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Poosepatuck Tribe of Mastic

Footnotes to Long Island History

POOSEPATUCK TRIBE OF MASTIC

APRIL 20,1950

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       Much has been written about the Long Island Indians, but the Poosepatuck tribe seems to have escaped much notice. They were a part of the Unkechaug tribe called the "Beach Indians," and occupied a tract of land on the eastern part of Mastic adjoining the Mastic River, and overlooking the bay.

       In 1691, Col. William Smith purchased from the Indians all that part of land between the Mastic River and the Connecticut(Carman's) River and the extending north to the middle of the Island. In 1700,he gave to the Poosepatuck Indians the right to use and raise crops on a 5 acre tract of land on the Mastic River, to be reserved for them forever. The "herbage" growing after the crops were harvested was reserved by him and they were not to sell or lease any part of the land to anyone else. The annual rent to be paid by the Indians was two ears of yellow corn, forever. At the time of this agreement with Col. Smith, the Indian population was very large, but they have  dwindled away until there are only a few descendants of this tribe left.

       It was one of the early customs of the the tribe to elect a chief or king, and a queen, An old Long Island newspaper of 1830 states that on January 5 of that year there died at Poosepatuck, Elizabeth Job, queen of the Indians at that place, aged 72 years. With her death ended the custom of paying a yearly tribute of a handful of rushes to the queen. In 1895, the queen was Martha Hill, who was 91 years of age at that time.

       Since before the coming of the white man, the "June Meeting Day" has been an annual event of great importance to the Poosatuck tribe. They gathered on Sunday once a year in June, during the "Moon of Flowers" for a big religious meeting and reunion. The mission teachers converted them to Christianity and their pagan ceremonies eventually became Christian ones. For several days previous to this Sunday meeting, small bands of Indians from all parts of the Island made their way to Poosepatuck for the service.

       The following article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1895 gives a picture of conditions as they existed at that time among these Indians.

       "A drive of about three miles through the woods from Mastic station brings the visitor to the Indian settlement which is on the Mastic river adjoining the bay and commands a beautiful view of the surrounding country. The first house the visitor comes to is that of Richard Ward, the leader of the tribe. The floor of his house was strewn with muskrat and raccoon skins, and he explained that they had belonged to thirteen coons who had ventured into his cider mill one night a week ago, and had become so drunk with the cider that his dogs made short work of them. According to Ward the natives of this reservation make their living by hunting and trapping and the surrounding dense forest gives plenty of field for this industry.

       "On the reservation is a church as well a schoolhouse which are supported by the government. The schoolhouse was built by the state in 1868 and William Morrison is the teacher of about 20 pupils. The church is Congregational, and one of the oldest of the Indian churches on the Island, and was built by the state in 1845.They have no regular minister but hold services among themselves every Sunday.

       "The oldest woman is Queen Martha Hill, who is 91. She said that when her grandfather settled here there were a very large number of Indians in the neighborhood. The tribes has been sadly reduced by the use of intoxicants, principally bitters of home manufacture. Recently one of them was seen to buy a pint of alcohol, one half pound of winter green candy and a bottle of sarsaparilla, which he said he was going to mix and have something fit to drink. Queen Martha said that when the wintergreen grows in great abundance, as it did last summer, it is a sure sign of a long, cold winter.

       "A few of the Indians who are supposed to be full bloods are Chief Richard Ward and his brothers Paul, Obey, and Cuffey, and Queen Martha Hill. She was born on the reservation in 1804, and is the daughter of Cheif Cuffey, who was once considered one of the most daring Indians on the Island. Old Chief Ward is the undisputed leader of the reservation, and what he says the tribe obeys, He was born on the reservation in 1814, and all his kin before him, for many generations.

       "June Meeting Day is peculiar to the east end of Long Island. For several years a rough white element has made it a boisterous affair, but of late, thanks to the Floyd family of Mastic, who have provided police protection the meeting has again resumed its religious aspect. The meetings are held in the little church which seats about sixty and minister of the A.M.E. Zion church have charge of the services.

       "During late  years white ministers from nearby churches assist in the afternoon program. It is an interesting sight to attend one of these meetings and the church is always filled, while on the outside is the overflow congregation.

       "The services are always held morning, afternoon and evening. The old chief opens the program with an address in which he reviews the work of the year. Prayers follow, then the singing, which is itself a feature. The good folks become excited, shout the tune at the top of their voices and clap their hands in unison. After a short recess for lunch the services are continued, and as the day advances, the fervor becomes more intense. Usually one of the white ministers makes an address, but his words do not have the same effect as the quaint appeals of the colored brethren."

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