The present dispute between Indian tribes, the State of New York, and the citizens of that state over Indian casinos has its origins in events of the late eighteenth century.
It is well known that the Oneida Iroquois of New York have been at the forefront of the controversy but the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation has an important historical role as well. This tribe, known as the Stockbridge Indians when it resided at its homeland in New York, had lost its town in Massachusetts due to the unscrupulous dealings of the white settlers there. During the American Revolution they had befriended the Oneida tribe at a period when Indians allied to the British had burned their villages. After the war the Oneidas returned the favor by giving them a six-mile-square township in what is today Madison County, New York. The exact details of the gift are not clear but there is evidence that the Oneidas gave them a written deed of some kind in 1784, possibly at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix that year. In a letter from the Stockbridge chief, Hendrick Aupaumut, to Governor George Clinton, reference was made to "our Deed the Oneidas gave us." Although no record of such a deed has been found, New York State confirmed the town to the tribe on several later occasions, at the Fort Schuyler Treaty of 1788, and in acts of 1789, 1797, 1801, and 1813. The Connecticut Courant of August 10, 1784, reported: "The Oneida tribe have made a donation of land to the Stockbridge Indians, to which they are moving with the utmost rapidity."
The town of New Stockbridge, originally called "Tuscarora" or "Old Oneida" by whites and "Ah-gote-sa-ga-nage" by the Oneidas (meaning unknown), is situated in present day Madison County on what was once part of the extensive Oneida reservation. By 1785 the majority of the Stockbridge tribe, numbering about 280, had made the move and settled in the northeastern part of the town near Vernon, New York. Two years later, the Scottish-based Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge hired the Rev. John Sergeant, son of the original missionary in Massachusetts, to be the new missionary to the tribe. Sergeant began his duties in 1788 by traveling frequently from his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to the tribe at Oneida. He ministered to the tribe for nearly forty years so the quarterly reports he sent to his superiors in Boston provide us with an invaluable daily record of activities in New Stockbridge.
The first order of business in the township was the establishment of a working community in what had heretofore been not much more than a wilderness. Mills and houses needed to be built. Samuel Kirkland, the missionary to the neighboring Oneidas, observed that New Stockbridge was a "very pious village," thus recognizing the fact that many of the Mohicans had converted to Christianity in Massachusetts. The chief of the tribe himself wrote that "we live in peace, no troubles in unity, good friendship, Good Government and Good Courage." But practical concerns dominated the early years. The tribe built a two-room house for Rev. Sergeant and the next year laid the foundation for a new house in the "lower village" where a group of twelve impoverished Tuscarora families lived.
From the beginning the energy of the Stockbridge Indians was apparent. By 1790 they had established a school with 48 students, both Stockbridge and Tuscarora. The next year they moved four miles further west to the village of Tuscarora, renaming it "Moheakunnuk" or "place of the Mohicans." General Israel Chapin, the Indian superintendent, visited them and promised government support "to build them up." He told them that, since they had long been instructed in white man's ways, "they knew more than their Breathren to the westward, they must therefore set a good example, in every respect; go in union and love and they would be a happy people." The famous Indian preacher from Connecticut, Samson Occom, had recently died at New Stockbridge, where he had been a disruptive force and formed a small faction in opposition to Rev. Sergeant's mission. Occom's death cleared that obstacle to harmony and the tribe prospered for the next few years.
The Stockbridge Indians were desperate for a saw mill and had to rely initially on timber from the nearby Oneida mill. In spite of that, they erected a new 30-foot square schoolhouse in November 1792. Two months later they proudly reported that they had 60 to 70 students in the school, were considering a spinning school for the girls, and planning to have a saw mill of their own.
On April 12, 1792, the legislature of New York passed "An Act for the relief of the Indians residing in New Stockbridge," authorizing them to meet every year in May and form a government. John Sergeant wrote in his journal on May 7, 1793:
This day all the Male inhabitants met by agreement and voted to accept some Laws and regulations passed by the Assembly of New York ... They first chose a Clerk whose business it was to keep the records of the Sales and doings of the Town, and to preside at their meetings as moderator. Secondly they chose a person to be called a marshall to execute the orders of the peacemakers. Thirdly they chose three men as peacemakers whose business it was to attend to all matters of difficulty arising between any of the Inhabitants of said Town &c. This Law I think will have a good tendency to civilize them. Believe further it is entirely a new thing for Indians to adopt and practice upon civil government unconnected with white people.
The first peacemakers were probably the Chief Sachem, Joseph Shauquethqueat (Pye), Chief Joseph Quinnauquant (Quinney), and his son, Counsellor John Quinney, recently a student at the Orange Dale Academy in New Jersey. Once again the Stockbridge tribe took part in a unique experiment for Indians, having already been the first to live on a modem reservation in Massachusetts. The important role of peacemakers to settle disputes continues to this day and is codified in the current constitution of the Mohican Nation.
Among the first acts of the new tribal peace makers was the allotment of 100-acre parcels of land "as shall be agreed on by a plurality of votes ... for the separate improvement of each person or family." Every family and every son was to have one lot until the entire 23,040 acres of the township was occupied. By 1796 the Stockbridge Indians consisted of about 60 families and 300 individuals, so the town was divided into about 300 lots within five larger tracts named West Hill, East Hill, Oneida Creek, Mile Strip, and New Guinea.
On July 24, 1795, three New York Quakers, Thomas Eddy, John Murray, and George Embree, paid a visit to New Stockbridge and viewed the construction on the new sawmill. Chief Hendrick Aupaumut said they gave the tribe "many good counsels & exhortations," presented them with $25 and offered to lend them $30 more without interest for one year toward the cost of the mill. The chief remarked that he hoped they would now be able to quit their bark wigwams and live in wooden homes. The first frame houses, "wholly done by Indians," were finally put up in 1800, fifteen years after the arrival of the tribe.
The encounter with Quaker generosity was the beginning of a long relationship between the Mohicans and the Indian Committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The tribe's most active leader, Captain Hendrick Aupaumut, a man of superior intellect, began corresponding with the Quakers in 1795 and asked for their help in promoting the welfare of his nation.
I have been greatly encouraged in sed,ng my people are so resolute to go in the way of farming. They seem to have some good taste in digging the earth. ... But as we are new beginners in some respects we are like children who cannot do anything without some help ... we have been oblidge[d] to run in debt to complete our sawmill -- near forty pounds. ... I hate to trouble any good people for our necessities, yet some time I [am] oblidge[d] to do it for my people.
The Quakers were quick to respond. On Captain Hendrick's request for various scarce items, the Friends in Philadelphia donated a stove for the school, farming implements, and a set of blacksmith's tools. They agreed to help build a grist mill and gave encouragement toward the continuation of a school by offering to pay $25 a quarter as part of the schoolmaster's salary.
With help from the Quakers, the Stockbridge Indians completed a grist mill in 1797, eliciting this comment from their minister: "July 11th ... This day our Grist Mill built by the Quakers from Philadelphia was completed, so as to grind Corn to the great joy of my people. An Indian tends the same, the likes I believe is not known in America, that the Aboriginal natives do own and are able to take the whole care of both a Grist and Saw Mill."
Finally, the good Quakers agreed to take several young Mohican women to Philadelphia and educate them in skills suitable for life on a farm. Although there were many "Smart Boys" among the Indians, the Quaker Committee thought best to train three girls, Mary Peters, Elizabeth Baldwin, and Margaret Jacobs. Finally, the good Quakers agreed to take several young Mohican women to Philadelphia and educate them in skills suitable for life on a farm.