The Indians of New York


Algonquins and Iroquois. In New York there were two great branches of Indians, the Algonquins and the Iroquois. The former inhabited the islands and the mainland around New York Bay and the shores up the Hudson. On Long Island alone thirteen tribes of that great family lived. The Manhattans occupied Manhattan Island and its vicinity. Directly north of them, on the Hudson, were the Mohegans, or River Indians, and farther up were the Wabingos, or Esopus Indians.

Tribes of the Iroquois. The Iroquois, in five great tribes, possessed the land from Albany to Buffalo. The Mohawks inhabited the Mohawk Valley above Schenectady and the shores of Lake George and Lake Champlain. The Oneidas held the creek and lake which bear their name. The imperious Onondagas controlled Onondaga and Skaneateles lakes and the Oswego River. The Cayugas were found around the lake to which they gave their name. Beyond them toward the Genesee River lived the Senecas, on Lake Seneca and Lake Canandaigua. It is estimated that they numbered about 17,000 altogether.

Political Institutions. The Indian institutions were fairly well developed. Politically they were divided into tribes and ruled by chiefs who were advised by a council of warriors. But to discuss matters of great importance the Algonquins had a loose confederacy, while the Iroquois were united into a strong league known as the " Five Nations " or, after the Tuscaroras were
admitted in 1715, as the " Six Nations." The women had a right to vote among them. Their great council-house, in which the fifty sachems sat, was near Syracuse. From first to last the Iroquois hated the French and were friendly to the Dutch and English. They were called the " Romans of New York."

Religion. The Indians had no churches, priests, or rites of worship. Their dances and feasts were largely religious. They clothed various objects in nature with divine powers. Their " medicine-men " were conjurers. They believed in one " great spirit " and in a happy hunting-ground after death.

Industry among them had made some advancement. The chief occupations of the men were war, hunting, and fishing. They constructed fine canoes, formed many stone and bone implements, excelled in making bows and arrows, worked in copper, manufactured pottery, built forts and rude houses, and knew how to tan skins and preserve furs. The women developed agriculture
and horticulture. Some of the crops raised were maize, hemp, corn, tobacco, beans, and squashes. Hudson was able to trade cheap trinkets for most of these articles. Fine apple, peach, and plum orchards were likewise found among them.2 The women also made clothing, shoes, and various kinds of ornaments.

Education and Society. They had no schools. Their literature was in heroic stories handed down orally. They had no written language, but used a few signs and rude pictures. Oratory was cultivated. Their social life was very marked. They lived in small villages guarded by palisades. When not on the warpath or chase, the men sat around smoking while the women worked. They had many amusements like dances, festivals, ball games, and quoits. They liked gay feathers, paints, and tattooing. The Indian usually had but one wife, and children traced their descent through their mother instead of their father. Tribes were subdivided into clans with totems.

Population. European civilization gradually crowded them westward. By 1838 most of their lands were disposed of and many of them had moved northward and westward, some even beyond the Mississippi. " Such was the final act in the drama of the once powerful barbarian republic in the state of New York." The actual number of Indians in New York in the early period is unknown. In 1774 the estimate was 10,000, and in 1819 only 5,000. The first actual census (1845) showed the number to be 3,766, and in 1890 there were 5,318. The last census shows but a small increase in numbers.

Later History. The Indians are still divided into Christians and pagans. In 1890 there were only twelve churches among them with 1,074 members, and 800 children were attending school. They have made little progress in farming during the past half -century, and still receive help from the state and nation. The Onondagas have a reservation in Onondaga county. A few Oneidas live on farms at Oneida in Madison county. The Tuscaroras live in Niagara county. The Senecas are located in Erie, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Genesee, and Niagara counties. The St. Regis Indians in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties are the successors of the Mohawks. Thus the powerful red men, once the monarchs of the state, have been forced to leave the home of their fathers, and are confined to a few small reservations. The advancing civilization of the whites has not carried them with it very far. The Indian has adopted the language, dress, manners, religion, and methods of work of his superiors. He is more civilized, but the noble spirit is broken and his independence is gone. The small reservation has checked his restless soul. He has become lazy, harmless, and indifferent to progress.


Article Name: The Indians of New York
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A short History of the State of New York by John J. Anderson, A.M., Ph.D. and Alexander Clarence Flick, , A.M., Ph.D. Professor of History in Syracuse University; Maynard,Merrill and Company-New York, 1902.
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