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Historic territory of the Mahicans.
Total population
about 3000 Mahican
Regions with significant populations
 United States (Shawano County, Wisconsin)
English, (originally Mahican)
Moravian Church
Related ethnic groups
Lenape, Mohegan, Pequot

The Mahicans (/məˈhkən/ or Mohicans /mˈhkən/) are an Eastern Algonquian Native American tribe, originally settled in the Hudson River Valley (around Albany, New York) and western New England. After 1680, due to conflicts with the Mohawk, many moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Since the 1830s, most descendants of the Mahican are located in Shawano County, Wisconsin, where they formed the federally recognized Stockbridge-Munsee Community with the Lenape people and have a 22,000-acre (8,900 ha) reservation.

Following the disruption of the American Revolutionary War, most of the Mahican descendants first migrated westward to join the Iroquois Oneida on their reservation in central New York. The Oneida gave them about 22,000 acres for their use. After more than two decades, in the 1820s and 1830s, the Oneida and the Stockbridge moved again, pressured to relocate to northeastern Wisconsin under the federal Indian Removal program.[1] The tribe's name came from where they lived: "Muh-he-ka-neew" (or "People of the continually flowing waters.")[2] The word Muh-he-kan refers to a great sea or body of water and the Hudson River reminded them of their place of origin, so they named the Hudson River "Seepow Mahecaniittuck," or the river where there are people from the continually flowing waters.[3] Therefore, they, along with tribes also living along the Hudson River (like the Munsee and Wappinger), were called "the River Indians" by the Dutch and English. The Dutch heard and wrote the term for the people of the area variously as: Mahigan, Mahikander, Mahinganak, Maikan and Mawhickon, which the English simplified later to Mahican or Mohican. The French, through their Indian allies in Canada, called the Mahicans Loups (or wolves) just as they called the Iroquois the "Snake People," (or "Five Nations.") Like the Munsee and Wippingers, the Mahicans were related to the Lenape People of the Delaware River valley.

In the late twentieth century, they joined other former New York tribes and the Oneida in filing land claims against New York state for what were considered unconstitutional purchases after the Revolutionary War. In 2010, outgoing governor David Paterson announced a land exchange with the Stockbridge-Munsee that would enable them to build a large casino on 330 acres (130 ha) in Sullivan County in the Catskills, in exchange for dropping their larger claim in Madison County. The deal had many opponents.


The Mahican were living in and around the Mahicannituck ("Their name for the Hudson River"), along the Mohawk River and Hoosic River at the time of their first contact with Europeans after 1609, during the settlement of New Netherland. In their own language, the Mahican referred to themselves collectively as the "Muhhekunneuw", "people of the great river".[4] The Mahican territory was bounded on the northwest by Lake Champlain and Lake George and on the northeast by the Pocomtuc Confederacy, Pennacook Confederacy (also known as Merrimack or Pawtucket) and the Connecticut River Valley, which was inhabited by the Sokoki of the Western Abenaki. The original Mahican homeland was the Hudson River Valley from the Catskill Mountains north to the southern end of Lake Champlain. Bounded by the Schoharie River in the west, it extended east to the crest of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts from northwest Connecticut north to the Green Mountains in southern Vermont.[5]


Mahican villages were fairly large. Usually consisting of 20 to 30 mid-sized longhouses, they were located on hills and heavily fortified. Large cornfields were located nearby. Agriculture provided most of their diet but was supplemented by game, fish, and wild foods. Mahican villages were governed by hereditary sachems advised by a council of clan elders. A general council of sachems met regularly at Shodac (east of present-day Albany) to decide important matters affecting the entire confederacy.[4]


Mahican Confederacy

The Mahican were a confederacy of five tribes and as many as forty villages.[4]

  • Mahican proper, (lived in the vicinity of today's Albany (Pempotowwuthut-Muhhcanneuw – "the fireplace of the Mahican Nation") west towards the Mohawk River and to the northwest to Lake Champlain and Lake George)
  • Mechkentowoon (lived along the west shore of the Hudson River above the Catskill Creek)
  • Wawyachtonoc (Wawayachtonoc – "eddy people" or "people of the curving channel," lived in Dutchess County and Columbia County eastward to the Housatonic River in Litchfield County, Connecticut, main village was Weantinock, additional villages: Shecomeco, Wechquadnach, Pamperaug, Bantam, Weataug, Scaticook)
  • Westenhuck (from hous atenuc – "on the other side of the mountains," the name of a village near Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Often called the "Housatonic people," they lived in the Housatonic Valley in Connecticut and Massachusetts and in the vicinity of Great Barrington, which they called Mahaiwe, meaning "the place downstream")[6]
  • Wiekagjoc (from wikwajek – "upper reaches of a river," lived east of the Hudson Rivers near the city of Hudson, Columbia County, New York)[7]

The Mahican traded with Henry Hudson when he sailed up the Hudson River in September, 1609. Hudson returned to Holland with a cargo of valuable furs which immediately attracted Dutch merchants to the area. The first Dutch fur traders arrived on the Hudson River the following year to trade with the Mahican. Besides exposing them to European epidemics, the fur trade destabilized the region.[4]

Conflict with the Mohawk

Over the next hundred years, tensions between the Mahican and the Iroquois Mohawk, as well as Dutch and English settlers, caused the Mahican to migrate eastward across the Hudson River into western Massachusetts and Connecticut. Many settled in the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where they gradually became known as the "Stockbridge Indians." Etow Oh Koam, one of their chiefs, accompanied three Mohawk chiefs on a state visit to Queen Anne and her government in England in 1710. They were popularly referred to as the Four Mohawk Kings.

