Wangunk Indians

Chatham Historical Society

Indigenous People

The Wangunk Indians are an indigenous people from central Connecticut. They had three major settlements in present-day Portland, Middletown, and Wethersfield, but also used land in other parts of Middlesex and Hartford Counties. Some sources call the Wangunk the Mattabessett, but Wangunk is the name used by scholars and by contemporary Wangunk descendents. The Wangunk Indians were part of the Algonquin language group, and had strong connections with other Algonquian nations. The Wangunk are not recognized as a tribe by either the US Federal Government or by the State of Connecticut. However, some people today identify as being of Wangunk ancestry and strive to carry on cultural traditions.

Name Variants: Wongunk, Wongum, Mattabesett, Pyquag, River Indians, Middletown Indians, Sequins

MeaningThe people at the bend in the river

Tribal Associations:  Podunk, Suckiag, Podunk, Tunxis, Mohegan, Quinnipiac, New Hartford, Brothertown

Location:  Middlesex County west of the Connecticut River in present-day Cromwell, Durham, Haddam, Middletown, Wethersfield, and east of the Connecticut River in East Haddam, East Hampton, Glastonbury, and Portland (Chatham)

Villages: Cockaponset, Coginchaug, Cossonnacock, Hockanum, Machamoodus, Mattabesec, Mattacomacok,
Naubuc, Pocowset, Pyquag, Suckiog

 

Geography

The Wangunk peoples as encountered by English colonists occupied present-day Middletown, Haddam, Portland, and East Hampton Connecticut. Originally located around Hartford and Wethersfield but displaced by settlers there, they relocated to the land around the oxbow bend in the Connecticut River. Before English settlement, there were at least half a dozen villages around the area on both sides of the river. The Wangunk are also sometimes referred to as “the River People” because of their positioning within the fertile Connecticut river valley. When the English settled and established Middletown on the west side of the river, the designated Wangunk reservation land was mainly on the East side of the river bend, with a small parcel on the West side, an area near where Indian Hill is today. Wongunk is also used to describe a meadow in Portland that was part of the Wangunk reservation. As the Wangunk felt pressure from the settlers for the land, they sold off portions of this land and joined either neighboring tribes such as the Tunxis (Farmington, CT), many of whom later moved with other communities of Christian Indians as far as the Great Lakes, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.

Lake Pocotopaug is a site that has been mentioned in many different accounts of the Wangunk people as an area that they frequented for fishing and hunting. It is located in what we now call The Town of East Hampton, and is approximately 9 miles in circumference. Many arrowheads have been found along the banks of the river, and while there is little record of what the site meant to Wangunk people, settlers have spread many “Indian stories” about the lake since the 1700s, but these stories are uncorroborated.

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Chatham Historical Society
6 Bevin Blvd
East Hampton, CT 06424

The Chatham Historical Society was established in 1963 and today operates a complex
which includes an 1840 one-room school house and a museum, opened in 2006.
The present museum houses artifacts and memorabilia
that tell the stories of East Hampton, Middle Haddam and Cobalt history.

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