restricted access 4. Native Neighbors
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49 Four Native Neighbors The Mohawks and the Upper Iroquois Beginning some thirty-five miles west from where the Mohawk River enters the Hudson was the homeland of the Mohawks, an Iroquoian-speaking people (map 7). Their large, often palisaded , and densely populated villages, situated on hilltops and low terraces adjacent to the Mohawk River, were confined to an area that extended just under forty miles along a narrow east to west axis. Their heavy investment in labor-intensive horticulture , evidenced by extensive fields of corn, beans, and squashes planted on the river’s fertile flats, mandated a commitment to sedentism, while the returns from hunting, fishing, and foraging completed the subsistence cycle. Although precise boundaries cannot be known, the land area that the Mohawks exploited away from their villages and fields, chiefly for hunting, extended north toward the Adirondack Mountains; south to the Catskills; west to the boundary they shared with the Oneidas, between East and West Canada Creeks; and east to about the confluence of Schoharie Creek and the Mohawk River.1 Firsthand knowledge by Europeans of the Mohawk homeland and settlements did not come until the visit of three employees of the Dutch West India Company in 1634. Led by Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, the party was directed by the commissary of Fort Orange to travel west into Iroquois country to investigate the decline in the fur trade. The trio would travel as far as Oneida country, some one hundred miles into the interior. While among the Mohawks, Van den Bogaert reported that there 50 Native Neighbors were eight villages, several of which were palisaded.2 It has been proposed, however, that not all eight were fully occupied, as the Mohawks may have been in the midst of moving from older villages to those newly constructed at the time when Van den Bogaert passed through. The Mohawk population just prior to 1634 map 7. The Native Northeast, 1600–1675. Native Neighbors 51 and the devastation wrought by the first exogenous epidemics in this region is estimated to have been about 7,500.3 To the west of the Mohawks were located four other Iroquois peoples, all of whom would, to one degree or another, eventually be participants in the economic and political activities centered around Fort Orange and then Albany. These were the Oneidas, immediately west of the Mohawks, followed in order by the Onondagas , the Cayugas, and the Senecas, closest to the Niagara frontier. Through time Oneida settlements remained concentrated around Oneida Creek in Madison and Oneida Counties. During the early 1600s there appears to have existed a single, large, strongly palisaded village. And as was true for all of the Iroquois, Oneida villages closely resembled the neighboring Mohawk farming communities. All indications are that these Indians ’ hunting territories extended north toward the St. Lawrence lowlands and south to the Susquehanna Valley.4 The Dutch at first referred to the Oneidas as “Sinnekens” (var.). On occasion, however, Sinnekens was also used as a collective for any and all of the Iroquois who lived west of the Mohawks. Only later was the term applied and restricted to the westernmost group, the Senecas.5 West of the Oneidas were the Onondagas, whose two villages in the seventeenth century were located in the area between Cazenovia Lake and Onondaga Creek. Onondaga hunting parties roamed the region north toward Lake Ontario and south to about the fork of the Chenango and Tioughnioga Rivers above Binghamton.6 Moving farther west were the three villages of the Cayugas, sited between Cayuga and Owasco Lakes. As with the other Iroquois, these Indians’ hunting territories also lay to their north and south, stretching from Lake Ontario to the Susquehanna River.7 Last were the Senecas, a populous Iroquois people whose historic homeland was south of Rochester, between the Genesee Valley and Canandaigua Lake, where they occupied two large principal villages. The Senecas hunted the area north to Lake Ontario and south to the headwaters of the lesser 52 Native Neighbors Finger Lakes. After the mid-seventeenth century, they extended the boundaries of their hunting and fur-trapping lands to the west, eventually ranging into Ohio and southern Ontario.8 The Munsees: Downriver Algonquians Munsee is an Eastern Algonquian language that was spoken by the numerous Native communities that occupied western Long Island, northern New Jersey, northeastern Pennsylvania, and the Hudson Valley, north from the river’s mouth to about Catskill on the west bank and Tivoli on the east, then west to the...


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