The Wappinger People were a loose confederation of tribes living from the eastern banks of the Hudson River, from modern northern Dutchess County NY, south into Westchester County, and eastward into north-central Connecticut into the Connecticut River valley south to the Long Island Sound. They spoke an eastern-algonkian Native American language. Culturally they are closely related to the Lenape People (Delaware Indians) to the west and south of Wappinger lands; also related to the Mahican People to their immediate north and to the Metoac Peoples of Long Island. “Wappinger” means “easterner” in most algonkian languages.
We know from local archaeology that Native Americans have lived in the Hudson Valley for over 10,000 years. As the Ice Age glaciers receded, these First Americans lived in seasonal camps as they hunted game for meat, fur, hides, and used the bones, sinew, feathers, quills and antlers for tools, weapons and decorations. They fished in the Hudson River, in smaller streams and in ponds using bone fishhooks, small harpoons and nets made from plant material and held down with small stone weights. They gathered fresh water shellfish and caught small animals, birds, fish and crayfish in snares and by hand in wetland areas. They made canoes from dug-out logs and birch bark. Turtles, squirrels and turkeys were some favorite catches. They made stone tools such as scrapers, hand axes and choppers to prepare food, clean hides and chop wood. Some of the flint they used for arrowheads and spear tips, called “points” came from trade with other Indian peoples living far away. The earliest Hudson Valley people used bowls and cooking pots made of soft stone that were carved into the shapes they wanted. Later Indians in the area developed clay pottery, which they “fired” into water-tight ceramics, to be decorated with rope designs and quill sketchings. The clay came from the banks of the Hudson. Of course Native Americans knew the use of fire and wore warm clothing made of deerskin and slept on bearskin blankets in the snowy winters. They sometimes covered their bodies in animal grease as insulation from the cold (and insects) and they wore moccasins in winter and deer skin leggings to stay protected from thorns and sticker bushes. The women wove fine baskets and platters made of local grasses. Most importantly, the Native Peoples relied on gathering wild fruits, flowers, seeds, vegetables, berries, roots, nuts and honey for their main diet.
Gradually, by watching the cycles of nature, they learned to plant crops and they maintained small gardens and fields filled with varieties of squash (pumpkins, gourds, etc.), beans (string beans, lima beans, peas, etc.) and corn of all colors. Squash, beans and corn were referred to as “The Three Sisters” due to their reliability and spiritual significance to the people. They grew tobacco for ceremonial purposes. Spiritually, these people were aware of the powers and spirit-souls in all living things and considered all living beings as their relatives. They believed in a Great Creator called Kishelemukong who loosely controlled the natural world and the cycles of life. Many of the Wappinger and Lenape rituals, rites of passage and ceremonies were directly tied to honoring and interacting with these spirits and the Great Creator.
With more dependable agriculture, developed around 2000 years ago, Native Americans such as the Wappingers (Wappinnee, Wapinck) created town-like settlements, surrounded with a wooden palisade or fence. Wappinger people spoke an eastern-algonkian (algonquian) language, like their closest Lenape relatives. The Lenape People are a large cultural group (pronounced len-AH-pay) that lived from the Catskills in New York State, into western Massachusetts and Connecticut, south into the modern New York City area, onto Long Island, throughout eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and south into Delaware. Their homes were made of wooden frames covered with bark and sometimes animal hide. Wigwams were round in shape and often temporary, used in hunting and gathering camps. Larger “long-houses” were rectangle in shape and could house 40-60 people. Some settlements could have had up to twenty long-houses, other large ceremonial buildings. Settlements near fresh water and good garden spots could remain in one place for twenty years or so, until the people moved the town to a fresher location a few miles away. Archaeology done at Mount Gulian has indicated that Native Americans lived intermittently on the property since 6,000 b.c., right into the “period of contact” with the Dutch and English.
