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Indigenous Peoples, Rhode Island

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Location: Rhode Islandmap
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This is to collect the history of Indigenous Peoples of Rhode Island including their interaction with settlers.


Tribes at the time of Colonial Settlement

  • Early contacts between the Wampanoag and colonists date from the 16th century when European merchant vessels and fishing boats traveled along the coast of New England. Captain Thomas Hunt captured several Wampanoag in 1614 and sold them in Spain as slaves. A Patuxet named Tisquantum (or Squanto) was bought by Spanish monks who attempted to convert him before setting him free. He accompanied an expedition to Newfoundland as an interpreter, then made his way back to his homeland in 1619—only to discover that the entire Patuxet tribe had died in an epidemic
  • In 1616, John Smith correctly referred to the tribe in the area as the Pokanoket. Pokanoket was used in the earliest colonial records and reports. The Pokanoket tribal seat of Sowams was located near where Warren, Rhode Island developed.
  • Wampanoag They were a loose confederation of several tribes in the 17th century, but today Wampanoag people encompass five officially recognized tribes. They lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the beginning of the 17th century, at the time of first contact with the English colonists.
  • Narragansett The Narragansett people are an Algonquian American Indian tribe from Rhode Island. The tribe was nearly landless for most of the 20th century, but it worked to gain federal recognition and attained it in 1983. It is officially the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island and is made up of descendants of tribal members who were identified in an 1880 treaty with the state. The Narragansett tribe was recognized by the federal government in 1983 and controls the Narragansett Indian Reservation, 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) of trust lands in Charlestown, Rhode Island

Indians and Roger Williams

  • "Then in 1636, five years after he arrived, he was banished, so he had had five years of contact with the Indians." "Roger Williams said the Indians helped him survive in the wilderness after his banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony."
  • Pequot War of 1637.: "He risked his life when he walked into the camp where the Pequot and Narragansett were negotiating. As the only European in a camp of probably 1,000 or so warriors and several thousand more Indians, he proceeded to confront the Pequot, contradict them, and convince the Narragansett to remain neutral in the war. That certainly saved many English lives. It probably saved the colony itself"
  • "He believed that Indians had the same property rights as Englishmen, and therefore just because the crown gave an Englishman land didn’t mean it had any legal authority." "He felt the only legal claim to Indian land came when an Englishman bought the land from the Indians, so this was a threat to the English’s legal title in the Bay Colony."
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narragansett_people European settlement in the Narragansett territory did not begin until 1635; in 1636, Roger Williams acquired land from Narragansett sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi and established Providence Plantations.
  • Aquidneck Island In 1638 Roger Williams helped Anne Hutchinson's group sign a deal with the indians for Aqiudneck: "They bought the island for 40 fathoms of white wampum, 20 hoes, 10 coats for the resident Indians, and 5 more fathoms of wampum for the local sachem, and Narragansett Sachems Canonicus and his nephew Miantonomi signed a deed for it.".
  • "Williams’ book A Key into the Language of America is more than just a dictionary, providing insights into Narragansett culture. "
  • "He actually convinced Cromwell’s government to tell Massachusetts to back off, to guarantee that the Narragansett had the right to worship as they chose, which is really kind of extraordinary."
  • "In 1675, hostilities between the colonists and the Indians break out and again Williams’ mediates between the parties, but he’s unsuccessful. " "The Indians burned Providence and burned Williams’ own house down, which meant that he spent his last years in poverty. Nonetheless, right up to the very end of his life, he still considered Indians his friends. "
  • Thereafter Williams’ complex relationship with the Indians included defending their rights, studying them as an anthropologist, and dealing with them as a diplomat. "
  • "Perhaps the dying request of Narragansett sachem Canonicus best shows Williams’ relationship with the Indians. Canonicus asked that Williams attend his funeral and that he be buried in the cloth Williams gave him. "
  • "By 1676 the rich Indian cultures of 1620 were reeling from war and disease, and Europeans would take virtually all of their lands. But Roger Williams led in helping these Europeans understand the first settlers of North America."

