The Eastern Pequot Reservation

My name is Mitchel Ray, Eastern Pequot Tribal Treasurer. I am currently serving my second duly elected term as a tribal councilor.  Prior to that, I served as president of the tribe's nonprofit, the Wuttooantam Foundation, Inc. Research and having a better understanding of Connecticut's history has been my focus for many years. While trying to develop programs to help raise awareness and money to help assist the tribe, history would always come to the forefront to educate and raise awareness.  Often if not almost all the time, my research over the years would lead me to the Native Northeast Research Collaborative webpage (formerly The Yale Indian Papers Project website).

          The website was full of comprehensive historical documents from the start of the colonial period onward, most written in old-style English handwriting, in a longhand cursive style.  These documents were diligently transcribed and annotated with detailed descriptions to help the reader better understand what message was conveyed in these historical texts. 

          Access to these documents is key to providing contextual understanding of that period through the eyes of governmental officials. Because minimal written accounts from Eastern Pequot Tribal members exist, most objective views could be deciphered through overseer records and petitions that were submitted by tribal members on behalf of the tribe.   I was excited to hear this grant was awarded from the National Endowment for Humanities because it meant work continued on these documents pertaining to my tribe. With the On Our Own Ground: Pequot Community Papers, 1813-1849, I wanted to focus my commentary on the Eastern Pequot reservation, how the land compared to other land at that time and now, the overseers and their relationship to the tribe and the land, and how the tribe survived by using and improving the land.

          The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation maintains one of the oldest Indian reservations in the country. Following the Pequot massacre in 1637, under the care of Ninigret and then Harmon Garret the Eastern Pequots roamed their ancestral lands east of the Connecticut River from Old Lyme to Westerly, Rhode Island.  They moved from areas that were close to newly established towns like Stonington, Mystic and Misquamicut. As towns became chartered, the Eastern Pequots were forced away. The Western Mashantucket branch of the Pequots were first to have found a home or reservation.  The area that is now formally known as the Mashantucket Indian Reservation first appeared in 1658, Commissioners of the United Colonies proclaimed, "Cashasinnimon and his companie shall have a fit proportion of land allowed them at Wawarramoreke near the path that leads form the Misticke River to Moheage  about five or six miles from the mouth of the Misticke River."(Hauptman, M. Wherry, JD (1993). The Pequots in Southern New England, The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman.)

          Many years later, a committee was appointed on behalf of the Assembly to find a tract of land for the Eastern Pequot community to reside, "Captain James Fitch, Captain James Avery and Lieutenant Thomas Leffingwell were appointed a committee on behalf of the Assembly to procure a suitable tract of land that might be sufficient for the Pequots under Momoho's government to plant upon or settle them on some country land."  ("Committee Report on Pequot Land." Native North East Portal, 2020 https://nativenortheastportal.com/annotated-transcription/digcoll2184). Two hundred and eighty acres was deeded over to the Eastern Pequots from Isack Wheeler on May 24th 1683, just shy of the 46th anniversary of the Pequot War. Finally, the surviving other half of the Pequots had a place to call home.  Nestled between the Mystic River on the west and no natural boundary to the east, the reservation borders would at times come into question.  Borders would consist of trees that could not stand the test of time and boulders which could be broken down and moved. The deed explains the description of the reservation as follows;

bounded as followeth- the northwest corner a burch tree upon a ledge of rocks below Lantorn Hill, from thence the line Runs twoo hundred Rod East nearest to A white aok tree mark & IM and from thence the line runs southerly twoo hundred & fiftie Rod to A black oack, from thence the line runs west neerest Seven Score Rod to Mistick River, which River is the westerly bounds. (Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation Land Deed. Stonington Land Records May 24th, 1683 Vol 2/Pg 20.)

