The Wangunks and Indian Hill

Wangunk ChildrenFrom the peak of the grassy hill ... Sowheag, leader of the Wangunks, could see for miles, observing the round-topped wigwams of his people in small settlements on both sides of the Connecticut River. The Wangunks called this area Mattabeseck and where they grew corn, beans, and sunflowers; fished; and hunted deer and smaller game.

About 1639, Sowheag and his people built a fortification on this hill, perhaps as a defense against other Native American peoples, perhaps also as a caution against English settlers who were moving steadily into Connecticut. Already, large numbers of Native Americans had died from diseases like smallpox, which the Europeans had brought.

But it seems that within a few years, Sowheag agreed to sell much of his people's land to the colony of Connecticut. The Wangunks kept for themselves two large tracts of land; one piece that ran from this hill north into what is now the Newfield section of Middletown, and another parcel across the river (now Portland).

English settlers began arriving in Mattabeseck by 1650, laying out their home lots on what is now Main Street. For two decades, the two communities coexisted relatively peacefully. But when hostilities erupted between white colonists and Native Americans in other parts of New England, Middletown's English families became uneasy that the Wangunks would reclaim their lands. Accordingly, in 1673, they officially purchased from the Wangunks the land already designated as Middletown, again establishing two "reservations" for the Wangunks to inhabit.

Over the next century, many of the Wangunks left the area. As their numbers dwindled and their former way of life became impossible, many Wangunks sold to the colonists' individual plots of their ancestral lands. By 1770, colonists had purchased all of the Wangunks' reserved lands. A handful of Wangunks remained here, many of them marrying into local African-American families; today some of their descendants still live in the community.

[Credit: The text on this page is from the Middlesex County Historical Society.]

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