CELEBRATION OF THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1854, AT REIDSVILLE, NEW YORK

Interesting speech of JOHN W. QUINNEY, Chief of the Stockbridge Tribe of Indians.

Albany Free-Holder, July 12, 1854. [as re-printed in WISCONSIN HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS. Vol. IV (1859), pp. 313-20. Viewed in Wisc. Hist. Soc. 2017 then re-typed 2018 by A.G. Kastelle]

[abbreviated introductory commentary:]

There was a large gathering of the people, numbering about two thousand.

. . . .

The Stockbridge Indians once owned all the land on the Hudson river. There is no record of their having sold any part of the land constituting the manor of Rensselaerwyck. That part of Mr. QUINNEY’s speech which touches upon the manner in which most of the land was purchased from the Indians, contains too much truth. We presume that hardly one of the old Indian conveyances was fairly and honorably made. The whole of Saratoga County, and parts of Schenectady, Fulton, and Montgomery, were bought of two or three Indians, who had no power to convey, for a little rum, a few blankets, and trinkets, and these constituted the ground upon which the patent of KAYADEROSSERAS was granted. . . .

Mr. QUINNEY’s speech contains several hard hits. After speaking of the laws passed to legalize titles fraudulently obtained, he puts the following questions: “Will you look steadily at the intrigues, bargains, corruption and log-rolling of the present Legislatures, and see any trace of the divinity of justice? And by what test shall be tried the acts of the old Colonial Courts and Councils?”

Well and stoutly put. Who will answer them?

The last half of this speech is admirable. It is a bold, stern and manly protest against the uniform and persistent injustice which has been meted out to the Indian race. We hope to see it republished in all the newspapers of the country.

*********************************************

QUINNEY’S Speech.

       “It may appear to those whom I have the honor to address, a singular taste, for me, an Indian, to take an interest in the triumphal days of a people, who occupy by conquest, or have usurped the possession of the territories of my fathers, and have laid and carefully preserved, a train of terrible miseries, to end when my race shall have ceased to exist. But thanks to the fortunate circumstances of my life, I have been taught in the schools, and been able to read your histories and accounts of Europeans, yourselves and the Red Man; which instruct me, that while your rejoicings to-day are commemorative of the the free birth of this giant nation, they simply convey to my mind, the recollection of a transfer of the miserable weakness and dependance of my race from one great power to another.

My friends, I am getting old, and have witnessed, for many years, your increase in wealth and power, while the steady consuming decline of my tribe, admonishes me, that their extinction is inevitable — they know it themselves, and the reflection teaches them humility and resignation, directing their attention to the existence of those happy hunting-grounds which the Great Father has prepared for all his red children.

In this spirit, my friends, (being invited to come here,) as a Muh-he-con-new, and now standing upon the soil which once was, and now ought to be, the property of this tribe, I have thought for once, and certainly the last time, I would shake you by the hand and ask you to listen, for a little while, to what I have to say.

In the documentary papers of this State, and in the various histories of early events in the settlement of this part of the country by the whites, the many traditions of my tribe, which are as firmly believed as written annals by you, inform me that there are many errors. Without, however, intending to refer to, and correct those histories, I will give you what those traditions are.

About the year 1645, and when KING BEN (the last of the hereditary chiefs of the Muh-he-con-new Nation) was in his prime, a Grand Council was convened of the Muh-he-con-new tribe, for the purpose of conveying from the old to the young men, a knowledge of the past. Councils, for this object especially, had ever at stated periods, been held. Here, for the space of two moons, the stores of memory were dispensed; corrections and comparisons made, and the results committed to faithful breasts, to be transmitted again to succeeding posterity.

