[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles (Huron, Micmac, Assiniboine, etc.).
This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to those Nations referred to in the History of the Mohegan.
Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments...Lee Sultzman]
Originally a part of the Pequot, the Mohegan came from the upper Hudson River Valley in New York near Lake Champlain. Sometime around 1500, both tribes left this area and moved to the Thames River Valley in southeastern Connecticut. The Mohegan called their homeland Moheganeak and occupied the upper and western portions of the Thames Valley, while the Pequot lived closer to the coast.
The Mohegan and Pequot together numbered about 6,000 in 1620. Internal divisions occurred after 1633, and Uncas and his followers separated from the main body to become the Mohegan. A smallpox epidemic during the winter of 1634-35 reduced both groups by about 30 percent. After the Pequot War,
the two groups were forcibly reunited when 1,500 Pequot and western Niantic were placed under the control of Uncas and the Mohegan creating a combined population of about 3,000. A second smallpox epidemic in 1639 lowered this to less than 2,500. The English moved the Pequot to separate reserves in 1655 and later population estimates sometimes included them as part of the Mohegan and sometimes not. Despite the incorporation of Mattabesic, Nipmuc, and Narragansett, the Mohegan population continued to drop - mainly from disease. Smallpox appeared at regular intervals (1649, 1662, 1670, 1677, 1687, 1729, 1755) and combined with influenza (1647, 1675), diphtheria (1659), and measles (1687) to decimate Connecticut's native population. Although the Mohegan were considered an ally by the colonists, it is likely their close association accelerated the decline of the Mohegan by exposure to infection.
By 1675 the Mohegan numbered less than 1,200. Thirty years later (1705), they were only 750. In the years which followed, groups began to separate from the main body - most notably, the 300 Mohegan who left Connecticut with the Brotherton Indians between 1775 and 1788 to live with the Oneida and Stockbridge Indians (Mahican) in upstate New York. The Brotherton, Oneida, and Stockbridge sold their New York lands in 1822 and by 1834 had moved to northern Wisconsin. Currently, there are Mohegan descendants in Wisconsin among the Stockbridge west of Green Bay and Brotherton (not federally recognized) east of Lake Winnebago. After these defections, there were only 206 Mohegan in Connecticut in 1774. By 1809 this had fallen to 70. There was a sudden increase to 360 in 1832 - the result of either an amazing birth-rate or a count which included native peoples other than Mohegan. The 1850 census listed 125 Mohegan in Connecticut, most of whom afterwards merged quietly into the general population. The 1910 census found only 22. Recently reorganized as a tribe, the Mohegan have almost 1,000 members (600 live in Connecticut) and received federal recognition in 1994.
In their language, "Mohegan" means wolf - exactly the same as "Mahican" from the Mahican language, but these slightly different names refer to two very distinct Algonquin tribes in different locations. It is very common for the Mohegan of the Thames River in eastern Connecticut to be confused with the Mahican from the Hudson Valley in New York (a distance of about a hundred miles). Even James Fenimore Cooper got things confused when he wrote "Last of the Mohicans" in 1826. Since Cooper lived in Cooperstown, New York and the location of his story was the upper Hudson Valley, it can be presumed he was writing about the Mahican of the Hudson River, but the spelling variation chosen (Mohican) and use of Uncas, the name of a Mohegan sachem, has muddled things. Other factors have contributed to the confusion, not the least of which was the Mohegan were the largest group of the Brotherton Indians in Connecticut. After the Brotherton moved to the Oneida reserve in upstate New York in 1788, they became mixed with the Stockbridge Indians (Mahican) from western Massachusetts. Because of this, the present-day Stockbridge Tribe should contain descendants from both the Mahican and Mohegan. Anyone not confused at this point may consider himself an expert.
Spelling variations used for the Mohegan in Connecticut and Mahican of New York and western Massachusetts (Mohiggan, Monahegan, Morihican, etc.) frequently overlap and have been applied equally to both tribes. Alternative names only for the Mohegan were: Seaside People, Uncas Indians, Unkas, and Upland Indians.
