Contributed by Lion G. Miles
The Mohican Nation, an Algonquian tribe of some 20,000 people, was the dominant Native American group along the Hudson River before the arrival of Europeans early in the seventeenth century. They practiced a seasonal lifestyle of spring/summer living along the Hudson in New York State and fall/winter hunting parties to the Housatonic in what is today Berkshire County. European diseases and warfare with the neighboring Mohawks for control of the fur trade soon decimated the Mohicans and reduced their numbers by an estimated ninety percent.
The surviving members of the tribe became widely dispersed throughout the Northeast and Canada, with one small group settling in the Berkshires and calling themselves Housatonic Indians. In 1724 their principal chiefs, Konkapot and Umpachene, sold the English enough land to form the townships of Great Barrington and Sheffield, the beginning of white settlement in Berkshire County.
Chiefs Konkapot and Umpachene accepted the appointment of a Christian missionary in 1734, the young John Sergeant from Yale College. Two years later the government of Massachusetts granted a six-mile-square township to the tribe, comprising today's towns of Stockbridge and West Stockbridge. From that time they were known as Stockbridge Indians, a number of whom adopted Christianity and received instruction from the Rev. Sergeant.
The tribe remained in Stockbridge for the next fifty years and acted as a buffer against French and Indian incursions from Canada. With a long warrior tradition, they provided two companies of men for service with Rogers Rangers in the French and Indian War. They were one of only two Native American tribes (with the Oneidas) to side with the colonists against the British in the Revolutionary War and served at the Siege of Boston, and the battles of Saratoga and Monmouth. In 1778 they lost fifteen warriors in a British ambush at the Bronx, New York, and later received a commendation from George Washington.
After the Revolution, certain white inhabitants of Stockbridge managed to gain control of the tribe's land and, under pressure from increasing settlement, most of the Stockbridge Indians removed to Oneida County in New York State. Today they are known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans and inhabit a prosperous reservation in Wisconsin but they still look back to Berkshire County as a part of their ancient homeland.
Mahican Indian in Stockbridge Militia
This watercolor is the only known contemporary picture of a Stockbridge Indian warrior in the 18th century.
On August 31, 1778, British and Hessian troops ambushed a company of Indian troops in The Bronx, New York, and killed fifteen of them. A German officer, Captain Johann von Ewald, painted the picture after observing the dead Indians on the ground. The inscription reads "Ein Indianer von der Stockbridge Horde" (An Indian of the Stockbridge tribe).
There is much detail in this picture to give us an idea of the appearance of a Stockbridge warrior in 1778. Notice the nose ring, earring, mocassins, tomahawk, tobacco (or ball) pouch, and bow and arrows. Captain von Ewald's journal describes the scene after the battle, called today the Bronx Massacre:
"After the affair I examined the dead Indians. I was struck with astonishment over their sinewy and muscular bodies. Their strong, well-built, and healthy bodies were strikingly distinguished among the Europeans with whom they lay mingled on the ground, and one could see by their faces that they had perished with resolution. I compared these Indians with my ancestors under Arminius [Teuton chief who defeated the Roman legions in 9 A.D.], against whom they looked like pygmies to me. Their costume was a shirt of coarse linen down to the knees, long trousers also of linen down to the feet, on which they wore shoes of deerskin, and the head was covered with a hat made of bast [woody fibers for matting or cordage]. Their weapons were a rifle or musket, a quiver with some twenty arrows, and a short battle-axe, which they know how to throw very skillfully. Through the nose and in the ears they wore rings, and on their heads only the hair of the crown remained standing in a circle the size of a dollar-piece, the remainder being shaved off bare. They pull out with pincers all the hairs of the beard, as well as those on all other parts of the body." The weapon he carries is a rifle and not a smooth-bore musket, as evidenced by its short length and the absence of a bayonet stud on the barrel. I know from the account of the items lost in the battle that there was one rifle listed and that probably belonged to the Indian commander, Abraham Nimham, who was killed in the battle with his father, Daniel Nimham.
Brief History of the Mohican Nation Stockbridge-Munsee Band
Esteemed Elders of the Mohican Nation
Mohican Nation Tribal Offices
Berkshire Historical Society - non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the region’s history
For further study
Ted J. Brasser. Riding on the Frontier's Crest: Mahican Indian Culture and Culture Change. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1974. Somewhat dated but still useful.
Shirley W. Dunn. The Mohican World, 1680-1750. Fleischmans, N.Y.: Purple Mountain Press, 2000. Emphasis is on the early history of the tribe but there is some information on their Stockbridge experience.
Patrick Frazier. The Mohicans of Stockbridge. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Very detailed account of the tribe's history in Stockbridge.
Electa F. Jones. Stockbridge, Past and Present. Springfield: Samuel Bowles & Company, 1854. Reprinted by Higginson Book Company, Salem, MA, 1994. The first account of the tribe, useful but with many factual errors.
Lion G. Miles. "The Red Man Dispossessed: The Williams Family and the Alienation of Indian Land in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1736-1818," The New England Quarterly, LXVII (March 1994), 46-76. A study of Indian land sales in Stockbridge.
Bruce G. Trigger, editor. Northeast. Vol. 15 of Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by William C. Sturtevant. 10 vols. to date. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978- . The standard general reference.