Tales of Connecticut
How the Connecticut Indians lived, how they were ruled, and what customs they had are matters that will never cease to be interesting. Those who sometimes in this age preach a philosophy of trial marriages will be pleased to note the Connecticut Indians gave this institution a long trial, and found it not a good institution. The Kaiser will note that the system of government he admires, had been tried by the Connecticut Indians, and in this state shown to be a failure. The Indian sachem, or king was an absolute ruler. He received advice, but he alone gave the decision, and this given was scrupulously obeyed.
Connecticut Indians followed the customs of Prussia even to the extent of requiring that their king should be noble on both sides. William the Conqueror, who was the son of a tanner’s daughter, would not have met the requirements of nobility of blood demanded of a ruler of Connecticut Indians. The Sachem was often accuser, and Judge. He was also executioner, for the culprit would assent to no punishment, unless it was death, except
at the hands of his prince. When a young Indian wished for marriage, he presented the girl with whom he was enamoured, with bracelets, belts and chains of wampum. If she received his presents they were married, for a time upon trial. If they pleased each other they were Joined in permanent marriage; but, after a few weeks they were not suited, the man, leaving his presents, quitted the girl and sought another wife and she another husband. In this manner they courted until two met who were agreeable to each other. Before marriage the consent of the sachem was obtained, and he always Joined the hands of the young pair in wedlock. The Indians in general kept many wives and never thought they had too many. This especially was the case with their sachems. They chose their wives agreeably to their fancy, and put them away at pleasure. When a sachem grew weary of any of his wives he bestowed them upon some of his favorites, or chief men. The Indians, however, had one wife who was the governess of the family, and whom they generally kept during life. Husbands and wives, parents and children, lived together in the same wig wams. The Indian government generally was absolute monarchy. The will of the Sachem was his law. The lives and interests of his subjects were at his disposal, but in all Important affairs he consulted with his counsellors. When they had given their opinions they deferred the decision of every matter to him. Whatever his determinations were they applauded his wisdom and without hesitation obeyed his commands. In council the deportment of the sachems was grave and majestic to admiration. They appeared to be men of great discernment and policy. Their speeches were cautious and politic. The conduct of their counsellors and servants was profoundly respectful and submissive. The counsellors of the Indian kings in New England were not only the wisest but largest and bravest men to be found among their subjects. They were the immediate guard of their sachems, who made neither war nor peace, nor attempted any weighty affair without their advice. In war and all great enterprises, dangers and sufferings, these discovered a boldness and firmness of mind exceeding all the other warriors. To preserve this order among the Indians great pains were taken. The stoutest and most promising boys were chosen and trained up with peculiar care in the observation of certain Indian rites and customs. They were kept from all meats, trained to cuarse fare and made to drink the Juice of bitter herbs, until it occasioned violent vomiting. They were beaten over the legs and shins with sticks and made to run through brambles and thickets to make them hardy; and, as the Indians said, to make them more acceptable to Hobbamocko. These ministers of state, were in league with the priests or powaws. To keep the people in awe, they pretended, as well as the priests, to have converse with the invisible world; and that Hobbamocko often appeared to them. Among the Connecticut Indians, and among all the Indians in New England, the crown was hereditary, always descending to the eldest son. When there was no male Issue, the crown descended to the female. The blood royal was held in each veneration that no one was considered as heir to the crown but such as were royally descended on both sides. When a female acceded to the crown she was called the queen squaw. There were many petty sachems, tributary to other princes on whom they were dependent for protection, and without whose consent they made neither peace, war, nor alliances with other nations. The revenues of the crown consisted of the contributions of the people. They carried corn and the first fruits of their harvest of all kinds. Beans, squash, berries, roots and nuts were presented to their sachem who went out to them and by good words and some small gifts expressed his gratitude. They made him presents of flesh, fish, fowl, moose, bear, deer, beaver and other skins. One of the counsellors was commonly appointed to receive the tribute. By these gifts the table was supplied. He kept open house for all strangers and travellers. Besides, the prince claimed an absolute sovereignty over the seas within his dominion. Whatever was stranded on the coast, all wrecks and whales floating on the sea and taken were his. In war, the spoils of the enemy and all of the women and royalties of