Many years after, another, and the last, Council of this kind was held; and the traditions reduced to writing, by two of our young men, who had been taught to read and write, in the school of the Rev. JOHN SERGEANT, of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. They were obtained, in some way, by a white man, for publication, who soon after dying, all trace of them became lost. The traditions of the tribe, however, have mainly been preserved; of which I give you subsequently, the following:

“A great people came from the North-West: crossed over the salt-waters, and after long and weary pilgrimages, (planting many colonies on their track,) took possession , and built their fires upon the Atlantic coast, extending from the Delaware on the south, to the Penobscot in the north. They became, in process of time, divided in to different tribes and interests: all, however, speaking one common dialect. This great confederacy, comprising Delawares, Munsees, Mohegans, Narragansett, Pequots, Penobscots, and many others, (of whom a few are now scattered among the distant wilds of the West — others supporting a weak, tottering existence; while, by far, a larger remainder have passed that bourne, to which their brethren are tending,) held its Council once a year, to deliberate on the general welfare. Patriarchal delegates from each tribe attended, assisted by priests and wise men, who communicated the will and invoked the blessing, of the Great and Good Spirit. The policy and decisions of this Council were every where respected, and inviolably observed. Thus contentment smiled upon their existence and they were happy. Their religion, communicated by priests and prophets, was simple and true. The manner of worship is imperfectly transmitted; but their reverence for a Great and Good Spirit — (whom they referred to by looking or pointing upwards,) the observance of feasts and fasts, in each year; the offering of beasts in thanksgiving and for atonement, is clearly expressed. They believed the soul to be immortal; — in the existence of a happy land beyond the view, inhabited by those whose lives had been blameless: while for the wicked had been a region of misery reserved, covered with thorns and thistles, where comfort and pleasure were unknown. Time was divided into years and seasons; twelve moons for a year, and a number of years by so many winters.

The tribe, to which your speaker belongs, and of which there were many bands, occupied and possessed the country from the sea-shore, at Manhattan, to Lake Champlain. Having found an ebb and flow of the tide, they said: “This is Muh-he-con-new,”—”like our waters, which are never still.” From this expression, and by this name, they were afterwards known, until their removal to Stockbridge, in the year 1730. Housatonic River Indians, Mohegan, Manhattas, were all names of bands in different localities, but bound together, as one family, by blood, marriage, and descent.

At a remote period, before the advent of the Europeans, their wise men foretold the coming of a strange race, from the sunrise, as numerous as the leaves upon the trees, who would eventually crowd them from their fair possessions. But apprehension was mitigated by the knowledge and belief, at that time entertained, that their original home was not there, and after a period of years, they would return to the West, from whence they had come; and, moreover, said they, “all the red men are sprung from a common ancestor, made by the Great Spirit from red clay, who will unite their strength to avert a common calamity.” This tradition is confirmed by the common belief, which prevails in our day with all the Indian tribes; for they recognize one another by their color, as brothers, and acknowledge one Great Creator.

Two hundred and fifty winters ago, this prophecy was verified, and the Muh-he-con-new, for the first time, beheld the “pale-face.” Their number was small, but their canoes were big. In the select and exclusive circles of your rich men, of the present day, I should encounter the gaze of curiosity, but not such as overwhelmed the senses of the Aborigines, my ancestors. “Our visitors were white, and must be sick. They asked for rest and kindness, we gave them both. They were strangers, and we took them in—naked, and we clothed them.” The first impression of astonishment and pity, was succeeded by awe and admiration of superior art, intelligence and address. A passion for information and improvement possessed the Indian—a residence was freely offered—territory given—and covenants of friendship exchanged.

Your written accounts of events at this period are familiar to you, my friends. Your children read them every day in their school book; but they do not read—no mind at this time can conceive, and no pen record, the terrible story of recompense for kindness, which for two hundred years has been paid the simple, trusting, guileless Muh-he-con-new. I have seen much myself—have been connected with more, and, I tell you, I know all. The tradition of the wise men is figuratively true, “that our home, at last, will be found in the West:” for, another tradition informs us, that “far beyond the setting sun, upon the smiling, happy lands, we shall be gathered with our FATHERS, and be at rest.”

Promises and professions were freely given, and as ruthlessly—intentionally broken. To kindle your fires—to be of and with us, was sought as a privilege; and yet at that moment you were transmitting to your kings, beyond the water, intelligence of your possession, “by right of discovery,” and demanding assistance to assert and maintain your hold.

