Origin and History
The Mahican people are an Algonquian-speaking group of Native Americans. They inhabited the northern end of the Hudson Valley, including the confluence of the Mohawk River, in present-day New York, southern Vermont, western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut.
- Note: the Mahican should not be confused with the Mohegan, another Algonquian-speaking people which inhabited Connecticut.
In the 17th century, the Mahican Confederacy regrouped five tribes with some 40 villages. The largest Mahican village was known as Shodac and was located near present-day Albany/NY. The Iroquois Confederacy, and more precisely the Mohawk People whose territory was located directly to the west of the Mahican territory, were their traditional enemies.
After contact with the first Dutch settlers in 1610, the Mahican began to trade with them for iron tools and alcohol. Their traditional conflicts with the Iroquois rapidly escalated when the latter sought to monopolize trade with the Dutch along the Hudson River. War broke out in 1617 between the Iroquois and Mahican, but Dutch traders negotiated a truce in 1618.
In 1624, the Mohawk attacked the Mahican. The Dutch were unable to negotiate a truce. In 1628, the Iroquois vanquished the Mahican and forced them to abandon their villages west of the Hudson River. In 1634 an epidemic of smallpox devastated the Mahican. By 1642, Mahican warriors often joined Iroquois war parties in their raids against the Montagnais. The same year, Mahican warriors attacked Wappinger villages. During the ensuing Wappinger War (1642-45), the Mahican sided with the Dutch settlers and their Mohawk neighbours against the Algonquian tribes trying to oust the colonists. After the war, the Wappinger and the Metoac peoples became subjects of the Mahican.
In 1662, the Mohawk attacked the Mahican, who were trying to arrange trade between the Dutch and the Algonkin, Montagnais, and Sokoki. In 1664, the Mohawk, who had traded large quantities of muskets with the Dutch, drove the Mahican out of Shodac, their capital, pushing them back eastwards. The capital was moved to Westenhuck, in the territory of the Housatonic Band of Mahican in western Massachusetts. On 24 September of the same year, the British managed to convince the Mohawk and Mahican to make peace. By 1669, the Mahican population had fallen to less than 1,000, despite the incorporation of small bands of Wappinger and Mattabesec.
In 1672, peace was concluded between the Mohawk and Mahican. In 1674, the Mahican became the first members of the Iroquois "Covenant Chain." In 1681, Mahican warriors took part in raids against tribes in Virginia. In 1690, smallpox reduced the Mahican to less than 800.
During the King William's War (1689-96), Mahican warriors fought alongside the British against the French. About 66% of the warriors who took part in this war never returned.
At the beginning of the 18th century, British colonists gradually settled in the Housatonic Valley in Massachusetts. They designated the Mahican village of Westenhuck as Stockbridge.
In 1701, the Mahican sided once more with the British during the Queen Anne's War (1701-13).
During Grey Lock's War (1724-27), the Mahican of Stockbridge garrisoned Fort Dummer (Vermont) to protect settlements in western New England against Abenaki raids.
In 1736, a Calvinist mission was established at Stockbridge. The various Mahican bands became known as the “Stockbridge Indians” among the settlers. Around the same period, some Mahican bands migrated to Pennsylvania and Indiana where they soon merged with other Algonquian-speaking people, particularly with the Lenape. By 1740 most Mahican had disappeared from the Hudson Valley.
During the King George's War (1744-48), Mahican warriors served as British scouts.
In 1756, the Mahican of Stockbridge established a village in Oneida territory in central New York.
In 1763, Mahican bands of the Ohio joined Pontiac Rebellion.
By 1775, at the beginning of the American Revolution, the Mahican of Stockbridge lands in Massachusetts had been reduced to less than 1,200 acres. Nevertheless, they supported the Americans in this conflict.
In 1788, the American Government forced some Mahican bands to re-settle in eastern New York. This group became known as the “Brotherton Indians.” In 1822, the Mahican established at Stockbridge and Brotherton were all forcefully relocated to Wisconsin.
Role during the War
In August 1755, at the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in North America, an Abenaki war party from Saint-François made a raid against the Mahican village of Schaghticoke, bringing its inhabitants back to Canada with them. The defection of this village made the British suspect the loyalty of all of their native allies.
In 1756, a party of 45 Mahican warriors of Stockbridge joined Major Robert Roger's Rangers and covered British settlements along the Housatonic River. The same year, many Mahican of Stockbridge sold their Massachusetts lands and accepted an invitation of the Oneida to resettle in central New York.
In October 1758, a great convention of British and Native Americans was held at Easton. The neighbouring provinces had been asked to send their delegates. The Iroquois Confederacy, with the smaller tribes lately admitted into their confederacy, the Delaware of the Susquehanna, the Mahican, and several kindred bands, all had their representatives at the meeting. The conferences lasted 19 days. All present agreed on a joint message of peace to the tribes of the Ohio.
Besides the accompanying illustration of a Mahican of Stockbridge militiaman, we have been unable to find other specific characteristic about the dress of this Native American people that would distinguish them from other peoples. If you can suggest sources documenting such characteristics, please do not hesitate to contact us with your suggestions.
The Mahican People had the reputation of mastering the art of spear, club, bow and arrow making.
By mid XVIIIth century metal knives and hatchets were common, as well as tomahawks with iron blades.
By the 1630s, most Mahican warriors had European firearms which had been traded with the Dutch.
Sultzman, Lee: Mahican History retrieved on Feb. 24, 2021
Waldman, Carl: Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Revised Edition, pp. 123-124
Wikipedia – Mohicans
N.B.: the section Role during the War is partly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.