1784-1829: Establishing a Town

The present dispute between Indian tribes, the State of New York, and the citizens of that state over Indian casinos has its origins in events of the late eighteenth century.

It is well known that the Oneida Iroquois of New York have been at the forefront of the controversy but the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation has an important historical role as well. This tribe, known as the Stockbridge Indians when it resided at its homeland in New York, had lost its town in Massachusetts due to the unscrupulous dealings of the white settlers there. During the American Revolution they had befriended the Oneida tribe at a period when Indians allied to the British had burned their villages. After the war the Oneidas returned the favor by giving them a six-mile-square township in what is today Madison County, New York. The exact details of the gift are not clear but there is evidence that the Oneidas gave them a written deed of some kind in 1784, possibly at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix that year. In a letter from the Stockbridge chief, Hendrick Aupaumut, to Governor George Clinton, reference was made to "our Deed the Oneidas gave us." Although no record of such a deed has been found, New York State confirmed the town to the tribe on several later occasions, at the Fort Schuyler Treaty of 1788, and in acts of 1789, 1797, 1801, and 1813. The Connecticut Courant of August 10, 1784, reported: "The Oneida tribe have made a donation of land to the Stockbridge Indians, to which they are moving with the utmost rapidity."

The town of New Stockbridge, originally called "Tuscarora" or "Old Oneida" by whites and "Ah-gote-sa-ga-nage" by the Oneidas (meaning unknown), is situated in present day Madison County on what was once part of the extensive Oneida reservation. By 1785 the majority of the Stockbridge tribe, numbering about 280, had made the move and settled in the northeastern part of the town near Vernon, New York. Two years later, the Scottish-based Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge hired the Rev. John Sergeant, son of the original missionary in Massachusetts, to be the new missionary to the tribe. Sergeant began his duties in 1788 by traveling frequently from his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to the tribe at Oneida. He ministered to the tribe for nearly forty years so the quarterly reports he sent to his superiors in Boston provide us with an invaluable daily record of activities in New Stockbridge. 

The first order of business in the township was the establishment of a working community in what had heretofore been not much more than a wilderness. Mills and houses needed to be built. Samuel Kirkland, the missionary to the neighboring Oneidas, observed that New Stockbridge was a "very pious village," thus recognizing the fact that many of the Mohicans had converted to Christianity in Massachusetts. The chief of the tribe himself wrote that "we live in peace, no troubles in unity, good friendship, Good Government and Good Courage." But practical concerns dominated the early years. The tribe built a two-room house for Rev. Sergeant and the next year laid the foundation for a new house in the "lower village" where a group of twelve impoverished Tuscarora families lived.

From the beginning the energy of the Stockbridge Indians was apparent. By 1790 they had established a school with 48 students, both Stockbridge and Tuscarora. The next year they moved four miles further west to the village of Tuscarora, renaming it "Moheakunnuk" or "place of the Mohicans." General Israel Chapin, the Indian superintendent, visited them and promised government support "to build them up." He told them that, since they had long been instructed in white man's ways, "they knew more than their Breathren to the westward, they must therefore set a good example, in every respect; go in union and love and they would be a happy people." The famous Indian preacher from Connecticut, Samson Occom, had recently died at New Stockbridge, where he had been a disruptive force and formed a small faction in opposition to Rev. Sergeant's mission. Occom's death cleared that obstacle to harmony and the tribe prospered for the next few years.

The Stockbridge Indians were desperate for a saw mill and had to rely initially on timber from the nearby Oneida mill. In spite of that, they erected a new 30-foot square schoolhouse in November 1792. Two months later they proudly reported that they had 60 to 70 students in the school, were considering a spinning school for the girls, and planning to have a saw mill of their own.

On April 12, 1792, the legislature of New York passed "An Act for the relief of the Indians residing in New Stockbridge," authorizing them to meet every year in May and form a government. John Sergeant wrote in his journal on May 7, 1793:

This day all the Male inhabitants met by agreement and voted to accept some Laws and regulations passed by the Assembly of New York ... They first chose a Clerk whose business it was to keep the records of the Sales and doings of the Town, and to preside at their meetings as moderator. Secondly they chose a person to be called a marshall to execute the orders of the peacemakers. Thirdly they chose three men as peacemakers whose business it was to attend to all matters of difficulty arising between any of the Inhabitants of said Town &c. This Law I think will have a good tendency to civilize them. Believe further it is entirely a new thing for Indians to adopt and practice upon civil government unconnected with white people.

The first peacemakers were probably the Chief Sachem, Joseph Shauquethqueat (Pye), Chief Joseph Quinnauquant (Quinney), and his son, Counsellor John Quinney, recently a student at the Orange Dale Academy in New Jersey. Once again the Stockbridge tribe took part in a unique experiment for Indians, having already been the first to live on a modem reservation in Massachusetts. The important role of peacemakers to settle disputes continues to this day and is codified in the current constitution of the Mohican Nation.

