Tuesday, April 14, 2009

William Gardner: Mohican or Narragansett?

The State Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin --->

A document that I found in the John C. Adams Papers (box 1, folder 1) at the State Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin, a few years ago, says something in its own right, but I think I also learned something about "Mohican" identity when I shared it via an online community.

Since the document I found is basically a handwritten copy of an earlier document, the quotation marks you see are as they appear in the original. Due to the nature of blogger technology, I had to add the three lines on the bottom in order to indent those lines. Otherwise, I consider this to be a faithful transcription:

"At a legal council called and [illegible] by the inhabitants of the Town of Stockbridge, this 4th day of April, A.D. 1825, at the School House near Capt. Hendricks[;]
In the first place unanimously voted to adopt William Gardner of the Narragansett Tribe of Indians, he is hereby adopted into the Stockbridge Tribe of Indians conditional for him to go with our people to Green Bay this ensuing season and there to enjoy Equal privilege of said Tribe."
A true copy of the "Town Records"
________________John N. Chicks
________________Secretary of the Stockbridge
________________Tribe of Indians
Wis. Ter.
Oct. 1839
Let me explain the context of this document. As James Oberly has noted, the "Quinney Constitution" of 1837 put an end to adopting into the tribe Indians that weren't from the Stockbridge community. Therefore, the "Town Records" from 1825 had become relevant because there was apperently some controversy over whether or not William Gardner and his descendants belonged to the Stockbridge or Mohican nation.

Ethnically, nobody questioned the facts. Gardner was a Narragansett. Oh yeah, he had African-American blood too and that may have been part of the controversy. But my point here is that William Gardner had no "Mohican" blood. But he was a full-fledged Stockbridge Indian, or Stockbridge Mohican, if you prefer.

I subscribe to an online community, a Yahoo newsgroup, called The Mohican 7. It was founded by a descendant of William Gardner who I have not met in real life. Several weeks ago, the Gardner descendant who founded the Mohican 7 sent a message out to the group rejoicing that she had located some documentation of the fact that her ancestor, William Gardner, was a "real" Mohican.

At that point I sent out a message which included the same transcription of the document I quoted above and I told the Gardner descendant that I thought she was wrong, because my document clearly said that her ancestor was a Narragansett. But she came back with another message saying that the document I found proved that she was right, because it said that William Gardner was adopted into the Stockbridge Mohicans.

There are still members of the tribe who prefer to abbreviate the name of their tribe to "Stockbridge" rather than "Mohican," because "Stockbridge" makes more sense from a historical perspective. But right now more people are proud to call themselves "Mohicans."


Anonymous said...

Interesting post; I appreciate this site because very few people are interested in this type of history. I've always been interested in the race mixing element in the New England tribes. Some had a big problem with Black/Indian mixture, others didn't.You look at the tribes still in New England: the Pequot, Mohegan, Narragansett, Wampanoag, and you will find most of them look black or some mixture thereof. In the history of the New eng. tribes, there wwere shortages of male Indians because of the wars [both agaisnt the English, and later as they volunteered for the colonies to fight against the French and Indians and later the British in the revolution and the war of 1812]. Many Indian men were also involed int he whaling industry and relocated elsewhere. So the Indian women intermarried with both black and white men. And, you also have to remember that in NE the colonists would enslave Indians on a regular basis[for punishment for fighting against the Englsih after the Pequot and King Phillip's war. Blacks were also used as slaves in southern New England at the same time and so the mixing actually began there. Maybe the Indians that went west were able to lessen this mixture by associating with larger Indian communities like Brotherton in NY and maintain a more cohesive racial Identity. I live close tot he stockbridge reservation and many of them look full blooded, or well over half indian to me. That is not as common among the tribes still in New England. Sorry for the long post. Keep up the good work.

Jeff Siemers said...

Thanks for your comment Dan and what you say is accepted historical knowledge. Less people realize, however, that African Americans continued to make their way into the Stocbkridge and Brothertown tribes while they were in Calumet County, WI; because the Underground Railroad went through that area... some escaped slaves didn't bother to go all the way to Canada, they stopped in WI.

Judy H said...

Thanks Jeff or your research and blog. I and others in my family find this type of history very interesting, because it defines who WE are.

I'm enrolled with the Stockbridge-Munsee but proud of all my ancestors – Mohican / Stockbridge-Munsee, Brotherton, Ondeia, we even have some Cherokee from those that wondered north, off their march of forced relocation. We have black ancestors and some that escaped the potato famine in Ireland too.

Anyone who thinks they are “pure” Mohican, Munsee or whatever is full of it. We are a conglomeration / remnants of many nations but we are descended from Proud Strong Survivors!!

I think what you felt on Mohican 7 is result of our own political machine in which some families that fell out of favor were “disenrolled” in the past and that’s why questions of heritage are often felt to be accusatory.

It makes me mad that Native Americans are the only ones that need a pedigree to be considered part of an ethnic group. I think everyone by knows by now that blood quantum was another a government attempt at annihilating the native populations but it has become so ingrained that some just can’t let it go. Other native peoples have been able to overcome this and make a self determination of who their members are but we just don’t seem strong enough to do this yet. Maybe someday…

Anonymous said...

I'm also a direct descendant of William Gardner and a reader of the Mohican-7 site. Unfortunately that site, well meaning as it may be, has unfortunately now become a site focused on the founder and her interests and less a place for serious discussion. I really enjoy your blog because you keep to a scholar's viewpoint and try to stay out of the emotional and political morass Mohican-7 has become. I'm fascinated by the many parts of Stockbridge and Brothertown history that make it what it is. I think it's amusing that some people get so riled up when "purity of the blood" is called into question. We have become pedigree snobs in a nation that has dictated the terms of what makes us "Indian" and it disgusts me because we are doing exactly what the BIA wants us to do- become extinct. How many Mohicans are related by blood right now? How many can potentially marry at this point in time because they aren't related? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

If you’re adopted you become a member of the family. Gardner’s were spited just as the Millers were adopted into the tribe. At this point both families have intermarried and produced children who have some degree of Mohican blood tracing back to Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
As for Mohican-7, the woman running it has serious issues and I’ve caught her perpetuating several falsehoods. Anything she has to say should be taken with a grain of salt. There are a lot of people in the Mohican community who think they have a right to be rude because of their last names. We also have a clan mother who shows one side to the public, but likes to privately tear others down. She needs to have that clan mother status taken away so she doesn’t have to power to hurt others any longer.

As history has shown and will again, the tribe will eventually faction and disintegrate due to ego and arrogance. And it will be karma for devolving into a group of warring families; Millers vs. everyone else.