When you think of the first people who lived on our corner of this island, who do you see in your mind’s eye? What names do you give them?
Title page of booklet written by Edwin L. Brooks, Asharoken Village Historian, 1953. Illustration by Rube Goldberg.
When I ask Northport school children to name the indigenous Northporters, occasionally one will offer ‘Iroquois’; they are taught a great deal about the Iroquois Confederacy of Upstate New York and not enough about the existing reservations of the Shinnecock and Unkechaug Nations. If I were to ask a veteran resident what they know about the first people of Northport, many will say they had something to do with Asharoken Village or Makamah Beach. Residents might even point to the cover illustration by Rube Goldberg of the 1953 “A Short History of The Village of Asharoken” pamphlet showing a man wearing leggings and an inaccurate Plains style headdress (not to mention the specially commissioned statue outside Village Hall based on the Goldberg image). There is no evidence as to whether or not Goldberg was trying to represent Asharoken in particular or a generic Native American man; either way, the cultural differences between Woodland and Plains Indians, especially in the early 17th century, render the image and sculptures' historical shortcomings unfortunate despite good intentions.
We are lucky that some of the Native American heritage of Northport is still part of the community's consciousness. We are doubly lucky to live at a time when a great deal of quality research has been done on the history, traditions, and archeology of the Algonquian-speaking peoples of Long Island. To set the record straight, this is the story of the sachem Asharoken, his contemporaries, and their relationships with European colonists.
Final page of "A Short History of The Village of Asharoken" by Edwin L. Brooks.
The Matinecock and the Algonquian People of Long Island
The Algonquian-speaking people of Long Island did not exist in neat territorial boxes as the Big Apple Map would have you believe, but they did recognize territorial boundaries. Tribes as a socio-political unit only started to emerge on Long Island in response to the pressures of European settlement and warfare; before that, people lived in communities that functioned as a mix between bands and villages. Sachem and sunksqua/squaw sachem referred to a male or female respected leader in the democratic sense that their power depended upon the community’s support, not by divine right and heredity like kings or queens in the Western European sense. The people living on the western part of the island spoke a Munsee dialect similar to those of the Manhattans, while those on the eastern part spoke a Mohegan-Pequot dialect bringing them closer to the people of Connecticut.
When a band of people lived in a certain area, say in the hills above Northport, they made decisions that would benefit all those who lived with them at the time. This is not dissimilar to how local elections work today: you move many times in your life, but you vote in the local elections of wherever you live at the time. Women married into neighboring communities, and they had the power to initiate divorce whenever they chose. Young men were fostered with their uncles who may live in different communities than their mothers. So while we do not know exactly who lived in the Northport area at any one time, it is likely that Algonquian people were living, loving, and creating here up until the 1700s.
Of the political tribes that did coalesce, a few names stand out including (from west to east) the Massapequa, Matinecock, Montaukett, and Shinecock. The bands and villages that came to identify as the Matinecock tribe had as their ancestral homes much of the North Shore including the Cold Spring, Huntington, Centerport (Little Cow), and Northport (Great Cow) harbors. Today, Matinecock is the name of a village in the Town of Oyster Bay.
First Contact and Colonial Conflicts
Long Island Indians would have known about white men as early as 1524 when Verrazzano first arrived in New York Harbor and would not have been surprised 1609 when Henry Hudson came up the Narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn. He was traveling on behalf of the Dutch East India Company and was followed by other Dutch traders. Word would have been spread about the pale people who traded furs for brightly colored textiles and beads, metal tools, and smoking weapons. Before long, the Dutch made contacts in the western Long Island tribes, and trade of beaver pelts and wampum began in earnest. In the 1620s and early 1630s, there were only one or two very small Dutch settlements in what is now Brooklyn, and no other European settlements on the island. Relations at this time were polite and even warm; we know that European men and Indigenous women had children together. However, as colonists continued to push into Algonquian land and demand more territory conflicts grew and became inevitable.
The first major shift in the attitudes between the Europeans and Long Island Indians came in the wake of the Pequot War (1634-1638). The Pequots lived in southern Connecticut and accepted tribute from many Algonquian people living on eastern Long Island. Conflict arose between the Pequot and the English when the former started creating close ties with the Dutch. The Pequot and their allies seemed to have the upper hand at first, but after the 1637 English massacre of a Pequot fort near Mystic the indigenous forces were thrown into disarray. A few days after the Fort Mystic attack, a young sachem named Wyandanch, representing the Montaukett people, crossed the Sound. Wyandanch made an alliance with military engineer Lion Gardiner in which he promised not to shelter fleeing Pequots in exchange for English protection. At the end of the war, Wyandanch invited the Englishman to settle on the eastern end of the island in order to solidify that protection by proximity. Wyandanch would eventually gain a large measure of control over the relationships between sachems or sunksquas and the English beyond his community.
Two signs have been erected by the Town of Huntington during the past sixty years to mark the 1650 Treaty of Hartford line. The first, erected in 1976, was placed on Woodbury Road and Harbor Road in West Hills (above, image via http://www.huntingtonsigns.com/huntington-markers-page-2.html) while the second, erected in 2004, can be found on Mannetto Hill Road (below, image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Historical_Marker_of_the_Treaty_of_Hartford_Boundary_(1650).jpg).
Later, on the western part of the island, tensions were stirring in the New Netherlands. Kieft’s War (1640-45) began when Governor Willem Kieft and his men attacked a community of Algonquian refugees camped near Pavonia and Corlaer’s Hook, both in today’s Westchester, who had fled from inter-tribal disputes further north. These newcomers had no history with Kieft; he was taking out his anger from previous interactions with local indigenous people on them. The war continued with Dutch farms across Manhattan and western Long Island razed in retaliation. The war ended after a devastating attack by colonists on an encampment at Pound Ridge, also in Westchester, during which five hundred Algonquian people were killed by a little more than one hundred colonists. News of the defeat led to Long Island tribes requesting peace. Likely present at the negotiations was Tackapousha, who would soon become a Massapequa sachem of equal importance to Wyandanch for western Long Island.
In the wake of Kieft’s War and squabbles between the Dutch and English over territory in Connecticut and Long Island, the Treaty of Hartford or Fort Hope treaty (1650) was drawn up by the New Netherlands Governor Peter Stuyvesent and Connecticut Governor Edward Hopkins. They negotiated a border between the two colonial spheres of influence on Long Island with a straight line starting at the tip of Oyster Bay with the Dutch on the west and English on the east. Now surely everyone could live peacefully, and no colonial power would dream of treading on their neighbor’s toes.
Asharoken and The Creation of Huntington
In the immediate aftermath of Kieft’s War, in 1646, the deed to a certain neck of land on the North Shore was drawn up. The sagamore “Resorokon” (his name is spelled “Resorocon” further in the document) was selling; the buyer was Connecticut Governor Theophilius Eaton. Eaton never lived on the neck that was named in his honor. His only concern was to procure a physical deed for the land to establish a paper claim on a central piece of Long Island territory before the Dutch. The first colonist homestead on Eaton’s Neck had been built in the 1660s.
Indian Deed - First Purchase. Copyright Town of Huntington Archives 2022. https://nyheritage.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16373coll130/id/60/rec/7
Nine years after the Eaton purchase, in 1653, the sagamore “Raseokan” sold the land:
“bounded upon the west side with a river commonly called by the Indians Nachaquetack [Cold Spring Harbor], on the north side with the sea and going eastward to a river called Opcatkonycke [Northport Bay], on the south side to the utmost part of my bounds”
to three men who had already founded Oyster Bay. English families originally from Massachusetts Colony quickly settled around Huntington Harbor and the Village Green. Three years later, “sachem Asharoken” sold the adjoining property:
“all the meadow, fresh and salt lying and being upon the northside of Long Island, from our former bounds Cow Harbor brook to Neesaquock [Nissequogue] river, all the meadow within these bounds west and east, and to the north side to as far as Asharokens bounds goeth southwards, as the neck called Eatons Neck, Crab Meadows, and all the rest of the meadows within the aforesaid bounds” (quotations modernized by author)
to three new Englishmen representing the Huntington trustees. It is important to note that the Second or Eastern Purchase extended all the way to the Nissequogue River, in what is today Smithtown.
Indian Deed - Eastern Purchase. Copyright Town of Huntington Archives 2022. https://nyheritage.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16373coll130/id/54/rec/3
Who is this “Asharoken” that a village was named for? He is identified as a Matinecock sachem, but little is known about his life beyond the transactions he took part in. Apart from his Huntington sales, Asharoken also sold parcels in Oyster Bay to multiple English parties in the 1640s and 1650s even if the sales broke the Hartford Treaty. The treaty defined where the colonists were supposed to settle, after all, not who the Algonquian people could sell to. Just as his name has many spellings, so do the names of his companions. Signers likely involved in both Huntington transactions include: Syhar (1653) / Syrah (1656); Poyneypa (1653) / Poynepya (1656); Nauamarawas (1653) / Namerows (1656); Mahenas (1653) / Mohemos (1656); Mamaram (1653) / Mamarad (1656); Muhama (1653) / Makamah (1656). Besides Asharoken, only the name Makamah has been used in local geography.
We also know a few small details outlining Asharoken’s kinship ties. During the Huntington-Smithtown border dispute, both Wyandanch’s daughter and his oldest advisor attested that Wyandanch, Asharoken, and Nassaconseke (Nissequogue area sachem) were related through Wyandanch’s grandmother and that Tackapousha also their relative. Asharoken’s nephew and successor, Suscaneman, married Tackapousha’s sister, while Tackapousha’s brother, Chopeyconnaws, married Suscaneman’s sister. These familial connections were common in Algonquian culture, and they make the consequences of the Huntington purchases very intriguing.
The Greatest Sachem of Them All
In the 1650s, the English gave Wyandanch the artificial title of “grand” or “chief sachem”. Drawing from the European concept of a king amongst kings, the English effectively proclaimed that Wyandanch was the official owner of all land on Long Island, thereby allowing the English to leverage better terms with local sachems in their transactions and to have a single power arbitrating proprietary conflicts. This gave Wyandanch a great deal of tenuous influence and a cut of the payment on many transactions. It is only with the advent of the chief sachem title that the aftermath of the 1650s Huntington Purchases could occur as they did.
According to evidence given by two Englishmen in 1669, at some point between 1656 and 1659 (perhaps in spring or summer 1658 when Wyandanch was settling other land disputes) Wyandanch came to Huntington. According to the Minutes of the Executive Council of the Province of New York Administration of Francis Lovelace 1668-1673 Vol. II, the grand sachem “was displeased with Rashaokan for selling that land without his consent”; it took Asharoken “humbling himself before Wyandanch” for the latter to “forgive him for that fault” after which Wyandanch “confirmed the Purchase of Huntington Men, only charging aforesaid Rashaokan, that he should do no more” (MECPNY Vol. II, 418-419). Wyandanch would have defended his right to publicly dress down a fellow sachem with two points. First, because, according to Wyandanch’s daughter, Quashaum, and his old advisor, Wyandanch, Asharoken and Nassaconseke had inherited the Nissequogue land through Wyandanch’s grandmother, but the former two gave Wyandanch the proprietary rights. Second, his newly minted status as grand sachem allowed him to confirm or deny Long Island land sales. Even if Asharoken did previously allow Wyandanch rights over the Nissequogue River area, Asharoken would have had a right to be angry because, in terms of their Algonquian cultural experience, Wyandanch had no right to give him orders.
The Dutch did not like the idea that the chief sachem with rights to all of Long Island was in English territory. Opinion over the usefulness of a grand sachem was likely divided among the local sachems. Tackapousha was definitely not on board with Wyandanch having a monopoly on land rights and had made an alliance with other western sachems with himself as their main negotiator. Tackapousha is acknowledged by the Dutch as chosen chief sachem in 1656, not recognizing his ownership over all of Long Island but his power to confirm local sachems’ transactions with colonists in the west. Despite their close ties, there is no record of Tackapousha’s reaction to the meeting between Asharoken and Wyandanch. However, Tackapousha did defend Asharoken in 1668, when Asharoken’s right to sell land to the colonial settlers of Oyster Bay was challenged by Hempstead settlers who claimed it belonged to them.
Huntington v. Smithtown
From 1657 to 1659, Wyandanch’s mark shows up on all existing Indian deeds and leases drawn up in Huntington. Things started to get hectic in 1659 when Wyandanch gifted 30,000 acres between Huntington and Setauket to Lion Gardiner. Later that year he fell off the record; Gardiner claimed Wyandanch had been poisoned though he did not name a culprit. Gardiner’s son, David, transferred the 30,000 acres to Richard “Bull” Smith after his father’s death in 1663. This transaction was almost immediately troublesome since the western bound of the parcel supposedly already belonged to Huntington, sold by Asharoken.
In 1664, New Amsterdam surrendered to agents of the Duke of York. A new English colony, separate from that in Connecticut, was to be organized. In 1664 and 1665 the new governor Richard Nicolls set up separate meetings with the colonists and the sachems of Long Island. A new legal code, called the Duke’s Law, was put into effect in 1665 regulating both colonial and Algonquian behaviors, including a ban on selling guns to native peoples. Governor Nicolls dispensed with the sham title of “grand sachem” which allowed local sachems to go back to making their own sales.
A goal of the 1665 Nicolls meetings was to review previously existing deeds and town patents. This brought to light the dispute between the trustees of the Town of Huntington and Richard Smith. After a great deal of legal bickering, the matter was settled in 1672, when ten farms were established west of Fresh Pond in order to legitimize the property ownership, and finalized in 1675, when it was agreed that Fresh Pond would be the Huntington-Smithtown border. There, on the bluffs beside the Sound, the first European community in Northport was established. The next set would be up in the hills, in an area known as Five Points or Red Hook, today where Main Street, Waterside, and 25A intersect.
Asharoken lived until at least 1669. Tackapousha fell off the record in 1697. A large number of Algonquian people on Long Island died in smallpox epidemics from 1659 to 1664. There are no extant land deeds between English and Native Americans in Huntington after 1755. The Matinecock people of the North Shore, who had lived here for millenia, made their way farther west into Queens County, where an enclave continues to exist in Flushing. Further information that might have been found about Tackapousha, Asharoken, or his companions, may have been lost in the Flushing Courthouse fire of 1789.
There is one last piece of the story of land ownership in Northport. In approximately 1685, a man named Jan Cornelissen Van Taxel claimed that he was the rightful owner of “Tersarge”, or Crab Meadow, and petitioned the governor of New York to restore his land to him. Jan identifies himself as the son of a Dutchman, Cornelius Van Taxel, and a Native American woman, the sunksqua Catoneras, and claimed that he had inherited Crab Meadow from his mother. Unfortunately for Jan and his descendents, his claim was never recognized, especially after the 1675 settlement between Huntington and Smithtown. This piece of history leaves us with a remarkable mystery. Who was this female leader supposedly with connections to Crab Meadow? She was not, as descendents of Van Taxel erroneously claimed, a daughter of Wyandanch stolen by another tribe on her wedding night and returned to her father by Lion Gardiner. Was she a daughter of Asharoken, as Donna Barron of the current Matinecock Nation claims in her 2014 book, The life & customs of my people from the days gone by: the Long Island Indians of the North Shore? We may never know.
Ned Lane 1762 Deed. Copyright Town of Huntington Archives 2022. https://nyheritage.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16373coll130/id/53/rec/13
What we do know is that in 1762, there was an incredible relinquishing of indigeous rights. Ned Lane, Charity Lane, and “Bette Squa the widow of Maharason”, all residents of Huntington, identified themselves as the “only surviving heirs” of Asharoken. For two Dutch blankets and an unnamed sum of cash, they sold the last of the planting and hunting rights reserved by Indians in the Eastern Purchase. How were these people related to Asharoken? How were they related to each other? How many other Matinecock and their descendants were living in Huntington at this point? A deeper dive into the primary sources will be necessary to answer any of these questions. What the archives may never tell us is the emotions of Asharoken’s descendants on that day as they concluded a chapter in our history.
Bringing Back the Ghosts
Asharoken was a ghost in the public memory of Huntington until 1900. That year, local lawyer, Methodist minister, and developer of Highland Park, Seaview Park, and Crab Meadow, William B. Codling purchased the majority of what was then known as East Beach from Ida A. and Milton G. Smith. Codling began to advertise the parcels for development under the name Asharoken Beach. Codling likely learned Asharoken’s name from one of the various histories of Long Island written in the nineteenth century; or, perhaps, he had read the volumes of the Huntington Town Records.
Advertisement for properties on Asharoken Beach, c.1910. Copyright Northport Historical Society 2022.
By 1925, residents of the area created the incorporated Village of Asharoken. The community east of Crab Meadow town beach, first referred to as “Sound Shore” or “Beach Lots”, seems to have taken on the name Makamah around 1938 after the Makamah Yacht Club was founded in that area. In that same year, Nassau County acquired an 84-acre tract of land that became Tackapausha Preserve. The hamlet of Wyandanch had its name codified by the Long Island Rail Road in 1903. In less than four decades, names that had been buried in history books and the town archives were given new life. Hopefully, providing the history behind the names honors the leaders who did everything they could to maintain their dignity, and the dignity of their families, as their way of life was destroyed.
I am greatly indebted to John A. Strong for his time in helping guide me through my research for this piece, and to Edward A. Carr for answering questions related to the Village of Asharoken.
Edits: Prior to February 8th, this article included an image of the Treaty of Hartford (1638) from Yale University Indian Papers Project and labeled it incorrectly as an image of the 1650 Treaty of Hartford. The image has been removed. The article also implied that Henry Hudson was the first European explorer to 'discover' New York Harbor; to correct this misapprehension, the date of Verrazzano's arrival in New York was added.
For further reading, you can find the following titles through the Northport-East Northport Public Libraries:
Faded Laurels: The History of Eaton's Neck and Asharoken by Edward A. Carr.
The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island From Earliest Times to 1700 by John A. Strong.
First Manhattans: A History of the Indians of Greater New York by Robert S. Gruman.
“A Fatal Friendship: Lion Gardiner and Wyandanch, Sachem of the Montauketts” by John A. Strong in Origins of the Past: The Story of Montauk and Gardiner’s Island Volume V, ed. The East Hampton Historical Society.
“In Search of Catoneras: Long Island’s Pocahontas,” by John A. Strong, Long Island History Journal 21:2, 2010.
The life & customs of my people from the days gone by: the Long Island Indians of the North Shore by Donna Barron.
Documents including the Eaton's Neck Deed, Huntington First Purchase, Huntington Second Purchase, and Ned Lane Deed can be found at the Huntington Town Clerk's Archives or online at the New York Heritage Digital Collections website. Minutes of the Executive Council of the Province of New York Administration of Francis Lovelace 1668-1673, Vol. II is available for free through Google Books. For any further questions about citations, contact [email protected]