The Mohican Tribe was a Northeast Indian Tribe that was Algonquian-speaking. While the tribe was made famous with the movie Last of the Mohicans, they were known for more than what was presented.
The Mohican tribe occupied the upper Hudson River Valley around where modern-day Albany, New York, is located. They had a conflict with the Mohawk Tribe in the late 17th century during the Beaver Wars and were driven southeast into Massachusetts Bay.
During the Revolutionary War, most of the Mohicans migrated westward to join the Oneida tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy. They would stay in the area until the 1820s, when they were pressured to move to northeastern Wisconsin.
A group of the Mohicans also migrated to Canada to live with the Iroquois Six Nations.
Mohican Tribe Culture
Mohican tribe villages were decent size compared to other Native American tribes. They usually consisted of 20 - 30 longhouses (which differed from other Algonquian-speaking tribes) that were located on hills and fortified.
They were excellent farmers, with their main crop being corn. While they did hunt wild game and fish, their diet mostly consisted of the nuts, fruits, berries, and roots they gathered.
They were governed by hereditary sachems who were advised by a council of clan elders. A general council of sachems met regularly at Shodac to decide the most pressing issues that affected the tribe.
Similar to the Munsee tribe to the south, the Mohican villages followed a dispersed settlement pattern. Each of these communities was dominated by a single lineage of the clan.
During times of war, they built fortifications in defensive locations (such as along ridges) as places of retreat. Their cornfields were located near their communities; varieties of squash, beans, sunflowers, and other crops from the Eastern Agricultural Complex.
Horticulture and gathering of nuts (hickory, butternuts, black walnuts, and acorns), fruits (blueberries, raspberries, juneberries, among many others), and roots (groundnuts, wood lilies, arrowroot, among others) provided much of their diet.
This was supplemented by the men's hunting game (turkeys, deer, elk, bears, and moose in the Taconics) and fishing (sturgeon, alewives, shad, eels, lamprey, and striped bass).
Similar to other Native American tribes, their hereditary line was matrilineal (followed the woman's lineage).
The Mohican Tribe has a long history prior to European colonization. They were a confederacy that was 5 tribes and at least 40 villages that spread through the northeast. The Confederacy was made up of the following:
- Mohican proper: Lived in the vicinity of today's Albany west towards the Mohawk River and to the northwest to Lake Champlain and Lake George
- Mechkentowoon: Lived along the west shore of the Hudson River above the Catskill Creek.
- Wawyachtonoc: Lived in Dutchess County and Columbia County eastward to the Housatonic River in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
- Westenhuck: The name of a village near Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
- Wiekagjoc: lived east of the Hudson River near the city of Hudson, Columbia County, New York.
Conflict with the Mohawk Tribe
The Mohican tribe and the Mohawk tribe were traditional enemies. They spoke different languages and were part of opposing confederacies. According to Iroquois oral tradition, there was a war between the Mohawks and an alliance of the Susquehannock and Algonquin.
This occurred sometime between 1580 - 1600, shortly before the first permanent English settlement of Jamestown, and was probably a response to the formation of the League of the Iroquois that began to tip the balance of power in the region.
By 1609, Dutch explorer Henry Hudson made contact with various Mohican villages near present-day Albany. He traded goods for furs with them and returned to Holland with his cargo. The furs immediately attracted Dutch merchants to the area, who began to arrive the following year to trade with the Mohicans.
While it helped the Mohicans gain wealth, contact with the Europeans exposed them to European disease. Many Mohicans died, and the lucrative fur trade began to destabilize the region as other natives began to compete for European attention.
In 1614, the Dutch decided to establish a permanent trading post on Castle Island, on the site of a previous French post that had been long abandoned, but first, they had to arrange a truce to end fighting that had broken out between the Mohicans and Mohawks.
Fighting broke out again between the Mohicans and the Mohawks in 1617, and with Fort Nassau badly damaged by a freshet, the Dutch abandoned the fort. In 1618, having once again negotiated a truce, the Dutch rebuilt Fort Nassau on higher ground.
A terrible flood occurred later that year and destroyed Fort Nassau, which was abandoned for good. The Dutch, under Captain Cornelius Jacobsen May, constructed Fort Orange and relocated eighteen families of Walloons.
The Mohicans invited the Algonquin and Montagnais to bring their furs to Fort Orange as an alternate to French traders in Quebec. Seeing the Mohicans extended their control over the fur trade, the Mohawk attacked with initial success. In 1625 or 1626, the Mohicans destroyed the easternmost Iroquois "castle."
The Mohawks then re-located south of the Mohawk River, closer to Fort Orange. In July 1626, many of the settlers moved to New Amsterdam because of the conflict. The Mohicans requested help from the Dutch, and Commander Daniel Van Krieckebeek set out from the fort with six soldiers.
