Manataka American Indian Council
The Pocumtuc Indians were original inhabitants of what is now the Connecticut River Valley in western Massachusetts, on the Vermont, New Hampshire border. At the beginning of the 17th Century there were approximately 5,000 Pocumtuc living in that region. Along with the Mahican, the Pocumtuc spoke the R-dialect of the Algonquin language. The Pocumtuc were actually a confederacy of about twenty sub tribes, which included the Agawam, the Nonotuck, the Scitico and the Woronoco. The Pocumtuc were also variously known as the Nawaas, the Pangusett and the Saukiog.
The Pocumtuc were an agricultural people. Their territory was provided rich soil for the planting of crops, the mainstays of which were maize, beans and squash. The Pocumtuc homeland was also a fertile ground for game, which they hunted throughout the winter period. Much use was also made of the fish to be had in the Connecticut River. The villages of the Pocumtuc sat along the route of some major trade trails, including the Mohawk Trail. This trail was the major arterial route for travel between the inland Indians and those on the Atlantic Coast. Not surprisingly, then, the Pocumtuc villages came under frequent attack from war parties passing through. For this reason their villages were heavily fortified. The Pocumtuc confederation was also organized to afford protection in the case of one band coming under attack.
In the century prior to the arrival of the white man, the Pocumtuc had allied themselves with the Mahicans against the Mohawks in an ongoing battle for control over the mountains lying between the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers. In 1606, a large Mohawk war party attacked and inflicted heavy casualties upon a Pocumtuc village located near present day Deerfield, Massachusetts. The arrival of the Dutch in 1610 served to bring a temporary truce, but the warfare erupted again in 1624. Within four years the Mohawk had defeated the Mahican and driven them east of the Hudson River. The Mohawk now turned their attention on the allies of the Mahicans, most notably the Pocumtuc. Several Mohawk raids ensued, but were repelled with the aid of loyal Mahicans.
The next challenge to the Pocumtuc came in the form of the English, or more correctly in the form of the diseases that they introduced to the native tribes. A major smallpox epidemic swept across New England in 1633-5. It killed at least 500 Pocumtuc. About the same time the British had pushed forth from Plymouth and set up their first trading post just south of the Territory of the Pocumtuc at modern day Windsor, Connecticut. The British were now able to intercept all the furs that travelled down the River towards the Dutch trading post. The Dutch response was to build a fortification around their trading post. When the British responded in kind with their own fort at the mouth of the river, the Dutch were effectively cut off.
The British next set about acquiring the lands of the native tribes in the area. The first portion of Pocumtuc land was sold to the English by the Agawam in 1636. After defeating the Pequot in 1637, English settlers swept into Massachusetts and Connecticut. With English backing the Mohegan Indians now emerged as the dominant tribe in the area. In response to the threat posed by this newfound power in the hands of the Mohegans and their leader Uncas, the Pocumtuc joined an alliance with the Narragensett and the Tunxis against the Mohegans. The Mohegans, however, were too powerful. The alliance was broken and the Narragensett were defeated in 1643.
Warfare between the native tribes escalated over the ensuing years. First the English and then the Dutch began supplying their trading partners with firearms. Former enemies the Mohawk and the Mahicans formed an alliance under the guidance of the Dutch and caused havoc among their neighbouring tribes. The Wappinger and Delaware were particularly affected. After these tribes were decimated some of their people moved north to join the Pocumtuc. In 1650, however, Mohawk war parties attacked the Pocumtuc. A new alliance with the Soconi and Pennacook managed to stave off the Mohawk for a few years. By 1663, however, the Pocumtuc were suffering heavy losses and asked the Dutch to intercede in search of peace. This failed and the Pocumtuc went directly to the Mohawk. Their enemies had suffered many casualties themselves and agreed to peace talks. But the allies of the Pocumtuc wanted to press on with the war. Consequently they arranged for the Mohawk peace envoy to be murdered. The Mohawk now resumed their attacks in earnest. As a result the Pocumtuc were forced to flee from the Connecticut valley. Many fled west where they sought refuge with the Pennacook. They were pursued by the Mohawk and driven to southern Maine.
Today remanants of the Pocumtuc can be found among the Abenaki in Vermont and the St. Francois Indians in Canada.
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