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Connecticut Indian Land Cessions

 Native American Nations | Indian Land Cessions in the United States                    

The policy of the settlers of Connecticut in their dealings with the natives regarding their lands forms one of the brightest chapters, in this respect, of the early history of our country. It is perhaps not without justification that the author of one of the histories of the state1 makes the following statement:

The planters of Connecticut proved by their conduct that they did not seek to obtain undue advantage over the Indians. Even the Pequod war was not undertaken for the purpose of increasing their territory, but only in self-defense; for they did not need their lands, nor did they use them for a considerable time. If they had wished for them, they would have preferred to pay several times their value. They allowed the other tribes all the land thy claimed after the destruction of the Pequods, and took none without paying a satisfactory price. Indeed, in most cases they bought the land in large tracts, and afterward paid for it again in smaller ones, when they wished to occupy it. In some instances, they thus purchased land thrice, and, with the repeated presents made to the sachems, the sums they spent were very large. It was admitted by good judges at the time, that they paid more than the land was worth, even after the improvements were made; and large estates were expended y some of the settlers in buying land at such prices as should prevent any dissatisfaction among the natives. At the same time, they allowed them the right of hunting and fishing on the ground they had sold, as freely as the English, and to dwell and cut wood on it for more than a century; and required the towns, by law, to reserve proper tracts for the Indians to cultivate. Laws were made to protect them from injury and insult.

As it is apparent from this statement, which is in accord with the earlier histories and original documents so far as preserved, that the attempt to unravel the various purchases would be an almost hopeless undertaking, no effort to do this will be made here. All that is necessary to the object of this article is that sufficient data be presented to show clearly the policy adopted and the practical treatment of the Indians by the colonists in regard to their lands.

The first attempt on the part of the people of Plymouth colony to settle Connecticut was made in 1633 by William Holmes, who fixed upon the site of the present city of Windsor, but no buildings were erected or permanent settlement made until the ground had been purchased from the Indians. The extent of this purchase is not given. The title, however, was not obtained from the Pequods, who had driven the original owners from the territory and claimed it by conquest. Holmes; probably aware of this fact, brought back the original owners, and, having placed them again in possession, purchased of them the lands be wished to obtain. This proceeding on his part greatly incensed the Pequods and was one of the complaints on which they based their subsequent war against the colonists.

About the same time, or perhaps a little prior to the date that Holmes fixed his trading post at Windsor, the Dutch of New York made a purchase from Nepuquash, a Pequod sachem, of 20 acres at Hartford.

Macauley2 says that, according to the author of "The New Netherlands," printed in Amsterdam in 1651, the Dutch, in 1632, purchased from the natives the lands on both sides of Connecticut river. However, as they failed to establish their claim to this region as against the English, their purchases were disregarded by the latter.

In order that a somewhat clearer idea maybe given of the subsequent purchases mentioned, Trumbull's statement3 in regard to the location of the different tribes of Connecticut at this early day is quoted:

From the accounts given of the Connecticut Indians, they cannot be estimated at less than twelve or sixteen, thousand. They might possibly amount to twenty. They could muster, at least, three or four thousand warriors. It was supposed, in 1633, that the river Indians only could bring this number into the field. These were principally included within the ancient limits of Windsor, Hartford, Weathersfield, and Middletown. Within the town of Windsor only, there were ten distinct tribes, or sovereignties. About the year 1670, their bowmen were reckoned at two thousand. At that time, it was the general opinion, that there were nineteen Indians, in that town, to one Englishman. There was a great body of them in the center of the town. They had a large fort a little north of the plat on which the first meeting house was erected. On the east side of the river, on the upper branches of the Podunk, they were very numerous. There were also a great number in Hartford. Besides those on the west side of the river, there was a distinct tribe in East Hartford. These were principally situated upon the Podunk, from the northern boundary of Hartford to its mouth, where it empties into Connecticut river. Totanimo, their first sachem with whom the English had any acquaintance, commanded two hundred bowmen. These were called the Podunk Indians.

At Mattabesick, now Middletown, was the great sachem Sowheag. His fort, or castle, was on the high ground, facing the river, and the adjacent country, on both sides of the river, was his sachemdom. This was extensive, comprehending the ancient boundaries of Weathersfield, then called Pyquaug, as well as Middletown. Sequin was Sagamore at Pyquaug, under Sowheag, when the English began their settlements. On the east side of the river, in the tract since called Chatham, was a considerable clan, called the Wongung Indians. At Machemoodus, now called East Haddam, was a numerous tribe, famous for their pawaws, and worshipping of evil spirits. South of these, in the easternmost part of Lyme, were the western Nehanticks. These were confederate with the Pequots. South and east of them, from Connecticut river to the eastern boundary line of the colony, and northeast or north, to its northern boundary line, lay the Pequot and Moheagan country. This tract was nearly thirty miles square, including the counties of New London, Windham, and the principal part of the county of Tolland.

