The original peoples of Long Island shared a culture and government even though they had distinct tribal regions.
There is not a place on Long Island where the original inhabitants are not remembered. You don’t have to travel far to find a town, park, school, or body of water named after a local tribe or famous Native American. The original peoples of Long Island shared a culture, language, and system of government that broke apart once they came into contact with Europeans. However, individual tribes all recognized the authority of an inter-tribal leader, called a sachem.
READ: Native American leader LI Running Bull and Princess Occum, a married couple known for keeping their tribal traditions and folklore alive.
According to the On This Site website, a project to preserve and raise awareness of culturally significant Native American sites on Long Island by Shinnecock artist Jeremy Dennis, the concept of thirteen distinct tribes was not necessarily etched into the marble.
“Although most previous historians describe thirteen groups that existed on Long Island when the first white settlers arrived, there seems to be no reason to assume that this number was fixed and definitive,” Dennis writes on the Wiki site.
Dennis’ project was supported by a grant from a 2016 Dreamstarter grant from the national nonprofit organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Through photography, he provided insight into how the Shinnecock people and the reservation were able to stay on Long Island. The project provided an opportunity to reflect on archaeological and oral histories in order to answer essential and culturally defining questions.
“This project is inclusive for many audiences because it creates a dialogue between Native and non-Native peoples of Long Island, and legitimizes the Native population of Long Island beyond their borders on reservations,” he said. written in its original Dreamstarter app.
Historians like to group things into neat sets, whether by time period or geographical designation and there is some consensus about the Thirteen Tribes of Long Island, even if they weren’t as formalized than we would like to think.
“There seem to have been other smaller groups from time to time and there is considerable confusion even regarding the thirteen that most [historians] mention,” Dennis says on the website. “At this distant time, we can only get a rough idea of the names and distributions of many of them.
On this site describes the 13 tribes as below. Click here for a more complete description of each.
Canary Islands – The Canaries occupied the territory at the western end of Long Island, including much of what is now Brooklyn and extending east to encompass part of the former city of Jamaica. Being so close to Manhattan Island, it is certain that they had frequent contact with the Indians who lived there, and there is evidence that they had a settlement near the southern tip of that island.
Rockaways – These peoples had their main settlement in what is now Rockville Center. Others were scattered in the southern part of the town of Hempstead and in an area that stretched from Rockville Center west to Rockaway Beach and possibly north to Long Island Sound, including part of Jamaica. They also occupied some of the islands in the bays along the southern shore.
merrick – The Merricks had communities in the southern part of Long Island, from near Rockville Center to the line west of the present town of Oyster Bay, and north to a line running east to west across the middle of the island. They originally lived on the western end of Long Island, but were forced to move east into territory controlled largely by the Massapequas, whose chiefdom would have dominated them and demanded tribute. The Merricks had villages on several of the passes of land along the Great South Bay.
Massapequas – The boundaries of their lands extended along the southern shore from Seaford to Islip and north to an arbitrary line running east to west across the center of the island. They had a large colony at Fort Neck where there was a fort. A battle was fought there with the white settlers around the middle of the 17th century, with very disastrous results for the Indians.
Matinecocks – It was one of the most important chiefdoms on the north shore. Its territory extended from Flushing Bay in the west to the Nissequogue River at Smithtown and south to the center of the island.
Nissaquogies – The territory of this chiefdom was contiguous by the Matinecocks on the west, and extended eastward from the Nissequogue River to Stony Brook and southward to the center of the island. Apparently there was a disagreement for some time between the Nissequogue and Matinecock Indians regarding their boundary and as a result they did not always enjoy friendly relations.
Setaukets – This north shore chiefdom occupied the territory from Stony Brook to Wading River and south to the center of the island. They had a village at Setauket and others on the various passes of land in that neighborhood on the north shore.
Corchaugs – They controlled the lands east of the Setaukets. Their territory was bounded on the west by a line extending from Wading River in the center of the island and on the east along the northern fin of the island to Orient Point. They also occupied several of the strips of land along the north shore of Peconic Bay.
Secatogues – The territory of the Secatogues was to the east of that occupied by the Massapequas. It stretched along the south shore from Islip to Patchogue and north to the center of the island. They occupied numerous camp and village sites along the tidal streams that flow into Great Southern Bay.
Unkechaugs – It seems that these tribal people were often mistakenly called the Patchogues and sometimes the Poospatuck. Their land extended along the south shore of Patchogue east to Westhampton, and possibly to Canoe Place.
Shinnecock – The Shinnecocks were one of the most famous and powerful chiefdoms on the island. Their territory included the southern fluke of Long Island from Westhampton or Canoe Place to East Hampton. It also encompassed several tracts of land along the south shore of Peconic Bay.
Montauket – Recognized as having been the strongest group on the east end of Long Island and probably throughout its extent from the Sound to Montauk Point. The chiefdom of Montauk controlled all of the land in the southern moat, from East Hampton to the far eastern tip. They also occupied Gardiner’s Island, which lies between the north and south moats of Long Island.
Manhansets – It was apparently a large chiefdom of considerable importance in the early days. They occupied Shelter Island, Hog Island and Ram Island, between the northern and southern moats. They were also forced to pay homage to the peoples of the continent with whom they were in a continual state of war.
Learn more about Jeremy Dennis and the On This Site project: Dennis was one of 10 recipients of a 2016 Dreamstarter Fellowship from the national non-profit organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth. He was awarded $10,000 to continue his project, On This Site, which uses photography and an interactive online map to showcase culturally significant Native American sites on Long Island, a topic of particular significance to Dennis, who has grew up on the Shinnecock Nation reservation. He also created a book and an exhibition based on this project. More recently, Dennis received the Creative Bursar Award from Getty Images in 2018 for continuing his Stories series.
Photo: Left is Princess Occum (Eliza Beaman), right is Anthony Beaman (Chief Running Bull). The East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection. For all other uses, please contact The Long Island Collection, East Hampton Library, 159 Main St., East Hampton, NY 11937. 631-324-0222 x 4 or email [email protected]