The Legacy of Land
For as long as I can remember, my mother and I have always visited northern Wisconsin to see my great-grandma, great-aunts and uncles, and cousins living on the reservation. Driving three hours from Milwaukee past Green Bay, where our radio would cut out, my mom would place with a black box attached to a cassette tape, and we’d magically hear rock music. Red-hot Chili-Peppers. We’d go through Shawano until we reached the church. Once we reached the church and passed the Stockbridge cemetery and powwow grounds, I knew we were close. Just one more corner to round, and boom, it appears the plot of land where my family lives. The first house you see is a Stone and Blue home where my great-grandmother lives. My GG-Ma always had the porch light on. Whether it was the summer heat filled with the sounds of frogs from the creek or the silentness of the snow during winter, the light and a peep in front of the screen door always welcomed you. This is the home and headquarters of my family.
This land carries so much meaning to each of us. This land remembers all of my summer visits, from when I fell in the creek and got my socks soaked playing with my cousins to picking apples in front of my great uncle Johnny’s trailer, walking through the single path in a tall patch of grass to go to my great aunt’s house. Of course, all the mosquito bites we’d rack up. If you ask my mom, she’d tell you a whole different set of stories. Therefore, our name is passed down when each generation is born, and just like our name, this land is passed down and, with it, our stories. This is the legacy that we leave.
In evaluating Tunxis' land documents, the origin of the importance of land within families can be observed. The current Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Community you see today in Northern Wisconsin is a result of our history back East. Being the peacemakers and connectors that we are, our kindness amid colonization resulted in the unity of multiple bands of Native Nations in homelands back East due to displacement and the adverse effects of colonization. The Mohican and Munsee Nations are the most prominent, but the community we have today, and our families have roots in the Esopus, Wappinger, and Tunxis tribes, who united under the Munsee. In preserving our history and being the caretakers of knowledge, we must rediscover our roots as to who we were and who we are today in the age of self-determination and revitalization.
In Stockbridge, Massachusetts, The Mohican and Munsee unite as a community, eventually known as The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, but from the 1600s-1800s, we were all just custodians and guardians of the land among the Hudson, Housatonic, and Delaware River Valleys - located on the border of the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Here we encounter the Tunxis in Farmington, Connecticut. In 1673, after complaining of land encroachment, the area's settlers called a town meeting where we see the Tunxis’ concern of land loss addressed, with a solution of an official “land grant” to the Natives present to be the legal caretakers of said land. Little did they know in the coming years, this system of land, land ownership, and land transference would, once again, jeopardize their way of life on the land they steward.
In 1675, a land cession of Indian Neck in Farmington began in the wake of a loss of a respected Sachem. This pattern of land cession was repeated in 1687, with fifty acres of meadowland “transferred” to non-native townsmen. The land became the currency to pay for crimes (1701). Just as massive land cessions and “transferences” occurred (1724), in some cases, the land was granted back to the Tunxis by the township of Farmington (1726).
The currency of land and how it was granted and ceded seemed arbitrary in these early days, with performative representation in this formal legal process of land transference. One can’t help but wonder if the settlers' actions in this township were merely to drive the idea of land ownership and property by a single individual to ensure the expected standard. Therefore, when a parcel of land is lost or ceded, it is because of the individual's rights versus the community.
This idea of land ownership by a sole proprietor contradicts the community relationship established through generations of storytelling and traditional knowledge. As seen in the history of multiple Native Nations, it's an established core idea that we are the tenders of the land, the land is not a commodity, and we do not own it. Instead, we care for it; in turn, it will care for us. This idea is being challenged by the settlers in the township. The assimilation of how to properly “use” the land is being established in these early years for the Tunxis.
However, some Tunxis community is not lost on the idea or the “power” of individual land ownership. They begin to decolonize the system and use it to their advantage. We see the new legacy of land this is born, one where we “formally” passed down land to our family. We keep the land within the community. The Tousey family perfectly illustrates this new idea of the legacy of the land. In 1747, Hatchet Tousey gifted his son John and his heirs the land which he left in Farmington using this legal process established by the towns settlers. This deed transfer reads like a love letter stating,
Twenty years later, we see land transferences and what appears as a decolonized deed between two Native families, where land is listed not by its boundaries or relation to another parcel of land owned by an individual but instead bounded by its relation to land markers (e.g., “Paquabuck Meadow wigwams” and the land of the “forty-four apple trees” as opposed to “North on land belonging to Captain Thomas Hart”).
This is continued; we see Native families selling their land to other Native families. A beautiful example is from the Wawowos to the Touseys in 1769. However, the battle continued to retain land even as Tunxis members and their descendants began to leave Farmington (1774-1776). With it, the land was ceded, but more interestingly, in some cases, it was bought by Native families for their future generations or passed down to the next generation.
The sale of land from Samuel Adams to his son Solomon Adams in 1782 again exemplifies this love and their active stance in leaving a legacy of land for their family. Reflecting, I see this continued in my family. My GG-Ma was our matriarch. She held us all together and created a home where those of us who grew up on the reservation and those who grew up in the city were welcomed. We each could have a connection to our tribal community or family in Northern Wisconsin and, of course, our family home and its land. She was our bridge and the north star, but upon her passing, the question of who would continue her legacy, keep this land, and house a space for the family was asked. In thinking of the future, my GG-Ma appointed my grandma to continue her legacy. When my grandma moved in, our family ensured we could continue my GG-ma’s tradition of hosting a dinner during intermission for the annual Mohican Nation powwow and reuniting the family each year in the summer and picking the apples from our family apple tree. In some cases, even came in the winter to celebrate Christmas. We visited the home much more often than just once a summer. We each tried our best to help maintain the home and the land. Even though we were all spread apart, trying to make our own mark in the world, we could come together at least once a year in this blue and stone home. We are again at a crossroads where our legacy is in the air. My grandma has recently made her journey home to the creator, and now it is up to her children and grandchildren to keep the legacy alive. With the NEH project and as a community scholar, I see more clearly how our ancestors tried their best to retain their community, culture, and legacy in their journey from the East to the Midwest. As the current generation of community members, we must continue to tend the land for the future while preserving our past.
- Copy of Confirmation of Tunxis Indian Deed (1673)
- Joshua, Arramamet’s Widow, Soganasher, and Autanyesh to Samuel Steele and John Wadsworth
- Deed from Atumtoco, et al. to John Stanley
- Deed from Atumtoco, et al. to John Stanley - 1722 rec
- Deed from Nannouch to John Bates
- Deed from the Proprietors at Farmington to the Tunxis
- Deed from Hatchet Towsey and Jonathan to John Hart
- Deed from Hatchet Towsey to John Hatchet Towsey
- Deed from Susannah Wawawos to Adam
- Deed from Samuel Adams to Solomon Adams