Historians have treated of the Pequots and Moheagans, as two distinct tribes, and have described the Pequot country as lying principally within the three towns of New London, Groton, and Stonington. All the tract above this, as far north and east as has been described, they have represented as the Moheagan country. Most of the towns in this tract, if not all of them, hold their lands by virtue of deeds from Uncas, or his successors, the Moheagan sachems. It is, however, much to be doubted, whether the Moheagans were a distinct nation from the Pequots. They appear to have been a part of the same nation, named from the place of their situation.

The Pequots were, by far, the most warlike nation in Connecticut, or even in New England. The tradition is, that they were, originally, an inland tribe, but, by their prowess, came down and settled themselves, in that fine country along the seacoast, from Nehautick to Narraganset bay. The chief seat of these Indians, was at New London and Groton. New London was their principal harbor, and called Pequot harbor. They had another small harbor at the mouth of Mystic river. Their principal fort was on a commanding and most beautiful eminence, in the town of Groton, a few miles south-easterly from fort Griswold. It commanded one of the finest prospects of the sound and the adjacent country, which is to be found upon the coast. This was the royal fortress, where the chief sachem had his residence. He had another fort near Mystic river, a few miles to the eastward of this, called Mystic fort. This was also erected upon a beautiful hill, or eminence, gradually descending towards the south and south-east.

West of Connecticut river and the towns upon it, there were not only scattering families in almost every part, but, in several places, great bodies of Indians. At Simsbury and New Hartford they were numerous; and upon those fine meadows, formed by the meanders of the little river, at Tunxis, now Farmington, and the lands adjacent, was another very large clan. There was a small tribe at Guilford, under the sachem squaw, or queen, of Menunkatuck. At Branford and East Haven there was another. They had a famous burying ground at East Haven, which they visited and kept up, with much ceremony, for many years after the settlement of New Haven.

At Milford, Derby, Stratford, Norwalk, Stamford, and Greenwich, their numbers were formidable.

At Milford, the Indian name of which was Wopowage, there were great numbers; . not only in the center of the town, but south of it, at Milford point. . . . They had a strong fortress, with flankers at the four corners, about half a mile north of Stratford ferry. This was built as a defense against the Mohawks. At Turkey hill, in the northwest part of Milford, there was another large settlement.

In Derby, there were two large clans. There was one at Paugusset. This clan erected a strong fort against the Mohawks, situated on the bank of the river, nearly a mile above Derby ferry. At the falls of Naugatuck river, four or five miles above, was another tribe.

At Stratford, the Indians were equally, if not more numerous. In that part of the town only, which is comprised within the limits of Huntington, their warriors, after the English had knowledge of them, were estimated at three hundred; and, before this time, they had been much wasted by the Mohawks.

The Indians at Stamford and Greenwich, and in that vicinity, probably, were not inferior in numbers to those at Stratford. There were two or three tribes of Indians in Stamford, when the English began the settlement of the town. In Norwalk were two petty sachemdoms; so that within these towns, there was a large and dangerous body of savages. These, with the natives between them and Hudson's river, gave extreme trouble to the Dutch. The Norwalk and Stamford Indians gave great alarm, and occasioned much expense to the English, after they made settlements in that part of the colony.

In the town of Woodbury there were also great numbers of Indians. The most numerous body of them was in that part of the town since named South Britain.

On the northeasterly and northern part of the colony were the Nipmuck Indians. Their principal seat was about the great ponds in Oxford, in Massachusetts, but their territory extended southward into Connecticut, more than twenty miles. This was called the Wahbequasset and Whetstone country; and sometimes, the Moheagan conqnered country, as Uncas had conqnered and added it to his sachemdom.

On the 24th of November, 1638, Theophilus Eaton, Mr Davenport, and other English planters entered into the following agreement with Momauguin, sachem of Quinnipiack:4

That Momauguin is the sole sachem of Quinnipiack, and had an absolute power to aliene and dispose of the same: That, in consequence of the protection which he had tasted, by the English, from the Pequots and Mohawks, he yielded up all his right, title, and interest to all the land, rivers, ponds, and trees, with all the liberties and appurtenances belonging to the same, unto Theophilus Eaton, John Davenport, and others, their heirs and assigns, forever. He covenanted, that neither he, nor. his Indians, would terrify, nor disturb the English, nor injure them in any of their interests; but that, in every respect, they would keep true faith with them.