the prince conquered belonged to him who made the conquest. The Sachem was not only examiner, Judge and executioner in all criminal cases, but in all cases of Justice between one man and another. In cases of dishonesty the Indians proportioned the punishment to the number of times the delinquent had been found guilty. For the first offense he was reproached for his villariy In the most disgraceful manner; for the second he was beaten with a cudgel upon his naked back. If he still persisted in his dishonest practices and was found guilty a third time, besides a drubbing, he was sure to have his nose slit, that all men might know and avoid him. Murder was in all eases punished with death. The sachem whiped the delinquent and slit his nose in cases which required these punishments; and he killed the murderer unless he were at a great distance. In this case, In which execution could not be done with his own hands, he sent his knife by which it was effected. The Indians would not receive any punishment, which was not capital from the hands of any except their sachem. They would” neither be whipped, beaten or slit by an officer; but their prince might inflict these punishments to their greatest extremity and they would neither run, cry nor flinch. Indeed, neither the crimes nor the punishments are esteemed so infamous, among the Indians, as to groan or shrink under sufferings. The Sachems were so absolute in their government that they condemned the limited authority of the English governors. The Indians had no kind of coin; but they had a sort of money which they called wampum, or wampumeag. It consisted of small beads most curiously wrought out of shells and perforated in the center so that they might be strung on belts, in chains and bracelets. These were of several sorts. The Indians in Connecticut, and in New England m general, made black, blue and white wampum. Six of the white beads passed for a penny and three of the black or blue ones for the same. The Five Nations made another sort which were of purple color. The white beads were wrought out of the inside of the great conchs, and the purple out of thee inside of the mussel shell. They were made perfectly smooth and the perforation was done in the neatest manner. Indeed, considering that the Indians had neither knife, drill or any steel or iron instrument, the workmanship was admirable. After the English settled in Connecticut, the Indians strung these beads on belts of cloth in a very curious manner. The squaws made caps of cloth rising to a peak over the top of the head, and the forepart was beautiful with wampum, curiously wrought upon them. The Six Nations later wove and strung them on belts which they .gave in their treaties as a Confirmation of their speeches and the seals of their friendship.
Susan Shepard Notes: It is by Ambrose Bierce and meant as humor. The various tidbits were eventually collected into a book called “The Fiend’s Delight” in 1873.
Mary (Wilson) Webster
Barkhamsted Lighthouse Descendant
Daughter of William Preston Wilson & Harriette West
b: Jan 1827 (Barkhamsted, CT) – d: Dec 24, 1901 (Silverton?)
m: Solomon Marsh Webster on Oct 06, 1850
in Southington, Hartford, Connecticut, USA
The Old “Lighthouse” and the Strange Tribe of Barkhamsted – Only Two Mournful Survivors of it – The Connecticut Courant, Hartford Connecticut Jan 24, 1900
Was it Founded by a Runaway Wethersfield Girl and a Disappointed Narragansett Indian – Theories as to an Interesting Bit of Early Connecticut History (Special to the Courant) Winsted, Jan 24. A generation or two ago, the “Barkhamsted Lighthouse´´ had a widespread notoriety. It was a queer name to be clinging to a wild spot among the rocky hills of Northwestern Connecticut, sixty miles from the sea. Inquires into its history when they were made by the curious came too late; the true story of one of the last Indian resorts in the state will perhaps never be unearthed, Enough was learned, however to invest the place and people with a kind of romantic interest and many versions of the origin of the founders of the colony and its name grew up. The following is at present the most generally accepted account. Married a Narragansett. Changham was a Narragansett Indian born on Block Island. A young white women of Wethersfield had been forbidden by her father to marry the man of her choice. Reckless in her disappointment she declared, in spite, that she would wed the first man, white or black, who offered himself. Changham heard of it, proposed and Molly Barber kept her word. The strangely mated couple were privately married and then fled. They went over Talcott Mountain to Farmington and then up the river into the depths of the Green-woods as the great forest of what is now Litchfield Country were then called. The settled at Ragged Mountain in Barkhamsted on the upper waters of the Tunxis. Here Changham built a wigwam or hut in which they lived. Years afterwards the Hartford and Albany turnpike was constructed along the river. The stage drivers on the lonely Road passing the place at night and always seeing gleams from the cabin fire shining through the cracks the only light in miles. began to call it the “Lighthouse´´ – and so it was named Changham and his wife raised a family of eight Children whose descendants became the lighthouse tribe. The pretty but willful Molly lived to be 105 years old dying in 1820 and came to be known as old Granny Changham.