Algonquin. Y-dialect like the Pequot, Narragansett, Niantic, and Montauk. It should be noted that the Mahican of New York spoke an N-dialect.
Ashowat, Catantaquck, Checapscaddock, Groton, Kitemaug, Mamaquaog, Mashantackack, Massapeag, Mohegan, Moosup, Moraigan, Nawhesetuck, Pachaug, Paugwonk, Pautexet, Pigscomsuck, Poquechanneeg, Poquechanock, Poquetanuck, Shantuck, Shecomeco, Shetucket (Showtucket), Wabaquasset, Wanungatuck (Waunungtatuck, Wongattuck), Wauregan, and Willimantic (Weammantuck).
Culturally, the Mohegan were identical to the Pequot - the only difference being their political allegiance. The Mohegan were English allies for almost a century after 1633, while the Pequot fought the colonists and were nearly destroyed in five years. From the perspective of the colonists and their descendants (who wrote the history of New England), Uncas and the Mohegan were the "good Indians," while Sassacus and the Pequot were "bad Indians." Most native Americans, however, would probably see this "good" and "bad" in reverse. It is interesting to note that, although the Mohegan and Pequot tried to cope with the Europeans by very different means , their ultimate fate was the same ...impoverishment, loss of their land, and near-extinction.
The traditions of both the Mohegan and Pequot agree that they originally came from the upper Hudson River Valley. The timing of this migration is unclear but appears to have been sometime around 1500. Dutch records dating from 1614 mention their meeting with the Sequin on the lower Connecticut River. Although this may have been another tribe, the name appears to have been altered at a later date to Pequin which was one of the names the Dutch used for the Pequot. During the next few years, the Dutch increased their fur trade along the lower Connecticut and built a permanent trading post near Hartford in 1622. Although the Dutch wanted to trade with everyone, the Pequot were determined to dominate the smaller Nipmuc and Mattabesic tribes in the area and control their access to the Dutch. After a violent confrontation and near-war in 1622, the Dutch decided to let the Pequot have their way, and the result was profitable for both the Dutch and Pequot. During the next ten years, the Pequot collected tolls from other tribes for the right to pass through their lands or served as middlemen in the fur and wampum trade with the Dutch along the Connecticut River.
This comfortable arrangement ended in 1633 when English traders from Boston built a trading post at Windsor just upstream from the Dutch. From this location, the English were able to intercept the furs coming from the interior before they could reach either the Pequot or Dutch. The Dutch reacted by purchasing land from the Pequot and building a fortified trading post (House of Good Hope) while hoping that Pequot hostility would force the English to leave. The reasons the Dutch were upset with this English competition are obvious, but the Pequot's were more complex. Besides the loss of tolls and tribute from other tribes, there was also (perhaps more importantly) a direct challenge to their authority over the tribes in the area which struck the very heart of the Pequot's power. Another was wampum, the source of Pequot wealth. English colonists had started manufacturing wampum with steel drills and were flooding the market which lowered its value.
Because of this, the Dutch were certain the Pequot would force the English to leave, but things did not work out this way. As they acquired wealth and power, serious divisions began to appear within the Pequot. For one thing, the Pequot inland along the upper Thames did have the same access to Dutch traders as did their coastal tribesmen. In their view, the English post at Windsor was more accessible with better prices, and they saw no reason why the Pequot should not be able to establish a monopoly with the English similar to one with the Dutch. Adding to this was the personal rivalry between Sassacus and Uncas. When the Pequot grand sachem Wopigwooit died in 1631, both Uncas and Sassacus expected to succeed him. The council, however, chose Sassacus, and despite the fact he was married to Sassacus' daughter, Uncas never accepted its decision. Their arguments in council became increasingly bitter, since Sassacus favored Pequot trade only with the Dutch, while Uncas wanted trade with the English.