Pequot War (1636-37)


  • During the Pequot War of 1637, the Narragansetts allied with the New England colonists. However, the brutality of the colonists in the Mystic massacre shocked the Narragansetts, who returned home in disgust.After the Pequots were defeated, the colonists gave captives to their allies the Narragansetts and the Mohegans.
  • The Narragansetts later had conflict with the Mohegans over control of the conquered Pequot land. In 1643, Miantonomi led the Narragansetts in an invasion of eastern Connecticut where they planned to subdue the Mohegans and their leader Uncas. Miantonomi had an estimated 1,000 men under his command. The Narragansett forces fell apart, and Miantonomi was captured and executed by Uncas' brother. The following year, Narragansett war leader Pessicus renewed the war with the Mohegans, and the number of Narragansett allies grew.
  • The Mohegans were on the verge of defeat when the colonists came and saved them, sending troops to defend the Mohegan fort at Shantok. The colonists then threatened to invade Narragansett territory, so Canonicus and his son Mixanno signed a peace treaty. The peace lasted for the next 30 years

King Philip’s/Metacom’s War (1675-76)


  • Philip gradually gained the Nipmuck, Pocomtuc, and Narragansett as allies, and the beginning of the uprising was first planned for the spring of 1676... Philip called a council of war on Mount Hope; most Wampanoag wanted to follow him, with the exception of the Nauset on Cape Cod and the small groups on the offshore islands. Allies included the Nipmuck, Pocomtuc, and some Pennacook and eastern Abenaki from farther north. The Narragansett remained neutral at the beginning of the war
  • On June 20, 1675, some Wampanoags attacked colonists in Swansea, Massachusetts and laid siege to the town; they destroyed it completely five days later, leading ultimately to King Philip's War. The united tribes in southern New England attacked 52 of 90 colonial settlements, and partially burned them down.
  • From Massachusetts, the war spread to other parts of New England. The Kennebec, Pigwacket (Pequawkets), and Arosaguntacook from Maine joined in the war against the colonists. The Narragansetts of Rhode Island gave up their neutrality after the colonists attacked one of their fortified villages. The Narragansetts lost more than 600 people and 20 sachems in the battle which became known as the "Great Swamp Massacre". Their leader Canonchet was able to flee and led a large group of Narragansett warriors west to join King Philip's warriors.
  • During the summer months, Philip escaped from his pursuers and went to a hideout on Mount Hope in Rhode Island. Colonial forces attacked in August, killing and capturing 173 Wampanoags. Philip barely escaped capture, but his wife and their nine-year-old son were captured and put on a ship at Plymouth; they were then sold as slaves in the West Indies. On August 12, 1676, colonial troops surrounded Philip's camp, and soon shot and killed him.
  • Wampanoag : King Philip's War (1675–1676) of the Narragansett and their allies against the colonists and their Native American allies resulted in the death of 40 percent of the surviving tribe. Many male Wampanoag were sold into slavery in Bermuda or the West Indies, and some women and children were enslaved by colonists in New England.

Rhode Island Native American Slavery


  • "Slavery in Rhode Island may have begun with the colony’s establishment in 1636. The first slaves in the colony were surely Native Americans, not Africans. Prisoners of war from the two major Indian wars in southern New England in the 17th century—the Pequot War (1636-37) and King Philip’s/Metacom’s War (1675-76)—became slaves, many of whom were sold abroad. Many more of them became destitute and bound themselves as indentured servants to colonists, some for decades."
  • "The slavery of Native Americans declined as the century wore on, with Providence and Warwick banning their enslavement in 1676. "
  • "The Newport Town Council eventually made it illegal to sell firearms to Native Americans; Portsmouth banished them to “live in the woods.” Merchants were disallowed from trading with them, selling them liquor, or repairing their firearms."

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