Where are the twenty-five thousand in number, and the four thousand warriors, who constituted the power and population of the great Muh-he-con-new Nation in 1604? They have been victims to vice and disease, which the white man imported. The small-pox, measles, and “strong waters” have done the work of annihilation.

Divisions and feuds were insidiously promoted between the several bands. They were induced to thin each others’ ranks without just cause; and subsequently were defeated and disorganized in detail.

It is curious, the history of my tribe, in its decline, during the last two centuries and a half. Nothing that deserved the name of purchase, was ever made. From various causes, they were induced to abandon their territory at intervals, and retire further to the inland. Deeds were given, indifferently to the Government, or to individuals, for which little or no consideration was paid. The Indian was informed, in many instances, that he was selling one parcel, while the conveyance described other, and much larger limits. Should a particular band, for purposes of hunting or fishing, desert, for a time, its usual place of residence, the land was said to be abandoned, and the Indian claim extinguished. To legalize and confirm titles thus acquired, laws and edicts were subsequently passed, and these laws were said then, and are now called, justice!! Oh! what a mockery!! to confound justice with law. Will you look steadily at the intrigues, bargains, corruption and log-rolling of your present Legislatures, and see any trace of the divinity of justice? And by what test shall be tried the acts of the old Colonial Courts and Councils?

Let it not surprise you, my friends, when I say, that the spot on which we stand, has never been purchased or rightly obtained; and that by justice, human and divine, it is the property now of the remnant of that great people from whom I am descended. They left it in the tortures of starvation, and to improve their miserable existence; but a cession was never made, and their title has never been extinguished.

The Indian is said to be the ward of the white man, and the negro his slave. Has it ever occurred to you, my friends, that while the slave is increasing, and increased by every appliance, the Indian is left to rot and die, before the humanities of this model Republic! You have your tears, and groans, and mobs, and riots, for individuals of the former, while your indifference of purpose, and vacillation of policy, is hurrying to extinction, whole communities of the latter.

What are the treaties of the general Government? How often, and when, has its plighted faith been kept? Indian occupation forever, is, next year, or by the next Commissioner, more wise than his predecessor, re-purchased. One removal follows another, and thus your sympathies and justice are evinced speedily fulfilling the terrible destinies of our race.

My friends, your holy book, the Bible, teaches us, that individual offences are punished in an existence, when time shall be no more. And the annals of the earth are equally instructive, that national wrongs are avenged, and national crimes atoned for in this world, to which alone the conformations of existence adapt them.

These events are above our comprehension, and for wise purposes. For myself and for my tribe, I ask for justice. I believe it will sooner or later occur—and may the Great and Good Spirit enable me to die in hope.

WANNUAUCON, the Muh-he-con-new

————————————————-

Thank you to Gabriel Kastelle at whiteravenarchivesproject.wordpress.com for allowing me to repost.

A Reflection On National Days of Celebration

Tags

, , , ,

All nations have their own unique anniversaries, holidays, and nationally-revered “heroes”. Annual dates of remembrance not only honor a nation and its ancestors but are an effective way of ensuring that these events and people remain perpetually in the individual and collective memory of a nation. Celebrating its people and anniversaries also helps to instill national pride and fosters a sense of community amongst citizens.

The Brothertown Council is currently considering resolutions to memorialize two important dates as annual Brothertown days of remembrance: July 14th, the anniversary of the death of Samson Occom (1792) and celebrated as his feast day in the Episcopal Church; and November 7th, the date in 1785 that Occom recorded in his journal as being the date “we proceeded to form into a Body Politick we Named our Town by the Name of Brotherton, in Indian Eeyawquittoowauconnuck (https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/html/diplomatic/785554-diplomatic.html).”

Eeyawquittoowauconnuck!

The seed of Brothertown was watered 246 years ago today (March 13, 1773) when our ancestors gathered in Mohegan to discuss removal to new lands. They longed for a place where they could escape Colonial encroachment, pressures, and racism and could live their lives together in peace; a place where their descendants would be free to enjoy their sovereignty and the bonds of Native kinship. Thank you, Ancestors, for your thoughtfulness and bravery in providing for us. May we treat our descendants with the same planning and concern.

