Death in The Bronx: The Mohicans

Published on February 8, 2013 by Carol

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Stockbridge Militia

Secreted away in the forested expanse of a vast urban park in the Bronx, lie the mortal remains of a band of noble Mohican Indians who died for the defense of American liberty during the Revolution. Hidden in an area of Van Cortlandt Park, known aptly as Indian Field, is a page of history forgotten by time and obscured by two centuries of nature’s inexorable reclamation.

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The story of these Mohican warriors who fought and died in the service of a young United States cannot remain unknown by the present generation. Their sacrifice in the war, known as the Stockbridge Massacre, is worth retelling because it embodies a number of significant qualities: The history of the Mohican Nation and its relationship to the colonial, and later, the national governments; the role of Native Americans in the War for Independence; and lastly, the unique quality of individual bravery under desperate circumstances.

The Mohicans
The world of the native inhabitants of present day New York and environs forever changed in 1609 as a strange object appeared on the great river that flows from the Adirondack Mountains, past the Palisades and Manhattan Island into the Atlantic. In that year, Hendrick Hudson captained the Half Moon up the great waterway in search of the elusive Northwest Passage that was thought to link the Atlantic with the Pacific oceans. As Hudson moved northerly up the river, he met several individuals of the Mohican nation whose home territory encompassed not only both sides of the river, but also extended westerly towards the Catskill Mountains, northerly to the two great inland lakes of Lake George and Lake Champlain, easterly to the Green Mountains of Vermont and extending southeasterly to the Connecticut River. Their homeland encompassed present-day eastern New York and the western sections of Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Their population prior to the introduction of Old World diseases and European alcohol is estimated from between 8,000 and 25,000 individuals.

The nation occupied a critical place on the North American continent; situated along the interconnecting waterways of the two lakes and the Hudson River, this natural waterway through the mountains is called the Warpath of Nations. Anthropologists have also called it the Mohican Channel, because of its location within that tribe’s homeland. Historically, their location was equally important as a shield between the Algonquin peoples of the eastern seaboard, and the Iroquois peoples of the interior. Both groups were well organized and had a significant degree of tribal and ethnic identity. By the late 1500s the Iroquois tribes of upstate New York had formed the great Iroquois Confederacy of Five Nations (later increased by the arrival of the Tuscaroras to Six Nations in the mid-18th century). Not as well known as the Iroquois league was a similar intertribal confederacy of Algonquin tribes that stretched from the Potomac River to Albany, New York. Major tribes within this confederacy included the Lenape (renamed by Europeans as the Delaware), the Esopus, Wappinger and Mohican, but also included the many tribes ranging from New York City to New England. This vast confederacy did not survive long after the arrival of the Dutch and the English; these natives were the front line of colonial settlement, and were either forced to relocate to the west or attempt to survive in a white man’s world. The vast majority of the population of the native inhabitants died of the unknown diseases brought by the inhabitants of a distant continent.

During the 1600s, the Mohicans played a critical role in the fur trade between other native peoples and the Dutch, then after the 1664 takeover, the English. Always protective of the newcomers, the Mohicans sold small plots of land for the establishment of trading posts and forts (Albany and Kingston for example). Two destructive wars during the 17th century with the Mohawks over the lucrative fur trade diminished the former status of the Mohicans. Territory west of the Hudson was lost, and it was now to be the Mohawks to serve as middlemen between the colonials and the tribes of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. As colonial settlement spread westward from Massachusetts and northward along the Hudson River, the Mohicans began to consolidate their settlements and take on a new role in the colonial period of American development. The best known new settlement of Mohicans was the mission village of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. By the late 1730s, Mohicans began to settle there as converts to both Christianity and English-style town government. In the 1740s, the Mohican nation transferred its Council Fire (capital) from the Hudson to Stockbridge; other families and groups relocated to Stockbridge during the turbulent years of the mid 18th century, notably the Wappingers of the Dutchess County area led by Daniel and Aaron Nimham.

Source: Legendsofamerica

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