Thirteen Indian Tribes Once Inhabited Long Island

   Thirteen Indian Tribes Once Inhabited Long Is.


By Thomas R. Bayles


            When Long Island was first discovered by the white man it was occupied by 13 tribes or groups of Indians, who inhabited the north and south shores.

            On the north side from west to east were the Matinecock, the Nissequog, the Setalcott, and the Corchaug (Cutchogue) tribes.  On the south side in the same order were Canarsee, the Marsapeague, the Secatogue, the Unkechaug, the Shinnecock, and the Montauk tribes or groups.  The Manhassets occupied Shelter Island.

            Wyandanch, the Montauk chief, was the grand sachem of all the Long Island Indians, except possibly the Canarsees.  The settlers of the various towns almost always secured his signature to their deeds in addition to that of the chief of local Indians from whom their land was purchased.

            The Montauks were supposed to have subdued all the Indians on the Island east of the Canarsee territory, and were under tribute to the Pequots, in eastern Connecticut. The Canarsee group were under tribute to the Mohawks, which consisted of an annual payment of wampum and dried clams.

            Wyandanch, the grand sachem of the Island, was the true friend of the white settlers, and on this account was hated by Ninicraft, sachem of the Narragansett’s, across the sound, who had tried to get Wyandanch to help wipe out the first early settlements of the white men on eastern Long Island.  Wyandanch refused to join him and exposed his plots to the English, so Ninicraft opened war on the Montauks in 1652, which continued for several years, and nearly destroyed that once powerful tribe.

            In one of their raids upon the Montauks during the marriage ceremony of the daughter of Wyandanch, the bridegroom was killed and the bride captured and carried back across the Sound.  Lyon Gardiner afterward rescued her and restored her to her father.  In gratitude for this act, Wyandanch gave Gardiner a deed for a tract of land which now forms part of the Town of Smithtown.

            During the latter part of 1658, the Montauks, already weakened by this long war, were still further reduced by a disease that is said to have killed more than half of their number.  About this time, Wyandanch died from poison, and the supremacy of the Montauks began to decline rapidly.  The reign fell to his widow, called the Sunk Squaw, who died in 1660, and the remaining members of the tribe fled for protection to the settlement of their white neighbors at East Hampton.  They were kindly received and in return gave their white friend liberal grants of pasture, and finally conveyed their land to them, with certain reservations.

            The customs, habits and dispositions of the Indians of Long Island were similar to those of other tribes on the continent, but seemed to have been more friendly to the white settlers than those on the other side of the sound were.  This was no doubt because the whites were careful to treat them with justice and fairness.

            On only one occasion did the government attempt to interfere with the religious exercises of the Indians, and this was in 1665, when an act was passes that “no Indian should be suffered to pow pow, or perform worship to the devil in any town within the government.”

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