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.