The Mahican chief Etow Oh Koam, referred to as one of the Four Mohawk Kings in a state visit to Queen Anne in 1710. By John Simon, c1750.

The Stockbridge Indians allowed Protestant missionaries, including Jonathan Edwards, to live among them. In the 18th century, many converted to Christianity, while keeping certain traditions of their own. They fought on the side of the British colonists in the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War). During the American Revolution, they sided with the colonists.[8]

In the eighteenth century, some of the Mahican developed strong ties with missionaries of the Moravian Church from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who founded a mission at their village of Shekomeko in Dutchess County, New York. Henry Rauch reached out to two Mahican leaders, Maumauntissekun, also known as Shabash; and Wassamapah, who took him back to Shekomeko. They named him the new religious teacher. Over time, Rauch won listeners, as the Mahicans had suffered much from disease and warfare, which had disrupted their society. Early in 1742, Shabash and two other Mahican accompanied Rauch to Bethlehem, where he was to be ordained as a deacon. The three Mahicans were baptized on February 11, 1742 in John de Turk’s barn nearby at Oley, Pennsylvania. Shabash was the first Mahican of Shekomeko to adopt the Christian religion.[9] The Moravians built a chapel for the Mahican people in 1743. They defended the Mahican against European settlers' exploitation, trying to protect them against land encroachment and abuses of liquor. Native Americans were alcohol-intolerant and vulnerable to it.

On a 1738 visit to New York, the Mahican spoke to the Governor Lewis Morris concerning the sale of their land near Shekomeko. The Governor promised they would be paid as soon as the lands were surveyed. He suggested that for their own security, they should mark off their square mile of land they wished to keep, which the Mahican never did. In September 1743, still under the Acting-Governor George Clarke the land was finally surveyed by New York Assembly agents and divided into lots, a row of which ran through the Indians' reserved land. With some help from the missionaries, on October 17, 1743 and already under the new Royal Governor George Clinton, Shabash put together a petition of names of people who could attest that the land in which one of the lots was running through was theirs. Despite Shabash’s appeals, his persistence, and the missionaries' help, the Mahican lost the case.[10] The lots were eventually bought up by European-American settlers and the Mahican were forced out of Shekomeko. Some who opposed the missionaries' work accused them of being secret Catholic Jesuits (who had been outlawed from the colony in 1700) and of working with the Mahican on the side of the French. The missionaries were summoned more than once before colonial government, but also had supporters. In the late 1740s the colonial government at Poughkeepsie expelled the missionaries from New York, in part because of their advocacy of Mahican rights. Settlers soon took over the Mahican land.[11]

Revolutionary War

In August 1775, the Six Nations staged a council fire near Albany, after news of Bunker Hill had made war seem imminent. After much debate, they decided that such a war was a private affair between the British and the colonists (known as Rebels, Revolutionaries, Congress-Men, American Whigs, or Patriots), and that they should stay out of it. Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant feared that the Indians would lose their lands if the Colonists achieved independence. Sir William Johnson, his son John Johnson and son-in-law Guy Johnson and Brant used all their influence to engage the Iroquois to fight for the British cause. The Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca ultimately became allies and provided warriors for the battles in the New York area. The Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the Colonists. The Mahican, who as Algonquians were not part of the Iroquois Confederacy, sided with the Patriots, serving at the Siege of Boston, and the battles of Saratoga and Monmouth.

In 1778 they lost fifteen warriors in a British ambush at the Bronx, New York, and later received a commendation from George Washington.

Later, the citizens of the new United States forced many Native Americans off their land and westward. In the 1780s, groups of Stockbridge Indians moved from Massachusetts to a new location among the Oneida people in western New York, who were granted a 300,000-acre (120,000 ha) reservation for their service to the Patriots, out of their former territory of 6,000,000 acres (2,400,000 ha). They called their settlement New Stockbridge. Some individuals and families, mostly people who were old or those with special ties to the area, remained behind at Stockbridge.