          With so many barriers like steep hills, overgrown thickets, and tall trees, it would be a monumental task to accurately survey the land with the type of techniques used in that day.  A Gunter's chain may have been used to make the measurements between 2 points, most notably how the Eastern Pequot reservation land deed boundaries explained north to south between a white and black oak tree.  A Gunter's chain is explained as

In 1620 an English mathematician and astronomer named Edmund Gunter described a surveyor's chain with 100 links, measuring 66 feet (22 yards or 4 poles) overall.  By this design, one square chain equals 484 square yards, ten square chains equal an acre, and eighty chains equal a mile. Gunther's design proved extremely popular, especially in English lands. ("Gunter's Chain", National Museum of American History Behring Center, 2020 https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_761634). 

          In an 1841 petition to the New London County Court, a group of Eastern Pequot tribal members tried to have the current overseer removed if the court could confirm the tribe’s allegation of neglect to the reservation's residents and accounting for the land used to offset annual debt.   In the document, the petitioners mention the amount of acreage the tribe resides on.  "The petition of the undersigned Indians, being remnant of the Pequot Tribe of Indians, resident in North Stonington in said County, humbly sheweth that your petitioners have a reservation of about four hundred acres of land lying in said North Stonington." ("Petition of the Eastern Pequot Tribe to the New London County Court," Native North East Portal, 2020 https://www.nativenortheastportal.com/node/17588). It is difficult to say how much land was maintained exactly because both the petition and the deed seem to be estimates. 

          Regardless of the size, the land which the Eastern Pequots settled on was quite rugged and harsh.  By the time the 1800's came around, there were better methods for land surveying such as a theodolite, which is an optical tool used by a surveyor for measuring angles between visible points.  With almost all the trees cut on the reservation and near it, this would have been easier to figure out boundaries before using GPS and satellites.

          The Eastern Pequot Tribal reservation is located in North Stonington.  At the time of the deed in 1683, it was composed of 280 acres, which could be more. The reservation is located at the southern base of one of Connecticut's most beautiful sites, Lantern Hill.  Held sacred by both the Eastern Pequots and the Mashantucket Pequots, this tall landscape rests upon a fault line sharing the same name, the Lantern Hill Fault Line which runs south from the hill out into long island sound. It was said among tribal members that the light from the sun or the moon would reflect upon it and could help guide ships to shore before and during the American Revolution, and the Klu Klux Klan burned crosses on top in the mid-1920's.   

           One of the biggest quartz deposits in the world, Lantern Hill stands over 140 meters(459 feet) high in elevation, in comparison the highest point on the Eastern Pequot Reservation is just over 120 meters (400 feet).  With a high vantage point, this makes it easy to see who is coming.  Maybe this area was a preference of choice because of the elevation like other hills that were used to hold villages and palisades like Pequot Hill and Quakataug Hill prior to the 1637 massacre.  The reservation has about twenty acres residing on this highest elevated area. Walking south the reservation begins its descent downward in elevation.  The reservation slopes about ten feet every 20-30 feet or so, that is about a 5% drop and in some places more than 15% slope.  These slopes make it difficult to get tools and material to, and to establish homesteads. The Eastern Pequot Community was still able to manage to build in this terrain, homesteads are scattered off main paths going down the hill.

          The reservation also borders two ponds, Silex Pond to its northwest corner and Long Pond to its west side border. Likely a man-made pond with a stream to help power a mill for the quarry operation at Lantern Hill, Silex Pond was also probably named after the operation that took place just a few steps away to extract the much needed quartz. This quartz was of "high-purity silica from here was used for glass making, foundry sand, aquarium sand, swimming pool filters, sandbox sand and architectural aggregate - such as on the concrete faces of the J. F. Kennedy presidential library near Boston. The hydrothermal quartz deposit occurred along rift faults 238 Ma (from primary muscovite, early middle Triassic), 19 Ma before sedimentation in the Triassic-Jurassic Hartford Basin began."("Lantern Hill Quarry", mindat.org, 2020 www.mindat.org/loc-28149.html).

