Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Mohicans and the Stockbridge Mohicans

The word "Mohican" in the names of this park and other places in Ohio, reflects the fact that Mohicans were leaving their homeland and moving into the Ohio River Valley as early as the late 1600's.

By 1740 most Mohicans had disappeared from the Hudson River Valley. In fact, many of them had been living in the Ohio River Valley for generations. Over time, these "western" Mohicans intermarried with tribes like the Miami, the Delaware, or possibly with frontier whites. Ultimately, they did not maintain their Mohican identity.

Meanwhile, back in their homeland, the once-mighty Mohican nation was struggling to survive as a result of the changes brought about by over one hundred years of white contact. The fur trade brought about a dependence on white goods, problems with alcohol, an increased competition with other Native nations for resources, bloodier warfare, and, of course, devastating European-imported diseases like smallpox.

So by the 1740's, changes in both the natural environment and the surviving population resulted in the once-mighty Mohican nation being spread out in small, scattered communities.

The history of the Stockbridge Mohicans began when two Mohican villages along the Housatonic River in what is now Massachusetts, decided to accept a Christian mission. The residents of those two villages got more than they bargained for: instead of just teaching a new religion and teaching the children to read, the Indians' British neighbors imposed the structure of white culture upon them. Most notably, the two villages were soon gathered into one town which the British called Stockbridge.

The popularity of Stockbridge, Massachusetts - for both religious and non-religious reasons - made it the Council Fire - in other words, the capital city - of what was left of the Mohican Nation. However, it bears noting that many of the Indians that joined the Stockbridge community were Wappingers or other non-Mohican Indians.

Or were they?

The way some people now use the term "Mohican," anybody who is descended from the Stockbridge Indians is a Mohican, so it doesn't then matter if your ancestors were Naragansetts or some mix of Algonkian-speaking refugees: As long as you are descended from the Indians of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, New Stockbridge, New York, and/or Stockbridge, Wisconsin, you can call yourself a "Mohican."

And why not?

My point is not to prevent a group of people from calling themselves whatever they want, but rather to end the confusion and the talking past one another that often results from cases like this where one word means two different things.

Or do I have it completely wrong?

You tell me.


Dunn, Shirley. (2000) The Mohican World, 1680-1750

Frazier, Patrick. (1992) The Mohicans of Stockbridge

Sultzman, Lee. Mahican History