A Critical Review of Evan Pritchard's Native New Yorkers

As someone of Mohican descent and a student of Mohican history for the past several years I was asked to review the chapter on Mohican history in Evan Pritchards' book Native New Yorkers. The Mohicans have already been a victim of historical fiction, namely James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Now they are a victim of fictional history. Pritchard's history is extremely unreliable. He doesn't cite the published authorities on Mohican history. He based his information on fictional works for young adults, not on primary records, or even well-researched, easily available texts and articles. That is like basing the history of the Mississippi River on Twains' Huckleberry Finn. My apologies to Mr. Twain. He also completed ignored the information on the Wappingers a colleague gave him during an hour-long phone call.

One reason why this book upsets me is that I personally have experience with incorrect published history. One historian in the 1800s wrote that my Mohican ancestor John Van Gelder was a son of the sachem Konkapot and that John grew up with a Dutch family in the area. This historian has been widely quoted since then. I have found no evidence to support this. I have found evidence that John and Konkapot were perhaps ten years apart in age, so there was no paternal relationship possible, and that John was related to a different sachem instead. I have found no evidence of a Van Gelder family living north of New Amsterdam in New York. However, despite my arguments which I can prove, there are many people unwilling to believe me because they're under the mistaken opinion that if information is published, it's true. They even go so far as to put the unsupported, wrong history on the web. I guess they never go the the grocery store and see the National Enquirer. Native Peoples magazine, take note.

Here are my arguments. Decide for yourself.

1. Pritchard gives the two best-known authorities on the Mohicans as Daniel G. Brinton and James Hammond Trumbull. Who the heck are they? I've never even heard of them. To me the best known authorities are names well known to researchers of Mohican history: Shirley Dunn, author of The Mohicans and Their Land and The Mohicans and Their World; Patrick Frazier, author of The Mohicans of Stockbridge; Lion Miles, and Ted Brasser.

2. Fort Nassau always in danger of flooding and that fact was ignored. Source: Shirley Dunn, The Mohicans and Their Land.

3. Albany was primarily a Dutch settlement. Pritchard said it was settled by Walloons.

4. Pritchard failed to draw any conclusions about the Mohican language being more closely related to the Massachusetts people. This is poor research, regardless whether or not he's right. If I could find it, he could find it.

5. It seems to me that throughout the chapter Pritchard is trying to create a Mohican culture by extrapolating from other Algonkin cultures, but he never says so. This is unethical, especially since there is so little information available about Mohican culture and New England native culture. Sometimes it seems he's writing folklore and not history. If he is introducing folkore, to me meaning knowledge that is common but not substantiated, he should say so, he shouldn't write it as proven fact. This is poor writing journalistically speaking.

6. Pritchard cites sources that are secondary at best. They may even be tertiary. After the corruption I've encountered about my own family, I view this very skeptically.

7. Pritchard writes about elk scapula reading on page 279. That's really reaching. It also seems to me there was something about elk vs. deer that got me but I can't remember what it was. The Mohicans had a deer ceremony, so the deer were sacred to them. There is no mention of an elk ceremony.

8. Now did the Delaware really start Groundhog Day by watching for bears? I rather doubt it. It seems too easy.

9. On page 289 Pritchard seems confused. The Esopus were not powerful enough to head a confederacy. The Mohicans were more powerful and influential and they were the negotiators for peace between the Esopus and the Europeans. Source: Shirley Dunn, The Mohicans and Their Lands.

10. On p. 290 Wawanaquassick was the name of a pile of rocks, not a creek name. Source: New York Historical Society. Miscellaneous Manuscripts. October 1768. Notes of Evidence with Some Notes of the Arguments of Counsel, on the Trial of an Information Filed by the King Against John Van Rensselaer, For an Alleged Intrustion Upon Lands Claimed to be Vacant Between the Manors of Livingston and Rensselaerwick, in the Rear of Kinderhook / transcribed by Lion G. Miles.

11. On p. 291 Walloomsack isn't that close. No way is it near East Greenbush. Walloomsack is over 40 miles from East Greenbush. Source: Mapquest.com.

12. I've read a bit about Old Schaghticoke. I very much doubt there was a council fire and a great council oak there for centuries. Schaghticoke was a settlement formed in the early 1600s at the request of the British to serve as a buffer between Albany and the "French Indians," mostly the Abenaki. It became a refuge village as the Mohawks devastated other native peoples in New England and King Philip's War raged in New England. According to Gordon Day, the leading Abenaki historian until Colin Calloway and my own Abenaki informant, many of the people at Schaghticoke went north to join the Abenaki at Odanak and formed their wolf clan. Sources: Gordon Day, The Identity of the Saint Francis Indians; Colin Calloway, The Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800: War, Migration and the Survival of an Indian People, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990; Ted Brasser, Mahican, Handbook of the American Indian, Northeast, Smithsonian Institution.