Join the Council meeting in person or online via Zoom this Saturday at 10am CT to continue what your ancestors began. See your Tribal family, witness what it means to be a sovereign nation, and hear what the Tribe plans to do in the days and years ahead. If you’re not already registered to attend, contact Councilman Elsen.

Eeyawquittoowauconnuck!

Brothertown General Membership Meeting Offered Online

This year, the Brothertown Tribal Council will once again allow Tribal citizens to remotely attend all 4 General Membership meetings via Zoom.  The first of these meetings is scheduled for this Sunday, February 17th at 10am CT.  If you’re a member and did not fill out a verification form last year, please follow this link to do so: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSffhwOkN5PAj8_mwyNk7v6ZFIidZZ48GCZY0oS6gAH46WDzgw/viewform?usp=sf_link
If you have previously filled out the verification form, there is no need to do so again.  In either case, login information will be emailed to you no later than the week of the meeting.
While all citizens are always welcome and encouraged to attend Council and General Membership meetings in person, due to financial, time, or health-related reasons, that is not always a realistic possibility for the approximately 48% of enrollees who live outside of the state of Wisconsin (2014 Brothertown/ANA Grant Narrative, pp18-20.) or, in some cases, even those in state.  Allowing citizens to connect via Zoom (which also allows phone-ins) ensures that everyone has the chance to be involved with the Tribe and with their fellow citizens.  Don’t miss the opportunity!

1774 Oneida Response to Joseph Johnson

IMG_6579245 years ago today, the Oneida Indians came to a decision regarding their suffering brethren in New England.  Almost a year and several letters, trips, and conversations after the March 13, 1773 meeting in Mohegan to discuss removal, Joseph Johnson (Mohegan/Brothertown), accompanied by Elijah Waumpy(Tunxis/Brothertown), walked to New York to speak with the Oneida in person.  After giving them an account of the state of the New England Natives, the Oneida responded to Johnson over the course of the next 4 days.  Dartmouth College’s Rauner Library holds the original written record of this reply.  Below, please find a personal transcription of this document.

Haunoanrohaure  Jan 21st 1774.

 

An answer which the Onoida Indians gave to the speech of Joseph Johnson who spake in the name of his New England brethren at Haunoaurohaure.  The first answer given on Fryday January 21st 1774.  Brethren, we received you in the name of your seven towns or seven tribes in New England.  Brethren, we rejoice that it hath pleased God in his own due time to allow us an opportunity to assemble ourselves together in order to converse together so as we might know your state and circumstances in New England and so as you might know our minds concerning you our brothers.  Brethren, we are glad that we have heard how the case stands on your side and we receive you and your words very humbly and we are glad that we have heard so much of your minds and brethren, we shall consider of all your words and give you an answer when we shall be ready and brethren as it is an affair of great importance and as it requires time for consideration we hope that ye will not be uneasy or be in too great a hurry to return but wait patiently and brethren perhaps in twenty days you will receive an answer from us your brothers.  Brethren we would ask you a question. We desire to know how many have a mind to come up in these parts to live or how many horses there is in a town or how many families.  This is all that we have to say at present.

 

The Second answer given on Saturday towards evening January 22 1774

                Well brethren, harken unto us this day we have assembled ourselves together again to consult together a little about the affairs of this world.  But tomorrow is the Lord’s Day which he hath made and set apart for his own service.  Brethren, we rejoice in the goodness of God who hath preserved us all our life-time and hath brought us to see the light of this day in peace.  And we rejoice that God is allowing us this opportunity of assembling ourselves together this once more and we are glad that we have suffered to see the faces of each other in comfort and as we are short sighted creatures we are sensible that we stand in need of God’s help.  We desire that God would direct us and lead us in such conclusion as will be most pleasing to Him concerning this affair which has been laid before us for our consideration and now

(NEW PAGE)