Among the first acts of the new tribal peace makers was the allotment of 100-acre parcels of land "as shall be agreed on by a plurality of votes ... for the separate improvement of each person or family." Every family and every son was to have one lot until the entire 23,040 acres of the township was occupied. By 1796 the Stockbridge Indians consisted of about 60 families and 300 individuals, so the town was divided into about 300 lots within five larger tracts named West Hill, East Hill, Oneida Creek, Mile Strip, and New Guinea.

On July 24, 1795, three New York Quakers, Thomas Eddy, John Murray, and George Embree, paid a visit to New Stockbridge and viewed the construction on the new sawmill. Chief Hendrick Aupaumut said they gave the tribe "many good counsels & exhortations," presented them with $25 and offered to lend them $30 more without interest for one year toward the cost of the mill. The chief remarked that he hoped they would now be able to quit their bark wigwams and live in wooden homes. The first frame houses, "wholly done by Indians," were finally put up in 1800, fifteen years after the arrival of the tribe.

The encounter with Quaker generosity was the beginning of a long relationship between the Mohicans and the Indian Committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The tribe's most active leader, Captain Hendrick Aupaumut, a man of superior intellect, began corresponding with the Quakers in 1795 and asked for their help in promoting the welfare of his nation.

I have been greatly encouraged in sed,ng my people are so resolute to go in the way of farming. They seem to have some good taste in digging the earth. ... But as we are new beginners in some respects we are like children who cannot do anything without some help ... we have been oblidge[d] to run in debt to complete our sawmill -- near forty pounds. ... I hate to trouble any good people for our necessities, yet some time I [am] oblidge[d] to do it for my people.

The Quakers were quick to respond. On Captain Hendrick's request for various scarce items, the Friends in Philadelphia donated a stove for the school, farming implements, and a set of blacksmith's tools. They agreed to help build a grist mill and gave encouragement toward the continuation of a school by offering to pay $25 a quarter as part of the schoolmaster's salary.

With help from the Quakers, the Stockbridge Indians completed a grist mill in 1797, eliciting this comment from their minister: "July 11th ... This day our Grist Mill built by the Quakers from Philadelphia was completed, so as to grind Corn to the great joy of my people. An Indian tends the same, the likes I believe is not known in America, that the Aboriginal natives do own and are able to take the whole care of both a Grist and Saw Mill."

Finally, the good Quakers agreed to take several young Mohican women to Philadelphia and educate them in skills suitable for life on a farm. Although there were many "Smart Boys" among the Indians, the Quaker Committee thought best to train three girls, Mary Peters, Elizabeth Baldwin, and Margaret Jacobs.  Finally, the good Quakers agreed to take several young Mohican women to Philadelphia and educate them in skills suitable for life on a farm.

Although there were many "Smart Boys" among the Indians, the Quaker Committee thought best to train three girls, Mary Peters, Elizabeth Baldwin, and Margaret Jacobs. They lived with the Friends for four years, from 1797 to 1801, were taught to read and write in English and learned the art of spinning cloth, all at Quaker expense. Joseph Clark traveled to New Stockbridge in November 1797 to pick them up and observed that the Stockbridge Indians "are superior -- especially the women -- to many under our name who make a high profession of religion." The three girls did very well in Philadelphia but, after four years, they requested a return to their families. One of them, Mary Peters (later Doxtater), established a spinning school with four wheels given by the Quakers and 40 girls. By 1815 the school had 60 girls operating twelve wheels producing 100 yards of cloth made from the tribe's own homegrown wool and flax. Mary later achieved great status among the Mohicans and neighboring tribes as a teacher and medical practitioner, acquired a large amount of property in New Stockbridge, and was appointed lawful attorney for the tribe in 1825 to transact their business in Albany.


The Stockbridge Indians resided only four or five miles from the Oneidas and the two tribes lived in "great harmony." Rev. Sergeant noted in his journal, "the Oneidas thought my people far superior to them in knowledge and a Civilized life which protected them from designing men." He added, "the Oneidas pay very great deferance to advice from my people; particularly from Capt Hendrick our principal leader; of whose wisdom and faithfulness they have often had experience. In all difficult cases they send for him. I have thought from observations of his knowledge in reading, writing, and ability to do business with white people, many of the Oneida Chiefs and Pagans are engaged to promote school learning amongst themselves. He is a true and faithful friend to the Interest and happiness of Indians."

Despite the increasing prosperity and stability of the Stockbridge tribe, several issues threatened their very survival and led ultimately to their removal from New York State. First was the question of alcohol and its effect on the tribe. Rev. Sergeant complained in 1793 that a number of persons were selling liquor "to the great disturbance of the Town." At a town meeting that year it was voted "that it was disagreeable to the minds of the town that any person should sell liquor in Town. Therefore voted that for every Gill of Rum Sold in Town the person proved guilty should pay a fine of one shilling, and so in proportion that the half of said fine should be put into the hands of the peace makers for the benefit of the poor."


