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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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Chapter V. — Manners and Customs of the Mohicanic Group of the New England Algonquins.

When the Pilgrims established themselves on the coast of New England, they determined that one platform of religious freedom should serve for both the Red and the White men. Having themselves suffered much, under a weak and intolerant prince, through the importance attached to ritual observances, they made no attempts to impose a ritual on the aborigines. It was noticed that these tribes were under the religious rule of self-constituted priests, powwows, and ecclesiastical sagamores, who directed them in the appalling worship of evil spirits, and of elementary gods, whose names were emphatically "legion." In the words of a quaint historian of that period, "the whole body of the multiplied tribes and septs who cover the land are the veriest ruins of mankind." [98]

This writer observes: "Their wigwams consist of poles, lined with mats, where a good fire supplies the warmth of bed-clothes in cold seasons. The skins of animals furnish exclusively their clothing. Sharp stones are used for knives and tools. Wampum, a kind of bead, made from sea-shells, is a substitute for money. Indian corn constitutes their staple of vegetable food; the forest supplies them precariously with meat. Fish are taken in their streams. The hot-house is their catholicon for a large class of their diseases. Their religion is a confused and contradictory theism, under the rule of a class of priests called powwows, who offer incense by the fumes of tobacco." [99] There was absolutely nothing, in their plan of dwelling, that deserved the name of architecture; but they had considerable skill in manufacturing arrows, bows, war-clubs, bowls, pipes, fishing-rods, and nets. The women made clay pots, tempered with siliceous stones, which, when used for the purposes of cooking, were suspended from a tripod, formed of three poles, tied together at top, and spread over the fire. They wove mats of flags, baskets of the split cortical layers of wood, and nets from a species of native hemp. The clam-shell was frequently used as a spoon, but these were also carved out of wood, as also were onagons, or bowls. Darts were chipped from hornstone, as well as from other species of siliceous rock; and frontlets, ornamented with

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birds' feathers, were employed for head dresses. The cawheek, and succatash, or pounded corn, were their favorite dishes; when the hunter was successful, he had deer, or other meat. Fish was abundant, even in the interior streams, as were also oysters and other shell-fish, on the sea coasts. Canoes were made from solid trees, hollowed by the aid of fire, and a peculiar axe, which is frequently found among Indian relics. The aborigine was ingenious in setting snares for birds and beasts, and sometimes large animals were entrapped, by bending down saplings, which would rebound when any beast trod on the string which held them in place. The Indian buried his dead in outer wrappings of bark, placing, at the head of the corpse, a wooden post, on which was carved the totem of the clan, and some other hieroglyphics. His successes in war and hunting were, also, sometimes rudely sculptured on the face of rocks or boulders; some of these muzzinabiks remaining to this day. 100 Regarding the religion practised by the aborigines, the great difficulty with historians has been in tracing out any fixed system. Though the Indian professedly worshipped the Great Spirit, yet he assigned the power of the Deity to the subordinate forms of demons and local manitos, to which he offered sacrifice. Simples were used to heal the sick by professed doctors, and much skill was exhibited in curing external wounds. Another class, called Medas, affected to add to their medicines the charm of magic, and trusted as much to the monotonous thump of the drum, used in incantations, and to the Indian song, as to the effect of any of the articles enumerated in their materia medica.

With manners and customs thus entirely opposed to everything like civilization, it needed but slight incitement to arouse the deadliest feelings of hostility. Very little difference existing, either in dress or manners, between individual Indians, or between the various tribes, all looking and acting very much alike, the innocent were frequently mistaken for the guilty.

The spirit of opposition to the entire constitution and system of civil society, and of Christianity, originated early, and led to repeated combinations of the Indians to exterminate the white race. The first general and alarming effort of this kind, against the peace and welfare of the New England colonists, developed itself in the area of Connecticut, among the Pequots. The primary settlements in the Connecticut valley were made in 1633. Within four years from that time, the Pequots evinced their hostility, for which there was an additional and highly irritating cause.

