The Contact Period began with the European explorers who bumped into the eastern end of Long Island as it juts into the Atlantic. The first we know of is Verrazano in 1542, who coasted by but apparently did not land; he did leave us with a detailed description of the life and dress of the Natives of nearby Newport harbor which may be applicable to the Montaukett. Apparently their clothing was exquisitely embroidered “like damask” with colored porcupine quills.
The next was Adrian Block in 1614, who may have landed (although there is no record of it), who named Block Island after himself, and created the first map of the Island, labeling the eastern Natives “Nahicans,” a name not seen again in succeeding records. The subsequent Bleau and Visscher maps of 1635 and 1662 note them as “Matouwacks.”
Other early 1600s contacts were the Dutch trader Pieter Barentsen as well as the English Captain Southack, who wrote on his early 1700s map of the two forks “I commanded ye first ship that ever was at this place” on the Peconic estuary portion. He also located “Indian Town” on the Napeague portion of the map. This was the first of a number of early maps which located Indian Town or Indian Plantation on the Montauk peninsula — an important visual adjunct to the written record. The site appeared further east with each deed extracted from the Montaukett by the settlers taking another portion of their land. The Montaukett later complained in petitions to the New York State Assembly that they were told they were signing one agreement only to find later they were lied to, that they were plied with liquor before signing deeds (Town records reveal payment for the rum, confirming that), that the settlers killed their dogs and cut so much of their firewood that every winter elderly women froze to death.
Besides being documents recording the loss of Montaukett land, this series of 16 deeds, 1648 to 1794, is a visual record revealing the ‘marks,’ or signatures, which indicate the pictorial literacy of the Montaukett, relative to the literacy of the settlers, many of whom signed with an X. The sachem Wyandanch’s mark (a figure drawing) on a deed authenticated it; those deeds without it could be doubtful — and there were many in the colonists’ lust to ‘buy’ Native land with gifts. It was easier to pay Wyandanch than the many heads of bands living across the land. John Strong covers the loss of Montaukett lands extensively in the Montauk volume.1
Shortly before 1640, investors from Lynn, Massachusetts, purchase a patent from James Farrett, land agent for the Earl of Stirling, who on behalf of the King of England, – from their point of view – “owned the land”. The investors pay for eight square miles of land which was at “Old Town” Southampton. Houses expand eastward beyond the boundaries of the first settlement without permission or, at first, awareness of the Shinnecock, that their rights to usage of their own land was being curtailed. (Native understanding of land was that they were caretakers of it for the Creator (with acknowledged borders for hunting etc.), and not to be used as a commodity that could be bought and sold or used exclusively by certain people.
Conscience Point is the approximate landing place of the first English colonists who arrived here in June of 1640.
The Contact Period (1614 to the present), also known as the Historic Period, is characterized by political intrigues, land deed negotiations (theft etc.) and transition from the ancient indigenous lifestyles towards the usage of trade goods, metal, textiles, fire arms, livestock (pigs, cattle, oxen, sheep) indebtedness, and indentured servitude. 2
As the Contact period became the historic or colonial era, the Long Island Indians were drawn into the transplanted European economic sphere in order to buy the new ‘necessities,’ such as gunpowder, flour, sugar, clothing, Dominy furniture, etc.
The colonial economy has an insatiable need for labor for whaling, farming, herding, dairying, cheese and butter production, textile production, and craftware; hence servants and slaves. Of ninety Suffolk County wills probated from 1670 to 1688, 24 listed English, Negro, and Indian servants and slaves. Their value was second only to cattle owned. Of this 24, 2 or 8% were listed as “Indian captive servant” or “Indian slave girl.” Philip Rabito-Wyppensenwah points out that many of the enslaved Natives here were from the Carolinas and the Caribbean.
Another form of labor for the Natives was being forced to produce huge quantities of wampum (shell beads) to pay fines levied upon them for infractions of local laws (which they often did not understand). The wampum was then used by European traders to purchase furs from the northern territories. Since the largest amount of whelk shell for making wampum is found on eastern Long Island beaches, the area became the “mint” of New Netherland.
Further participation by the Natives in the new economy was service as militiamen in all the provincial campaigns before the French and Indian Wars and in the American revolution. They served out of proportion to their numbers in the population and left many Native settlements with a large number of widows; this led to intermarriage with Anglos, African-Americans, and other groups.3
The Post-Contact period, or post-colonization period, is the start of the European Colonization of the Americas is typically dated to 1492, although there was at least one earlier colonization effort. The first known Europeans to reach the Americas are believed to have been the Vikings (“Norse”) during the eleventh century, who established several colonies in Greenland and one short-lived settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in the area the Norse called Vinland, present day Newfoundland. Settlements in Greenland survived for several centuries, during which time the Greenland Norse and the Inuit people experienced mostly hostile contact. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Norse Greenland settlements had collapsed. In 1492, a Spanish expedition headed by Christopher Columbus reached the Americas, after which European exploration and colonization rapidly expanded, first through much of the Caribbean region (including the islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Cuba) and, early in the sixteenth century, parts of the mainlands of North and South America.4
The Shinnecock Indian Reservation is a self-governing reservation. The reservation has a museum, shellfish hatchery, education center, cultural and community center, playground, and Presbyterian church. In 1972, the Shinnecock Native American Cultural Coalition (SNACC) was formed to establish a Native American arts and crafts program. Traditional dancing, beadwork, Native American crafts, and music are studied. The Cultural Enrichment Program is a sharing and learning process that the community has engaged in to ensure that the ideals and traditions of their ancestors are passed down through the generations. It involves sharing knowledge of food, clothing, arts, crafts, dance, ceremonies, and language.Every Labor Day Weekend since 1946, the reservation hosts a powwow, based on ceremonies beginning in 1912. The Shinnecock Powwow is ranked by USA Today as one of the ten great powwows held in the United States. In 2008, the powwow attracted 50,000 visitors.
The Springy Banks site has been described as a favorite summer camping grounds of the Montauk.It receives its name from numerous delicious flowing springs of water that flow from the base of the cliffs here. Many an East Hampton and Three Mile Harbor residents speak with nostalgia of the sweet draughts of water that they enjoyed from Springy Banks when it was Town Property.
The Knowledge Base is always a work in progress! Please feel free to contribute suggestions, edits and ask for more information at my contact menu.