The English covenanted to protect Momauguin and his Indians, when unreasonably assaulted and terrified y other Indians; and that they should always have a sufficient quantity of land to plant on, upon the east side of the harbor, between that and Saybrook fort. They also covenanted, that by way of free and thankful retribution, they gave unto the said sachem, and his council and company, twelve coats of English cloth, twelve alchemy spoons, twelve hatchets, twelve hoes, two dozen of knives, twelve porringers, and four cases of French knives and scissors.

In December following they purchased of Montowese another large tract which lay principally north of the former. This tract was 10 miles in length north and south, and 13 in breadth. It extended 8 miles east of Quinnipiak river and 5 miles west of it, and included all the lands in the ancient limits of the old towns of New Haven, Branford, and Wallingford, " and almost the whole contained in the present [1818] limits of those towns and of the towns of East Haven, Woodbridge, Cheshire, Hamden, and North Haven."5

Wopowage and Menunkatuck (Milford and Guilford) were purchased in 1639. These lands, as also those in New Haven, were purchased by the principal men, in trust, for all the inhabitants of the respective towns. Every planter, after paying his proportionate part of the expenses, drew a lot, or lots of land in proportion to the amount he had expended in the general purchase. Most of the principal settlers were from Weathersfield. "They first purchased of the Indians all that tract which lies between New Haven and Stratford river, and between the sound oil the south and a stream line between Milford and ]derby. This tract comprised all the lands within the old town of Milford and a small part of the town of Woodbridge. The planters made other purchases which included a large tract on the west side of Stratford river, principally in the town of Huntington."

The purchasers of Guilford required the Indians to move off the lands they had obtained from them; which agreement they carried out in good faith.

Mr Ludlow and others who settled Fairfield purchased a large tract of the natives.

"Settlements," says Trumbull, "commenced the same year at Cupheag and Pughquonnuck, since named Stratford. That part which contains the town plat, and lies upon the river, was called Cupheag, and the western part bordering upon Fairfield Pughquonnuck." He says the whole township was purchased of the natives, but at first Cupheag and Pughquonnuck only, the purchase of the township not being completed until 1672.

The following general statement by the same authority6 indicates very clearly the just and humane policy of the settlers of this colony:

After the conquest of the Pequots, in consequence of the covenant made with Uncas, in 1638, and the gift of a hundred Pequots to him, he became important. A considerable number of Indians collected to him, so that he became one of the principal sachems in Connecticut, and even in New England. At some times lie was able to raise four or five hundred warriors. As the Pequots were now conquered, and as he assisted in the conquest, and was a Pequot himself, he laid claim to all that extensive tract called the Moheagan or Pequot country. Indeed, it seems he claimed, and was allowed to sell some part of that tract which was the principal seat of the Pequots. The sachems in other parts of Connecticut, who had been conquered by the Pequots, and made their allies, or tributaries, considered themselves, by the conquest of this haughty nation, as restored to their former rights. Thy claimed to be independent sovereigns, and to have a title to all the lands which they had at any time before possessed. The planters therefore, to show their justice to the heathen, and to maintain the peace of the country, from time to time, purchased of the respective sachems and their Indians, all the lands which they settled, excepting the towns of New London, Groton, and Stonington, which were considered as the peculiar seat of the Pequot nation. The inhabitants of Windsor, Hartford, and Weathersfield, either at the time of their settlement or soon after, bought all those extensive tracts, which they settled, of the native, original proprietors of the country. Indeed, Connecticut planters generally made repeated purchases of their lands. The colony not only bought the Moheagan country of Uncas, but afterwards all the particular towns were purchased again, either of him or his successors, when the settlements in them commenced. Besides, the colony was often obliged to renew its leagues with Uncas and his successors, the Moheagan sachems; and to make new presents and take new deeds, to keep friendship with the Indians and preserve the peace of the country. The colony was obliged to defend Uncas from his enemies, which was an occasion of no small trouble and expense. The laws obliged the inhabitants of the several towns to reserve unto the natives a sufficient quantity of planting ground. They were allowed to hunt and fish upon all the lands no less than the English.

He also mentions in the same connection the following purchases:

Connecticut made presents to Uncas, the Moheagan sachem, to his satisfaction, and on the 1st of September, 1640, obtained of him a clear and ample deed of all his lands in Connecticut, except the lands which were then planted. These he reserved for himself and the Moheagans.

The same year, Governor Haynes, in behalf of Hartford, made a purchase of Tunxis, including the towns of Farmington and Southington, and extending westward as far as the Mohawk country.