Prior to the settlement of New England, feuds had existed in the Pequot tribe. This was a numerous organization, extending from the western boundary of the Narragansetts, on the Pawcatuck river, to the banks of the Pequot, or Thames river. It is evident that their extreme western boundary originally extended to the Connecticut. They were under the rule of the powerful, brave, and ambitious Sassacus, there being

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no evidence that Uncas occupied the valley by right of conquest. But, at the era of the founding of the Connecticut colony, this valley was occupied by the Mohicans, who were ruled by the sachem Uncas. The Pequots and the Mohicans spoke the same language, which was a secondary and more modern form of the generic Algonquin; Uncas had married a daughter of Tatobana, a Pequot, of the blood line, and was, according to the general principles of descent, regarded as one of the hereditary line. Uncas was himself a wise, brave, and politic chieftain. Whatever the causes of tribal discord were, his separation from the parent tribe, and removal westwardly, had occurred prior to the settlement of either Windsor or Hartford, the oldest towns, for the enmity between these two rival native chiefs, became at once apparent to the English. Uncas, with the view of strengthening his position against Sassacus, and the larger body of the tribe, hailed the arrival of the colonists with joy, became their protector against the inroads of the Pequots, and remained their firm and consistent friend. This line of policy served rather to irritate, than to allay the Pequot enmity to the English. At length, after the lapse of a few years, marked by bitter hostilities, murders, and cruelties, from which outrages the English, and their Mohican allies, were alike sufferers, a formidable expedition was organized against Sassacus and his two forts. It is not necessary here to speak of the cruel murders, the breaches of treaty stipulations, or of the depredations and other outrages committed; suffice it to say, that excitement being at its height, forbearance had ceased to be a virtue, and all were compelled either to fight or die. Four years of agonizing strife thus passed away, during which, at least thirty English had been put to death; some with the addition of cruel tortures. The existence of the colonies was at stake; it was a contest between civilization and barbarism. If Connecticut succumbed, Massachusetts and Rhode Island must necessarily follow. Sassacus, at that period, being on the best terms with the Narragansetts, who then acknowledged the dominion of the aged Canonicus. and of his more efficient son, Miontonimo, he aimed in vain, by negotiations, to obtain their aid against the Mohicans and the English. As a ruler, Sassacus was greatly feared and respected by his people, as well as by the Narragansetts. He was a brave warrior and an eloquent speaker. Mason tells us an Indian saying, that "Sassacus is all one god; no man can kill him." 101 The views he expressed with respect to the English settlements in New England, prove the expansion and forecast of his mind. He regarded the white man as destined to supersede the Indian race, and said that when they had exterminated the Pequots, they would then turn their attention to the Narragansetts. He urged an alliance for general purposes, and argued that it would not be necessary to fight great battles, as the whites could be destroyed one by one. The Indians could lie in ambush for the colonists, could burn their dwellings, could kill their cattle. 102 Every view we can take of the character of Sassacus, only serves to

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confirm the impression that he was a man of uncommon energy, as well as forecast, and he occupies a prominent position among the bold aboriginal chiefs who so resolutely resisted the occupancy of their country by Europeans. He clearly foresaw, and pointed out to his countrymen, that, with arts and energies such as their invaders had already demonstrated the possession of, they must extinguish the light of their council and altar fires; one after another the tribes must succumb; and he warned the Narragansetts that, if they did not aid him in his contest with the English, they would be the next to feel the weight of their power. The history of the great internal conflicts of ante-historical periods, by which the Pequot nation had been divided, and Uncas expelled, being involved in obscurity, we are unable to furnish any accurate details. We know, however, that the feud was yet existing in all its original intensity, when the colonists first entered the country, and, unfortunately for the perpetuation of his power, Sassacus, like many others of the aboriginal chiefs and leaders, lacked the spirit of conciliation, aiming to achieve by force, what he might have attained by delay and negotiation; placing too low an estimate on the value of union and co-operation with the surrounding tribes. He was feared and suspected by the numerous tribe of the Narragansetts, on the east; while the unfriendly Mohicans lined the boundary of his dominion on the west. The small bands of the Ninantics, and Ninegret's men, he evidently controlled, and the interior country to the north was open to him. Two of his strongest positions were stockaded villages, which assumed the character of forts; and had the English been less prompt or bold in their movements, and given him more time to consummate his arrangements, the result might have been protracted, although it certainly could not have been averted.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:
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