Happy 215th birthday, Thomas Commuck!


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).



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.

Happy Eeyawquittoowauconnuck Day!

Today, November 7, 2018, is the 233rd anniversary of the “incorporation” and naming of Brothertown. It was on a Monday in 1785 that Occom commemorated in his journal, “But now we proceeded to form into a Body Politick we Named our Town -by the Name of Brotherton, in Indian Eeyawquittoowauconnuck J. Fowler was chosen clarke for the Town. Roger Waupieh, David Fowler, Elijah Wympy, John Tuhy, and Abraham Simon were chosen a Committee or Trustees for the Town, for a year and for the future, the committee is to be chosen Annually. and Andrew Acorrocomb and Thomas Putchauker were chosento be Fence Vewers to continue a year. Concluded to have a Centre near David Fowlers House, the main Street is to run North and South & East and West, to cross at the centre. Concluded to live in Peace, and in Friendship and to go on in all their Public Concerns in Harmony both in their Religious and Temporal concerns, and every one to bear his part of Public Charges in the Town. They desired me to be a Teacher amongst them. I consented to spend some of my remaining [days] with them, and make this Town my Home and center”(https://collections.dartmouth.edu/occom/html/diplomatic/785554-diplomatic.html).

Happy 221st Anniversary, Brothertown Peacemakers!

7509618D-332A-47D5-827C-5F1FC26BC72BAccording to the Peacemaker’s record book (part of The Brothertown Collection), the first recorded court meeting of the Brothertown Indian Peacemakers was held in Brotherton, New York on the first Monday in September of 1797 (which fell on the 4th that year).  Our first Peacemakers were David Fowler, John Tuhie, John Skeesuck, Isaac Wauby, and Samuel Scipio.

Happy 221st anniversary, Brothertown Peacemakers, and thank you for your continued service to our people!


Yes, you read that correctly!  Whether you live in California, Texas, Maine, Hawaii, Taiwan, or anywhere in between, you can now pull up a seat and attend a General Membership meeting right from your own computer, tablet, smartphone, or landline.

To attend, you need to be enrolled and fill out a short form which asks for your full name, email address, and enrollment number.  If you don’t know your number, no worries, just fill out what you can.   Once your enrollment has been verified, you will be emailed a link with login information.

The first meeting happened on August 18, 2018 with the second one set to occur September 15 at 10am CT/11am ET.   There are 4 General Membership meetings per year; typically August, September, February, and April.

If you’re interested in attending please contact Council person Seth Elsen at SethElsen@gmail.com or follow this link to fill out the verification form:


If you’re not sure yet if you can attend the next meeting, please go ahead and fill out the form.

See you there!

Brothertown Indian Nation Invites Members To View General Membership Meeting Via Internet

If you’re not a frequent visitor to the Brothertown Facebook page, you may not yet be aware that Council has posted an invitation to members to attend the August General Membership meeting ONLINE.  This will be the first time since October of 2016 that members unable to travel to Wisconsin for monthly meetings will be able to see and hear the proceedings.

If you’re interested in attending you will need to follow this link (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSffhwOkN5PAj8_mwyNk7v6ZFIidZZ48GCZY0oS6gAH46WDzgw/viewform) and fill out a very short verification form.  Even if you’re not sure yet if you can attend, please go ahead and fill out the form.  Login instructions will be emailed to you once your membership has been verified.

The General Membership meeting will begin Saturday morning August 18th at 10CT/11ET/8PT.  See you there!

Happy Samson Occom Day!


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Brothertown has been significantly blessed throughout the centuries with industrious, well-educated, and noteworthy citizens who have spent their lives in service to our people and others. Joseph Johnson, David Fowler, William Fowler, Alonzo D. Dick, William H. Dick, and Thomas Commuck are a few of these names. Probably the most well-known, however, is the name of Samson Occom (Mohegan/Brothertown).

Occom’s notoriety goes well beyond Brothertown, Native America, or even the century in which he lived. He was instrumental in the founding of Dartmouth College, helped establish the community of Deansboro (“old Brothertown”) in New York and fathered the Brothertown Tribe; all of which continue to exist more than two centuries later. He wrote hymns that are still sung; was the first person to publish an interdenominational hymnal; wrote the first Native American autobiography; and penned letters, sermons, and journals that are read and studied in classroom settings across the nation. Occom was the second Native American to be published (about 6 months after son-in-law Joseph Johnson (Mohegan/Brothertown)), and the first to be published internationally when his A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul was printed and sold in England.

Occom died in New York on July 14, 1792. Although he was a Presbyterian minister, the Episcopal Church has set this date aside as an annual feast day in tribute to him. Let us mark our own calendars and join them each year on July 14th in remembering this truly remarkable Brothertown man.