And now brethren, we the Chiefs and Lords of this place also warriors and all in this assembly are about to give you an answer concerning the affair which you laid before the Council yesterday.  Brethren, we understand all that you said yesterday.  But we are somewhat forgetfull, our memories can’t retain for a long time what we hear and although we cant remember every word, yet very likely the principle or the substance of your speech is rooted in our understanding and considering parts (next word is mostly missing; edge of paper removed) that is rooted and fixed in our hearts.  We well remember what you said concerning the English and we are sorry to hear the low circumstances into which ye are involved in owing to the ignorance of your forefathers.  We are glad to hear of your proceedings hitherto.  We remember that you said you acquainted Sir William Johnson of the state and circumstances that you were in.  Also we remember that you said that Sir William was pleased with the design and advised you in the affair and gave you encouragement.  Brethren, Sir William also acquainted us of your desires or intentions of removing to this part of the country.  (small word; uncertain of what it says).. as soon as we was informed of your circumstances we took the message that Sir William Johnson sent to us on your behalf under our considerations and brethren we were all glad our great men, Lords, Warriors, and young men, yea even women and children rejoice to hear that ye were disposed to come and settle these parts.  Brethren, perhaps it was the Lord that stirred your minds this way.  May be it is His will and pleasure that ye should come up here and live side of us, your brethren.  Brethren, we that are in this Council profess to be good and religious men so ye may put confidence in us or believe what we say unto you.  Be of good courage brethren, the Lord of this place would have you to be of firm minds; be not discouraged for all the inhabitants of this place are very glad that ye are come to this town and we all rejoice to hear from you at this time that your brethren in New England are still disposed to come up in these parts to live and now brethren, we receive you into our body as it were.  Now we may say we have one head, one heart, and one blood.  Now brethren our lives are mixed together and let us have one Ruler even God our Maker who dwells in Heaven above who is the father of us all.  Brethren, we are sensible that the devil is never idle but is ever busy.  And if the evil spirit stirs up any nation whatsoever or person against you and

(NEW PAGE)

And causes your blood to be spilt we shall take it as if it was done unto us; or as if they spilt the blood from our own bodies.  And we shall be ever ready to defend you and help you or even be ready to protect you according to our abilities.  And now brethren as we expect that ye will come and live side of us in short time, we would tell you as brothers our principle, or custom in these parts.  Brethren, two things, we six united nations do follow.  The first and chief is religion or to follow the directions given to us in God’s Word.  The second is to concur with the unchristianized nations so far as will promote peace and tranquility in our land.  Brethren, this we ought to do, that religion might grow and flourish in these parts.  And brethren we shall expect that ye will assist us in advising us concerning the affairs that may be brought under our consideration when ye shall live side of us your brothers.  And brethren it is hoped that we both shall be disposed ever to help one another in case of necessity, as long as we shall live together.  As for us brethren, we have already resolved to endeavor to do all things as becometh brothers and as much as in us lies with justice and equity so long as we shall sit together.  And now brethren, here is your elder brothers the Tuckaroras, we say your elder brothers because they came here before you and because they came from a greater distance.  These your older brothers will live next to your or side of you and they are an understanding people.  Yea we are ready to say that they are become wiser than us Onoidas in considering of affairs of great importance.  Brethren, you see that these Tuskaroras are now white headed by reason of age and with these our brothers we have sat together in peace from our infancy.  Well brethren, we hope that it will be so with us when we come to set down together.  We hope that we shall live together in peace until we see each other white headed.  Brethren your ears must not be open to hear flying stories and you must not let prejudice arise in your hearts too quick.  The is the way or custom likewise of us six united nations not to regard any evil minded person or persons who are contrary to peace.  Brethren, we look upon you as upon a sixth (?) brother.  We will tell you of all your elder brothers the Onoidas, Kiyougas, Nanticuks, Tuskaroras, Todelehonas* these five are your elder brothers.  But as for the Mohawks, Onondaugas, and the Senecas they are our fathers and they are your fathers.  Brethren, in the spring we shall expect you here again then we will show you a place to settle on.  Brethren, here is your silver pipe and it shall be done with according to orders.  This much we have to say at present.  Accept our words tho it is but little that we have said.  Brethren, we say this once more that we are all very glad to see you in our town and now brethren, we the Chiefs and …of the place also Warriors and young men give our kind respect and sincere love to our brethren in New England that live in those seven towns that are disposed to come this way.  We say we give our love to the old men, your Councilers and teachers (?) and to all the young men, also we give our love to all the women old and young and to all children.  Brethren, very likely several of our Chiefs will accompany you as far as to Sir William Johnson’s, and there brothers we will confirm all our words and rectify our mistakes if we have made any.  There alone is the place to have all things done will, done strong, done sure (?).  So brethren, this is the end of our answer.