          Silica from Lantern Hill was used for various types of projects across the country, thanks to one of the world's largest deposits from around the middle Triassic period, just after continents split and formed these massive hills. Long Pond is a 108 acre pond connecting to the Mystic River with a depth from 12 to 66 feet.  A dam was constructed at the pond's outlet and raised the water level by 12 feet.("Long Pond", Lakefront Living Realty.com, 2020 www.lakefrontliving.com/ct/long-pond)  This water would have been used for farming, fishing, and transportation to Mystic.  From Long Pond there are flat areas where tribal members maintained homes.  Behind these homes starts the very sharp incline up the hill to the top. Most of this incline is at more than a 15% slope (Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation Environmental Regulatory Enhancement Master Plan. Topography – Map 5, Slope Analysis – Map 6,  Jan 2000).    

          Either way, the Eastern Pequot Reservation would have been difficult to manage without modern-day equipment. During the time when most of these documents were written, the Eastern Pequot land would have been mostly stripped of its trees for fuel for fire, homes, and compensation through logging of firewood.  The land would have looked like a series of plateaus scaling down the steep hill, rock walls would have outlined different homesteads, pastures, gardens, and property lines.  On these plateaus may have been areas where oxen or cattle would have been allowed to graze. 

          In the Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from 1829 to June 1831, Silas Chesebrough records "To eight bushels potatoes for Moses oxen and cart one half-day on garden 1.54."  This supports the idea there would have been areas to grow food, depending upon areas available to oxen. The oxen may have brought eight bushels of potatoes, Moses could have persuaded the overseer this much-needed work to his garden plot after the delivery. It being May 26th, not much time would remain to prepare the ground for the upcoming planting season. Today, a few small streams trail down the reservation hill, and these streams may still have been around when these overseer records were written, although the reservation did not have the look of most forests in Connecticut today. Many of the big trees would have been cleared, but there would have been enough vegetative growth to shade the streams as they ran down the hill of the reservation.  

          After a tree is felled and light can hit the ground, new tree growth immediately occurs through seeds that have fallen and root plugs running through the soil from neighboring trees. When a forest is cleared, a succession of new trees will begin to grow in different orders. Red oak, red maples, and cedar trees would be the first to grow, last birch and ironwood.

          Some old photos that were taken on the reservation can provide clues. You likely see first succession trees, a very "shrub-like" background.  The streams would have been kept cool but would have needed grazing to keep the shrubs and tree saplings down.  This was a harsh environment but not much different from what life was like for people residing in the local area.

          Early settlers described Connecticut as being nearly all covered with forests and with open, park-like conditions. In the fall and spring, Pequots would have burned the forest to eliminate tangled underbrush. When Europeans first arrived, the land clearing was primarily used for subsistence farms, land located close to the homestead to grow food. However, by the early 1800s, the state began to change with the growing population, and its insatiable need for fuel and homes increased. 

          The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service describes Connecticut forests as,

by the 1800s, the establishment of farms spread rapidly as Connecticut's farmers began to supply food and wool to a rapidly growing nation. Extensive forest lands were cleared, towns were built, and wood was harvested for homes and barns, furniture, and fuel. Thousands of small farms formed the basis for a strong, agricultural-based economy.  By 1820, only 25 percent of Connecticut was forested. ("The Forests of Connecticut", United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Northeastern Research Station, 2020 https://www.fs.fed.us/ne/newtown_square/publications/resource_bulletins/pdfs/2004/ne_rb160.pdf).

This was a general statement regarding the entire state.  With the clearing of forests for farms and fuel, some towns grew quicker than others. The pace of this clearing is evident in how much land was forested in the town of North Stonington. No matter how remote a town may seem to a city, none were spared in the removal of trees that feed the growing nation.

            The North Stonington Government website briefly describes how the landscape was developed and the type of economy that flourished up until the Civil War.

North Stonington has always had a substantial farm population with industrious core values. In 1808, 53% of the town's area was dedicated to farming. The town's agricultural wealth and successful mills contributed to its commercial success and growth." After the Civil War, the population began to decline as people began to move into cities and  out to the West. ("6, Historic and Cultural Resources", North Stonington Government Website, 2020 https://www.northstoningtonct.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4806/f/uploads/2013pocd_chapter06.pdf

Not much would have been different in comparing the 280 plus acres of land to the rest of Connecticut, minimal trees, lots of rocks, but with a few exceptions, lots of slopes and very little help with a transition from a traditional, both fresh and saltwater fish, and shellfish diet to an agricultural and livestock style type of lifestyle and diet.