The dispute turned violent with different factions sometimes expressing their preference by killing and robbing Dutch or English traders who had the misfortune to cross paths with the wrong group of Pequot. What began as a family argument quickly escalated into a full-blown divorce. While the larger pro-Dutch faction supported Sassacus, a pro-English group collected around Uncas. Following arguments in council, Uncas refused to accept the authority of Sassacus and on three occasions left the Pequot villages. Twice he returned and was forgiven, but the third time he took 50 warriors and their families with him and settled in a new village on the Connecticut River north of Lyme. The break became permanent when Uncas alined his small band with the English traders. Joined by other Pequot interested in trade with the English and groups of Mattabesic anxious to free themselves from Pequot domination, the rebel faction grew rapidly in number and was soon formidable enough that Sassacus could not force its return. Adopting the name of Uncas' clan (the wolf) as their own, they began referring to themselves as Mohegan.
The separation was not amicable and crippled the Pequot at a crucial moment. In 1634 the Western Niantic (Pequot allies) killed a Boston trader near the mouth of the Connecticut River. Despite the fact the man was trying to kidnap native women and children to sell as slaves, the colonists were furious. Sassacus already had enough problems with the recent defection of the Mohegan, but he made the long journey to Massachusetts to "cover the dead." Unfortunately, the Puritans were not satisfied with his offers of fur and wampum and demanded that he surrender the killers. Sassacus refused, and the talks ended with both sides still angry. Smallpox hit both the Mohegan and Pequot villages that winter, but by this time the differences between them had become so great that the main regret of Uncas and Sassacus in the spring was that the other had survived the epidemic. During the summer of 1635, the English built a new fort at Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut. With their access blocked, the Dutch closed their trading post at Hartford and withdrew from the Connecticut Valley which left the Pequot without support. While the Mohegan stood by and refused to help their former tribesmen, the Narragansett seized the opportunity to attack the weakened Pequot and reclaim hunting territory in southwest Rhode Island which they had been forced to surrender after a war in 1622.
With the elimination of the Dutch, English settlement of Connecticut began in 1636 when Thomas Hooker settled at Hartford. In general the Mattabesic in the area subject to the Pequot welcomed the English for both trade and a chance to rid themselves of the Pequot. Feeling their power slipping away, the Pequot harassed the new settlements just short of open warfare. Uncas and the Mohegan, however, were friendly from the onset, a source of suspicion among the English who were uncertain if it was sincere. However, the Mohegan's chance to prove themselves came soon enough. That summer the Western Niantic killed another Boston trader near Block Island. Without consulting the Connecticut colonists, Massachusetts, in August, sent a punitive expedition of 90 men under John Endicott to Block Island which killed 14 Niantic and burned their village and crops. Endicott then crossed over to the mainland and destroyed a Pequot village before returning to Boston. That winter the Pequot sent war belts to the Mohegan and Narragansett asking their help in the coming war against the English. Both tribes not only refused but allied with the English.
Sassacus decided to fight without them. In April a retaliatory raid struck Wethersfield and Hartford killing 30 colonists, and in May the General Court of Connecticut declared war on the Pequot. Despite their past differences, many of the Mohegan were not eager to fight their Pequot relatives, but Uncas ruled with a firm hand. Leaving most of his men to protect his villages and the Connecticut settlements, he brought 70 of his most trustworthy warriors to Hartford to join forces with John Mason's 90 colonial soldiers. The plan was to destroy the main Pequot fort at Mystic, but Uncas must have realized full-well that this was suicide with only 160 men. However, having cast his lot with the English, he was bound by his sense of honor to join an expedition that meant certain death. The little army loaded into boats and floated down the Connecticut stopping at Fort Saybrook for rest and to add a few more men. The English still suspected the loyalty of the Mohegan and were making insulting remarks. Uncas suddenly left camp by himself. When he returned he had four Pequot scalps still attached to the heads of their former owners. Without a word, he tossed these into the English camp, and there were no further questions.
The expedition left Saybrook and proceeded east along the coast to Mystic only to find hundreds of Pequot warriors waiting for them. Mason continued east until he reached the Narragansett villages in Rhode Island. A council of war was held between Mason, Uncas, and the Narragansett sachem Canonchet. Canonchet not only provided Mason's tiny army with 200 warriors led by his son Miontonimo but also gave permission for the English to move overland across Narragansett territory to attack Mystic from the rear. Mason's reinforced army proceeded west with Mohegan scouts leading the way. The English soldiers, however, made so much noise moving through the forest the Narragansett were certain they would be discovered and ambushed. Only a fiery speech by Uncas challenging their courage prevented the Narragansett from deserting the expedition. Eventually, the Mohegan located Mystic and guided the army to it. As luck would have it, the Pequot warriors were absent on a raid against the settlements along the Connecticut, and the English, through no fault of their own, had achieved total surprise.
