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Montaukett

Table of Contents
Introduction
History
Translation & Language
Early Occupation
Contact Period Employment
Disease
State Court Judicial Genocide
Montauketts Today

Introduction

The first known inhabitants of East Hampton and Montauk town were the aboriginal Montaukett — a place name spelled a dozen different ways in early records. It was not a “tribal” name, but a place name which the colonists conferred upon them as they designated them as a “tribe.” The meaning of Montaukett in William Wallace Tooker‘s Indian Place Names on Long Island is given as either the “high or hilly land” or the “fort country”– both of which appear to fit Montauk topography and the presence of two fortified places. 1

The Montauketts are members of the large Algonkian language family and peoples who inhabited the Atlantic Coastal Plain from Canada to the Carolinas; they spoke a variant of the language of the Mohegan-Pequot, across the Long Island Sound from them.State Court Judicial Genocide. 2

  1. Tooker, William Wallace, Indian Place Names on Long Island…, 1911, 1962, Ira J. Friedman Pub., p. 141.
  2. Levine, Gaynell Stone & Nancy Bonvillain, Languages & Lore of the Long Island Indians, Vol. IV, Readings…, 1980, SCAA, p. 168.

History

1470

Legendary Sachem Mongotucksee (Long Knife) is leader of the Montauketts and has 300 warriors and 50 canoes at his disposal. He was said to have been highly respected by the Mohawk, Narragansett and Pequot.1

1648

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

1653

Massacre Valley – The most famous raid by Ninigret’s (Narragansett Sachem) against Wyandanch’s village at Montauk. Thirty Montaukett warriors are killed, fourteen prisoners taken including Wyandanch’s daughter.  One prisoner is burned in response to Wyandanch’s previous treatment of Ninigret’s agent.

Ninigret was an eastern Niantic Sachem allied with the Narragansetts against the Pequots during the Pequot war, 1637.  He was the uncle of Miantonomo.  Later he wanted to expel the English and tried to force Wyandanch to join him.  When Wyandanch didn’t, he be became Ninigrit’s enemy. The Montauks were subject to sporadic raids by Ninigret, required to pay wampum as tribute to the English, as fines to the English, as bribes to Uncus and as Pacifiers to Ninigret.3

1659

Montaukett Sachem Wyandanch dies – Lion Gardener says he was poisoned.4

1663

Wyandanch’s daughter Quashawam is named  “Sunksquaw”  over the Montauk and Shinnecock by the towns of Southampton and Easthampton.4

1749-1761

Rev. Samson Occum is school teacher to Shinnecock and Montauk Indians.6

1773

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.7

  1. David Martine, Shinnecock History Timeline
  2. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 4
  3. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp.  4-5
  4. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 5
  5. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 5
  6. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 7
  7. David Martine, Shinnecock Timeline pp. 7-8
Arrow Points. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION (068271.000). PHOTO BY NMAI PHOTO SERVICES.

Translation & Language

Montauk translates to “the fort country.

The Dutch called the Montauk Mirrachtauhacky1;

Mirrachtauhacky: Dutch Notation for Montauk. This form of spelling is found on record in the treaty of May 29, 1645; when Wittaneymen Sachem appeared before the Council of New Netherland, declaring to be impowered by his bretheren[sic], naming among other Weyrinteynich [Wiandance], Sachem of Mirrachtauhacky (col. Hist. N. Y., vol. xiv., p. 60). De Kay cites: “Merautahacky an unknown locality on Long Island” (Indian Names of L.I.)

Language

The Montaukett had their own local dialect of Algonquian, but were understood by the Shinnecock, Unkechaug, and New England tribes.

On March 25, 1798, John Lyon Gardiner recorded Montaukett vocabulary from Sachem George Pharoah in a personal manuscript;

“March 25, 1798. A vocabulary of the Indian language spoken by the Montauk tribe. George Pharoah, aged 66, oldest man of that tribe and their chief gave me this specimen of their langauge. There are only about seven persons that can now speak this language and a few years more and it will be gone forever. It was spoken with little difference by all the Indians upon the East end of Long Island and perhaps the whole Island and the adjoining Islands. George says the Moheags of Connecticut speak the same language. George repeated these words several times and I write them as near as he pronounced as I can with the English alphabet.”

The vocabulary list has been published in Gaynell Stone’s Languages and Lore of the Long Island Indians, Vol IV

 

  1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names of Long Island, 1911, pp. 135

Early Occupation

The Native people of the Island and the Montaukett, who inhabited the eastern end of the south fork, appear to have done so at least 9- to 12,000 years ago. This could occur after the ca. 18,000-year-ago recedence of the glacier that formed this and the contiguous Manhattan and Staten Islands, as well as the string of islands leading to Cape Cod. These elevations became islands as the water rose about 350 feet with the melting of the glaciers, inundating the continental shelf. The evidence for this early inhabitance are the 15 known Clovis/Paleo chipped stone points of this period found on the Island, one of them from the Three Mile Harbor area. 1

  1. Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 1

Contact Period Employment

1600s – 1800s

Most of the Montaukett worked for the East Hamptoners and helped make colonial life as comfortable as it was. They were gin (fence) keepers of the livestock pastured at Montauk and laborers for the Gardiners and others. The men used tradition woodworking skills to make piggins, ladles, and bowls for settler homes. They provided fish, oysters, and game for them. Stephen Pharaoh’s pay is recorded for “bottoming” (rushing) Dominy chairs.

