Two letters were penned in the 1850’s that are of some importance for the Brothertown Indians. The first was written by a Tribal headman; the second by a preacher who likely knew very little to nothing about the Brothertown Tribe. Despite the fact that it was never intended so, it can be of benefit to read these two letters together.
On August 22, 1855, a Brothertown Indian by the name of Thomas Commuck wrote a letter to Mr. Lyman Draper of Wisconsin’s State Historical Society*. After giving a 5-6 page historical “Sketch of the Brothertown Indians”, Commuck finished by saying, “Already has inter-marriage with the whites so changed the Brothertowns, in complexion, that three-quarters of them would be readily considered as white, where they were not known, and in another generation our Indian blood will probably become so intermixed with the general mass of mankind, that if the inquiry is made, Where are the Brothertown Indians? echo will answer, Where?”
Three years later, on July 7, 1858, another letter was penned. This one was written by the Reverend Daniel Waldo, one of the last surviving men of the Revolutionary War. Waldo wrote that when he was 14 years of age (around 1776), he had gone to hear a renowned Native American preacher by the name of Samson Occom. He recalled Occom’s appearance, voice, and the impression that he had left upon him. He also retold a bit of what he remembered from the sermon. “An old indian, he said, had a knife which he kept till he wore the blade out; and then his son took it and put a new blade to the handle, and kept it till he had worn the handle out; and this process went on till the knife had had half a dozen blades, and as many handles; but still it was all the time the same knife.”**
Like the blade of that knife, Brothertown land ownership has undergone numerous changes. At first, we held our land in common in New York. We began moving to Wisconsin (Michigan Territory) in the 1820’s and 1830’s where we still held our land in common until 1839. Then, in an effort to avoid being removed again, we became US citizens and our lands were allotted to us as individuals. Now, our citizens are individual owners of private properties all across these United States. Although we no longer have a common Tribal land base, we are Brothertown.
Like the handle of that knife, the physical appearance of the Brothertown Indian may have changed from that of a traditional Native American color to mulatto to white, black, or what-have-you. The color of our skin does not change the fact that the Native American blood of our ancestors still runs strong and proud through our veins. We are Brothertown.
Commuck put forth the question: “Where are the Brothertown Indians?”, but echo did not answer “where?” Instead, through the memory and pen of Reverend Waldo, our founding father Samson Occom responded with the timeless message that no matter what adaptations we may make we are “all the time the same” Tribe. We are Brothertown. We are here.
*Wisconsin Historical Collections, 1859 is available to read or download at digicoll.library.wisc.edu/WIReader/WER0439.html
** Annals of the American Pulpit Vol 3, p 195. Available to read at https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=RnlUAAAAYAAJ&rdid=book-RnlUAAAAYAAJ&rdot=1