The Shinnecock, Poosepatuck, And Montauk Indians, In New York

The report of the special committee appointed by the assembly of New York in 1888 to investigate the Indian problem of that state, made February 1, 1889, contained the following in relation to the Shinnecock, Poosepatuck, and Montauk Indians:

The Shinnecock Reservation

The Shinnecock Reservation is located on a neck of land running into Shinnecock Bay, near Southampton, on Long island. When the whites discovered the island 13 Indian tribes occupied the land, one of which was the Shinnecock, claiming the territory from Canoe Place to Easthampton, including Sag Harbor and the whole south shore of Peconic Bay. All the Long Island Indians were subject to the Mohawks and paid tribute to them. They were much more peaceful and less aggressive than the Iroquois, and never formed any general conspiracy against their white neighbors. They are supposed to be descendants of the Mohegans and spoke the language of the Delawares. They formerly held a lease of their lands, about 3,600 acres, for 1,000 years, from trustees of the common land of Southampton, but under an act of the legislature of 1859 they acquired the fee to about 400 acres, giving up the remainder. They also have a claim to and are in possession of 50 acres of woodland in the same town, purchased by the tribe many years ago, which their trustees assumed to sell to one Benjamin Carpenter, about 1883, and which sale they allege to be invalid, owing to lack of authority in the trustees of the tribes to sell their land. The people dwelling here called Indians number about 150, 60 males and 90 females. Upon the reservation are 2 schools supported by the state at an annual expense of $737.73. The number of children of school age is 59, of whom 53 attended school some portion of the past year. The average daily attendance for the past year was 25. The schoolwork here is not any in advance of that upon the other reservations of the state. There are 2 church buildings upon this reservation, only 1 of them, Presbyterian, being in use. Here services are held each week by one of the Indians. A Sunday school has been organized by Miss Sarah Lewis, an intelligent and public spirited young lady of Southampton, who has taken great interest in the welfare of these people, and is expending much well directed effort for their improvement. Nearly all of these Indians attend church, and many of them are professors of the Christian religion.

They cultivate only one-tenth of their land, and a portion of the remainder is leased to and worked by white men. Some part of it is swampy and the residue runs to waste, covered with weeds and briers. Many of the men in past years served as whalers, and made good seamen and under officers.

Their social condition is not enviable. During the time when Negroes were held as slaves in the state these Indians largely intermarried with them, and their descendants apparently have more of the Negro than of the Indian blood in their veins, and in fact are only Indians in name. They have entirely lost their native language and have not used it for more than a hundred years, speaking now the English language exclusively. They have intermarried until they may fairly be considered one family. Marriage ceremonies among them are usually performed by a clergyman or magistrate. Divorce laws are not in force among them, and when a separation is desired it is had and the marriage relations cease. Nearly all of them can read and write to some extent. As to class they are indolent and shiftless, living from hand to mouth, generally in cheap, poor houses, and with insufficient clothing and food, at least in winter. None of them cultivate to exceed 10 acres of land and not more than an acre or two. Their law of intestate succession is very peculiar as well as interesting. Upon the death of her husband, the wife usually takes all of his estate; if the wife be dead, all things being equal, the eldest daughter inherits, but if there be any child apparently in greater need of the property than any other, that one receives the estate.

These people are largely governed by the laws of the state, and in almost every instance apply to the state courts for redress and protection. In any action with reference to this tribe charity should be largely mingled with good judgment.

Poosepatuck And Montauk Indians

In this connection mention may be made of 2 other remnants of the Long Island Indians, the Poosepatuck and Montauk. The former occupy 50 acres on the southern shore of the island, near the mouth of Mastic River, in the south part of the town of Brookhaven. They number 10 families and elect annually 3 trustees, who manage their affairs. They have a church and Sabbath school and a state school. Colonel William Smith, chief justice of the province, received a patent for the lands where these Indians live from William and Mary in 1693, and in 1700, July 2, conveyed to the tribe 175 acres to “the intent sayd Indians, their children and posterry to may not want sufficient land to plant on forever”. Of these lands only 50 acres remain to them.

The Montauks, at Montauk Point, number only 8 or 10 persons. Both of these remnants are also mixed Indian and Negro.

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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