings mixed with huckleberries or beans according to the season.
It is probably fifty or sixty years since the Shinnecock language died out of use – it was spoken in the childhood of such people as Wickam Cuffee, seventy-five years old, and Mary Ann Cuffee, eighty- one years old, by their parents. The few words collected are given below, together with similar words in two other Algonkian languages. 2 The first two examples were obtained from Mahe Bradley at Poosepatuck; the others are Shinnecock. 3 Unmarked vowels are short, and c = sh. The Sauk and Fox words have a “‘balanced accent,” and the final vowels are almost silent:-
Very little was obtained in the way of folk-lore or traditions, but it is evident that such exist. More time devoted to the subject would doubtless rescue more words from oblivion, would accumulate a stock of folk-tales showing the negro influence on Indian stories, or vice versa, and would, in all probability, unearth many ethnological treasures from among the musty contents of the old garrets and lofts of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.
- M. R. Harrington, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 16, No. 60 (Jan. – Mar., 1903) pp. 37-39
- The Sauk and Fox words were obtained from Mr. William jones, and the Abenaki from Mr. Elijah Tahamont.
- Some of the words given as Shinnecock (e. g. skwa and papus) may be borrowed from English, though primarily of Indian origin