The Romance of It –This is substantially the story as given by William Wallace Lee of Meriden historian of Barkhamsted his native town and is one which he considers plausible and prosale. In the latter view, however, it is possible that the able writer falls to catch the spirit of the Lighthouse legend. Even if there were nothing romantic in the rash vow the secret marriage and the hurried flight of the civilized girl, the abandonment of his ancestral home by the Narragansett – descendant of the most powerful tribe of Indians in New England – would be enough to give it color. And then later in his book, the historian speaks of Changham´s grave as “the resting place, so far as we know, the last of the Narragansett´s´´ If Changham had indeed been the last of the race New England would have no spot no more fraught with historic suggestions that the hillside where he sleeps. But it is possible that Changham may not have been Narragansett at all. Historians of neighboring towns do not sustain this theory of his coming. They hold rather that he was “the head man of the last remnants of a tribe of Indians who lived along the Farmington or Tunxis River“ and that the council fires of the tribe kept up for a long time by his descendants were the mythical lighthouse.
Lighthouse a Signal? – Yet the theory is not wholly acceptable to impartial judgment. There is no evidence that the relations between Changham whoever he was and the first white settler of Barkhamsted were ever unfriendly. Nevertheless at the very time when he was living in peace with others in the neighboring town of New Hartford a few miles down the river the handful of settlers had “a house which was forted in” which they were often obliged to resort for safety from the attack of the hostile Indians. Little as is known therefore of the natives which were indigenous to this section (Connecticut histories do not class them with the strong Tunxis Indian at the mouth of the river with whom William Holmes opened trade in 1632 (?) for that purpose sailing (?) bravely by the Dutch Fort at Hartford though ___dered (?) In New York or be fired upon. there is still ground for belief that Changham was not one of them. but was an alien and friendly to his white neighbors. The lighthouse in fact may have been his signal fire to the paleface when danger from the other Indians threatened. Some such belief seems to have been current years ago. Henry L. R. Jones, a former resident of Barkhamsted, writing from Kansas to the Centennial committee of in 1879 (?) says: “I have often met those who had heard of the old beacon light that stood stark and `one upon that old hillside as if to warn the screeching gulls of danger.´´ But who if neither Narragansett nor native, was Changham? To what ancestry did the blood of the half-breeds’ whom he left behind him, revert? They flourished at the lighthouse, wild and rand, a rough and roistering colony, for generations. Their doings were many and strange, but actual crime like that of the murdered Mossock; the exploits of whose ugly band of half-breeds’ gave the name of Satan´s Kingdom to their resorts further down the river below New Hartford, was never laid at their door. Were they from a less savage strain? Eventually the Lighthouse people began to degenerate through intermarriage, They became degraded and in their latter days were “a band of bleached-out basket-making and root gathering vagabonds.´´ Their cabins became fewer and more miserable as the race died out. Finally the remaining members were dispersed and their habitations utterly disappeared.
The Sole Survivors
There are now living, however, near the village of Riverton, a mile from the Lighthouse site, old Sol Webster and his wife, the only survivors of the tribe in that section. Their poverty is extreme. The man says he is about 80 years of age; he may be much older. The women is several years younger. Both are lineal descendants of Changham´s daughters but do not seem able to untangle their genealogies. However, the old man has recollections of many traditions of the tribe. He replies promptly when asked about his ancestor, that his grandfather told him that “Changham was an Indian who came from England with Columbus when he discovered America.´´ He is so persistent upon this point that a theory has been formed that the statement may have some basis of fact and that the mysterious Changham was of Spanish-Indian extraction.
Over 200 Buried Old Sol, as he is called speaks with sadness of his people and of the time when he says thirty-two families lived in the the Lighthouse settlement. He tells with homely pathos that in the woods near the place there is an old Indian graveyard where over 200 of his tribe are buried. The visitor to Ragged Mountain finds it as he says. It is a spot of natural beauty. The mountain is pushed back a little giving room for the Lighthouse flats beside the river. In the brushwood on either side of the road an occasional lilac bush betrays the site of a former hut. To the east on a sandy wooded knoll may be discovered but only by search, vestiges of the ancient cemetery. Few of the graves are marked and these merely by a small stone set on end. Not one has an inscription. Little hollows show that some of the graves have been raided. All trace of the burying ground must be lost in the course of a few more years, but as it is now no place can be more typical of the extinction of the red men’s race than is this somber graveyard of Changham and his tribe.
Note from Coni: Solomon Webster died just a few days after this was printed.