The Nipmuc were a subset of Native American that lived in the New England area as some of its earliest permanent settlers. They were part of a major tribal coalition in the area, including the Massachusett, Pentook, Pocumtuc, and Wampanoag tribes. Their main area of living was what is today central Massachusetts, with various groups living near the shores in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Before Contact

Leading up to the war with English settlers, the Nipmuc had somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 natives living in up to 40 villages, according to various reports. The people primarily spoke Algonquin, and the name Nipmuc (also spelled as Nipnet, Nipmuck, and Neepmuck) translates as "small pond of water," indicating the Nipmuc's primary way of life as fishermen and farmers.

Technically, there is no such tribe as the Nipmuc: the name was purely a geographical reference, something akin to "Southerners" or "Yankees" today. They were for the most part subject to Pequot rule, per allegiances made in the late 16th century.

Each village was ruled by a sachem, or spiritual leader, and although the group was only loosely politically organized, there was little infighting and the villages coexisted peacefully with each other and with other tribal factions that lived nearby.

The British Are Coming

With the very first arrival of British settlers in Massachusetts in 1620, the Nipmuc were one of several tribes to help the settlers move in and adjust to their new surroundings. However, many members of the Pequot leadership were antagonistic to the colonists, who led a war against the Native Americans and vanquished them in 1637. Freed from their allegiances, the Nipmuc realigned with the Narragansett tribes in 1640.

The British colonists, in an all-too-familiar story, took advantage of the naivete and kindness of the Nipmuc, and traded them worthless goods for large tracts of land. They also took over prime areas of arable land, leaving the agriculturally-based Nipmuc with the dregs of the area. However, the Nipmuc were very grateful to their colonist friends, who introduced Christianity to them en masse and built several praying villages for them by 1673.

In 1675, the Narragansett and other tribes, convinced by Wampanoag leader King Philip, declared all-out war on the British. These tribesmen coerced many members of the Nipmuc - who wished to remain neutral - into fighting by killing their family members in front of them if they chose not to fight. Eventually, the Nipmuc escaped to the Connecticut River Valley. In 1676, Philip began using their new sanctuary to hide out while planning surprise attacks on the British. His capture and execution in August ended the war, but not the persecution of the Nipmuc.

After King Philip

By the end of the war, only 1,000 Nipmuc were registered in a 1678 census. Many of these Indians were openly attacked by hostile colonists seeking revenge, as well as other tribes who sensed their weakness. Many Nipmuc escaped up the Connecticut River into Canada. These same Indians later fought as French allies in the French and Indian War against the British.

By 1680, the Nipmuc people had completely left the area, moving into New Jersey and westward into Ohio and Pennsylvania. It wasn't until 1869 that Massachusetts finally granted the few remaining Nipmuc tribesmen citizenship. Their land had been sold off some 40 years prior, but the money that was to be held in trust for the people had been embezzled without anyone seeming to care.

In 1968, federal land in Connecticut was returned to a number of Algonquin Indians seeking refuge. They began setting up casinos in the area, much to local citizenry's chagrin. One such tribe was the Nipmuc. In 1997, the living members of the tribe were given federally recognized status (thanks to some large contributions by private Chippewa donors) and were allowed to build a casino on their land. However, in 2000, the Bush administration revoked their status, claiming that those still alive could not prove they were in fact "direct ancestors" of the Nipmucs of 17th century New England.

Today there are 14,000 Nipmuc living in the United States, with 3,500 primarily concentrated in their two Northeastern reservations in Grafton, Massachusetts and Webster, Massachusetts.

Sources

  • http://www.nativetech.org/Nipmuc/
  • http://www.nipmucnation.org/
  • http://www.dickshovel.com/nipmuc.html
  • http://www.detnews.com/specialreports/2001/chippewa/1230lead/1230lead.htm

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