Paumanok if what the Indians called Long Island, it means “land of tribute”. Before 1609, the only habitants on Long Island were the Indians. Henry Hudson, who docked his ship the Half Moon off the shores of what is now Coney Island, was the first white visitor. Hudson along with his crew took small boats to shore to catch fish and see what the land and the people were like.
The Canarsie Indians, who heard of white people but never saw them, were very curious to meet their counterparts at the shore. Along with them, they brought green tobacco. It was their gesture of friendship. Robert Juet, a crewmember of the Half Moon, who kept a written journal, documented this.
Hudson did not stay on Long island. Within a few days, he set sail again. If he had remained on land, he would have found out that there was more than one tribe that lived on Long island. He would have found out there were thirteen or more tribes extending from one end of the Island to the other.
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There were thirteen principal tribes: Canarsies, Rockaways, Merricks, Matinecocks, Massapeagues, Nisequogues, Secatogues, Setaukets, Unkechaugs, Cartages, Shinnecocks, Manhassets, and the Montauks. They all belonged to the great tribe known as the Delaware Indians, belonging specifically to the Algonquin family. A tribe was an independent nation with its own territory (Long Island) leaders, and the language.
The Canarsies, which meant, “at the fenced placed” lived in what is now Brooklyn. They were the tribe that made the majority of the wampum. Wampum was very valuable and had many uses. There were many kinds of wampum but the white and black wampum were used most often.
The white wampum was made from shells of fish and made into beads by the women. The beads were strung together by sinew. “Sinew is animal fiber used by Indians mainly as thread for sewing or stitching articles together”. (Grant, 288) The black wampum was the most valuable and made from clams. It was used as money. Wampum was used for trade with the white man. The Indians exchanged wampum for a steel tool, known as a muck suck. This tool helped the Indians make wampum much faster. Since the Indians could only trade wampum, the English and Dutch set a price for the beads. In 1673, the price was set at one penny for three black beads and one penny for six white beads.
The Rockaway tribe lived in what are now Hempstead, part of Jamaica, and all of Newton, Queens. Rockaway meant “sandy place”. The Merrick Indians lived in what are now the town of Oyster Bay, parts of Mineola, Westbury, Merrick, and the South Shore east of the Rockaways. Merrick means “plain country”.
Flushing, Glen Cove, Cold Spring Harbor, and Huntington were where the Matinecock tribe settled. The Matinecocks were great fishermen. They also made wampum but not as much as the Canarsie tribe. Matinecock means “hilly country”.
Massapeague means “the great water land” and this tribe lived in the largest area. They settled on the South Shore, all the way east to what is now Islip and north to the middle of the Island. The Nissequogue Indians lived east of the Nissequogue River to Stony Brook and from the sound, to the middle of the Island. Their name means “the clay country”. The land around the river was rich in clay and this is what the Indians made their cooking utensils and pots out of.
“Black and colored land” is what Secatogue means. These Indians lived on the South side of Long Island east of the Massapeague tribe. They settled as far east as Patchogue. The Setaukets were a strong tribe and their name meant, “ land at he mouth of the creek or river”. They lived in what is now Stony Brook east to the Wading River and south to the middle of the Island.
Several small tribes made up the Unkechaug Indians. These small tribes lived in different sections of Long Island. Whatever area they settled in they gave their name to that land. One small tribe from the Unkechaug Indians called the Patchogues settled at the eastern end of Long Island. Unkechaug meant, “land beyond the hill”.
On the north shore from the Wading River east to what is now Orient Point, the Corchaugues lived. Their name meant “principal place”. On the hills of Great Peconic Bay and Shinnecock Bay lived the Shinnecock Indians. Their name had the meaning “at level land”. The Manhasset Indians lived on Shelter Island, Ram Island, and Hog Island, for their name meant, “Island sheltered by islands”.
The most powerful tribe of all the Long Island Indians was the Montauks. They lived in East Hampton to the end of Montauk Point. Montauk means “the fort country”.
All thirteen tribes were alike in many ways. They all spoke the Algonquin language. They all had their own chief or sachem. A sachem was the head of the tribe; it could either be a male or a female. It was a role that was inherited. The sachem spoke for their tribes. They had to be brave, a skilled trader, a good expert shooters and a hunter. Sachems had the power to declare war, make peace, sign treaties and receive foreign visitors.