The central figures of Mahican society, including the chief sachem and his counselors and relatives, were part of the move to New Stockbridge. At the new town, the Stockbridge emigrants controlled their own affairs and combined traditional ways with the new as they chose. After learning from the Christian missionaries, the Stockbridge Indians were experienced in English ways. At New Stockbridge they replicated their former town. While continuing as Christians, they retained their language and Mahican cultural traditions. In general, their evolving Mahican identity was still rooted in traditions of the past.[12]

Removal to Wisconsin

In the 1820s and 1830s, most of the Stockbridge Indians moved to Shawano County, Wisconsin, where they were promised land by the US government under the policy of Indian removal. In Wisconsin, they settled on reservations with the Lenape (called Munsee after one of their major dialects), who were also speakers of one of the Algonquian languages. Together, the two formed a band and are federally recognized as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.

The now extinct Mahican language belonged to the Eastern Algonquian branch of the Algonquian language family. It was an Algonquian N-dialect, as were Massachusett and Wampanoag. In many ways, it was similar to one of the L-dialects, like that of the Lenape, and could be considered one.

Their 22,000-acre reservation is known as that of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians and is located near the town of Bowler. Since the late twentieth century, they have developed the North Star Mohican Resort and Casino on their reservation, which has successfully generated funds for tribal welfare and economic development.[13]

Land claims

In the late twentieth century, the Stockbridge-Munsee were among tribes filing land claims against New York, which had been ruled to have unconstitutionally acquired land from Indians without Senate ratification. The Stockbridge-Munsee filed a land claim against New York state for 23,000 acres (9,300 ha) in Madison County, the location of its former property. In 2011, outgoing governor David Paterson announced having reached a deal with the tribe. They would be given nearly 2 acres (0.81 ha) in Madison County and give up their larger claim in exchange for the state's giving them 330 acres of land in Sullivan County in the Catskill Mountains, where the government was trying to encourage economic development. The federal government had agreed to take the land in trust, making it eligible for development as a gaming casino, and the state would allow gaming, an increasingly important source of revenue for American Indians. Race track and casinos, private interests and other tribes opposed the deal.[13]

Representation in other media

James Fenimore Cooper based his novel, The Last of the Mohicans, on the Mahican tribe. His description includes some cultural aspects of the Mohegan, a different Algonquian tribe that lived in eastern Connecticut. Cooper set his novel in the Hudson Valley, Mahican land, but used some Mohegan names for his characters, such as Uncas.

The novel has been adapted for the cinema at least half a dozen times, the first time in 1920. Michael Mann directed a 1992 adaptation, which starred Daniel Day-Lewis as a Mohican-adopted white man.

Notable members


  1. EB-Mohicans "Mohican" (history), Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007[dead link]
  2. Stockbridge,Past and Present;Electa Jones
  3. Mohican Oral Tribal History as recorded by Hendrick Aupaumut and printed in Stockbridge, Past and Present by Electa Jones.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Sultzman, Lee. "Mahican History"
  5. Walling, Richard S., "Death In The Bronx: The Stockbridge Indian Massacre, August, 1778",
  6. Donald B. Ricky: Indians of Maryland Past and Present, Verlag: Somerset Pubs, 1999; ISBN 978-0403098774
  7. Allen W. Trelease, William A. Starna: Indian Affairs in Colonial New York Indian Affairs in Colonial New York: The Seventeenth Century the Seventeenth Century, Seite 8, University of Nebraska Press; 1997, ISBN 978-0803294318
  8. Calloway, Colin (1995). The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. Cambridge University Press. pp. 88–107. ISBN 0-521-47149-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Dunn (2000). The Mohican World 1680-1750. pp. 228–230.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Dunn (2000). The Mohican World 1680-1750. pp. 232–235.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Dunn, Shirley (2000). The Mohican World 1680-1750. Fleischmanns, New York: Purple Mountain Press, Ltd. p. 213.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Gale Courey Toensing, "Seneca Upset Over N.Y. Casino Agreement", Indian Country Today, 26 January 2011


  • Brasser, T. J. (1978). "Mahican", in B. G. Trigger (Ed.), Northeast (pp. 198–212). Handbook of North American Indian languages (Vol. 15). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Cappel, Constance, "The Smallpox Genocide of the Odawa Tribe at L'Arbre Croche, 1763", The History of a Native American People, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007.
  • Conkey, Laura E.; Bolissevain, Ethel; & Goddard, Ives. (1978). "Indians of southern New England and Long Island: Late period", in B. G. Trigger (Ed.), Northeast (pp. 177–189). Handbook of North American Indian languages (Vol. 15). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Salwen, Bert. (1978). "Indians of southern New England and Long Island: Early period", in B. G. Trigger (Ed.), Northeast (pp. 160–176). Handbook of North American Indian languages (Vol. 15). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Simpson, J. A.; & Weiner, E. S. C. (1989). "Mohican", Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (Online version).
  • Sturtevant, William C. (Ed.). (1978–present). Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 1-20). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Trigger, Bruce G. (Ed.). (1978). Northeast, Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 15). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • William A. Starna: From Homeland to New Land: A History of the Mahican Indians, 1600-1830. University of Nebraska Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0803244955

External links