...Debra Winchell

On October 7th, 1996 Wal-Mart formally withdrew their plan to build a Super Store at Leeds Flat...This site will remain active so that petitioners can forward their thanks to Wal-Mart for their decision via the input form below.

Debra Winchell, who wrote the following article would particularly like to thank those whose supported the Mohican (and in truth all First Nations Peoples) in this fight.


As of October 1, 1996 three more sets of remains have been found at Leeds Flat. This advice has come from the Mohican Nation's Representative to the Northeastern U.S. As of this writing, the State of New York is not allowing the remains to be moved.

On September 12, 1996 Wal-Marts' Director of Community Relations acknowledged that "remains " have been found by Wal-Mart at Leeds Flat. No mention was made as to what has happened to the remains. Plans for construction at Leeds Flat have not been halted.

Accordingly, it is most important that Wal-Mart be advised that their plan to construct a Super Store at Leeds Flat is not acceptable...please submit your objections to this store via the input form to be found below.

An important archaeological site on a floodplain along Catskill Creek called Leeds Flat, 30 miles south of Albany, New York, has been discovered. The site contains cultural artifacts and information invaluable to the Mohican Nation. The Mohicans are the aboriginal people indigenous to the upper Hudson River Valley of New York State and the Housatonic River Valley of western Massachusetts and are federally recognized as the Stockbridge- Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. Retail giant Wal-Mart plans to destroy the site by building one of their superstores on it.

Preliminary research on the 35 acres of land Wal-Mart has optioned was begun in July 1995. The archaeologists contracted by Wal-Mart discovered the site covers the Early, Middle and Late Woodland time periods, covering a timespan with a possible beginning date of 1000 B.C. and ending 1825 A.D. According to a report issued in October 1995, the site contains a continuous, unbroken record of the evolutionary history of the Mohican Indians and "archaeological remains which reveals this development has not been previously recognized." Excavation has revealed hearths and firepits, evidence of dwellings, and remnants of meals. Artifacts of daily life - potsherds, stone tools, and stone projectiles - have also been uncovered. European goods have also been found - glass trade beads, brass and copper wire, and pieces of bottles and crockery. This winter the remains of an infant were found.

According to Dr. Christopher Lindner, a professor of anthropology and environmental research at Bard College, archaeological studies of sites pertaining to the last millennium of history in the Hudson Valley are extremely rare. "To achieve the knowledge necessary to identify Mohican culture as traces in the ground, and to understand the lengthy past use of the area, would be two of the great achievements of study at the Leeds Flat..." Study so far has been very limited but preliminary investigations indicate several sites that would continue to provide rich information on the Mohicans' lives in the homeland.

Its uniqueness calls for a different kind of archaeology going beyond the permit compliance of most states. There is the possibility that such a historically important site may never be found again. So much of the Mohicans' history has been lost, they are not certain where their villages were located.

There are people who support Wal-Mart's plan to build there. The only department store in the Town of Catskill closed in December. A local group, It's Not Easy Being Greene, also opposes Wal-Mart on the basis of the location right outside the small village of Leeds, and has proposed that Wal-Mart relocate to the vacated building, scaling their operation down from 146,000 square feet to 70,000. In addition to the historic and archaeological impact, there are environmental ones as well, since the site includes wetlands. This past winter the Catskill Creek rose to 10 feet above normal level. Members of the Mohican Nation visited the site and staged a protest rally garnering much press coverage in December 1995. The Nation then agreed to join the Greene County group It's Not Easy Being Greene in a lawsuit against the Town of Catskill, claiming it illegally approved the environmental impact statement when it lacked plans for handling the wetlands, rezoning the historic area for commercial development. Later on, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will have to rule on the historic worth of the site, in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Mohican Nation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Legal Defense Fund want to see long-term protection of the site.

Not only would this site reveal history about the Mohicans, it would also reveal history about the early European residents as well. Mohicans first encountered Europeans when explorer Henry Hudson and the Dutch ship Half Moon he captained first anchored off the mouth of the Roeliff Jansen Kill in 1609, which was to quote one contemporary source "the place where we first found loving people." There has been archaeological exploration in the area, but according to historian Shirley Dunn, "Since no houses were mentioned, the Mohican village may have been out of sight within the mouth of the Catskill Creek." The Leeds Flat site is within a few miles of the mouth.

When they welcomed Henry Hudson and the crew of the Half Moon into their territory, the Mohicans didn't realize the chain of events that was set into motion. It was due to their friendliness, generosity and protection that Dutch interests gained a foothold in the valley. The words of Hendrick Aupaumut accurately reflect the Mohicans' history of relations with the Europeans:

"Our forefathers...immediately joined hands with the people in the vessel and became friends....Our forefathers invited them on shore and said to them, here we will give you a place to make you a town...Our forefathers told them, though they were now a small people they would in time multiply and fill up the land they had given to them.

And after they went shore some time, some other Indians who had not seen them before, looked fiercely at them, and our forefathers observing it, and seeing the white people so few in number, lest they should be destroyed, took and sheltered them under their arms. But it turned out that those Indians did not wish to destroy them, but wished also to have the white people for their friends."

The Mohicans welcomed the Dutch and shared their land with them. Not only did they bring to them the furs they sought, they gave them food and information about the land. Later, they would give tracts of land to Dutch friends as tokens of friendship. As the forefathers prophesied, more Dutch did come and began to acquire choice parcels of land from the Mohicans. The Dutch and Mohicans endeavored to maintain peaceful relationships between their two peoples and the Mohicans even entered into a covenant of peace with their rivals the Mohawks. Even though later they would war with the Mohicans, the Mohawks still relied upon them to keep the peace in the valley.

