Sarah Towsey, Tunxis Woman, and Her People

By Judy Hartley
Sarah was a woman who lived in 18th Century America.  She wasn’t great or famous, in fact, quite the opposite. From the little that is known about her, she was an ordinary woman and a product of her times.
She lived with her father and sister on about four acres of land in what is today Farmington, Connecticut.  Many historical records from this time period no longer exist or have been lost. We do not know anything about her mother nor do we know her birth date; however, her father was Timothy [Tunxis Indian; last name not known].  She was orphaned when her father died in the summer of 1751.  At the time of his death he was said to be “weak of body but of strong mind and memory”[1]. He had raised the girls in a house on four acres of land in the Tunxis community west of the Connecticut River in what is present-day Farmington.  He had added to his land an additional acre at “Indian Hill near the Indian wigwams where stood an orchard of forty-four apple trees”[2].  Before he died, he made provisions for his daughters by placing them under the guardianship of Solomon [Tunxis Indian], who is believed to be Solomon Mossuck, until they were sixteen years old.  The agreement was that his daughters would be cared for and provided an education. In return, Timothy left his considerable property consisting of a house, household items, fishing and farm equipment, and animals, including a horse, a colt and swine to his daughters and offered the use of the property to Solomon Mossuck until the girls were of age. 
Sarah never knew what it was like to live in her ancestral lands, Tunxis Sepus, unencumbered by the English.  Colonization had begun in the early 1600’s, approximately a hundred years prior to her birth.  Prior to that time, for the most part, the Tunxis lived peaceably along the Connecticut River as part of a loose confederation of other tribes who lived along the same river. The tribes were later collectively referred to as River Indians.  The Tunxis lived in wigwams.  They were successful farmers who raised maize on the rich alluvial soil and meadowland along the river and its floodplain.  Game was plentiful as were salmon and shad from the river. Life would have been most agreeable were it not for the warring Pequots from the east and the much-feared Mohawks from New York.  The Pequots defeated the Tunxis leaving them humiliated and devastated from murders and kidnappings. If that were not enough, the Mohawk swooped down in raids that ruined corn crops, burned wigwams and killed more tribal members.  The Mohawks forced the tribe to pay tribute and each year sent runners to the tribe to collect it.  It was at this time that the English were expanding their reach into Connecticut.  To the Tunxis the English brought relief from threats of war because English guns provided superiority and security.  For some time, the Pequots were no longer a threat nor were the Mohawks who had retreated to Canada.
The ever-increasing English settlers made attempts to gain land through an English interpreter but it is, of course, unclear, what was said and, more importantly, what was understood.  The upshot was that the English persuaded the Tunxis to turn over their land to them. The Tunxis, themselves, were not unified as to their own leadership. While there is no deed extant of the first land sale of Hartford in 1636 it does document that both Tunxis and the English were in agreement. The Tunxis were represented by tribal sachem, Suckquasson/Sequassen.  A few years later in 1640, when Farmington land was deeded, the same reference was made to the amount of land involved by quoting from the earlier Hartford deed: “…taken for granted that the magistrates bought the whole country to the Moohaks country of Sequasen the chief sachem.” [3]  Some Tunxis objected and another sachem, Pethus, “insisted on reaching their own terms with the whites around 1640”.[4]
Regardless of the details of the agreements between the Tunxis and the English, there followed from 1640 for the next hundred years or so an uneasy relationship between the two distinct groups.  The tribe was assigned a specific area to live east of the river for which they must pay rent.  The tribe had been free to live anywhere they chose and move about freely but now, after negotiations in a language they did not much understand, they were required to lease their land.  When they complained about this the English persuaded them that it wasn’t particularly odious; after all, the English were protecting them. Further, the cost of renting could easily be paid by the corn and the fur pelts they sold the English told them. It is apparent that the Tunxis were a peace-loving people and for the most part trusted the English. The English settlers assigned specific rules as to areas where Tunxis were allowed to hunt, garden, and graze their cattle. They were expected to follow English law and live peaceably.  This worked to some extent.  Some of the Tunxis became Christians and learned to read and write; however, the more they learned and adapted the more they began to question the prior agreements. They had given over their land to achieve security but now they were not free. The English were in control of their lives. 
