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Transcript of Indians of

Eastern Long Island Lecture
Delivered by

 John Strong Ph.D.

Friday November 8, 2002

Suffolk County Archeological Association

Archaeologists divide the evolution of Native American cultures into the following
approximate time periods: the Paleo-Indian Period (12,500-8,000 years ago) the Archaic
Period (8,000-3,000 years ago), the Woodland Period (3,000-1,000 years ago) the Late
Woodland Period (1,000 years ago-1600AD) and the Early Contact Period (1600AD-
1700AD). These periods are marked by specific changes in the material culture that has
been revealed in the archaeological sites.

The earliest evidence of human activity in what is now the town of East Hampton is a
fluted spear point left behind near three mile Harbor by one of the Native American
hunters. The distinctive flutes were chipped from the base of the point, perhaps to
accommodate the haft of the spear. This style is named Clovis for the site near Clovis,
New Mexico where fluted points were found among the bones of a mammoth. Such
points have become an important time marker because the mammoth were extinct about
10,000 years ago. Unfortunately, we know very little about these people, who were
probably traveling through following the game animals. The archaeological data suggests
that the Clovis hunters lived in small bands of 25-50 people.

With the gradual melting of the glaciers, a number of climatic changes began occurring
between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago throughout the Northeast. The warming climate
encouraged the northward growth of deciduous trees bearing a bountiful variety of
protein rich black walnuts, butternuts, and chestnuts. A rich supply of fruits, seeds and
nutritious roots expanded the food base. These changes in the environment stimulated
cultural changes which mark the transition to the Archaic Period.

The Archaic Period settlements were usually located near tidal bays where they could
harvest shellfish. In the winter months some of the households probably moved into
sheltered areas where trees or low hills protected them from the cold winter winds.
Artifacts from this period have been found near Little Northwest Creek and Lake
Montauk. These villagers developed a fishing technology well suited to the shallow bays,
small streams, and kettle whole ponds. They harvested sea sturgeon, rock fish, bluefish,
flounder, shad, and striped bass. The bays abounded with oyster, bay scallops,
periwinkles, channeled whelk, and hard and soft shelled clams, which provided a year
round source of protein. Water fowl migrations brought flocks of birds to the bays on a
seasonal round. The forests behind the bays were full of many varieties of seeds, berries,
nuts and game. Deer, of course, was a favorite source of protein, but archaeological sites
indicate that the people also ate wild turkeys, raccoons, box turtles, woodchucks, and
squirrels. The meager material culture of the Paleo-Indian Period was expanded to
include dug-out canoes, and tools and utensils from stone, bone and fiber. The women
used wooden bowls, grinding stones, mats, bone drills, and awls in their daily domestic

The social structure was essentially egalitarian. The mobile lifeways of the Paleo-Indian
Period evolved into a more sedentary pattern which exploited the local ecosystem on a
seasonal round. The size and number of settlements on Long Island increased as the
people took advantage of the rich flora and fauna resources produced by the gradually
warming climate. The village bands were probably organized into extended family
groups, which had kinship connections with bands on Long Island and southern New
England. Marriage rules differ, but nearly all cultures require that spouses be selected
from outside their family lineage or clan and often from outside the village as well.
Generally, but not always, the woman will go to live in her husband's household and
become a member of that community. The villagers on the east end of Long Island's
south fork, therefore, were part of a kinship network which sent marriage partners back
and forth in the system, creating a complex, dynamic, and social interaction sphere.
The decision making process in these small bands was democratic. Generally, a village
headman was looked to for guidance, but only after he had demonstrated his capacity to
lead and to have sound judgment. There were few hereditary social positions, although
the son of a successful leader might have an advantage after the death of his father.
Leadership was "situational" in nature. The man best able to deal effectively with a crisis
or a particular challenge became the acknowledged leader for the duration of the
situation: the best hunter led the hunting party; the best fisherman led the fishing
expedition; the best orator represented the group in its diplomatic relations with other
bands. This rather amorphous political institution was later to pose problems with the
Europeans when they attempted to impose a system of treaties and contracts on the
Montauketts. These European legal concepts presumed a political hierarchy which did
not exist among the Long Island bands. An Individual Native American might identify
more strongly with a lineage or with a clan than with the particular "tribal" names (place
names ) which were imposed by the Europeans in the decades after their arrival.
Evidence of religious ceremonialism has been found in a fascinating site at Lake
Montauk; unfortunately, it was located by state archaeologist William Ritchie in the
1950s after it had been partially destroyed by pot hunters. He discovered two human
cremation burials embedded in red ocher and honored with a bird bone flute, shell beads,
and eight spear points. The use of red ocher and cremation in funerary rites was well
established in the Northeast during this period. Four major sites have been excavated: two
at Orient Point on the eastern tip of the north fork of Long Island, one about twenty miles
to the west at Jamesport, and a fourth on the south fork near the Shinnecock Reservation.
It is possible that the flute was a part of a shaman's paraphernalia used in religious
ceremonies. In many northern Indian communities, people who were believed to have
special powers such as shamans were cremated.