As skilled shore whalers, Montaukett men were fought over by entrepreneurial East Hamptoners to be their crewmen. What today is labor law were rules enacted by the seventeenth century Town officials to control the cutthroat whaling labor practices of that day.

The Native women used the spinning wheel to spin yarn, a necessity for all knitwear and weaving of essential cloth. They became expert makers of butter and cheese, which were major cash ‘crops’ for their masters. Baskets, scrubs, jellies, and fine hand work provided cash for themselves. They cared for the mothers and children of colonial families, and were encouraged by the society to be the sex objects of the men; hence the Montaukett descendants of some of the early settlers.

1800s – 1900s

As well as the usual farm and maritime work, nineteenth century economic activities of the Montaukett now included work in the developing factories of the area (known through ephemera and oral histories but not public documents); as guides for wealthy hunters and the sportsmen’s clubs (known through oral history, ephemera, and the archaeological site of Montaukett Steve Murray’s cabin in now Connetquot State Park. They delivered ice (no record except a photograph), provided livery service for the newly developing tourist industry (only a Edward Lamson Henry pastel and a lithograph document this), and produced wood and textile crafts still in early east end homes. The East Hampton Historical Society has a collection of this material culture — the baskets, mortars, pestles, piggins, ladles, bowls, and scrubs which underpinned 18th and 19th century life.1

  1. Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 6

Disease

By the nineteenth century tuberculosis had taken the place of smallpox and other European diseases as the scourge of the Native people.

East Hampton church death records, which may be incomplete for the Montaukett, indicate that 14 of 39 Native deaths between 1825 and 1879 were of consumption, with the deceased ranging from 11 months to 58 years. This documentary record is captured visually in the sketches of the deathbeds of Stephen and David Pharaoh by Tile Club artists which appeared in several national illustrated newspapers of the 1870s. One of the Club members, Winslow Homer, made this sketch of David Pharaoh in 1874, and another, W.O. Douglas, created this life mask and carving of him, the leader of the Montaukett.1

  1.  Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 7

State Court Judicial Genocide

104 years ago, New York State Supreme Court Judge Abel Blackmar ruled in the case, Pharaoh v. Benson that the Montaukett Indian Nation was “extinct.” This has stood as New York State law since that time. Many legal scholars and historians have issued opinions that the Blackmar ruling was deficient on several fronts. In a recent lawsuit involving two Montauk Point motels, the judge stated that the Blackmar decision, 1910 was “questionable.” The Montaukett Indian Nation is rightfully questioning the Blackmar ruling, which was essentially judicial genocide. The last paragraph of Blackmar’s ruling stated:

“…Prior to the purchase of the Indian rights by Mr. Benson, there were a number of Montauk Indians in the enjoyment of tribal rights in Indian Field and a sufficient tribal organization to preserve to them those rights. There is now no tribe of Montauk Indians. It has disintegrated and been absorbed into the mass of citizens. If I may use the expression, the tribe has been dying for many years. The separation and scattering of the members, due to the purchase by Mr. Benson, gave it the final death blow. But I hold that the purchase was a lawful act, and there is no consideration of justice which makes me loath to find that there is no longer a tribe of Montauk Indians. As the Indians are wards of the state, and as this action was authorized by an enabling act, I do not think that costs should be imposed on the plaintiff…”1

Montauketts Today

Soon after the American Revolution, several Montaukett families followed Samson Occom, the Mohegan missionary, to join his Christian Indian community at Brothertown in central New York State. The rest remained at Montauk until Arthur Benson, a wealthy developer from Brooklyn, conspired to evict them from their homeland.

He negotiated individual sales of tribal residence rights from the few families who were still living on Montauk. Most Montauketts had moved to places on Long Island and southern New England where they could find work. When news reached the Montaukett diaspora, many were outraged that there had been no negotiations with the tribe as an entity, so they organized their resources to initiate a lawsuit.

They sued Arthur Benson and the Long Island Railroad in a series of court battles from 1896 to 1918. Judge Abel Blackmar dismissed the case, ruling that the tribe, as an organization, had ceased to exist.

The decision was heavily influenced by racial and cultural prejudices of the times. The official government policy at the turn of the century was based on the premise that the Native Americans would be better off if they abandoned their traditional Indian identity and assimilated into the mainstream population. Indians were pressured to divide up their reservations into individual homesteads and live like their white neighbors. The mood of the times was clearly against any move to regain a tribal homeland. Whites expected that the Indians would gradually vanish into the cultural mainstream.

The Montauketts, however, never lost their sense of an Indian identity. They attended school, were star athletes (John Henry Fowler was considered the Knute Rockne of Long Island), rode bicycles, dressed as ‘dandies,’ held powows or gatherings, and wore their regalia as a way of maintaining traditions. Among them was Olivia Ward Bush-Banks, a teacher, journalist, author, and poet whose collected works have been published by Oxford University Press; she was of Montaukett descent, attended powwows, and used her heritage in her work.1 They continued to meet in small family gatherings and kept in touch through a kinship network.

In the 1990s the Montaukett tribe went through a revitalization process. Members from East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Amityville and other communities came together to hold meetings and ceremonies. Robert Pharaoh and Robert Cooper lead two factions of Montauketts who are working to obtain state and federal recognition. They organized Powwows at Montauk and on the Stony Brook campus to celebrate the revival of the tribe. As we move into the new century, however, the tribe has withdrawn from the public eye to focus on strategies designed to strengthen their tribal structure.

  1.  Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 8

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