13. There is absolutely no way the Oblong encompassed Rensselaer County and the Knickerbocker Mansion at Schaghticoke. I've seen a published map. I lived near the Knickerbocker Mansion and researched that. I have ancestors from Dutchess County and read some of that history. I have Quaker ancestors from the Oblong and I've read about them. I copied the maps from the library. There is no way! The Oblong existed in eastern Dutchess County, with a whole county between the two. Source: Doherty, Frank J. (1990). Settlers of the Beekman Patent, Dutchess County, New York : an historical and genealogical study of all the 18th century settlers in the patent. F.J. Doherty. Pleasant Valley, New York.

14. Pritchard confuses the Indian people at Schaghticoke with the Schaghticoke in Connecticut. It has never been documented that they were the same people. It's plausible people traveled back and forth, but the Schaghticoke in New York State came from the Indian people in northwestern Connecticut, probably a lot of New England refugees from King Philip's War, the local Mohicans and also Abenaki. A lot of the New York Scaghticoke went to Canada, and probably Vermont too. Source: Gordon Day, Colin Calloway, Ted Brasser.

15. On p. 293 Montreal is not Oka. I've been to Montreal and I've been to Oka. They are two different places and always have been. Source: Gordon Day, Colin Calloway, Ted Brasser.

16. The Great Council Fire that Pritchard mentions, in the reading I've done, admittedly not thorough I've never ever heard of a Great Council Fire south of Detroit. If that were so, I'd think that Alan Eckert would have put it somewhere in his voluminous and extremely informative and accurate notes in his book on Tecumseh. There may have been lines of communication more or less open, but there was no organized structure. That was one reason why the native people were unsuccessful in resisting the Europeans. Source, or lack thereof: Alan Eckert, A Sorrow in Our Heart; Handbook of the American Indian, Northeast, Smithsonian Institution.

17. On p. 296 if Dunn was a common Mohican family name, I would have heard so from Shirley Dunn herself. I like the way Pritchard gives this fact but completely ignores the Van Gilders, Winchells and Karners in Massachusetts and Washington County. They were very easily found in the history books, even if the history were wrong. You know how people like to talk about the weird, degenerate people in their area? That was the Van Gilders and Winchells in Washington County and people tended to write and comment about them. This Pritchard guy never asked me about my ancestors. Source, or lack thereof: Shirley Dunn

18. Aepjin was not Wappinger. He was Mohican and he lived near Albany. Source: Shirley Dunn, The Mohicans and Their Land.

A Mohican Bibliography

Bieder, Robert E., Native American Communities in Wisconsin 1600-1960: A Study of Tradition and Change, University of Wisconsin Press, 114 North Murray St., Madison, WI 53715 (618) 262-8782, ISBN 0-299-14520-4.

Brasser, Ted, Riding on the Frontier's Crest: Mahican Indian Culture and Culture Change, Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1974.

----, "Mahican," Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast. Washington: Smithsonian Institution (1978): 198-212.

Calloway, Colin G., The Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800: War, Migration and the Survival of an Indian People, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
-----, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. Cambridge Studies in North American Indian History. Cambridge University Press, New York, New York, 1995.

Day, Gordon, "The Identity of the St. Francis Indians," Canadian Ethnology Service Paper No. 71, Ottawa, 1981.

Dunn, Shirley W., The Mohicans and Their Land 1609-1730, Purple Mountain Press, Ltd., Main Street, P.O. Box E3, Fleischmanns, NY 12430-0378, (914) 254-4062, ISBN 0-935796-49-5, 1994.
----, The Mohican World,, Purple Mountain Press, Ltd., Main Street, P.O. Box E3,Fleischmanns, NY 12430-0378, (914) 254-4062, 2000.

Frazier, Patrick, The Mohicans of Stockbridge, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-1986-5, 1992.

Haefeli, Evan and Kevin Sweeney, "Revisiting The Redeemed Captive: New Perspectives on the 1704 Attack on Deerfield," in Colin Calloway, After King Philip’s War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England, Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997.

Haviland, William A. and Marjory W. Power, The Original Vermonters: Native Inhabitants, Past and Present, Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994.

Masthay, Carl, Schmick's Mahican Dictionary, American Philosophical Society, 1992.

Mochon, Marion J., "Stockbridge-Munsee Cultural Adaptations: 'Assimilated Indians.'", American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 112, no. 3 (1968): 182-219.

-- Indifference to evil is the enemy of good, for indifference is the enemy of everything that exalts the honor of man. We fight indifference through education; we diminish it through compassion. The most efficient remedy? Memory. To remember means to recognize a time other than the present; to remember means to acknowledge the possibility of a dialogue... The memory of an ancient joy or defeat is proof that nothing is definitive, nor is it irrevocable. To live through a catastrophe is bad; to forget it is worse. Elie Wiesel.