After trapping 700 Pequot inside, Mason and his men set the fort afire killing any one who tried to escape. The Narragansett and Mohegan finished the few Pequot which the English missed. The massacre broke the Pequot. Deserted by their allies and unable to plant their crops, they abandoned their villages and fled west in small groups. The English did not discover the Pequot had left until the end of June, but immediately afterwards the hunt was on. Sassacus had led one group west along the Connecticut coast trying to reach the Mohawk, but with Uncas and the Mohegan scouts showing the way, the English pursuit, caught up with them at the Pequannock village of Sasqua (Fairfield, Connecticut). Sassacus escaped during the battle, but 180 Pequot were captured. Sassacus reached the Mohawk, but they killed him and sent his head as a token of their friendship to the General Court at Hartford. The war ended in series on small skirmishes as the English, Mohegan, and Narragansett tracked down the other Pequot. Finally, the remaining Pequot sachems surrendered and asked for peace.
Of the estimated 3,000 Pequot at the beginning of the war, less than half survived. Most warriors were executed outright, and the women and children were sold into slavery in the West Indies. Under the terms of the treaty signed at Hartford in 1638, most of the 1,500 Pequot and Western Niantic who managed somehow to surrender were placed under the control of Uncas and the Mohegan. They were separated into small groups and forbidden to ever again call themselves Pequot. Since any tribe, including the Mohegan, who provided refuge to the Pequot was required to pay a heavy fine in wampum to the English, the Mohegan worked their adopted Pequot like dogs to collect wampum, since the alternative was being forced to sell their land to the English colonists. Despite this drawback, the Pequot provided the Mohegan with a ready supply of additional warriors, and with a combined population of 3,000 and a formal alliance with both Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Mohegan emerged from the Pequot War as one of the most powerful tribes in New England.
Their only rival was the Narragansett who were closely tied to Roger Williams and the Rhode Island colonists. However, Williams was considered a dangerous radical by most Puritans, and as a result, the Narragansett were viewed with suspicion. With the Pequot no longer a threat, English settlement poured into the lower Connecticut River Valley and then down the western coast to the vicinity of Stamford by 1641. Any thoughts that the Mattabesic who lived in this area may have entertained of resisting the invasion were quickly squashed by the Mohegan who soon proved themselves to be as oppressive as the Pequot. The Mattabesic could possibly have fought the English or Mohegan separately, but they had no chance against both of them. There was resentment, however, and this made it easy in 1640 for the Narragansett to form an alliance in 1640 with the Pocumtuc and Tunxis against the Mohegan. Unfortunately, this only served to confirm Puritan suspicions about Williams and the Narragansett.
The Narragansett were forced to sign a treaty agreeing not to make war on the Mohegan without first consulting the English. Apparently, their discussions with Roger Williams did not count. The Narragansett sachem Miontonimo, however, continued efforts to recruit allies against the Mohegan, and accompanied by 100 of his warriors, visited the Metoac villages on Long Island and the Wappinger and Mahican along the Hudson River during the summer of 1642. This greatly alarmed the Dutch, who visualized a general uprising being planned against themselves and the English and warned New England. The outbreak of the Wappinger War (1643-45) a few months later between the Dutch and the tribes of the lower Hudson added to the concern in New England, and in 1643 all of the English colonies (Hartford, New Haven, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay) joined together in a defensive alliance known as the New England Confederation. Rhode Island was deliberately excluded, which left Williams and the Narragansett completely isolated. By the fall of 1643, the Wappinger War had spread to include almost 20 tribes, and the Dutch were close to being overwhelmed. To put down the uprising, they offered 25,000 guilders for English volunteers to help them put down the uprising.
