Change and Continuity in a Native American Community: Eighteenth Century Stockbridge

Mandell, Daniel Richard, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Abbot, W.W., Department of History, University of Virginia

Relations between Indians and English colonists elude precise analysis. Colonial records feature treaties and policies reached by tribal councils. The primary decision-making process, however, was part of the extended family structure on a village level. Changes produced by contact with English culture manifested themselves within the community. Critical adjustments occurred during the eighteenth century. The permanence of English settlement became conclusive with the collapse of King Philip's War in 1676. Indian clans faced the alternative of either migrating or enduring. Abiding inevitably required adopting elements of English culture. Individual Indian communities must be analyzed to understand these accommodations.  

Indian clans kept few records, and colonial documents rarely transcended the occasional glimpses given by travelers, merchants, and missionaries. Extensive documentation existed only after English ascendancy. A detailed analysis of the process of adaptation appears unachievable.  

Fortunately, circumstances permit the examination of an Indian community in the process of accommodation. The southwest corner of Massachusetts remained free of English settlements until well into the eighteenth century. In 1734 the Rev. Mr. John Sergeant went to live among the Algonquian inhabitants of the upper Housatonic River valley, about thirty miles southeast of Albany, New York. His journal, with extensive editing and commentary by a contemporary, the Rev. Mr. Samuel Hopkins, provides details of the community as it began to accommodate English culture. The community adopted many of the forms of New England society, and in 1739 was chartered as the town of Stockbridge. Town records, and the journals of the Massachusetts General Assembly, provide information on conflicts which occurred as English immigrants began to dominate Stockbridge. Finally, deeds recorded with the county furnish unusual data on landholding patterns and transactions. In total, the evidence provides an extraordinary picture of aboriginal efforts to cope with the English tide, and of the strife between Indian and English inhabitants.

MA (Master of Arts)
Cultural assimilation -- Stockbridge Indians, Indians, Treatment of -- Massachusetts

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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