Few sites which can clearly be identified with this period have been scientifically
excavated in the Town of East Hampton, but several have been identified and partially
explored by local amateurs. Local baymen have found sites when they worked on the
bays harvesting shellfish. The major cultural changes which mark the transition from the
Archaic Period are the development of ceramic pottery and a more efficient exploitation
of the ecosystem. These villagers began to experiment with rudimentary forms of plant
husbandry. Some edible seed plants such as chenopodium (lambs quarters), polygonum
(smartweed), phytolacca Americana (pokeweed), Cucurita pepo (gourd), Amaranthus
(pigweed), and Helianthus annus (sunflower) were cultivated nearly two thousand years
before the introduction of corn, beans and squash into North America.
Pottery appeared in the Northeast about 3,000 years ago. In 1927 archaeologist Foster
Sayville excavated some vessels from this period in a site on Three Mile Harbor. Sayville
worked with a crew of local volunteers, including Roy Latham, a young farmer from
Southold, and Selah Lester, an East Hampton carpenter. These two enthusiastic amateur
archaeologists made a significant contribution over the years to our understanding of
prehistoric peoples on Long Island. They were avid naturalists who devoted much of their
leisure time to the study of local flora and fauna.

The transition to the Late Woodland Period is marked by the introduction of such
domesticated plants as corn, (maize) beans, squash, and tobacco. These plants were first
domesticated in Central America and gradually found their way into the Northeast. Plant
domestication, as we have seen, had been practiced widely long before these more
familiar plants arrived. In spite of their understanding of plant domestication, the people
on Long Island were slow to adopt corn horticulture. They were doing fine without it. In
fact, there has been no evidence of maize cultivation found in any of the sites excavated
in the Town of East Hampton. We do know, however, that by 1648 when the
Montauketts negotiated the first deed to land in East Hampton, the Indians were growing
corn because they asked for twenty-four hoes, among the other goods, in exchange for the

Roy Latham and Selah Lester's nephew Thomas identified thirteen sites from this period
around Three Mile Harbor. Several of these sites were located on Ashawag meadows.
The Ashawag villagers were quite innovative. They protected their fresh water supply by
placing hollow logs upright into the ground around the spring. Lester and Latham found
two of these prehistoric wells. They also found the remains of domestic activities. There
were hearths filled with ash, animal bones, a large sandstone mortar weighing about 50
pounds and a nine pound pestle.

Along with these materials, they discovered the remains of pottery vessels. The pots were
decorated in a variety of ways, including scallop shell stamping, cord marking, and
punctated designs made with a sharp implement. Two of the pots were large enough to
hold several gallons of liquid. The rims of two of these communal pots were decorated
with four human faces looking out at the four cardinal points of the compass. Each face
has a shell stamped diamond design around it. The size of the pots suggests that they
were used to prepare communal meals.

Near the end of the Late Woodland Period, perhaps a century or so before the arrival of
the first Europeans, the Native peoples here began to build stockade forts. The earliest
one mentioned in the colonial records stood on the western crest of the Nominick hills
overlooking Napeague Bay. No excavation was done there, so the exact site is not
known. A second fort, which may have been in use at the time the English arrived, stood
on top of Fort hill, overlooking Fort Pond near the present-day village of Montauk. This
site was examined by William Wallace Tooker, who reported finding 134 graves there.
Unfortunately the site has been vandalized over the years. Several graves were robbed
and there were reports that one person was seen carrying a bushel basket full of human
bones from Fort hill. In 1983, Edward Johannemann, an archaeologist from The State
University at Stony Brook, excavated the site and confirmed Tooker's description of a
stockade enclosing an area 180 feet square.

Johannemann also found evidence of tool making, several stone artifacts, and some
broken pottery. Along with these materials, he found remains of clams, oysters, whelks,
bluefish, and sturgeon. Johannemann noted with some surprise that there was no
wampum and no evidence of wampum manufacture anywhere on the site. He was
surprised because Fort Corchaug, a contemporary Late Woodland site on the North Fork,
contained broken whelk and quahog shells along with drilling tools, indicating that
wampum manufacturing was a major activity there. The early colonial records are full of
references to the abundance of wampum on the east end of Long Island. The absence of
any such evidence at Montauk is puzzling.

