|Table of Contents||Introduction|
|June Meeting Revival|
June Meeting is a Presbyterian and Algonquian inspired celebration and gathering for Eastern Long Island tribes started by Reverend John Cuffee in the 1700s and continued annually on the first Sunday in June. It’s a time of dance, feasts and the passing down of stories and traditions.
According to Shinnecock oral history, this site, similar to other council rocks, was the place for indigenous leaders to gather for important meetings.
Today, this land is located off of the current bounds of the Shinnecock reservation.The town of Southampton bought and preserved the area using it’s Community Preservation Fund for it’s cultural significance.
According to Shinnecock oral history, this famous painting of David Pharoah depicts his journey towards one of the western council rocks.
This painting is by E.L. Henry titled “Beach Wagon” 1880. Labeled “The King of the Montauks” in The Long Island Forum of May, 1944. For many years a photograph of the painting, labeled “Jerry Wright,” also a Montauk and thought to be a contemporary of David Pharoah, hung in the East Hampton Free Library. A pastel version is featured on Gaynell Stone’s book The History & Archaeology of the Montauk Vol 3.1
- Gaynell Stone, The History & Archaeology of the Montauk Vol 3, Suffolk County Archaeological Association 1993 pp. 01 ↩
June Meeting Revival
Reverend Paul Cuffee is recognized as starting June Meeting, which is still held each June and regarded as symbolic of the tribal life of the Long Island Indians.
Authors argue whether the ceremony existed in another form before Rev. Paul Cuffee, though it is widely agreed that he revived it and gave it the Christian significance it now bears.
Charles Bunn, a Shinnecock elder, told a reporter for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (June 8, 1901) that June was the “month of the flowers,” and that the June Meeting was also called “the Feat of the Moon of the Flowers.” The flower theme, mentioned by both Charles Bunn and Lone Otter of the Unkechaug, symbolized the rebirth of plant life after the winter.
The Unkechaug still follow the tradition of June Meeting today, although the nature of the gathering has changed over the centuries. Fearing intervention and restrictions by the colonial authorities, the Unkechaugs became much more secretive about their religious ceremonies by the end of the seventeenth century. They began a tradition wherey these seasonal rituals were honored on a smaller scale as family reunions. Today the June Meeting, for example is a time for Long ISland families to reunite for a weekend on their reservation and to observe formal serves in church, hold traditional meetings, and host meals in their homes. “Many Families,” write Lone Otter, “were united at the June Meetings after long separations; and many young couples met and married then.”1
According to Lone Otther, June Meeting originally celebrated the new birth of spring and the emergence of the green corn, but it also marked the death of those Unkechaugs who had passed away during the winter. He remembered that as a child he went with his family to place lilacs on the graves and then returned home for a family dinner. Lone Otter recalled that this part of the June Meeting rituals was called Wi-kan-da-min-na-bo, “the feast of the dead.) According to Chief Wallace, the literal meaning is “the great feast for those who came before,” referring to an ancient ceremony of their ancestors.2
Nathaniel S. Prime on June Meeting
“June Meeting,” has long been maintained by this interesting people, and is kept up to the present time. Its origin is not exactly known, but its design is entirely of a social and religious nature. It is a holy convocation of all the remnants of the tribes, and the coloured pople connected with them, on the first or second sabbath in June, for the purpose of religious worship. In former days, a delegation from New England was usually present; but of later years, it has been confined to the residents of the Island. The place of meeting is Poosepatuck, as being most central; though this little church is now reduced to a mere remnant. The whole day is spent in the exercises of religious worship, in connexion with which, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated; and could the assemblage be confined exclusively to those for whose benefit it was instituted, or even those who take delight in God’s worship, it would still be a pleasant and profitable occasion. But it has, of late years, become the resort of hundreds of giddy and thoughtless youth of both sexes, who assemble from all parts of the island, within 20 or 30 miles, for the mere purpose of diversion and dissipation; making it a scene of tumult and confusion; while others of the white population, to their burning disgrace, from the mere lust of filthy lucre, embrace the occasion as an opportunity for merchandize and worldly gain. The whole country, for miles around, exhibits all the confusion of a general training; and the holy sabbath, from morning to night, is polluted with the most bare faced profanations.
These facts are stated, not on the ground of vague rumour, but from the evidence of sense at the last anniversary. And it will be observed, that the disgrace of these unhallowed proceedings, belongs exclusively to the white population. The conduct of the coloured people is marked with singular propriety and circumspection. Those who come from a distance, perform their journey on the preceding day, and return in the succeeding week. Thus they enjoy the privileged of social intercourse with friends and relatives, besides securing the rest and quiet of the holy sabbath. And but for the annoyance of those who take no interest in the religious exercises of the meeting, it would be both a pleasant and profitable season to their souls.1
Harry D. Sleight – 1928 – Historical Long Island
Editor’s Note: The Bulletin staff are indebted to Mr. Harry D. Sleight, of Sag Harbor, Long Island, for the accompanying article, written specifically for the readers of this publication. Mr. Sleight is a noted Long Island historian, among his latest works being “A History of East Hampton Town,” in eight volumes, and “A History of Southampton,” in two volumes. At the present time he is engaged in compiling the records of Smithtown, from 1835 to date.