Even Captain Hendrick was susceptible to drink. He purchased gin at Old Fort Schuyler (Utica) in 1792 and was at one point accused of becoming "a lover of the intoxicating draught."  However, he soon led his tribe in an effort to halt the sale of alcohol in New Stockbridge. On January 10, 1794, he wrote an eloquent letter to Colonel Timothy Pickering, President Washington's postmaster general and a staunch friend to Indians:


I find one particular strong but helpless man who as it were conquered & destroy many of the natives of this country -- the Indians believe that this Strong man's father is some of the whites -- he has been reign upwards than one hundred years -- and he has destroy many of the great Heroes and warriors -- even until this day. The Indians could find no other means to be rid of this man -- but look to their brethren the white people, that you the United States are strong able to help us -- ... stretch the strings of their Law long enough so as to tie this Strong man, that he creep no more among the Indians ... I say supposing our great brothers will or could do that--than they would [have] done greatest good for us -- for the Indians think this man is under the white peoples control -- And his Name is Rum.


But New York did not act on this request and alcohol-related tragedies continued to plague the Stockbridge Indians, including that of an only child who froze to death while "somewhat in liquor" after being turned out of a white man's house. Rev. Sergeant noted that the Indians were "often much exposed to a like catastrophe in cold weather" and he preached to them on "the danger and folly of intemperance."


In February 1797 Captain Hendrick set out for Albany with the Oneida and Tuscarora chiefs to appeal for a strong law to forbid the selling of liquor to the tribes, "to bind this Strong Heroe Rum who has flung down so many mighty warriors among us." Rev. Sergeant waited on Governor John Jay and received assurances that a law would be passed. But no law was forthcoming. In 1799 Captain Hendrick made another trip to Albany and in January 1800 the leaders of the tribe made yet another appeal to the legislature:


We have sent our voice at the different times to your Ears in conjunction with our brothers the Oneida and Tuscarora Nations -- earnestly desire you to consider our deplorable condition -- We told you that our Tribes are almost reduced to the ground by means of your Spiritual [spirituous] Liquors -- and that numberless accidents have taken place among us ... But you refused to give that Assistance which a brother had a right to expect from another -- Brothers -- You are wise people -- You know the mind of the great good Spirit -- We know but little and you often call us Savages -- But as you are our brothers -- We would again look to you for help -- That you would deny us of the destructive article by some Law of yours lest we Shall soon be destroyed before your eyes.


This time his appeal succeeded and New York, on April 4, 1800, passed an act prohibiting the sale of rum, brandy, gin, or spirits in the tracts owned by the Mohicans, Oneidas, and neighboring Brothertown Indians under the penalty of a $20 fine.


At the same tribe the tribe acquired this supposed relief from the drinking problem, it was successful in obtaining a grant of $1,000 for the purpose of erecting a house of public worship, to be completed within two years. Construction went forward rapidly and the building was officially opened in Munnsville on July 9, 1800, with a gathering of the tribe and, to the delight of Rev. Sergeant, "no Indian intoxicated." The structure was 28 feet by 38 feet and had a 56-foot steeple. An "ingeneous Indian" had carved and painted the shape of a sturgeon fish, which he placed on top of the steeple as a symbol of the Mohicans's original homeland along the Hudson River.


Rev. Sergeant at first ministered to the tribe by regularly commuting the 160 miles from his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, staying among "his people" for three and four month periods. Each year from 1794 to 1797 his wife and daughters visited New Stockbridge and were warmly welcomed by the Indians, who said that the women had shown much courage to stay so long with them. In 1798 Sergeant wrote, "the Indians appear more kind and affectionate than ever I knew them" and he declared that his entire family planned to move and live in New Stockbridge. The tribal leaders expressed their thanks "for the courage you have manifested in coming again so long a journey to live among us" and promised to help in building a parish house. Although New York State had granted 640 acres to Sergeant in the town of Vemon, he accepted the offer to live in the parish house and expended much of his own money to have it built. However, in 1805 he complained that the location was unhealthy in the warm season, both the Indians and his family suffered from the ague fever, and he was afraid to leave his family alone "where there is frequently drinking to excess." Finally, in 1809 he found it necessary to move the four miles to Vernon "in the neighborhood of white people, and on Land I obtained from the State ... as I can own no land on the Indian ground."


At the Treaty of Canandaigua in November 1794 the Stockbridge Indians received an annuity of $350 from the federal government, a figure based on a tribal population of 315. From that time the number of Indians living at New Stockbridge steadily increased, partly from new births but also by the migration of new arrivals from Mohicans scattered elsewhere and from other tribes. By 1791 the whole of the tribe had not yet collected at Moheakunnuk. In 1790 an Indian from Ohquagua on the Susquehanna River arrived with his family to escape the drinking he found there. Between 1792 and 1800, 93 Indians arrived. In 1802, 85 Delawares from New Jersey, led by Bartholomew Calvin, came to live in New Stockbridge and were adopted into the tribe. Later there were arrivals from Albany and Kent, Connecticut, as well as a number of runaway black slaves in 1796. The population of the town had grown to 437 Indians in 1816. The tribe was then conducting three schools with about 100 children, operating three saw mills and a grist mill, was spinning over 200 yards of cloth each year, and producing a quantity of corn and wheat sometimes enough to sell on the market.


The future of New Stockbridge looked bright but events conspired to change the situation of the tribe and ultimately force its removal from New York State.