Nathan Jeffrey Cuffee
Nathan J. Cuffee (1854 – 1912) was born to Jason James Cuffee, a Montaukett, and Louisa R. Cotton Cuffee, a Narragansett. He grew up on Liberty Street, in the Eastville section of Sag Harbor and as an adult lived in the family home with his wife Marie Louise Payne and their three children.1 His father was a whaler and laborer. His wife Marie Louisa Payne, immigrated from Barbados when she was 11. He and his wife eventually moved to Islip, where he died in 1912.2
Cuffee appeared in court in 1900 at the age of 46 in a combined effort among the Montaukett, Narragansett, Mohegan and Shinnecock, specifically in regard to the loss of the Shinnecock hills in an illegitimate forging of documents that lead to the loss of the hills in an 1859 transaction.
Cuffee says in his testimony,
The Indians up to that time had always held the Neck [Shinnecock Reservation] proper and the hills as their reservation in common, and the whites made this proposition to us: That for the sake of stopping the strife engendered by the cattle breaking fences, etc., if the Indians would sign this compact with the whites, which would put them in possession of the fee simple of the hills, they would relinquish the Neck proper to the Indians and give them a fee simple, wherein they would hold all the prope1ty under the lease for the nine hundred and ninety-nine years. That is why and that is the manner in which the hills were taken away from them. [I]t was a forged instrument. It was taken to the legislature and enacted on a forged petition.
Nathan Cuffee and his wife Louisa eventually moved to Shelter Island, where he co-wrote a book with Lydia Jocelyn, who was married to a missionary from the Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The book, “Lord of the Soil: A Romance of Indian Life Among Early English Settlers,” came out in 1905, making him the first published Native American from Long Island. Despite its title, the novel was full of conflicts and rivalries between the settlers and the different tribes of New England.
Cuffee describes in Lords of the Soil the history of Sachem’s Hole.
Lords of the Soil has been digitized and is available here.
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