What do Long Island Indians look like? A crewmember from the Half Moon ship wrote: “They go in deer skin, loose well dressed. They grease their bodies and hair very often and paint their faces with several colours, as black, white, red, yellow, etc. Which they take great pride in everyone being painted in a different manner.” (Overton, 27)
Indians painted their faces with different colors, each color representing something significant. Red stood for life, which meant power, success or war, yellow stood for the sun, which meant joy, travel, or bravery, black stood for death and eternal rest, white stood for the spirit world, which meant peace, brown stood for the Earth Mother, green stood for plants, vegetables, purple stood for royalty and blue stood for defeat or trouble.
The colors of the paint were made from the juices of plants. Certain berry bushes made red. Boiling leaves would make green and the bark of certain trees, such as cedar, maple, ash, pine, or hemlock would make brown. They also used clay, stone, charcoal, and soot to make other colors.
The Long Island Indians dressed very lightly and simply. In the summer the men wore, deer skin loincloths and moccasins on their feet. The women wore what looked like an apron, or what might be a longer loincloth, covering the back and front of her body. In the winter, they covered their bodies with a robe of deerskin, bear skin or wildcat, leggings and heavier moccasins, or snow shoes. There were no pockets in their clothes. They would hang things from their necks. Pouches made of snakeskin or deerskin held their knives, tobacco, tools, and other items.
Wigwam is the Algonquian word for house. The Long Island Indian set up their wigwams near streams, beaches, or bays. An Indian village was a cluster of wigwams built close to each other. They were built out of young trees of saplings. The man built the frame of the house. He would set the saplings into the ground in a circle about ten to twenty feet in diameter. Then the branches were tied together in the shape of a dome with strips of bark or hemp twine. The women finished the rest of the wigwam. She covered the framework with plant stalks and grass with strips of bark and filled the cracks with plastered mud.
Wigwams were one large room, where the Indians ate, slept, cooked, and worked. There were two doors, each about three feet high covered with deerskin and a mat. A hole was left in the roof for the smoke to escape from the indoor fire. The edges of the hole were covered with clay to prevent the roof from burning.
The fire was taken care of by the women. It was their job to make sure the fire never went out. It had to stay on all day and night. Since the Indians had no matches, they lit their fire by striking stones or rubbing two sticks together until the friction was hot enough to smolder. This process was slow and hard and for that reason the fire had to remain constant.
The Long Island Indian and all Indians in general had a great respect for fire. Fire was used for many things, cooking, smoking fish and certain foods, keeping warm, and as a tool. It was also used to cure stiff joints and other ailments. The Indians would place stones on the fire until they were red-hot. Then they would put them in a very small wigwam built near the water. The sick Indian would lay inside the wigwam until they were dripping with sweat. Then run outside and jump in the cold water. They believed it purified their bodies of all poisons when following this ritual.
Fire was the greatest tool when it came to building their canoes. They made their canoes out of pine, oak, or chestnut trees. They would first choose a good straight thick tree. Then they would make a fire around the base of the trunk, making sure the flames would not burn too high or too much of the length of the tree. They watched and waited until it burnt all the way through and was ready to fall.
After it was down the Indians would remove all the bark and branches. Fire was again used to hollow out the inside of the tree. They burned it out by starting the fire down the flat center. With large sharp shells or stones, they would scrap away or dig out the entire charred log over and over again until it had sufficient depth.
Long Island Indians ate by farming, fishing, and hunting. Nature had provided Long Island with ample food sources. They planted vegetables and fruits. The men hunted for deer, bear, beaver, and moose. They also ate small game: raccoon, rabbit, squirrel, muskrat, and woodchuck. Whenever possible the Indian would shoot down pigeons, sea gulls, geese, and wild turkey. The boys would fish for lobsters, clams, and oysters. The women would plant pumpkin, corn, beans, squash, and melons. She also was in charge of the cooking. Meals were eaten at anytime. There was no set time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Indians ate when they were hungry.
The men hunted with bows and arrows. The bow was made of a single piece of wood, usually ash or hickory. They heated the wood over a slow fire. Then they oiled it, polished it, and did this process over and over again until the bow bent into shape. The arrowheads that were found on Long Island were made in the shape of a triangle with a stem. After killing an animal, the arrowhead was taken out of it and used again.
One of the last really great Sachem was Wyandanch. He was from the Montauk tribe. He was considered the strongest and wisest ruler the Long Island Indians ever had. He became friends with an English settler. Lion Gardiner rescued Wyandanch only daughter, Quashawam also called Momone or Heather Flower from the Narragansett tribe when the Narragansetts took her on her wedding day. They killed her husband and kidnapped her. Gardiner arranged a ransom for Quashawam safe return. To show his appreciation, Wyandanch gave Gardiner all the land that is now known as Smithtown.