          Ever since the Colony of Connecticut appointed governors to the Pequots who survived the war, the courts would keep track of movements and major concerns through petitions from the tribe and reports submitted by Overseers. An overseer was a person who was court-appointed to watch over the best interest of the tribe in dealing with anything from getting supplies, helping with repairs, settling disputes such as the sale of lands, rights to land use, and taking resources; and even burial. The collection of records 1820-1850 illustrate the overseers Henry Chesebrough, Silas Chesebrough, Ezra and Elias Hewitt's role in maintaining the land and the Eastern Pequots' oversight of the guardianship process.

          Not much is known or said about each overseer in the reports as they are sworn to the duty of taking care of tribal affairs that lay ahead. Henry and Silas Chesebrough were brothers, Ezra Hewitt was appointed shortly thereafter the two brothers left. Annual accounts were taken, money was shown as debits and credits with a total at the bottom of each document like a general ledger would show. 

          Before this duty could begin, a bond was given in court.  Each bond for each of the overseers mentioned read similarly in that they use standardized language.  The only difference you will see is the dollar amounts carried over. In the bond made for Henry Chesebrough on March 10th, 1825, a "sum of one thousand dollars," for Silas Chesebrough on December 5th, 1827 for the "sum of two hundred dollars" and to Ezra Hewitt "the sum of five hundred dollars" on March 24th, 1834.  It is not known why the New London County Court required different sums from the different overseers.

          These bonds were used to ensure the overseer performed his duties faithfully. If he failed, the money, in some instances a significant sum, would be forfeited.   Trying to understand why overseers were kept in place all these years would be difficult only from looking at the overseer reports. A committee report can shine some light on why oversight would continue, especially with respect to  the land. A push towards self-sufficiency seemed to be the objective, anything that Eastern Pequot tribal members could not obtain or made by themselves, overseers would make purchases and keep account of debits, and offset these amounts with credit from the rental of pasture grazing. 

          The 1824 Report of the Committee Upon the Petition of Philemon Tracy regarding the sale of Eastern Pequot land to cover medical costs reads,

We further find that the petitioner has never received any compensation for said services for want of funds of any kind in the hands of said overseer of said Indians, that the said tribe of Indians consists of about sixty who are located on about 200 acres of land in North Stonington, the use and improvement of which is barely sufficient for their subsistence and that the sale of any part of it would probably deprive the remaining part of the tribe of a home and cast them on the public, that the committee, believing that in other cases for similar services rendered native Indians where no funds existed, a compensation has been made from the treasury of this state on the principle that Indians thus situated were state paupers. ("Report of the Committee upon the Petition of Philemon Tracy, House of Representatives, May Session 1824).

          The State was growing, and the thought of a non-self-sufficient group looking to create homes somewhere close to town would create a burden upon these citizens. It was more cost-efficient for the state to cover the minimal costs to keep this group alive and isolated in a remote area than to have no resources at all and be closer by. 

          So crucial was it for the State to do what it could to help the Eastern Pequots remain somewhat self-efficient that a bill was proposed to protect what little resources the tribe had -- its trees. By the 1830's all forms of wood would have been precious, whether for homes, furniture or firewood. As it was described earlier, by 1820, only 25% of Connecticut was forested. By 1835, that percentage could have dropped even lower until the start of the Civil War and onward as more people moved to the cities and left the farms.

          A bill was passed to protect this renewable resource for the tribe. It reads,

Be it enacted by the senate and house of representatives in general assembly convened, that every person, who shall take or draw any wood from the land of the Pequot Tribe of Indians, in the Town of Groton in New London County or from the land of any Indian, or Indians, belonging to said tribe, without the permission of the overseer, or overseers, of said tribe, shall forfeit the sum of five dollars for every load of wood so take, or drawn from said land, whether the same contains more or less than half a cord to be recovered by the overseer, or overseers, for the use and benefit of said tribe.  ("Bill for an Act to Protect Wood on Pequot Indian Land", May 1835).