 

NEW PAGE

 

The Third Answer given on Monday January 24th 1774 at Haunoaurohouse.

 

Brethren, since we have received you as brothers, we shall not confine you or pen you up to ten miles square.  We have much land at our disposal and you need not fear but that you shall have land sufficient for you and for your children after you.  We would have you to fix your minds here and here alone and when you come to live up here, we desire that ye would not harken to the invitations of other nations who may invite you to go further back.  Brethren, we say let your minds be at ease, be not troubled but come and settle down in peace and live in peace forever.  Brothers, we understand that ye purpose to go homeward tomorrow, but brothers don’t take it hard.  We think that ye must continue with us two days longer.  The reason is this.  Some of the Chiefs or heads of the Six Nations are coming up from Sir Williams with a speech from his Honor and we think that it will not be handsome or that it would not be so well for us to met them in the woods.  We think that it would be best for us to see them here in this Council house.  Also we think that it would be (very proper?) for you to be here when Sir William’s speech will be delivered as it is concerning you and your New England brethren.  This is all that we have to say at present. 

 

End of letter-no signature

THANK YOU, ONEIDA NATION!!

*It seems this would be the Tutelo Tribe.  https://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tutelo-tribe.htm

 

 

Happy 215th birthday, Thomas Commuck!

30fae2a6-c8d3-4ade-8afe-e1e72901e696

Born into the Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island on January 18, 1804; migrated to Brotherton in NY in 1826 and then to Wisconsin in 1831. Commuck was the father of 10 children, author of “Indian Melodies”, a Tribal headman, and responsible for commemorating the Brothertown Indians to Wisconsin’s Historical Society, local newspapers, and via his “tours”. Thank you for all you’ve done for our people, Commuck; may you rest in peace.

November 26, 1839: A Sovereign Brothertown Indian Nation

If you are a Brothertown Indian, November 26th is of particular note.  It was on this date in 1839 that the Brothertown Indian Nation was last officially recognized by the federal government of the United States.*  While the Act of 1839, which allowed for the members of Brothertown to become citizens of the United States and owners of their parcels of land, was passed by Congress on the third day of March in 1839 (https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/25th-congress/sesson-3/c25s3ch83.pdf), citizenship was not immediately granted. The wording of the Act stipulated that first, a vote was to be taken to elect 5 Brothertown Commissioners whose duty it would be to have a land survey drawn up; a Tribal roll written down; and all of the surveyed Tribal property fairly divided among citizens of the Brothertown Indian Nation. According to Section 7 of the Act, once said map and roll were

…filed with the secretary of said Territory, and in the clerk’s office of said county,

and shall also be transmitted to the President on or before the first day of January next;

and after the same shall have been filed and transmitted to the President, as aforesaid,

the said Brothertown Indians, and each and every of them, shall then be deemed to be,

and from that time forth are hereby declared to be, citizens of the United States to all

intents and purposes, and shall be entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities

of such citizens, and shall, in all respects, be subject to the laws of the United States

and of the Territory of Wisconsin, in the same manner as other citizens of said Territory;

and the jurisdiction of the United States and of said Territory shall be extended over the

said township or reservation now held by them in the same manner as over other parts

of said Territory; and their rights as a tribe or nation, and their power of making or

executing their own laws, usages, or customs, as such tribe, shall cease…

     The required documents were deposited and the President received a copy of the report from the Brothertown Commissioners on November 26, 1839. Therefore, according to the US government, as page 5 of their 2009 Proposed Finding of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) cites, “the last date of Federal acknowledgment of the Brothertown Indian tribe of Wisconsin is considered to be November 26, 1839….” (https://www.bia.gov/sites/bia.gov/files/assets/as-ia/ofa/petition/067_brothe_WI/067_pf.pdf).

