13 Tribes Inhabited Island

Footnotes to Long Island History

13 Tribes Inhabited Island


Thomas R. Bayles


By Thomas R. Bayles


            When the Island was first settled by the whites it was inhabited by 13 tribes or groups of Indians.  The Canarsee, Rockaway, Merrick, Marsapeague, Secatogue and Unkechaug lived on the South Shore.  On the Nort were the Matinecock, Nesaquake, Setalcott and the Corchaug.  On the east end of the Island were the Shinnecock, Manhasset and the Montauks.

            The Unkechaug tribe occupied the South Shore of Brookhaven town with headquarters in Mastic, and Tobaccus was the sachem of this tribe in 1664.

            The North Shore of Brookhaven town inhabited by the Setalcott tribe, which had headquarters at Setauket and was a very powerful group. 

            The Montauks probably had been the mast warlike tribe on the Island and had reduced the other tribes or groups to some kind of subjection.  Wyandanch, the sachem of the Montauks, was grand sachem of all the tribes on the Island and his signature was required to the early Indian deeds in addition to that of the sachem of the local tribe when land was purchased by the white settlers.

            In 1659 Wyandanch conveyed to Lyon Gardiner the territory comprising the town of Smithtown, then occupied by the Nesaquake Indians.  This was done in gratitude to Gardiner for rescuing the daughter of Wyandanch from the Narragansett tribe who had captured her during an invasion of the Montauk tribe by the Narragansetts from across the sound. 

            Wyandanch seems to have been the friend of the white men always and it was no doubt this friendly relation which existed between him and the white settlers that made their relations with the Indians of Long Island so peaceful and harmonious.  Wyandanch refused to enter into any conspiracy with the tribes from across the sound and always maintained a friendly attitude towards the white settlers.  Many a monument has been erected to those less worthy of memorial than Wyandanch, the white man's unwavering friend, whose grave lies unmarked in the solitude of Montauk.

            The Indian names of Long Island are said to have been Sewanhacky, Wamponomon and Paumanake.  The first two are said to have come from the abundance of the quahog, or hard clam, the shell of which furnished wampum, which was first used as money in the settlements.

            The Indians of the Island were tall and straight, muscular and agile, with straight hair and reddish brown complexion.  Their language was the Algonquin, the highly descriptive tongue in which John Eliot wrote the Indian Bible, and was the language which greeted the Pilgrims at Plymouth.  It is doubtful if there is anyone now living who can speak this tongue, which was used so freely in those early days.

            At the time of the first white settlement on the Island the Indian population was very large as shown by the shell banks found at various places around the shores of the bays and coves.  Their settlements were always near the shores on the north and south sides of the Island, as there they found most of their food, fish and clams, and their transportation was by canoe along the waters.  The forests toward the middle of the Island were their hunting grounds for wild game and clearings were made where they planted Indian corn, place a fish in each hill for fertilizer.

            In 1653 the Narragansett Indians, under Ninigret, one of their chiefs, invaded the territory of the Montauks, and commenced a war which lasted for several years, and would have exterminated the whole Montauk tribe if they had not received help from the white settlers.  They were compelled to abandon their villages and flee for refuge to East Hampton, where they were kindly received and protected.

            The commissioners sent supplies and military supplies to the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, and to the Indians.  They also stationed an armed vessel in the sound under the command of Captain John Youngs, with orders to wreck Ninigret's canoes and destroy his forces if he attempted to land on the Island.  This war seems to have continued until about 1657.  It left the Montauks in a very much weakened condition.  

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