Gardiner became the first white settler to start a plantation in East Hampton. In 1639, he purchased the island we now know as Gardiner Island from the Indians. He bought it for “one large black dog, one gun, some gun powder and shot, some rum and a pair of blankets”. (Bookbinder, 33) In addition, Gardiner’s daughter Elizabeth was born becoming the first white child born in Suffolk in 1639.
In 1653, the battle between the Indians and the English took place at Fort Neck, near Massapequa. Captain John Underhill attacked the fort and defeated the Indians.
Some of the words we use today were taken from the Indian language. Words such as moccasin, poncho, raccoon, squash, and tobacco were implemented into the English language. There are as many as one thousand Indian words still used in the English language today.
Each tribe throughout the country spoke their own dialect. There was no written language. Having no written language, stories were told by means of pictures scratched into stone. The Long Island Indians spoke Algonquin. This language was spoken through most of the Northeast New England area.
In 1631, Reverend John Eliot wanted to learn the Indian language. Remember, there was no written language. He had to learn from another Indian. He came across a young Indian boy named Cockenoe. Cockenoe de Long Island as he was known belonged to the Montauk tribe of Indians. As a young boy, he was captured in the Pequot War and taken prisoner. He was given to a Massachusetts farmer to be a servant. The farmer taught him to speak English. He became one of the first Long Island Indians to become fluent in English.
Cockenoe was very good in understanding English, speaking the language, and learning the customs of the Englishmen. He became a great help to the white man, a liaison, between the two cultures. In fact, his name Cockenoe means instructor or interpreter. Cockenoe taught Eliot to speak Algonquin and Eliot taught Cockenoe to write in English. Eliot then translated the Lords Prayer and the Ten Commandments into the Algonquin language. Cockenoe was also good at establishing boundaries for pieces of land that the Indians sold to the English settlers. He wrote out deeds and was paid for all services he provided. His pay could consist of one coat, four pounds of powder, six pounds of lead, one hatchet, and seventeen schillings worth of wampum.
There are not many things left on Long Island from the Indian days except for local town names. William Wallace Tooker wrote a book called “Indians Place-Names on Long Island”. In it, Mr. Tooker explains the meanings of many of the Algonquin language, “so that we have a proper remembrance of those who tenanted the woods and sailed the seas before us.” (Tooker, 51)
Did the Indians have a religion? The Long Island Indians prayed or worshipped to spirits. They had four spirits of the Earth that they prayed to. Those were the spirit of the sea, and the sky, the rain, and the sun. They also had many other spirits to pray too but over all, there were two great spirits, one good, and one evil.
Every Indian village had a medicine man or witch doctor. The medicine man was trained from childhood to perform rituals. He would dress in the skin of an animal, paint his face and sing and dance around a fire. The witch doctor would mix herbs and some potions. These potions were believed to cure the Indians of all the evil spirits.
Before colonization started there were approximately 6,500 Indians living on Long Island. In 1658, an epidemic of small pox broke out and killed almost two-thirds of the Indians on Long Island. When the Dutch and the English introduced the Indians to alcohol, especially rum, the Indians became addicted and turned against each other resulting in violent fights and sometimes death. By 1741, there were only a few hundred Indians left on Long Island. The white settlers, who claimed they purchased the land from the Indians, forced them to move. After the American Revolution in 1775, Indians were rarely seen on Long Island. Traces of purebred Indians on Long Island are completely gone. Today, the only traces of Indian that remain on Long Island are the colorful names of the villages, towns, bays, hills, roads, and two Indian Reservations. The Poosepatuck Indian reservation in Mastic has about 136 residents (but no full bred Indians) on 53 acres of land and the Shinnecock Indian Reservation near South Hampton, which has about 600 acres. The Shinnecock Reservation still holds an annual pow-wow, which invites all Indians from other parts of the United States. Colorful Indian costumes, ceremonial dances, and handicrafts made by Indians are displayed.
Indian stories have delighted many generations. One of the Long Island Indians most famous legends was the story about “The Devil and the Stones”. Indians use to say that Long Island was covered with rocks and stones and it was so very difficult to plant corn on the land. Across the sound in Connecticut, the land was smooth and fertile, free from rocks. One day the Devil decided he liked Connecticut so much, he would drive all the Indians away so he could have the land all to himself. The Connecticut Indians did not want to leave their land and chased away the Devil to Long Island. The Devil ran away so fast jumping over rock after rock. He became so angry he started planning his revenge. He gathered up rocks and threw them across the sound into the green fertile fields of Connecticut. The Indians believe this story to be true because after that there were many stone walls around Connecticut and the land became very rocky. They also believe the footprint of the devil is on the stone where he threw the rocks.
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