Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Native Americans in the Rockaways

Archeologists believe that indigenous people occupied the area of Southern New York from about 4600 B.C.  From about 1000 B.C., the native people of this area demonstrated a tradition of farming, permanent or semi-permanent villages and the use of baked pottery vessels.  The relatively warm, dry climate and the abundance of streams and tidal basins produced a variety of food sources.  Woodlands were cleared for fields which were planted with corn and probably beans and squash.  The archeological evidence shows that fishing and the harvesting of shellfish were important occupations.   Around 1100 A.D., a new population, identified by archaeologists through their distinctive pottery, inhabited the area.  These people, referred to by archaeologists as the East River Culture, inhabited the western part of Long Island and co-existed with the tribes which lived further to the North and East.  It is thought that the East River Culture are the ancestors of the Algonkian-speaking people who inhabited the area at the time that the first European settlers arrived, in the Seventeenth Century.

The dome-shaped wigwam shown below (from the Library of Congress), is typical of the bark or thatch-covered single-family housing constructed on the East coast.  The natives of Western Long Island also employed the Iroquois longhouse design, a rectangular shaped lodge covered with bark, which housed several families and were sometimes 100 feet long.
Munsee, the name scholars have given to the language spoken by the Rockaways is classified by linguists in the family of Algonkian languages.  In the 18th century,  speakers of Munsee and its dialects populated the area from the Delaware Water Gap and the Raritan River through southeastern New York State to Western Long Island. (HONAI, v.15,  p.73)

From Henry Hudson's initial exploration of what would become New York harbor and the Hudson River until 1664, the Dutch, administered by a series of governors, negotiated with the sachems of the Algonkian-speaking tribes, for trade and use of the land of western Long Island.  The early interactions between the Dutch West India Company and the local inhabitants were sometimes marked by conflict. While trade benefited both communities, individual disputes often led to clashes and some escalated into war.  In 1645  the Recouwacky, (alternate spellings include Rechquaakie, Reckawachy, Reckonwacky)  or Rockaway tribe signed a peace treaty with the Dutch governor, Willem Kieft, granting the Dutch the use of the area.  According to author Richard Woods, Shellbank Place in Rockville Centre was the site of the Rockaways' village.

In their twenty years of occupation, the Dutch population of New Netherlands had not spread much past Brooklyn.  In 1635, William Alexander, the British Earl of Stirling, had exercised rights granted to him by the council of Plymouth  and laid claim to whole of Long Island, thus coming into conflict with, not only the Dutch, but with the tribes inhabiting the area. (Brodhead, p. 298).   English settlement western Long Island began with a group of colonists from the area of Hemel-Hampstead, near London who had settled in Stamford, Connecticut. They named their settlement Hempstead.

This group was led by Rev. Robert Fordham and his son-in-law, John Carman, who, in 1643, negotiated a treaty with the sachems of the Reckouwacky, the Merockes, Matinecock, and Massapequas which eventually granted the English rights to use all the land from the East River to Martin Gerritsen's Bay (today's Oyster Bay Harbor) and  including the area known as the area known as the Great Plains (later the Hempstead Plains) , south to the ocean.  The Dutch, under Director General Willem Kieft, could tolerate the presence of fellow Protestants and in 1644 a patent was granted to the English settlers, on the condition that they would have to attract at least 100 families to Hempstead by 1649.  Although the population of Hempstead was allowed to try their own criminal cases and appoint their own sheriff, they would ultimately be subject to Dutch laws and customs.

A series of treaties between the Dutch and the Indians, the Dutch and the English, and the English and the Indians followed. When the Dutch and English divided the ownship of Long Island in 1650, Tackapausha was elected sachem of the chieftaincies under the Dutch jurisdiction.  This included tribes such as the Massapequas, the Merikokes, Canarsees, Secatogues, Rockaways and Mattinicocks.  According to Benjamin Franklin Thompson, writing in 1843, (p.95), the Rockaways "were scattered over the southern area of the town of Hempstead, which, with a part of Jamaica and the whole of Newtown [today's Woodside, Corona, Maspeth] , constituted the bounds of their claim.  Their main settlement was at Near Rockaway."   [today's East Rockaway].

The origin of the name Rockaway may derive from both “Reckonwacky,” meaning “the place of our own people,” and “Reckanawahaha,” meaning “the place of laughing waters,” as the area’s indigenous names. Other interpretations include “lekau,” meaning sand, "regawthaki" meaning "sandy land" and “lechauwaak,” for fork or branch.  A poem in the introduction of Bellot's History of the Rockaways translates it as "that lonely place" or "place of waters bright." The coastal Indians of Long Island manufactured wampum beads (photo at right from the Library of Congress collection) from the colored parts of shells.  The people who had this skill became the minters of currency.  This resulted in a trade triangle where the coastal Indians traded wampum to the Dutch for goods; the Dutch then had currency to trade for furs with the inland tribes.

The original colony of British settlers established their settlement in today's Hempstead village.  By 1647, there were sixty-seven families living in the settlement and within five years, the required 100 families had been exceeded.  The "mouseaten book" which listed much of what we know about the original fifty Hempstead families, has been lost over time. Their surnames included Carman, Mott, Coe, Cornell, Pettit, Raynor and Hewlett -- names which would become interwoven into the fabric of Long Island over the next three hundred years.  In 1685, virtually the entire Rockaway peninsula was purchased from the Rockaway tribe under Tackapausha by John Palmer for "the sume of One and Thirty Pounds and Tenns Shilling Lawfull money."   Although Hempstead's town fathers contested the sale, Palmer sold the property in 1687 to Richard Cornwall of Flushing, who had prospered through trade with the native people.

By the 19th Century, most Rockaway Indians had left Long Island or had intermarried generations before. Culluloo Telewana, whom Abraham Hewlett believed to be the last of the Rockaways, instructed young boys like Hewlett in forest lore, woodcraft and fishing.  Whether Culluloo was truly the last of the Rockaways or an escaped slave, is a subject for debate among historians.  Late in life, Hewlett remembered
"Culluloo, the Indian, whom I saw mornings and evenings when he went to and returned from work, that he was very kind ... "(Bellot, p.69)
Hewlett recounted that when he died, Culluloo was buried in an unmarked grave in the woods.  When he became a successful businessman, Abraham Hewlett resolved that he would erect a monument to his boyhood friend, who died in 1818.  The monument, built on Broadway at Linden Street in Woodmere, on  Hewlett's property, was finished on October 17, 1888 - the day Hewlett died.  In 1901, the property was purchased by Robert L. Burton, a land developer, who removed the monument.  Local historian William S. Pettit convinced Burton's brother, John Howes Burton, to rescue the granite obelisk from oblivion and create a small triangle of land on Wood Lane, where it is still located.  The monument reads:
"Here lived and died Culluloo Telewana, A.D, 1818,
The last of the
Rockaway Iroquois Indians, who was personally known to me in my boyhood.  I, owning the land, have erected this monument to him and his tribe.
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