Over the next one hundred years, the Tunxis endured an increasingly prescribed life as directed by the English.  Land continued to be an issue and self-determination was non-existent. In 1642 there were rumors of a general uprising of all the New England Indians and this included the Tunxis.  This led to fear among the English residents of Farmington. A stockade was built to surround the English houses. Blacksmiths were forbidden to sell iron or steel tools to the Tunxis; likewise, there was to be no sale of liquor and Tunxis were banned from going anywhere near an Englishman’s house on the Sabbath. The Tunxis, perhaps unwittingly, contributed to the English people’s fears by associating with the ‘troublesome’ Pocumtucks who, in turn, associated with other tribes bent on conflict. The uneasy situation persisted for several years and there were real crimes that resulted from Pocumtuck incursions into Tunxis land.  Damage was done to some of the English settlements.  The situation had become unsustainable. Resolution was accomplished in 1658.  By court order, the Tunxis were ordered to move to the west side of the river away from the English settlements. Further, they were to stop associating with the Pocumtucks: “..send away al such strangers as have not bin knowne inhabitants in that place…”[5]  The Tunxis were, basically, peace loving and agreed to the terms of the judgment.
Relationships between the Tunxis and English improved for the next several years. Prior restraints were lifted and the Tunxis could move about more freely. They moved to the west side of the river, as requested, and settled down to hunt, garden and fish once again.  A part of the land west of the river and located at the river bend was a fertile meadowland known as Indian Neck.  The Tunxis were not clear as to whether this land was theirs or belonged to the English.  Being west of the river they believed it to be theirs. They petitioned the General Assembly and, in 1673, were granted the land in perpetuity.  This seems like a straightforward victory for the Tunxis; however, the following account by a town citizen named John Mix causes one to wonder:
                         Whenever they [the Tunxis] appeared dissatisfied and sour or any misunderstanding arose
                         betwixt them, it was the usual practice of the English to get them collected together and by
                         the united force of cunning, of reason, and of bribes to keep them quiet and peaceable.[6]
The relationship between the Tunxis and the English was one of mutual need; that is, the Tunxis needed protection and the English, if Farmington were to succeed, needed a peaceful relationship with the Tunxis. And with the language barrier the English were most advantaged to write documents that benefited them the most; however, if the Tunxis did express great dissatisfaction regarding an agreement the settlers did respond so as to maintain their shaky alliance with the tribe.
King Philip's war broke out in 1675 and encompassed most of New England. King Philip was a Wampanoag chief named Metacom. He was the son of the former chief of the Wampanoags, Massasoit. Massasoit is famous because of his well-known and long-standing friendly relations with the Pilgrims who had arrived on the Mayflower. During Massasoit’s time there was peace and friendship between the Wampanoags and the English. His son, Metacom, became chief in 1662 upon Massasoit’s death and took the name King Philip. King Philip had become increasingly frustrated by the disrespect and violations of prior agreements made by New England settlers so much so that he declared war on the English. He encouraged other New England tribes to join him and they did. What resulted was a major war that spread to large parts of New England. Within one year, twelve of the towns in Colonial America were destroyed, other towns were nearly destroyed, the economies of Plymouth and Rhode Island were ruined and a significant number of lives were lost.  Ultimately, the English prevailed while the Wampanoags were decimated and lost everything including their land.  Needless to say, when news of the growing war reached Farmington, the residents feared for their safety and worried that the Tunxis would join in the war against them. They reached out to the Tunxis and requested their support.  The Tunxis and a few other nearby tribes “engaged to continue in friendship with the English and to be enemies to their enemies, and to discover or destroy them &cc.”[7]  The Tunxis were as good as their word and they served as scouts and warriors supporting the Farmington residents in the bloody war. When the war ended the town acknowledged the loyalty and service of the Tunxis and rewarded them each with a coat.  
Life after King Philip's war once again returned to a peaceful existence between the Tunxis and the English.  Farmington was still relatively small and the settlers lived together on the east side of the river while the Tunxis lived on the west side of the river and they were able to live relatively free.  They emulated the British style of living by building houses and plotting their land. As the 17th century drew to a close, the way of life they had once lived was more or less possible again. They grew crops, hunted, and fished, within areas dictated by the English.    Over the course of the next century, as English settlers continued to come to America, the town of Farmington was bursting at its seams, so to speak.  More land was needed.  The townspeople petitioned the General Assembly to allow the Tunxis tribal members to make their own land deals by pointing to the fact that the Tunxis were now literate:
                  The greater part of Indians, descendants of sd tribe that now continue in said Farmington are
                 persons duly taught the use of letters and are well instructed in economy and are well able to
                 bargain and contract for themselves[8].      
