Wolcott History
Wolcott Historical Society

Woodtick and the Tunxis in Wolcott

By David Godin, June 1996

Who were the native people that once lived and hunted in Wolcott? What kind of life would they have lived? Where have they gone?

Answers to these questions are in some cases easy to answer, in others difficult. Let's start by looking at what is known.

One of the groups that inhabited western Connecticut was called the Mattabesic. According to Mattabesic History by Lee Sultzman, in 1600, the Mattabesic probably numbered 6,000 and had as many as 60 villages. They spoke Algonquin. They lived in river valleys and along the shore in the summer and then moved with the seasons to other locations for hunting and fishing. The Mattabesic weren't really a tribe in the usual sense, but a group of small scahemships (groups led by a chief) who were normally made up of two or three villages.

There were a dozen or so subtribes of the Mattabesic. One of these, the Tunxis, had a village here in Wolcott called Woodtick. Swanton's book The Indians Of the North East gives a short reference to Woodtick, “Woodtick, near Woodtick at Wolcott, New Haven County Conn., in the Tunxis sachemdom.” There is also a local legend that says that “Long Lodge or Fort not far from the Wolcott Center for games, feasting, celebrating and councils...”

The Tunxis had two other villages: Tunxis (near Farmington) and Peguabuck. The Tunxis may have had 500 members. If the Tunxis people were divided evenly between the three villages, Woodtick (in Wolcott) might have had 175 or so residents. Villages were built on flat ground near a water supply.

The Tunxis grew corn, beans, and squash, and hunted. They, as other New England Indians, loved to play games and played a soccer-like sport. They were known for their superior skills in making Wampum. Shells to make Wampum were collected along the shore of Long Island in the summer months. They finished making them in the long winter months.

Haines Brown in his paper on wampum describes it as a collection of small white or dark purple/black beads strung “upon fibers of hemp or other tendons of wild beasts.” Wampum's value was widely regarded among all Indians and was given as gifts, for proposing marriage, and acted as money. It was traded. It was also given as tribute, which the Tunxis from the Woodtick village may have had to pay the Pequot who, during the early 1600's, subjugated small tribes so that they could control the area's wampum trade. The Pequots were eventually defeated by the English. This must have made the Tunxis happy; they no longer had to pay tribute to the Pequot. However, the English, along with their Mohegan allies, proved to be much worse then the Pequots had been.

As a result, the Tunxis and other Mattabesic tribes formed an alliance, the Mattabesic Confederation, with the Pocumtuc (from the lower Connecticut River area) and the Narragansett (from Rhode Island). They tried to force the English and their allies, the Mohegans, out in 1658, but were defeated.

Starting at Hartford and slowly working their way down to Long Island Sound, the English settled the Connecticut River Valley, then pushed west. As a result, the Pocumtuc were forced to leave and many the of Mattabesic joined them and went to other parts of the northeast region. This may have been when the Tunxis left the Wolcott area.

By 1680, there were only about 500 Mattabesic and Paugusset left. Their numbers were greatly reduced because of series of epidemics in the early 1600's and after the Indian wars, some were displaced to reservations along the Housatonic River. Some converted to Christianity and joined the Brothertons and resettled in New York.

Many arrowheads and spear tips have been found in various locations around the town of Wolcott. There is a large display at the Old Stone Schoolhouse. These arrow and spear tips were collected around the Lyman Pond area. This area was a highly valued hunting area and also a location along the foot trail that extended from Farmington (the Tunxis village of Pegubuck) to Long Island Sound.

Where was the village of Woodtick located? The exact location is not known, but it may have been in the Woodtick Road area. This area is flat and has a good water supply (the Mad River). Maybe it's good enough just knowing that they lived, had families, and hunted here.

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