The early stages of interaction between the Native Americans and the English settlers on
Long Island were distinguished by a pattern of equal status trade and voluntary
adaptation. This pattern gradually shifted to one of directed acculturation wherein the
English imposed their values and customs on the Indians. The archaeological reports
from several contact sites provides some insights into these patterns. In 1914 a large
cemetery was found on the top of Pantigo Hill in Amagansett. Frank Nelson, an
Amagansett farmer, was digging a foundation for his chicken coop when he discovered
three human burials. Several projectile points and some shell beads accompanied the
burials. The discovery did not deter Nelson from continuing his work on the coop. Nelson
expanded his chicken house to a length of 130 feet, cutting a path 16 feet wide through
the center of a cemetery. By the winter of 1916, he had uncovered 17 more burials. Harry
O'Brien, a Brooklyn doctor, learned of Nelson's discoveries and came out to investigate.
O'Brien, an avid amateur archaeologist, excavated two more burials before he reported
the news to Foster Saville, a professional archaeologist at the Museum of the American
Indian in New York. Saville worked on the site until November 1917, excavating a total
of 58 burials.

The burials here appear to represent a transitional period when the Montaukett were
becoming increasingly dependent on European goods while still practicing ancient
mortuary customs. Twenty-one of the burials were wrapped in blankets, skins, woven
mats, or bark. The blankets were European, but the other materials were similar to those
used before the Europeans arrived. One burial contained the remains of an adult and a
child covered by a blanket and accompanied by several European trade goods. The adult
had a necklace of large blue glass beads and the child wore a string of amber glass beads.
Near the skeletons were a pewter dish, pottery, and a piece of textile. Under the two
skeletons were several white, black, blue, green, and red beads.
Studies of seventeenth century contact burial sites in Rhode Island and Massachusetts
have revealed a number of significant patterns and insights into this important transitional
period. The Native American communities were under considerable stress as their
primary economic, political, and social institutions were being challenged and altered by
their English neighbors. Their hunting grounds were gradually shrinking as the English
settlements expanded. Native economies were becoming increasingly dependent on the
English market system. More and more Montauketts sought employment for themselves
and their children in English households.
The desire for manufactured goods gradually drew more Montauketts into the English
economy. Some were recruited as whalers, provided with boats and iron harpoons, and
sent out to kill the whales that migrated each year along the south shore of Long Island.
Others engaged in less skilled work as indentured servants, slaves and free laborers. They
were viewed by the English as a part of a permanent underclass. Although the Indians
became dependent on the outside economy and were given little chance to advance in
status, they did maintain a separate culture that continues to distinguish them from other
ethnic groups.

Soon after the American Revolution, several Montaukett families followed Samson
Occom, the Mohegan missionary, to join his Christian Indian community at Brothertown
in central New York State. The rest remained at Montauk until Arthur Benson, a wealthy
developer from Brooklyn, conspired to evict them from their homeland. He negotiated
individual sales of tribal residence rights from the few families who were still living on
Montauk. Most Montauketts had moved to places on Long Island and southern New
England where they could find work. When news reached the Montaukett diaspora, many
were outraged that there had been no negotiations with the tribe as an entity, so they
organized their resources to initiate a lawsuit. They sued Arthur Benson and the Long
Island Railroad in a series of court battles from 1896 to 1918. Judge Abel Blackmar
dismissed the case, ruling that the tribe, as an organization, had ceased to exist.
The decision was heavily influenced by racial and cultural prejudices of the times. The
official government policy at the turn of the century was based on the premise that the
Native Americans would be better off if they abandoned their traditional Indian identity
and assimilated into the mainstream population. Indians were pressured to divide up their
reservations into individual homesteads and live like their white neighbors. The mood of
the times was clearly against any move to regain a tribal homeland. Whites expected that
the Indians would gradually vanish into the cultural mainstream. The Montauketts,
however, never lost their sense of an Indian identity. They continued to meet in small
family gatherings and kept in touch through a kinship network.

In the 1990s the Montaukett tribe went through a revitalization process. Members from
East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Amityville and other communities came together to hold
meetings and ceremonies. Robert Pharaoh and Robert Cooper lead two factions of
Montauketts who are working to obtain state and federal recognition. They organized
Powwows at Montauk and on the Stony Brook campus to celebrate the revival of the
tribe. As we move into the new century, however, the tribe has withdrawn from the
public eye to focus on strategies designed to strengthen their tribal structure.

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