[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 Niantic.
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.]
The southern coast of New England from the mouth of the Connecticut River east to southwest Rhode Island including Block Island in Long Island Sound. The Niantic were split into two divisions: the Eastern Niantic in southwest Rhode Island; and the Western Niantic in south-central Connecticut just east of the mouth of the Connecticut River. The area between was occupied by the Pequot-Mohegan.
Estimates of original population are problematical, since the Niantic were struck by a combination of war and epidemics just prior to contact. A good guess would be about 4,000. By the time English settlement began at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, there were about 1,500 Niantic divided evenly between the Eastern and Western. As allies of the Pequot, the
Western Niantic were almost destroyed in 1637 during the Pequot War. Only about a hundred survived and were placed under the control of the Mohegan. These appear to have been absorbed, but some of their descendents may still exist among the Pequot and Mohegan in Connecticut. The Eastern Niantic were Narragansett allies and continued as a separate tribe until after the King Philip's War (1675-76). Confined to a reservation at Charlestown, Rhode Island, the Niantic allowed what was left of the Narragansett to join them in 1680. The two tribes merged shortly afterwards and since have been referred to as the Narragansett. Although Rhode Island terminated their tribal status during the 1800s, the Narragansett reorganized and were federally recognized in 1983. Including both Niantic and Narragansett, current enrollment is almost 2,400.
Sometimes rendered as Nehantic, their name means "point of land."
Algonquin. Y-dialect similar to the Pequot, Mohegan, Narragansett, and Montauk.
Sub-Nations: Eastern and Western
Originally a single tribe, the Niantic were separated into eastern and western divisions by the Pequot/Mohegan invasion.
Eastern Niantic Villages:Wekapaug.Western Niantic Villages:Niantic (Nehantucket), Old Lyme, and Oswegatchie.
Very much like the neighboring Narragansett, Pequot, and Mohegan. .
Warfare and devastating of epidemics swept New England (1614-17). To cope, the Eastern and Western Niantic chose similar but very different paths. While the Western Niantic afterwards allied with the Pequot, the Eastern Niantic attached themselves to the Narragansett in Rhode Island. Beginning about 1614, Dutch traders expanded east from the lower Hudson River and visited the tribes along north side of Long Island Sound as far as the Narragansett villages in Rhode Island. As a result, Dutch claims for New Netherlands extended to Cape Cod, and by 1622 they had built a trading post near present-day Hartford to trade with the tribes along the lower Connecticut River. However, the English also claimed the same area as part of Virginia and during 1620 had established a settlement at Plymouth. Massachusetts. Rather than fight over their conflicting claims, the Dutch chose to cooperate and sent a representative overland to Plymouth in 1627. After congratulating the English on the success of their new colony, he signed a trade agreement giving the Dutch exclusive rights to trade with the Narragansett in Rhode Island and the tribes to the west in Connecticut.
This agreement served the interests of the Plymouth colonists at the time, but things changed after 1630 with the arrival of large numbers of Puritans in Massachusetts. They simply ignored the earlier agreement, and within a few years, the English and Dutch were rivals in the fur trade along the Connecticut River. For a while, the Niantic and Pequot traded with both, but the intense competition eventually created a division within the Pequot. A revolt and separation created two opposed tribes: Pequot who favored the Dutch: and the pro-English Mohegan. Forced to choose between them, the Western Niantic went with the Pequot. Unfortunately, the Pequot and Mohegan did not part on good terms, and as their rivalry intensified, trade became dangerous along the Connecticut River for both the Dutch and English. The situation worsened after the English built a trading post at Windsor in 1633.
Both the Niantic and Pequot were warlike and quite capable of defending themselves. In 1634 Western Niantic warriors killed John Stone, a Boston trader (more accurately described as a pirate and slaver), near the mouth of the Connecticut River. Disregarding the fact that Stone had met his untimely end while kidnapping Niantic women and children to sell as slaves in Virginia, and therefore was the kind of man who needed killing, the English demanded that the Pequot (who spoke for the Western Niantic) surrender his killers. This was refused beginning the slide towards war. In 1635 the English built Fort Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut. Although isolated in the midst of hostile Pequot and Western Niantic, it nevertheless blocked Dutch access to the river and forced the closure of their trading post at Hartford. Thomas Hooker and the first English settlers arrived the following year, and the opening confrontations of the Pequot War (1637) actually began that summer when Western Niantic from Block Island seized the boat of a Boston trader killing one of the crew.
Without bothering to consult the Connecticut colonists, Massachusetts Bay sent a punitive expedition of 90 men under John Endicott to Block Island with instructions to kill every Niantic warrior and capture the woman and children (valuable as slaves). The English burned 60 wigwams and the corn fields. They shot every dog, but the Niantic fled into the woods, and soldiers only managed to kill 14 of them. Deciding this punishment was insufficient, Endicott and his men sailed over to Fort Saybrook before going after the Pequot village at the mouth of the Thames River to demand 1000 fathoms of wampum to pay for the dead Boston trader and some Pequot children as hostages to insure peace. When the English at Saybrook learned what had been done, Endicott's reception was very cool, since they would be the ones to bear any retaliation. Nevertheless, the "fat was in the fire," and they gave Endicott what soldiers they could spare. Endicott's little army then proceeded the short distance up the coast to the Pequot villages and landed.
The Pequot were just as surprised as the English at Saybrook had been by the attack, but most managed to escape into the woods. Endicott and his men burned the village, and returned to Boston, but the Pequot had recognized some of the soldiers from Saybrook. The Niantic retaliated by besieging the fort and killing anyone who dared to venture outside. That winter, the Pequot asked the Mohegan, Narragansett, and Niantic to help them against the English. Only the Western Niantic agreed, but the Mohegan and Narragansett joined the English, and the Eastern Niantic remained neutral. When John Mason's combined English, Mohegan, and Narragansett army destroyed the Pequot fort on the Mystic River that May, the Pequot and Western Niantic abandoned their villages and fled. Systematically hunted down by the English and their native allies, most were killed outright. Prisoners were either executed or sold as slaves to Bermuda and the West Indies. Only 100 Western Niantic managed to surrender. Together with the remaining Pequot, they were placed under the control of the Mohegan.
By 1655 the Mohegan's treatment of the Pequot and Western Niantic had become so harsh that the English, who usually were not inclined towards sympathy in these matters, removed the Pequot to separate locations in eastern Connecticut and some of the Western Niantic went with them. Many of those who remained with the Mohegan joined the Brotherton Indians and left Connecticut to live with the Oneida in upstate New York in 1788. The Brotherton moved on to northern Wisconsin in 1834, many of their descendants still live there on the east side of Lake Winnebago. It has been assumed the remaining Western Niantic were absorbed by the Pequot and Mohegan, but there were still a few Western Niantic families reported near Lyme and another small band near Danbury in the early 1800s, both of which have since disappeared. The Eastern Niantic remained close to the Narragansett until the King Philip's War (1675-76). However, the Eastern Niantic were able to remain neutral, but the Narragansett, accused of providing a refuge for the Wampanoag, were attacked by the English in December, 1675. The Naragansett were almost exterminated during the war and lost over 80% of their population. Afterwards, the 500 Narragansett in 1680 who remained were allowed to settle with the Eastern Niantic on their reserve at Charlestown, Rhode Island. The Niantic and Narragansett merged shortly afterwards and have been known since as the Narragansett.
First Nations referred to in this Niantic History: