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Archaeological Digs Highlight Experience Of Mohican Tribe In Stockbridge

The Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican community is conducting two archaeological digs in western Massachusetts this summer.

The digs are looking at two time periods: when tribal members first co-governed with English families in "Indiantown" — later known as Stockbridge — and decades later, before most tribal members left.

One dig is at the site of a meetinghouse built in 1739, just a few years after a royal charter established the township.

Tribal historic preservation manager Bonney Hartley said tribal leaders, known as sachems, used the building, along with white settlers, for religious and political meetings.

"Votes were taken there," Hartley said. "Petitions where a lot of our sachems are airing their grievances at the political disenfranchisement in the town."

Hartley said a number of important historical documents originated in the building.

A letter from George Washington wrote that the Mohicans "fought and bled by our side."
Credit George Washington Letters and Papers, 1776-1799, MS 78447 / chs.waldo.kohalibrary.com/app/work/33821 / Connecticut Historical Society
Connecticut Historical Society

The second dig is where, in 1783, an ox roast was held to honor Mohican soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. George Washington, then a general, provided an 1,100-pound ox, according to the tribe.

The dig will look for artifacts, such as military buttons, forks and ox bone.

At around the same time as the ox roast, tribal members left Stockbridge, as much of their land had been taken from them.

In a kind of letter of reference for the tribe, Washington wrote that the Mohicans "fought and bled by our side," and "we consider them as our friends & Brothers." His letter ended by saying, "We do recommend it to all the different Tribes of Indians as well as to all other persons inhabiting the Western Country-not to molest them in any manner whatever but to consider them as friends & subjects to the United States of America." 

The Stockbridge Mohicans first moved from Stockbridge to New York, then Indiana, before finally settling in Wisconsin.

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