300th anniversary medallion. Image courtesy of Robert S. Greenberg Collection of New Haven History.

Give and Take

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

We might suggest an addition: that the important people in your life generally get your name right.

It’s a special kind of nuisance when your identity’s not properly recognized. So we can only hope the Quinnipiacks, New Haven’s Algonquin-lineage answer to Thanksgiving-y Plymouth’s famed Wampanoag, simply didn’t notice when the colony’s early explorers and settlers consistently mispronounced theirs. Attempts to express “Quinnipiack” using English characters yielded a goofy spate of variations—Quellipioak, Queenapiok, Quinopiocke, Quinnypiock, Quillypiac, Quillipieck and more—immortalized across the formative documents preceding, following and chronicling the colony’s founding. (Somehow, sometime, and very thankfully, two phonetically identical variants emerged victorious: Quinnipiack, favored by historians, and Quinnipiac, favored by geographers and at least one institution of higher learning.)

Of course, mispronunciations were probably low on the list of complications between these very different peoples. The settlers were Puritans, filled with zeal and a hard-nosed determination to establish a promised-land away from the religious oppressions of England, and away from the perceived impieties tolerated by Puritan colonies to the north. As for the local natives—one band numbering 47 total, led by sachem (chief) Momaugin; another, numbering 10 men and some undetermined number of women and children, led by a fellow named Mantowese—they were just trying to survive in peace, their populations having dwindled in the face of deadly European germs and Pequot and Mohawk raids. And in the eyes of the Puritans, they must have appeared dreadfully heretical.

sponsored by

Westville for the holidays!

But both sides had something the other desperately wanted, and that was enough. Seven months after the settlers’ arrival, on November 24, 1638, their leaders Theophilus Eaton and John Davenport met with Momaugin and his counsel to sign a treaty binding the strange men who came from the sea with the odd locals who’d received them. In exchange for large swaths of territory, tribespeople secured a tall, thin, 1,200-acre slice of land along the eastern side of the harbor, extending northward from present-day Fort Hale Park to the mouth of the Quinnipiac River.

They also negotiated the right to take refuge within the colony itself should any of the region’s larger, more aggressive tribes threaten them, meanwhile retaining hunting, fishing and trapping privileges throughout the lands conferred to the English. The tribe also received a decent haul of sundries: bowls, spoons and two kinds of knives, plus coats, hatchets and hoes. A smaller-scale accord was reached with Mantowese on December 11, trading another comparatively large patch of land for a guaranteed plot “as may be sufficient for his small company,” along with hunting rights similar to Momaugin’s, and 12 coats.

Less than a year later, the Quinnipiacks’ good will towards the Englishmen cleared a pretty high bar, with members of the tribe voluntarily providing eyewitness accounts that helped convict Nepaupuck, a fellow tribesman, of murdering Englishmen. The penalty was grim: his “head was cutt off the next day and pitched upon a pole in the markett place.”

Perhaps the stomach-turning gloat at the end of that blade should have been a sign. Over the coming years, settlers’ underlying prejudices would manifest throughout the colony’s official actions and deliberations. During regular legislative and judicial sessions, where leaders and citizens discussed legal proposals, set forth new laws and reviewed disputes, news and rumors of tribal raids around the region stoked fear of “the Indians,” with record-keepers rarely taking care to distinguish between natives who were friendly and those who were hostile.

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

In August 1645, “…rumours and tumults of the Indians” spurred special defense and preparedness measures, as did a set of meetings in September 1649, which, among many other provisions, announced a plan to “gett lead that bullits may be made.” Tensions were running so high that, “during the troubles and dangers and from Indians,” any colonist ignoring two or more calls for aid from one of the town’s designated sentinels could be shot at, with the shooter immune from penalties for any consequences that might result. Among many other precautions, farmers were asked to hide any weapons kept in their homes, lest “Indians break in and steale them.”

Meanwhile, specific laws were passed barring natives from receiving certain goods and employments. In November 1641, it was ordered that unauthorized provision of “the Indians, whether directly or indirectly, with any ammunition whatsoever,” would incur a large 5-pound fine. In March 1653, Englishmen were prohibited from hiring natives to watch their livestock unsupervised, and it was noted that, in the eyes of the law, any native caught alone with livestock would be considered a thief. In August 1656, New Haven authorities agreed to grant a Quinnipiack request for 3 pounds of gunpowder on the condition that they stay away from New Haven-proper, “where they are disorderly and offense.” (Perhaps relatedly, the sale of alcoholic cider to natives was forbidden that day.) In May 1660, selling dogs to natives was also prohibited.

Yet there were small moments of consideration, too—perhaps even loyalty. During that tense month of September 1649, for example, “It was thought fitt that when men shall goe forth against the Indians, our Indians should be warned not to come to or aboute towne but their perill.”

Suggesting that it would be better to not accidentally shoot your allies isn’t exactly an invitation to a congenial Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not a pass-the-pumpkin-pie moment. But it is a reminder of something else to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: that you almost certainly have better friends than the Quinnipiacks did.

Written by Dan Mims. Images, provided courtesy of the Robert S. Greenberg Collection of New Haven History, depict a commemorative medallion and an article published in the New Haven Register, March 29, 1938, both produced to mark New Haven’s 300th anniversary.

Special thanks to the Whitney Library at the New Haven Museum, whose early colonial records provided most of the source material for this article.

More Stories