          The State tried to deter its citizens from going on any of the reservations in New London county to steal trees by passing this bill. A strong example of how the State tried to help keep the tribes self-sufficient, the overseer's role with the land would since evolve from just providing supplies to protecting the resources. There are instances where wood was brought to the reservation rather than used from the already existing trees. There could have been just enough to go around, and more was needed for the most destitute or the sick.

          In January and March of 1829, three wood loads were cut and given to Cyrus Shelly; on December 28th, 1848, lights & firewood for 15 weeks at $3 per week for Molly Gardner.  In both instances, wood was provided through the winter months, not mentioned as much as plowing in the spring but very needed. The tribe could also petition the legislatures if improper accounting of the land transpired. 

          In the January 27th, 1841 petition of the Eastern Pequot Tribe to the New London County Court, a group of Eastern Pequot members assert the overseer Ezra Hewitt rarely visits the reservation even in sickness and has rented parcels of land to his brothers for lower than asking price, because of the lower price the tribe is unable to recoup money that could help with their self sufficiency with food, supplies, and improvements or to do what the tribe did most fiscal year ends, offset what was due by the rental of the land. In the end, the town denied any wrongdoing to the court on behalf of the overseer Ezra Hewitt, and he continued in this position until he resigned July 17th, 1844.

          An function regarding the land the overseers would be responsible for was collecting rent of pasture land to credit the tribe's account. In almost all the 1800's overseer accounts were an offset for rental of pasture land.  The overseer would also be responsible for bringing coffins to the reservation for burials.  ("Bill from Gilbert Sisson to Silas Chesebrough").  Unfortunately, the land couldn't provide the healthcare afforded to the tribe like before the War of 1637. Many times tribal members were moved away from the reservation for healthcare and placed under the care of an overseer or someone they knew. In the Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from March 1829 to June 1831, both Tamer and John Brushell, children of Moses, were kept with the overseer in Feb 1831 at 50 cents a day, Tamer for three months, John for 2.  Care for the children could have been needed due to Lucinda's recent death in Feb of 1830 with the purchase of a Sheet Shirt & Cap for grave clothes.  In Silas Chesebrough's next account from June 22nd, 1831 to June 1832, Silas gave cash to Cyrus Shelly for a horse & wagon to move Else Ned home when he was very sick $1. On April 15th, 1829, a receipt from Betsy Wheeler was given to Silas Chesebrough in the amount of $4 for the board and care of Philena during the winter of 1828 and 1829.

            Furthermore, a case of John Miller, an Eastern Pequot living at Mohegan, was treated by Dr. Philemon Tracy multiple times during the year of 1821 for inveterate dropsy, a common word used for swelling. It is not clear why the bill was not paid for the treatment for so long.  However, a petition dated May 1, 1826 by Dr. Tracy in Norwich to the Legislature explains that Eastern Pequot John Miller died destitutely, and care was given while Dr Philemon Tracy was employed by the late overseer Colonel Thomas Wheeler. There may have been a transition of overseers at this time that prevented payment right away.  If an overseer could not make a payment, someone could be heard through a petition to the Legislature for compensation.

          As most homeowners or landowners, improvement is always a necessary commodity to have to retain good health and longevity. In discussing self-sufficiency, improvements can be familiar in today's times when a road is being repaved, a new school or post office being built, noise barriers erected along highways to reduce traffic sound, and upgraded drainage to help mitigate water and stop flooding. These are all modern-day improvements that help keep us self-sufficient and what we would typically see in society today.

          Now, if we had something wrong in our home, we would run to the local Home Depot to purchase material to make repairs within our reach and make a call to a professional for those repairs that we cannot do ourselves. On most of the reports in the collection, there is almost always a repair mentioned in the accounting regarding labor and materials. For example, in the Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from March 1829 to June 1831, December 6th of 1830, boards for Isaac Fagins to repair his house were purchased. On November 11th 1831, boards and nails were purchased to repair Cyrus Shelly's home. Homes at the time would have needed boards replaced due to rot from the elements, quite common back then. Improvements for fencing seem to come up quite a bit in the reports. In the June 16th, 1822 to March 1823 report, $20 was debited for making twenty rods of wall at $1 per rod. Also, in the report from March 1824 to March 1825 $13.60 was charged to the Eastern Pequots for making a line wall and repair a line fence.