 

Notes: 

For an in-depth look at Indian policies and tribal sovereignty from a Brothertown perspective, see Kathleen Brown-Perez’s article at https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=lov

 

*In its re-recognition efforts, BIN twice made inquiries of the Solicitor General’s Office as to its tribal status. Both times (1990 and 1993), the Solicitor General’s determination was that the Act of 1839 had not terminated the Brothertown Indian Nation. Nevertheless, the final determination (September 7, 2012) from the BIA states that Brothertown’s “tribal status was terminated by an 1839 Act of Congress” and “Only Congress may restore the tribal status of Brothertown and its government-to-government relationship with the United States.”

November 25, 1855: On This Date in Brothertown History

On November 25, 1855, Tribal headman, Thomas Commuck, drowned in the icy waters of Lake Winnebago. Newspaper notices and his final resting place being unknown, one of the few words we have on the matter is found at the end of a publication printed by Wisconsin’s Historical Society.  When printed, the “Sketch of the Brothertown Indians”, written by Commuck on August 22, 1855, was given a footnote by Lyman Draper, Secretary for the Society. “Poor Commuck!,” he wrote, “The following winter after penning the preceding sketch, he was drowned, through a hole in the ice, near his residence, in Calumet County—whether by accident or design, is not known.” Whether this question was only Draper’s or if it was also on the minds of those who better knew the situation, one can only speculate. However, one thing is certain; Brothertown is privileged to be able to count Thomas Commuck as one of its own.

Thomas Commuck was born a Narragansett Indian in Charlestown, Rhode Island on January 18, 1804. Both of his parents died when he and his older brother James were very young. In 1825, the same year that his grandmother passed on, twenty-one-year-old Thomas followed the path of many of his tribal kinsmen and migrated to Oneida country in upstate New York to join the Brothertown Tribe of Indians.

In 1831, the newly married Thomas Commuck and his bride, Hannah Abner (Pequot/Brothertown), were among the very first Brotherton to settle in their new lands on the east side of Lake Winnebago. Thomas became the first postmaster of Brothertown Wisconsin, served as a Justice of the Peace for the Tribe and was eventually the father of 10 children. Still, he found time to teach himself, as he put it in the preface of his Indian Melodies, “to learn, scientifically, the art of singing.”

When Indian Melodies came out in 1845, Commuck became the first Native American to publish tunes in “Euramerican” music notation. His tune book was published in both standard and patent (shape) note style. The latter also earning him the distinction of being the first person in Wisconsin to publish in shape notes. More importantly, in Indian Melodies Commuck memorialized Native American tribes and individuals; particularly those related to Brothertown: our parent tribes and their histories, our leaders, and the many tribes that helped us throughout our journey*.

Not only did Commuck memorialize Brothertown in his tunebook, but, as we see from a number of advertisements which he put in local papers, he also energetically “toured” with his tunes and four of his Tribal friends. These concerts given by the “Sons of the Forest”, as he called his group, included a short talk on the history of the Brothertown Indians.

Commuck also commemorated the Tribe in numerous letters written to the Historical Society and to local newspapers. He was very passionate about his Tribe and his heritage and he felt keenly, a sense of despair and sorrow for his people. In his final, 1855 letter to Draper, Commuck spoke of how he feared the loss of {our} memory as he contemplated, what seemed to him, the extinction of Brothertown “in another generation” or so. Toward the end of this letter he said, “Here we have taken our last stand, as it were, and are resolved to meet manfully, that overwhelming tide of fate, which seems destined, in a few short years, to sweep the Red Man from the face of existence. The thought is a sad and gloomy one, but the fiat seems to have gone forth, and we must submit.”

So what happened as Commuck walked toward Lake Winnebago on that cold November in 1855?  Was he going ice fishing?  Was he just out for a walk?  Or did something else lay heavy on his mind?  If you know the Tribal significance of tomorrow’s date (November 26), you may have an idea as to what his thoughts may have been.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post to find out more.

 

*See the 2018 publication, A Selection of Plain Tunes, Set Pieces, and Anthems from Indian Melodies. printed by Calumet and Cross Heritage Society, Inc.