Recently I read The River Indians: Mohicans Making History, a 2009 book by Shirley Dunn, who wrote two earlier books on the topic. The Mahican or Mohican Indians who lived along the Hudson River north of Kingston were called “the River Indians” in colonial documents. The Schaghticoke Indians were part of that group.
Of course I looked for new information (to me) about the Schaghticoke Indians in the book. One item was that through the first half of the 18th century, the colonial governors of New York attended yearly conferences in Albany with representatives of the Mohicans. This would have included sachems, or chiefs, of the Schaghticokes. They received necessary supplies, including gunpowder, lead, hatchets, blankets, knives, and, unfortunately, rum. I like to think of the sachems of the Schaghticokes making the yearly trek to Albany.
As a child, I learned that the Iroquois Indians lived west of the Hudson Riverand the Mohicans to the east. Mrs. Dunn proves that until losing battles to the Iroquois Mohawks in 1629, Mohican territory extended at least as far west as Schenectady. This means that the Mohicans owned the Cohoes Falls- indeed just in 2011, ancestral sacred land at the Falls was returned to the Mohicans.
When the Mohawks began selling land to the white settlers, it wasn’t the agonizing event you might suspect- they first sold land that they had won from the Mohicans just a few years before. Some land the Mohawks sold was originally in the territory of the Schaghticokes, including the whole Hoosic River drainage. This had been their hunting grounds. Mrs. Dunn quotes a reminiscence written in the 1800’s, which noted that through the first half of the 1800’s, there were isolated wigwams located throughout Washington County. Indians used them as hunting camps, returning to their permanent villages- probably at Schaghticoke and Stockbridge,Massachusetts.
The Mohawks and Mohicans reconciled their differences in the face of the greater threat to them from numerous white settlers. As early as 1703, the Mohawks invited the Schaghticokes, to join them along the Susquehanna River. They were also anxious to increase their own population. Some Schaghticokes did move, telling the officials in Albany, who did not want them to move, that they were going to a place where Mohicans used to live. There were Mohican villages along the Susquehanna River until they were destroyed in the Sullivan-Clinton expedition during the Revolutionary War in 1777.
A couple of beliefs I have long held were confirmed in Mrs. Dunn’s book: One, that while a few Mohicans continued to live in their old territory for many years, the Schaghticokes had all left by 1755. Two, that there is no connection between the Schaghticoke Indian reservation at Kent,Connecticut and the Schaghticokes here. Mrs. Dunn treats them as two totally different populations. Over the years, I have received many inquiries on both topics- from people who are sure that Indians lived here through the 1900’s, and from others who are sure that when the Schaghticokes left here they went to Connecticut. I am grateful to Mrs. Dunn for her careful research which makes our local Indian history more complete.
Coincidentally, I recently came across another newish book on the Indians who lived up and down the Hudson River when the Europeans arrived: First Manhattans: a history of the Indians of Greater NY by Robert S Grumet. I always check the index of any book about Indians for Schaghticoke, and to my surprise, this book had many listings. Unfortunately, this is a condensation by the author of a huge book on the same topic, leaving out the footnote citations. I don’t like to relate information to you without knowing exactly where it came from. I will just share a bit of the new-to-me facts that Mr. Grumet included.
First, Mr. Grumet really emphasized the importance of the Mahican settlement at Schaghticoke to colonial history. In 1679, the River Indians reported to the Indian commissioners in Albany that they had divided themselves in two, with one sachem ruling those living south of Albany, and one, based at Schaghticoke, ruling those north of Albany. Through the book, he cites the concern of the Indian commissioners for the settlement at Schaghticoke, the participation of Schaghticoke Indians in English expeditions against the French and Indians, and the central location of Schaghticoke on the smuggling route between Canada and Albany.
Second, Mr. Grumet calls the subject of this only known portrait of a Mohican/Mahican Indian a Schaghticoke. In 1710, Peter Schuyler, Indian Commissioner in Albany, accompanied three Mohawk and one Mahican sachems on a trip to London. The stated purpose of the trip was to ask for Christian missionaries to be sent to the Indians, but the real purpose was to plead for British help in launching an invasion of French Canada. The four Indians were referred to as “the four Indian Kings of America,” and created a sensation inLondon. They were exhibited on stage on several occasions. They had their portraits painted and had an audience with Queen Anne, who gave them the blankets and shirts which they wear in the portraits. She did send a large expeditionary force to attack Canada and Acadia, and had a mission built at Fort Hunter, out the Mohawk River.
The Mahican on the journey was Etowaukaum, a sachem, also known as Nicholas. He was about forty years old in 1710, and had had considerable experience fighting against the French and their Indian allies and leading his people. Just that he was chosen for the journey abroad indicates his importance to his people. Shirley Dunn states that the thunderbird tattoos which appear on his face in the portrait indicate that he was a shaman or healer; and he signed with a turtle on a document in England, indicating that was his clan. She states that he was certainly the most important man of his tribe, and speculates that his inclusion in this trip might mean he had been baptized, and that he had many contacts with the Mohawks, the other “Kings.” He lived until about 1734, when he signed a deed near Nassau in RensselaerCounty. While Mrs. Dunn writes in detail about Etowaukaum, it was Mr. Grumet who added that he was a Schaghticoke.
While we will probably never know the truth, I find it wonderful to think about this flexible and resilient man, who was able to survive epidemics of small pox; chaos of several wars, both Indian and colonial; military expeditions to Canada; numerous conferences with Europeans; and an arduous journey to London. He probably lived in several locations during a long life, but I like to think about him having seen the same view of the falls of the Hoosic River as us!
Dunn, Shirley, The River Indians, 2009.
Grumet, Robert, First Manhattans, U. of Oklahoma Press, 2011.