Captain John Underhill organized two companies of colonists complete with Mohegan scouts and joined the war in early 1644. With the English soldiers and Mohegan occupied elsewhere, the Narragansett decided the time had come to strike, and for good reason, they did not consult the Puritans who were certain to warn the Mohegan. Miontonimo led 900 warriors in a surprise attack on Shetucket, the Mohegan capital near Norwich, Connecticut. It almost worked. The Mohegan were falling back through most of the battle, until in a last desperate assault, they captured Miontonimo. Disheartened, the Narragansett broke off the fight and retreated. Later, they offered of a large ransom of wampum for his release, but Uncas had already delivered Miontonimo to the English at Hartford who locked him in a jail. Neither Uncas nor the Connecticut colonists were certain what to do, until they had consulted Massachusetts. After much discussion, it was finally decided to accept the ransom and return Miontonimo to his people under a combined English and Mohegan escort ...at least, that was what the Narragansett were told. The party had scarcely left Shetucket, than the brother of Uncas stepped up behind Miontonimo and tomahawked him, killing him instantly. The English did nothing, but it is doubtful the execution could have taken place without their permission.
The death of Miontonimo ended the power of the Narragansett in southern New England, and after 1645 they were required to pay tribute to Massachusetts. The Mohegan had no rivals in the area afterwards, but in practice, there was little to distinguish between the ambitions of Uncas and those of Sassacus. The only difference being that the Mohegan were loyal to the interests of the English, an alliance well-suited to the needs of both parties. The Mohegan could expand their authority north and west over the Nipmuc and Mattabesic, while the English could take the Mattabesic land in Connecticut unopposed. Before 1637 the Massomuck (Nipmuc) had been subject to the Pequot only to become subject to the Mohegan afterwards. Over the next 50 years, many of the small Nipmuc tribes would disappear entirely into the ranks of the Mohegan. Similar fates awaited the easternmost Mattabesic, and by 1654, the Massaco had been conquered and absorbed.
Mohegan domination and encroachment finally forced some Mattabesic in northern Connecticut (Newashe, Peskantuk, Poquonock, and Sicaog) to turn to the Pocumtuc for help. The Pocumtuc welcomed them since they needed warriors for their own war against the Mohawk. However, the Pocumtuc were also forced to defend their new allies by attacking the Mohegan villages during the winter of 1658-59. For the most part, Mohegan warriors kept the peace in Connecticut by standing ready to help the English crush any tribe who opposed the expansion of settlement. They also helped the English acquire title to native lands. The usual method was for the Mohegan to force a smaller tribe to pay an impossible tribute. When they failed, the Mohegan would take their their lands instead of the wampum and sell them to the English. An alternative was for the Mohegan to actually conquer a tribe, incorporate them, and then sell their lands. This was common practice between Uncas and the English until his death in 1687 and was continued by his sons who succeeded him as the Mohegan sachem.
It should come as little surprise that the Mohegan were one of the few New England tribes to support the English during the King Philip's War (1675-76). However, despite their many years of service, the number of supposed-loyal tribes who had joined the uprising had made the English suspect everyone. Uncas was ordered to report to Boston and surrender all of his people's firearms, but he was 87 years old by this time and sent three of his sons in his stead who turned in only part of their weapons. To insure the Mohegan were trustworthy, two of the sons were kept as hostages for the remainder of the war, while one of them, Oneko (Oweneco), was released to lead the warriors. The Mohegan fought initially as scouts for the army of Robert Treat and in September, 1675, rescued an English column near Hadley, Massachusetts on the verge of being wiped out. That December, 150 Mohegan and Pequot warriors joined the English army which destroyed the Narragansett fort at Kingston, Rhode Island (Great Swamp Fight). The following April, the Mohegan performed what was perhaps their greatest service during the war when they captured Canonchet, the last important Narragansett sachem. After refusing to help the English find Philip, Canonchet was executed at Stonington by a Mohegan firing squad.
