Early Contact Period (1600 AD – 1700 AD)
The early stages of interaction between the Native Americans and the English settlers on Long Island were distinguished by a pattern of equal status trade and voluntary adaptation. This pattern gradually shifted to one of directed acculturation wherein the English imposed their values and customs on the Indians. The archaeological reports from several contact sites provide some insights into these patterns.
Giovanni da Verrazzano (c.1485-1528), an explorer from Val di Greve, Italy, explores the Island of Shells (Long Island).1
Henry Hudson explores the island of Shells (Long Island) ca. September 6th, 1690.2
1610 – 1660
Over a 50-year period the Long Island Indian population dropped from 6,000 to 1,000, “Lacking any warlike instincts, and decimated by disease, the local Indian population was finally relegated to life in isolated locations or absorbed by the general population.”3
European Influenced Burials
The burials here appear to represent a transitional period when the Montaukett were becoming increasingly dependent on European goods while still practicing ancient mortuary customs. Twenty-one of the burials were wrapped in blankets, skins, woven mats, or bark. The blankets were European, but the other materials were similar to those used before the Europeans arrived. One burial contained the remains of an adult and a child covered by a blanket and accompanied by several European trade goods. The adult had a necklace of large blue glass beads and the child wore a string of amber glass beads. Near the skeletons were a pewter dish, pottery, and a piece of textile. Under the two skeletons were several white, black, blue, green, and red beads. Studies of
One burial contained the remains of an adult and a child covered by a blanket and accompanied by several European trade goods. The adult had a necklace of large blue glass beads and the child wore a string of amber glass beads. Near the skeletons were a pewter dish, pottery, and a piece of textile. Under the two skeletons were several white, black, blue, green, and red beads. Studies of
Studies of seventeenth-century contact burial sites in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have revealed a number of significant patterns and insights into this important transitional period.4
Politics and Conflict
The Native American communities were under considerable stress as their primary economic, political, and social institutions were being challenged and altered by their English neighbors. Their hunting grounds were gradually shrinking as the English settlements expanded. Native economies were becoming increasingly dependent on the English market system. More and more Montauketts sought employment for themselves and their children in English households.4
The desire for manufactured goods gradually drew more Montauketts into the English economy. Some were recruited as whalers, provided with boats and iron harpoons, and sent out to kill the whales that migrated each year along the south shore of Long Island. Others engaged in less skilled work as indentured servants, slaves, and free laborers. They were viewed by the English as a part of a permanent underclass. Although the Indians became dependent on the outside economy and were given little chance to advance in status, they did maintain a separate culture that continues to distinguish them from other ethnic groups.4
Colonial Descriptions of Natives
Giovanni Verrazano described5 the Native people he discovered In New York and Newport harbors In 1524;
“The people excel us In size: they are of bronze color, some Inclining more to whiteness, others to tawny color: the face sharply cut, the hair long and black, upon which they bestow the greatest study In adorning It: the eyes black and alert, the bearing kind and gentle.”
- David Bunn Martine, 2010 Long Island Native Master History Timeline
- Knickerbocker Press.
Wells, Gordon and William Proios. (1977). Port Jefferson: Story of a Village. Port Jefferson, NY, USA: Port Jefferson Historical Society. Wells, 1977, p. 2
- John Strong, from Transcript of Indians of Eastern Long Island Lecture, 2002
- Gaynell Stone, The Montauk Native Americans of Eastern Long Island, Guild Hall Exhibition Pamplet 1991
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