The people of Connecticut, about the same time, purchased Waranoke and soon began a plantation there, since called Westfield. Governor Hopkins erected a trading house and had a considerable interest in the plantation.

Mr. Ludlow made a purchase of the eastern part of Norwalk, between Saugatuck and Norwalk rivers. Captain Patrick bought the middle part of the town. A few families seemed to have planted themselves in the town about the time of these purchases, but it was not properly settled until about the year 1651. The planters then made a purchase of the western part of the town.

About the same time Robert Feaks and Daniel Patrick bought Greenwich. The purchase was made in behalf of New Haven, but through the intrigue of the Dutch governor, and the treachery of the purchasers, the first inhabitants revolted to the Dutch. They were incorporated and vested with town privileges y Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Netherlands. The inhabitants were driven off by the Indians, in their war with the Dutch; and made no great progress in the settlement until after Connecticut obtained the charter, and they were taken under the jurisdiction of this colony.

Captain Howe and other Englishmen, in behalf of Connecticut, purchased a large tract of the Indians, the original proprietors, on Long Island. This tract extended from the eastern part of Oyster bay to the western part of Howe's or Holmes's bay to the middle of the great plain. It lay on the northern part of the island and extended southward about half its breadth. Settlements were immediately begun upon the lands, and by the year 1642, had made considerable advancement.

New Haven made a purchase of all the lands at Rippowams. This purchase was made of Ponus and Toquamske, the two sachems of that tract, which contained the whole town of Stamford. A reservation of planting ground was made for the Indians. (The purchase was made by Captain Nathaniel Turner, agent for New Haven. It cost about thirty pounds sterling.)

In 1640 laws were enacted by both Connecticut and New Haven prohibiting all purchases from the Indians by private persons or companies without the consent of their respective general courts. These were to authorize and direct the manner of every purchase.

The Pequots having petitioned the English to take them under their protection, this request was granted in 1655. Places of residence were appointed for them by the general court of Connecticut "about Pawcatuck and Mystic rivers," and they were allowed to hunt on the lands west of the latter. They were collected in these two places and an "Indian governor" appointed over them in each place. General laws were also made for their government.

In June, 1659, Uncas, with his two sons, Owaneco and Attawanhood, by a formal and authentic deed, made over to Leffingwell, Mason, and others (35 in all) "the whole township of Norwich, which is about 9 miles square."7

Other purchases were made, of which the following may be mentioned : A township of land called "Thirty miles island," at or near East Haddam.

Massacoe or Symsbury.
Lands adjoining or near Milford were purchased of the sagalnores Wetanamow, Raskenute, and Okenuck, between 1657 and 1671.

The purchase from the Mohegans of a large tract, including most of the Pequod country. This tract, however, was claimed by Mason and his associates. A long and expensive controversy ensued, but after several years had passed in contesting the adverse claims, judgment was finally rendered in favor of the colony.. The bounds of this tract are given as follows: "Commencing on the south at a large rock in Connecticut river, near Eight mile island, in the bounds of Lyme, eastward through Lyme, New London, and Groton to Ah-yo-sup-suck, a pond in the northeast part of Stonington; on the east, from this pond northward to Mah-man-suck, another pond; thence to Egunk-sank-apong, Whetstone hills; from thence to Man-hum-squeeg, the Whetstone country. From this boundary the line ran a few miles to Acquiunk, the upper falls in Quinnibaug river. Thence the line ran a little north of west, through Pomfert, Ashford, Willington, and Tolland to Moshenupsuck, the notch of the mountain, now known to be the notch in Bolton mountain. From thence the line ran southerly through Bolton, Hebron, and East Haddam" to the place of beginning.

It appears that the colonists, by repeated purchases and "ample deeds," had already obtained title to most of this land, but to prevent trouble and to satisfy the Mohegans, they offered the latter a further sum of money, which was accepted as a full, complete, and satisfactory payment. In addition to this the colonists reserved for the Indians between 4,000 and 5,000 acres of land between New London and Norwich, and granted them the privilege of hunting and fishing everywhere, and of building wigwams and cutting wood in all uninclosed lands.

It appears from the "East Hampton Book of Laws8 a that the people of this settlement made a rule, about 1663, against private purchases of land from Indians:

No purchase of lands from the Indians after the first day of March 1664 shall be esteemed a good title without leave first had and obtained from the Governour, and after leave so obtained, the purchasers shall bring the Sachem and right owner of such lands before the Governour to acknowledge satisfaction and payment for the said lands, whereupon they shall have a grant from the Governour and the purchase so made and prosecuted is to be entered upon record in the office and from that time to be valid to all intents and purposes.