The late 18th century must have been a confusing and unsettling time for the Tunxis.  The area was becoming more populated by colonial settlers so much so that the Tunxis began to look elsewhere for another place to live.  Some of them migrated north to Stockbridge, MA, while a larger group proposed to move to NY to live on land offered by the Oneidas.  By this time, the Tunxis had developed a respect for English law and organization.  In 1774 they petitioned the court in Farmington for a law book and were granted their request. Even though they were planning to leave they wanted to use the law book in establishing the new community.
This is the world into which Sarah Towsey was born.  She never lived in her homeland without there being an English presence.  How much she knew of her tribal past is unknown.  Perhaps her father told her of tales he had heard from his ancestors -- of the days when Tunxis lived freely in a world only inhabited by Indians. Her reality was a world that was becoming increasingly overcrowded due to the English. As the English zeal for more and more land on which to live became a permanent part of life in the 18th century probably felt suffocated.  Over time,  tribal members sold what land they had and moved away to live with other tribes.  We know that in a conversation with a Tunxis woman in 1761, it is reported she said there were only three men and six married women left in Farmington [1761.10.10.00].  We do know that she married David Hatchet Towsey and had two sons, Benjamin and Joseph. 
Based on her father’s condition of guardianship to Solomon Mossuck that she be educated she was, likely, literate and based on her name, her husband and children’s names it is believable that she was a Christian. She and her husband along with her sister and her sister’s husband, Rachel and James Wawowos, sold their respective properties in Farmington in 1769.  Whether this is the year she left Farmington is not known. It is known that Sarah and David moved to Stockbridge, MA, to live among the Stockbridge Mohicans there. The Stockbridge Indians were, like the Tunxis at this time, peace-loving, literate and Christian.  We might speculate that the couple and, perhaps, other relatives had migrated up to Stockbridge a few years earlier but kept their Farmington property in case they did not like living in Stockbridge.  Upon finding satisfaction with the community there and hearing news of the continuing exodus of the Tunxis from their homeland they may have decided to journey back up in 1769 along with her sister and brother-in-law to sell their property there because Farmington was no longer a viable home for them.         
We do not know much more about Sarah. David served in the Revolutionary War on the side of the Patriots. He died in 1778. It seems the first sale of Farmington property was not approved and so she tried again. She and her sister, Rachel, both widows by then, in 1778 once again sold Lot 5 which consisted of 4 acres, 1 rood, 29 rods west of the Pequabuck Meadow; however, she reserved 1 acre, 1 rood, 6 rods for Abigail Shilling. [1778.05.27.00 Deed]  After his death, records indicate that she moved to NY and lived among the Brothertown Indians. Her son, Benjamin, had married a Brothertown woman and lived there.  Sarah was assigned lot 45 but did not remain permanently because, at some point, she had to forfeit the rights to her lot.[9]  We do not know when or why. She returned to Stockbridge and is buried in the public cemetery in Stockbridge.
This is all that history records of the life of Sarah Towsey but her story lives on in her descendants.  Her son, Benjamin, who moved to NY to live among the Brothertown later moved west to Indiana but the land there that had been promised to them was no longer available so they pressed on to Wisconsin and settled along the shores of Lake Winnebago in a new town called Brothertown.  They lived there until in 1856 negotiations with the Federal government designated land for a reservation in Shawano County, Wisconsin, intended for the Stockbridge-Munsee/Band of Mohican as well as other remnants of tribes.  Over a period of years, the Brothertown moved to the reservation. There they, at last, found a secure place to live and today the many descendants of Sarah Towsey (now Tousey) live and prosper.  Sarah and many of her descendants have passed to the spirit world yet each generation carries a part of her.  The strength and endurance she possessed to move, walk and search for a peaceful homeland has been achieved. It is for her descendants who now live on the Stockbridge-Munsee/Band of Mohican Indians to cherish her memory and to live as humbly and courageously as she did.
[1] Love, Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England
[2] ibid
[3] Bickford, Farmington in Connecticut, The Farmington Historical Society, 1982
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] Bickford, Farmington in Connecticut, Farmington Historical Society
[7] ibid
[8] Bickford, Farmington in Connecticut, Farmington Historical Society
[9] Love, Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England