It should be noted that, because of the Mohegan, Connecticut suffered very little during the King Philip's War with only a few Podunk joining Philip's raids in western Massachusetts. At the end of the war, the Mohegan were the only important tribe remaining in southern New England, but even after they allowed some of the defeated Narragansett to settle among them, warfare and epidemic had reduced them to less than 1,000. They were enough that during the 50 years which followed, Connecticut was largely immune from the Abenaki raids which terrorized the rest of New England. So long as the Mohegan had enough warriors to form a decent-sized war party, Connecticut had a formidable security service. The Mohegan served as English scouts during the King William's War (1688-96), and during the Queen Anne's War (1701-13), they guided two expeditions into the upper Connecticut Valley against the Abenaki. During Grey Lock's War (1723-27), forty-two Mohegan volunteered as scouts, but by this time those forty-two warriors represented every able-bodied man the Mohegan had left.
However, loyal service as allies failed to win them any special gratitude from the English colonists or protect them from the forces which had decimated the less accommodating tribes in New England. As their population declined, debts owed to English traders forced the Mohegan to sell land until by 1721 the 4,000 acres along the Thames was all that remained. Crowded into an ever-smaller space, groups of Mohegan began leaving Connecticut. When Ben Uncas, the last Mohegan sachem, died in 1769, what little that remained of their homeland and tribal unity passed with him. Before his death, Ben Uncas had assigned the protection of the Mohegan lands to the family of John Mason. Mason did something unexpected and tried hard to do a good job for the Mohegan which, of course, made him hated by his fellow colonists. Mason finally succumbed to the tremendous pressure in 1774 and surrendered the deed to the remaining Mohegan lands to the tender care of the government of Connecticut.
Perhaps because they had found the Mohegan more useful the way they were, the English did not seriously attempt to convert them to Christianity until the efforts of Reverend James Fitch in 1671 at Norwich. However, the Mohegan were already beginning to feel victimized by this time, and Fitch did not find them receptive. One argument encountered was the Mohegan felt they already had a good religion, and if the English would practice their own, they would stop taking Mohegan land. Fitch's work was cut short by King Phillip's War, and the English were so bitter afterwards that organized missionary activity did not resume until 1711 when missions were established for the Mohegan at Groton, Stonington, and Niantic. However, the first truly effective missionary among the Mohegan was by one of their own people, the Mohegan minister, Samson Occum.
During 1773 Occum preached to his tribesmen and organized them into the Brother Towns (later called Brotherton). He ultimately succeeded in converting about 300 of them (about half of the tribe), many of whom adopted English customs and dress and abandoned their traditional lifestyle. Occum preached with equal success to other tribes, and although the Brotherton Indians ultimately became a mix of Mohegan, Metoac, and Mattabesic, the Mohegan were by far the largest component. Conversion, however, did little to make Indians more welcome in Connecticut, and Occum urged his flock to accept the invitation of the Oneida (Iroquois) to join them in upstate New York. The first group left in 1775, and the move was complete by 1788. Occum died in 1792. In 1802 the Connecticut Brotherton were joined by a second Brotherton group of Unami Delaware from New Jersey. In 1822 the Brotherton sold their New York lands and by 1834 had moved with the Oneida and Stockbridge Indians (Mahican) to northern Wisconsin. Some of the Brotherton merged with the Stockbridge and their descendants are now part of the Stockbridge Indians west of Green Bay. The remaining Brotherton in Wisconsin (not federally recognized) still live in the vicinity of the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago.
Back in their homeland, the American Revolution interrupted the process of taking the last Mohegan lands, but afterwards the colony, now a state, returned to business as usual. Only 200 Mohegan were living in eastern Connecticut in 1790 when the last 2,300 acres of their lands were divided into individual plots. The excess was leased to whites, but Connecticut seized and sold the unoccupied land in 1861 without Mohegan permission (lawsuit currently pending). Uncas still had a statue or two in Connecticut, but after 1861 his people no longer owned any of the land he had helped the colonists take. The Mohegan melted into the general population so well that, of the 400 listed in in the 1850 census, only 22 could found in 1910. Of course, there were more Mohegan than that, most of whom have remained in the area and stayed in touch with each other. Reorganized as a tribe during the 1970s, the Mohegan currently have an enrollment near 1,000 and received federal recognition in 1994.
First Nations referred to in this Mohegan History are: