Seen the great canoe with pinions,
Seen the people with white faces,
Seen the coming of the bearded
People of the wooden vessel
From the region of the morning,
From the shining land of Wabun.
"Gitchi Manito", the Mighty,
The great spirit, the Creator,
Sends them hither on his errand,
Sends them to us with a message".
Longfellow: "Song of Hiawatha"
Early Indian Life on Long Island
The Indians also helped the settlers by teaching them how to hunt and fish, and how to plant corn which enabled the settlers to survive in this new environment.
While the English settlers managed to exist side-by-side with the Indians, the Dutch immigrants were not so willing to treat the Indians fairly. In exchange for furs and wampum, the Dutch were likely to give the Indians guns and rum. Indians were often murdered by Dutch troublemakers, and the tribes of western Long Island turned their guns against settlers more than once. Trouble with the Dutch was one of the factors which eventually drove the Indians from Long Island. Another was a smallpox epidemic in 1658, which reportedly killed two-thirds of the tribes in the area. Moreover, the influx of white settlers and the resulting expansion of farmland drove animals away, and the Indians who were hunters migrated to the mainland in pursuit of game.
By 1741, it was estimated that only 400 natives remained on the island. By the time of the American Revolution in 1775, Indians were a rare sight on the island, having been driven away from their beloved "Paumanok".
of Long Island, NY
By the year 1643 there were thirteen different Indian Tribes living on Long Island:
Canarsie, Rockaway, Matinecock, Merrick, Massapequa, Nissequoge, Secatoag, Seatauket, Patchoag, Corchaug, Shinnecock, Manhasset and Montauk.
It's easy to see where many of the Long Island communities get their names today.- See Map of Long Island Indian Tribes Below
The Rockaway Indians were the tribe that inhabited the area now known as Richmond Hill.
The Indians called Long Island "Paumanok", which meant "land of tribute". This name, by the way, is among many others recorded in historical accounts under different spellings- partly because the Indians did not write and early colonists were not good spellers.
The Long Island tribes lived fairly prosperly. Chiefly they were hunters and fishermen, but some of them were farmers who raised beans and corn. Game, which was rather plentiful on the Island at that time included deer, bear, racoon, turkey, quail, partridge, goose and duck. Also seafood was plentiful where fresh water met salt water, many Indian campsites could be found at such inlets- where the natives caught crabs, clams, scallops, lobster, and many kinds of fish including herring, bass and bluefish. The Indians were expert fishermen, equally adept with bows and arrows or simple hook/string methods of catching fish.
According to early accounts recorded by the first European settlers, Indian houses in the area were dome-shaped structures from 10 to 20 feet in diameter, covered with grass. Clay covered openings at the tops of the dwellings prevented them from burning when fires were lit inside: the vents allowed smoke and heat to escape.
The primary medium of exchange among the Indians was wampum, ornamental groupings of small sea shells strung on the sinews of small animals or attached to the inner bark of elm trees.
The English settlers of eastern Long
Island, eager to peacefully co-exist with the native Americans, paid the
Indians for the land upon which they lived, and although the payments were
small, the Indians were given the feeling that they had exchanged or traded
their land for something of value- especially when the much desired wampum
was used as currency.