During the Esopus Wars occurring between 1657 and 1663, the only full-scale wars between Indians and whites in the valley, the Mohicans were asked by both the Dutch and the Mohawks to act as peace negotiators between the Waranawonks, or the Esopus Indians, and the Dutch. They even lived along the Catskill Creek to prevent the violence of the Esopus Wars from spreading to the Dutch settlements to the north. At the next session of the courts of Fort Orange and Beverwyck, sometime after November 23, 1663, ten strings of wampum were given to the Mohicans. The Mohicans also sought to maintain good relations with the English government that later took control over the area from the Dutch. At the request of the English government, the Mohicans settled a village called Schaghticoke to the north of the Albany settlement to prevent the French and the Abenaki from attacking them.

It is difficult to estimate the Mohicans' population at the time of European contact. Scholarly estimates vary between 8,000 and 25,000 at the time of European contact. Regardless, by the early 1700s they would number only four or five hundred. Disease and alcoholism took its toll quickly among the Mohican population. Their culture was further devastated by the emphasis placed on trading furs. Not only did the Indians spend less time food gathering, trade with the Europeans led directly to war with the Mohawks and loss of their western territory. The loss of land to both the Mohawks and the Europeans shrank the land available for growing crops and hunting and the Mohicans found it more difficult to sustain themselves, and sold more land because of need. They also lost men fighting the Mohawks and later the French and Abenaki.

As an effort to save their people, the Mohicans living in the Housatonic Valley invited Christian missionaries to come among them in the 1730s. In 1737 a tract of land was set aside for "their use and behoof, forever" by Governor Belcher of Massachusetts. The early missionaries learned and wrote down the Mohican language in order to better communicate the gospel to them. However the emphasis was placed on helping the Mohicans to adapt to English ways by allotting them land to farm, teaching them English language and customs and persuading them to let go of their language, traditional ways, and customs. Simultaneously Moravians worked among other Mohicans to Christianize them.

The early native settlers in Stockbridge resisted and followed the traditional ways. The men continued their practice of leaving for extended period of times to trade, hunt, or fight in wars, neglecting farming altogether and leaving it to the women. In the 1740s John Sergeant established a boarding school for Indian children between ten and twenty. It "would change their whole habit of thinking and acting; and raise them as far as possible into the condition of a civil, industrious, and polish'd people;...and withal...introduce the English language among them instead of their own imperfect and barbarous dialect." Many of the second generation Stockbridge natives were adopting the European cultural lifestyle and living in framed houses, farming, speaking English, serving in an English-style town government, and following Christian beliefs. In time, some Mohicans of the Hudson River would withdraw to Stockbridge as well.

Their time at Stockbridge was not peaceful though. The English quickly began to acquire land. Some used unscrupulous means to do so and profited further by selling it to other English. Traders took advantage of them by charging exorbitant prices. As there were also antagonistic Indian nations around, the English remained suspicious of the Mohicans' intentions. This attitude did not prevent them from requesting the Mohicans's assistance in the Seven Years' War and later in the American Revolution, two wars between European governments over what was originally Indian land. All the time they still struggled to keep themselves fed and sheltered, and sometimes having to again give up their land and means of sustenance.

In the 1760s there was a movement in the Town of Stockbridge for a separation between the Indians and the ever-increasing number of English settlers. By 1774, when the English were allowed to incorporate their own district, the Mohicans had only a token vote left in town government. The Mohicans were truly out-numbered in 1783; the Town of Stockbridge had just under one thousand whites and 40 African-Americans in population to approximately 200 Indians. By this time the Mohicans had lost their land base, their influence in the government of the town that was supposed to be theirs and they made the decision to move. They moved to New Stockbridge near Oneida Territory in central New York. The same pattern of land loss repeated itself. They left in the 1820s to join allies in Ohio, but there was no more land left. Eventually land was found for them in east central Wisconsin, which they had difficulty holding on into the twentieth century. Fortunately the Mohican community stabilized there after the 1930s, and has experienced positive growth since then.

The Mohican Nation in the 1600s and the 1700s was a friendly, generous, and powerful Indian nation that enabled the Dutch and the English to settle quickly and peacefully in the upper Hudson and Housatonic River Valleys. The Mohican population suffered and shrank greatly as a result, losing people to disease, alcoholism, war and poverty, and losing their land to the Europeans. In an attempt to survive, they learned the ways of the new people, English ways, thereby losing their language and all but traces of their history and culture. The Mohicans have been forgotten by the majority of the population living on their ancestral homeland. Valuable records pertaining to them were destroyed by fire in 1911 in Albany, New York. Any remaining information remains scattered. The discovery of the site at Leeds Flat is a remarkable find, an opportunity to learn and preserve the knowledge of a Mohican past previously lost in memory. It is time that their contribution, willing and unwilling, to the European-based culture living on their original homeland be recognized and respected. They should be given some of their history back; Leeds Flat should be turned over to the Mohicans, whose land it indisputably was for far longer than the Europeans have been here, to handle as they wish. According to Arlee Davids, an enrolled member visiting the site last December, "It's a part of us that's missing."


The author of this article, Debra Winchell, is descended from the Mohicans of western Massachusetts and lives not far from the site of the native village of Schaghticoke. Currently she actively strives to educate the population of New York State about the Mohicans and Native Americans in general through her weekly radio program.

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