Just as it is difficult to know with 100% certainty exactly how Occom and our ancestors pronounced and defined “Eeyawquittoowauconnuck”, so too, it is difficult to know exactly why they named their town “Brotherton” or precisely what that name reflected for them. However, by looking at the writings of our founders and viewing other communities and documents from the same area and time period, modern day scholars have made some well-educated guesses as to where the name Brothertown came from, what it may have meant to our Tribal Founders, and how it was used throughout our time in New York.
On Dartmouth’s Occom Circle site, it states, “They named the land Brothertown to both reflect their intention to live with fellow tribes as brothers and also to pay tribute to Brotherton, a Delaware Indian reservation in New Jersey that served as an inspiration for the Christian Indian Settlement (1).” That Occom knew about this community is likely. That the Brotherton Indians of New Jersey moved to Oneida lands in New York in the early 1800’s is unquestionable(2). However, any substantiation to the claim that Occom’s Brotherton was named in tribute to this community has proven elusive thus far. Many scholars have looked elsewhere for explanations on the origins of the name “Brothertown”.
Author Brad Jarvis sees the choice of the name “Brothertown” as a reflection of how our founders viewed their new community. “Symbolic of the proposed internal cohesion of the town’s new name, the residents, “concluded to live in peace, and in friendship and to go on in all [their] public concerns in harmony; both in religious and temporal concerns, and every one to bear his part of Public Charges in the Town (3).” Jarvis offers another glimpse of how the early Brothertown people saw their community, as well as the boundaries and racism they experienced outside of it, through a 1795 interview conducted by some Quaker ministers. An unidentified Brotherton man told them that he, “hoped the partition wall that divided nations would be broken down, bigotry and prejudice done away, and all mankind come to live more like brothers.” “Such language,” Jarvis comments, “reflected the founding principles of Brothertown-a community defined by Christian brotherhood, kinship, and mutual partnership (p 149) (4).”
In his book, Becoming Brothertown: Native American Ethnogenesis and Endurance in the Modern World, Craig Cipolla describes Occom’s view of Brothertown as being “a community linked by shared religious views and approaches to the politics of colonial North America (p 53).” He points out that the name “Brothertown” accomplished two important things: 1) It was relatable both to Natives, where “brother” or “brethren” denoted Native kinship, and to Euro-Americans who saw it in terms of Christian brotherhood. 2) The name also gave our ancestors a commonality. They were no longer, “Narragansett, Mohegan, Montauk, etc, but were now “Brotherton”(p64ff). In this book, Cipolla also looks at usage of the term ‘Brothertown” in the 18th and 19th centuries and compares how it was viewed by Euro-Americans as opposed to the Brotherton themselves. In short, Euro-Americans tended to place more emphasis on Brothertown being a location or a “town” while the Brotherton people used the name to “mark shared ethnic and racial identities (p63)”.
While there may be differing theories as to where the idea for the name of Brothertown originated and what exactly it may have meant to our founders, there is little doubt of the hopes that this new community held for its people. As they themselves have said across multiple decades, Brothertown was meant to be a shining example of peace, friendship and harmony; a place where bigotry, prejudice and walls of division would no longer exist and where we all would live like brothers.
~to be continued.
(3)Jarvis, Brad. The Brothertown Nation of Indians, p 115.
(4) Ibid, p 119
Note: If you are interested in exploring how the name “Brothertown” has changed in usage and meaning over the years, please see Craig Cipolla’s book, Becoming Brothertown: Native American Ethnogenesis and Endurance in the Modern World, chapter 4.