In 1609, Henry Hudson encountered Wappinger and Lenape peoples from New York harbor throughout the Hudson River Valley. These Native American cultures had lived in the area for at least three thousand years. He reported that these people were healthy looking, for the most part friendly, independent minded and numerous on both sides of the river. The Dutch settlers made most of the Lenape lands, and the Wappinger lands in Fishkill, part of the New Netherlands Colony from 1609-1664. During that period, the Wappingers life turned very bitter as they gradually lost their traditional ways. Many left their lands to move away from the European settlers. Many died of the new diseases the settlers accidentally brought from their lands. Some gave up their Indian culture to join the new frontier culture that was evolving in America. Others were killed in brutal wars with the Dutch or were captured and sold into harsh slavery in other parts of the New World, such as the Caribbean Islands from where they never returned. By the end of Dutch rule in America, the Wappingers had nearly become terribly weakened.
In 1666, the Dutch New Netherlands permanently became part of the British Empire. The Hudson Valley Dutch declared their loyalty to the British Crown, as did the Wappinger Indians, but the Lenape and Wappinger people were being quickly pushed out of their lands by the British and their Indian allies to the north, the Nations of the Iroquois. The Iroquois had long been enemies of Lenape peoples and the Wappingers, to whom they had previously honored and paid tribute. With British muskets and assistance, the Iroquois punished the Lenape and raided their towns, forcing them into near destruction. By the 1680’s after years of war and turmoil, the Wappinger Indians made a difficult decision.
On August 8, 1683 an “Indian Deed of Sale” was written, selling 85,000 acres of Wappinger lands in present Dutchess County, NY, to Francis Rombout, Stephanus Van Cortlandt and Gulian Verplanck. Twenty Wappingers made their marks on the Deed (they could not write in English), which was recorded on August 14th, 1683. The Wappingers, in return for 85,000 acres of land received perhaps one thousand two hundred dollars worth of items, including wampum, guns, gunpowder, cloth, shirts, rum, tobacco and beer. Perhaps the Wappingers did not understand that this Deed meant that they could no longer live on the land, that their claim to the land was now extinguished forever. Perhaps they believed that the Deed meant that they could still use the land to hunt, fish and grow gardens, sharing the land with the settlers, because no one can “own” land any more than anyone can own the air or sky. Perhaps they understood too well that they were being forced off in any case and to get one thousand dollars worth of goods was better than nothing. Their thoughts on the Deed are not recorded. The Deed was reviewed by King James the Second’s ministers and the Rombout Royal Patent was issued by the Crown on October 17, 1685 formally granting the 85,000 acres, one-seventh of Dutchess County to Mr. Verplanck and Mr. Rombout. The Wappingers no longer could live on their ancestral lands.
From the 1680’s until the Revolutionary War, the remaining Wappingers began slowly leaving this area, joining the Lenapes, the Mahicans and even their former enemies the Iroquois, who were each suffering from the upheaval of white settlement, disease and war. Many converted to the religion of the white settlers and permanently left their traditional ways. Around 1730, Gulian Verplanck (the grandson) built a fieldstone house on the Rombout Patent property in Fishkill and named it Mount Gulian, beginning a new era. During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the Wappingers and most Lenapes declared their loyalty to George Washington’s new nation. Many Wappinger and Lenape warriors fought and died with the Americans, including Wappinger sachem and hero Daniel Nimham. By the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, very few Wappingers lived on their former lands. The period immediately after the Revolution also saw a final war between the Lenapes and the Americans in the Port Jervis-Pocono Mountains area, which resulted in the remaining Lenapes moving westward and relinquishing claims to their lands in New York. In fact, some had already moved north toward Canada; the remaining few had moved west into the Ohio Valley, where they were fighting for their very survival, as were all the other Native Americans during that era. Today, after many sad journeys, few people identify themselves as “Wappinger”.
From the 1680’s until 1800, the remaining Wappingers joined other migrating tribes and formed new groups such as the Stockbridge-Muncees, the Brotherton Indians and the various contemporary Delaware (Lenape) Indian Nations. Some joined the Oneida Iroquois upstate New York and the Moravian Delawares of Ontario. Many married into white families and blended into modern America. Approximately 13,000 Americans and Canadians today identify themselves as Lenape or Delaware. Most live in Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Ontario. Less than 100 speak the original Lenape languages. They are struggling to maintain their heritage and their traditional ways. At Mount Gulian, we respect and honor the Wappinger People and seek to teach our visitors about their long history on this land and their enduring ways.