As far back as living man can remember, June Meeting has been an annual observance of the Shinnecock Indians. It is a survival of primitive customs. But it is not a circumstance today of the great even of years ago. June Meeting has long been maintained. The occasion is not exactly known, but Prime, in a religious and church history of Long Island, says its design is entirely of a social and religious nature.
It, as observed in times seventy-five years ago, and much earlier, was a holy convocation of all the remnants of the Indian tribes of Long Island, and the negroes and colored people connected with them, on the first or second Sabbath of June, for purposes of religious worship. In former days, a delegation from New England was usually present; but in more recent years it has been confined to residents of the Island. The place of meeting was either Poosepatuck or Shinnecock. The whole day was spent in the exercises of religious worship; in connection with which the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. But it could not be confined exclusively for the benefit of those for which it was intended. There were years when June Meeting became the resort of hundreds of giddy and thoughtless youth of both sexes, who assembled from all parts of the Island, within 20 or 30 miles, for the mere purpose of diversion and dissipation.
The June Meeting was made a scene of tumult and confusion; others of the white population, to their disgrace, from lust or lucre, embraced the occasion as an opportunity for merchandising and worldly gain. The whole country, for miles around, exhibited the confusion of a general training or a country fair. The holy Sabbath was, from morning till night, polluted with bare-faced profanation. This disgrace of such unhallowed proceedings belong entirely to the white people.
The conduct of the colored people was marked with singular propriety and circumspection. Those coming from a distance, performed their journey on the preceding day and returned home in the succeeding week. They enjoyed the privilege of social intercourse with friends and relatives, besides securing the rest and quiet of the holy Sabbath. But for the annoyances of those who took no interest in the religious exercises of the meeting, it would have been both a pleasant and profitable season for souls.
How Indians Celebrated June Meeting
A News story in a New York City paper describes June Meeting of 1871 in a somewhat sensational style as follows:
Sunday, the annual June festival of the tribes of Indians quartered in Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, was witnessed by a vast concourse of whites. At 10 o’clock everything for the ceremony was in readiness, and King David Pharoah, Chief of the tribe, moved forth from his tent with a large and dirty protocol in his hand. He was followed by five men, who assisted him to a stand decorated with forest flowers. From each of the many cabins came women and children, all humming an Indian song of worship. When they had assembled before the King’s throne, they sang in chorus a hymn. This finished, all bent one knee, and an old white man began to pray. This man lives with the tribes, and is recognized as the great medicine man. His prayer was long and loud. After the prayer the assemblage began to shout another hymn and moved around the throne.
When this had been concluded, King David with his protocol arose and made divers motions in the air. He then began to speak, and, becoming excited, the perspiration rolled down his cheeks. He talked about the Great Spirit, the happy hunting grounds, the departed braves, the prosperity of the tribes, gave some advice to whites that he said might save their scalps, and ended with a blessing upon the assembled group.
Fires were then lighted. The aborigines formed in procession and marched around them, each one throwing in a piece of evergreen. This concluded the exercises. In the afternoon the Indian sports were greatly enjoyed by the children. The Indians worship but once a year, on the first Sunday in June, unless some itinerant preacher comes along.
King David is an oddity. He is tall and stoops, though he is stout and powerful. His eyes are peculiar, one being a brown, the other a mixed gray, one bright and the other dull. He was stung by a bee some time ago. The brown eye was completely closed, and he had to be led about by a children. He is about 45 years of age. The protocol which he carried has been handed down for three generations and was at one time in possession of the Montauk Tribe.
More fortunate than the Montauk Indians, the Shinnecock tribe retains land for reservation. But then the courts have declared that there is no “tribe” of Montauks. When the white man bargained for the Montauks land, the Indians reserved the right to occupy certain tracts forever; but cruel Narragansett foes attacked the tribe, and they were decimated by smallpox; there were not enough pure-blood squaws to carry forward Nature’s processes of reproduction, and the white man had shrewdly written in the contract a clause forever forbidding strange Indians living at Montauk and to forever debar and exclude “all mustees or mullattors that have Indian squaws to their mother natives of Muntock for to have any right or to live therair, preventing all differences and disputes hereafter in any case any native squaw shall marry a stranger Indian or forrener she or they shell forfeit and quit all theair Right title or Clame on said land, neither shall theair children have any Right or title or clame.”
This clause spelled ultimate extinction for the Montauks as a tribe.
The king David, mentioned above, was one of the last of the Montauks.2
Paul Bailey – 1949
Designed to honor the green corn, this ancient rite was attended by wild demonstrations of dancing which at times caused the white settlers grave anxiety.3
- Nathaniel S. Prime, A History of Long Island From Its First Settlement, 1845, pp. 118 ↩
- Harry D. Sleight, Shinnecock Indians –June Meeting. from Long Island Railroad Information Bulletin. Jul-Aug 1928 pp. 12-14 ↩
- Paul Bailey, Long Island – A History of Two Great Counties – Nassau and Suffolk, 1949 pp. 130 ↩