Had the colonists but added the Canadian (English) custom of requiring the members of the tribe or tribes to name the sachems or men authorized to make the sale, the plan would have been about as nearly perfect as the case would have admitted of at that time.

In 1708 John Belden and others purchased a large tract between Norwalk and Danbury.

These examples are sufficient to show the policy adopted by the settlers of Connecticut in dealing with the Indians for their lands and their practical methods in this respect. It is clear that they conceded the right of possession to be in the natives, and that a just and humane policy required them to purchase this possession before they converted the lands to their own use. Although purchases were made at first by individuals or companies, these were in most cases for or on behalf of settlements and not for the sole benefit and advantage of the person making the purchase. To what extent and in what manner these early purchases were confirmed by competent authority is not entirely clear. It is presumed, however, from the fact that laws were passed by both Connecticut and New Haven (1640), before their union, prohibiting purchases without the consent of their general courts, that abuses had occurred from this loose method.

The following act "concerning purchases of native rights to land" was passed in May, 1717:

That all Lands in this Government are Holden of the King of Great Britain, as Lord of the Fee: And that no Title to any Lands in this Colony can accrue by any purchase made of Indians, on Pretence of their being Native Proprietors thereof without the Allowance, or Approbation of this Assembly.

And it is hereby Resolved. That no Conveyance of Native Right, or Indian Title without the Allowance, or approbation of this Assembly aforesaid, shall be given in Evidence of any Man's Title, or Pleadable in any Court.9

Another act of the same tenor, entitled "An Act for preventing Trespass on the Lands of this Colony, by Illegal Purchase thereof from the Indians," was passed October 11, 1722, as follows:

That whosoever shall presume to purchase any Lands within the Bounds of this Colony, of any Indians whatsoever, without the Leave of this Assembly hereafter first had, and obtained, under color, or pretence of such Indians being the Proprietors of said Lands by a Native Right; or shall having Purchased of any Indians Lands in such manner, without Leave of this Assembly afterwards first had, or the Confirmation of this Assembly afterwards obtained, presume to make any Sale of, or any Settlements upon any Lands so Purchased, every Person who shall in any such Manner Transgress, and be thereof Convicted in the County Court, or in the Superior Court of that County where such Lands shall lye, shall incur the Penalty of Fifty Pounds to the Treasury of this Colony.

And whatsoever Person, or Persons shall suffer any Wrong by means of such Sale or Settlement, as aforesaid, shall Recover in either of the said Courts, upon Proof of such Wrong, by him suffered, Treble Damages against the Person, or Persons so Wronging of him.10

A few years later (1750) even more stringent provisions were enacted against unauthorized purchases from Indians, namely:

SEC. 10. And be it further, enacted, That no person or persons in this State, whether inhabitants or other, shall buy, hire or receive a gift or mortgage of any parcel of laud or lands of any Indian, for the future, except he or they do buy or receive the same for the use of the State, or for some plantation or village, and with the allowance of the General Assembly of this State.

SEC. 11. And if any person or persons shall purchase or receive any lands of any Indian or Indians, contrary to the intent of this act, the person or persons so offending, shall forfeit to the public treasury of this State the treble value of the lands so purchased or received; and no interest or estate in any lands in this State shall accrue to any such person or persons, by force or virtue of such illegal bargain, purchase, or receipt.

SEC.12. it is further enacted. That when, and so often as any suit shall be brought by any Indian or Indians, for the recovery of lands reserved by the Indians for themselves, or sequestered for the use and benefit of the Indians, by order of this Assembly, or by any town, agreeable to the laws of this State, that the defendent or tenant shall not be admitted to plead in his defense his possession, or any way take benefit of the law; entitled "An Act for the quieting men's estates, and avoiding of suits," made. May the eighteenth, one thousand six hundred and eighty-four.11

1 Theodore Dwight, jr., The History of Connecticut from the First settlement to the Present Time (1841), p. 89.
2 History of New York (1829), vol, u, p. 304.
3 History of Connecticut (1818), vol. i, pp. 40-43.
4 Trumbull, History of Connecticut, vol. i, pp. 98, 99.
5 Trumbull, History of Connecticut, vol. I, , p. 99, z
6 Vol, I, pp. 116,117.
7 Trumbull, History of Connecticut., vol. i, p. 336.
8 New York Historical Collections, vol. i.
9 Statutes of Connecticut (1750), p. 110.
10 Statutes of Connecticut (1750), p. 114
11 Laws of Colonial and State Governments (1832), pp. 50-51

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First annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1879-80

Indian Land Cessions in the United States


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