Van Krieckebeek, three soldiers, and twenty-four Mohicans were killed when their party was ambushed by the Mohawk about a mile from the fort. The Mohawks withdrew with some body parts of those slain for later consumption as a demonstration of supremacy.
By 1629, the Mohawks had overrun the Mohicans and taken over much of their land. This conquest pushed the Mohican tribe further eastward across the Hudson River into western Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The Mohawks gained a near-monopoly in the fur trade with the Dutch by prohibiting the nearby Algonquian-speaking tribes to the north or east from trade.
After their move to the East, the Mohican settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts Bay.
Eventually, many Christian missionaries began to make contact with the tribe, and some, such as Jonathon Edwards, lived among them. Through the work of many missionaries, many Mohicans began to turn from their previous religion to Christianity.
In the eighteenth century, some of the Mohicans developed strong ties with missionaries of the Moravian Church from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who founded a mission at their village of Shekomeko in Dutchess County, New York.
Henry Rauch reached out to two Mohican leaders, Maumauntissekun, also known as Shabash; and Wassamapah, who took him back to Shekomeko. They named him the new religious teacher.
Over time, Rauch won listeners, as the Mohicans had suffered much from disease and warfare, which had disrupted their society. Early in 1742, Shabash and two other Mohicans accompanied Rauch to Bethlehem, where he was to be ordained as a deacon.
The three Mohicans were baptized on February 11, 1742, in John de Turk's barn nearby at Oley, Pennsylvania. Shabash was the first Mohican of Shekomeko to adopt Christianity.
The Moravians built a chapel for the Mohican people in 1743. They defended the Mohicans against European settlers' exploitation, trying to protect them against land encroachment and abuses of liquor.
Unlike many Native American tribes, the Christian influence certainly caused them to have a stronger tie to the British during the French and Indian War and the Americans during the American Revolution.
However, their conversion to Christianity did not make them immune to Native American persecution.
On a 1738 visit to New York, the Mohicans spoke to Governor Lewis Morris concerning the sale of their land near Shekomeko. The Governor promised they would be paid as soon as the lands were surveyed. He suggested that for their own security, they should mark off the square mile of land they wished to keep, which the Mohicans never did.
In September 1743, still under the Acting-Governor George Clarke, the land was finally surveyed by New York Assembly agents and divided into lots, a row of which ran through the Indians' reserved land.
With some help from the missionaries, on October 17, 1743, and already under the new Royal Governor George Clinton, Shabash put together a petition of names of people who could attest that the land in which one of the lots was running was theirs.
Despite Shabash's appeals, his persistence, and the missionaries' help, the Mohicans lost the case. The lots were eventually bought up by European-American settlers, and the Mohicans were forced out of Shekomeko.
Some who opposed the missionaries' work accused them of being secret Catholic Jesuits (who had been outlawed from the colony in 1700) and of working with the Mohicans on the side of the French.
The missionaries were summoned more than once before the colonial government but also had supporters. In the late 1740s, the colonial government at Poughkeepsie expelled the missionaries from New York, in part because of their advocacy of Mohican rights. Settlers soon took over the Mohican land.
In response, the Six Nations met to discuss what role they would play, and after much back-and-forth, the Native Americans decided that they should stay out of it.
However, the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant did not agree and believed that if the Native Americans did not take the side of the British, they would lose their land to the colonists if they won the war.
Sir William Johnson, his son John Johnson, and son-in-law Guy Johnson and Brant used all their influence to engage the Iroquois to fight for the British cause. The Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca ultimately became allies and provided warriors for the battles in the New York area.
The Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the Colonists. The Mohicans, who, as Algonquians, were not part of the Iroquois Confederacy, sided with the Patriots, serving at the Siege of Boston and the battles of Saratoga and Monmouth.
In 1778, they lost fifteen warriors in a British ambush at the Bronx, New York, and later received a commendation from George Washington.
Later, the citizens of the new United States forced many Native Americans off their land and westward. In the 1780s, groups of Stockbridge Indians moved from Massachusetts to a new location among the Oneida people in western New York, who were granted a 300,000-acre reservation for their service to the Patriots out of their former territory of 6,000,000 acres.
They called their settlement New Stockbridge. Some individuals and families, mostly people who were old or those with ties to the area, remained behind at Stockbridge.
The central figures of Mohican society, including the chief sachem, Joseph Quanaukaunt, and his counselors and relatives, were part of the move to New Stockbridge. At the new town, the Stockbridge emigrants controlled their own affairs and combined traditional ways with the new as they chose.
After learning from the Christian missionaries, the Stockbridge Indians were experienced in English ways. At New Stockbridge, they replicated their former town. While continuing as Christians, they retained their language and Mohican cultural traditions. In general, their evolving Mohican identity was still rooted in the traditions of the past.
In the early 19th century, most of the Stockbridge Indians moved to Shawano County, Wisconsin, where they settled on reservations with the Lenape. These two tribes banded together and are now federally recognized as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.