          Because of the reservation's proximity to other farms, the chances of having vegetation consumed by cattle and hogs must have been a common occurrence or, at the very least, a common threat. It would have been at each members' detriment to maintain their growing areas and protect them from eastern woodland animals and livestock from neighboring farms. This was important not only for protection but to maintain boundary lines. Cattle grazing was another way for the tribe to earn money. These line walls would need to be maintained to keep livestock from going into another tribal member's lot or from wandering away.

          On June 19th, 1832, Silas Chesebrough recorded that Colonel Hull was paid for making a 10 rod (foot) wall on the fence line for Moses Brushell's field, which he let Richard Nedson use for a pasture. This was a rare occasion where help from one member to another was documented on an overseer report. On April 4th, 1833, Charles Bennett was paid five dollars for making a wall on the Indian line, or boundary. Often there would be either people or livestock employed to fix the fence, Indian line, or boundary. On April 9th, 1830, three hands and a yoke oxen one day putting up line, and 1½ days of plowing for Cyrus. While fixing the boundary line by calling on an ox for the job, it is early in the growing season, and plowing would have been used to clear for the local garden nearby.

          In the summer of 1846, on June 14th, a "Black man" was paid for repairing fences. This line item is unique because the reports do not show too many people paid for services when it comes to repairs; usually, the materials needed are dropped off. This person could have been passing through the area and looked for work, a job could have been done to Elias' home and the work was referred to the reservation. Like most common agricultural practices in the mid 1800s, plowing and turning the soil before the summer months was a way to prep the ground.  Almost 100 years before America would encounter the dust bowl phenomenon of the Midwest due to drought and failure to apply cover crop and cover rotation for soil retention, the members on the reservation would ask to have their plots of land for their gardens plowed every year, but not by every member.  One would believe, just like the repairs, overseers would supply this to those who needed it the most.

          In conclusion, I would like to again acknowledge my appreciation for this grant. I felt very privy to have had the chance to review and digest these important historical overseer documents.  This NEH project forced me to take a in depth look at a period that I'm not entirely familiar with studying. The  American history that I've learned throughout high school and college would include first contact, the American revolution, industrial revolution, and then seem to gloss over the 1800s until the causes of the civil war are discussed and ultimately leads up to the very first battle and so on.

          Attending a Coverts program almost six years ago though UCONN exposed me to the history of Connecticut's forests from the 1800s, how it was nearly all cut in the state and quickly regenerated. Most of my focus on Eastern Pequot history has been primarily around the Pequot War and legal timelines about federal recognition from the '70s until today. Seeing what transpired somewhere in the middle helps fill in the gaps of my understanding of how the tribe got to where it is today.

          At times, there was sensitive information to digest and shook what little understanding I did have to the core. A person can not quite fully understand someone's experience unless they have a greater perspective. If real help was never provided to the members listed in these reports, in particular Tamer, Lucinda and Moses Brushel, I may not be here today to speak about them. I stress real because genuine care was given, like childcare for Tamer and her brother when they were children.  Seeing what type of help was provided is a sign of how challenging it was to reside on land and not fully practice Pequot cultural and traditional ways that maintain total self-sufficiency.  Eastern Pequots that remained on the reservation evolved with the changing times. They turned their land into rental space for room and board, allowed cattle to graze from the fast-growing vegetation, and most importantly, they grew food to supplement nutrition.

          I would like to thank my Uncle Wolf for instilling this drive to always learn more and always available to teach traditions and history. I would not be where I am today if it were not for the wealth of knowledge I was able to learn through him for so many years. Thank you to Paul Grant-Costa and Tobias Glaza for allowing me to participate and providing important input and feedback about these historical documents. This was a fun project; I am glad I could participate and get an even greater perspective and, most importantly, greater respect for the land.

USGS image of the Eastern Pequot reservation courtesy of Connecticut Topographical Maps, magic.lib.uconn.edu_topographic_maps.