, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 293–312 | Cite as

Materiality and Autonomy in the Pocumtuck Homeland

  • Margaret M. BruchacEmail author
  • Siobhan M. Hart


The Indigenous people of New England’s middle Connecticut River Valley are often imagined as having been subservient to powerful tribal nations elsewhere. Yet, archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence suggests Pocumtuck independence and autonomy in relations with neighboring Native groups and with Dutch, English, and French colonizers during the seventeenth century. We employ a decolonizing framework, drawing on H.M. Wobst’s critique of the preoccupation with dominance and geopolitical “centers” to analyze this evidence. By framing artifacts, colonial texts, and cultural interactions as both past and present “material interventions,” we can generate better understandings of Pocumtuck political autonomy, agency and identity.

Key Words

Indigenous New England Decolonizing Pocumtuck 


On imagine souvent que le peuple indigène qui occupait le milieu de la vallée de la rivière Connecticut en Nouvelle Angleterre vivait sous le joug de puissantes nations tribales voisines. Cependant, les données archéologiques et ethno-historiques suggèrent que le peuple Pocumtuck vivait de façon indépendante et autonome tout en entretenant des relations avec des groupes indigènes voisins et avec les colons néerlandais, anglais et français au cours du dix-septième siècle. Le cadre d’analyse décolonisant que nous utilisons emprunte à la critique de H.M. Wobst de la trop grande préoccupation pour la domination et les « centres » géopolitiques dans l’analyse de ces données. En abordant les objets, les textes coloniaux et les interactions culturelles comme des « interventions matérielles » passées et présentes, nous pouvons générer une meilleure compréhension de l’autonomie politique, de la capacité d’action et de l’identité du peuple Pocumtuck.


A menudo se ha imaginado que los pueblos indígenas de la parte media del Valle del Río Connecticut de Nueva Inglaterra han estado subordinados a nacionales tribales poderosas en otras partes. Sin embargo, la evidencia arqueológica y etnohistórica sugiere la independencia y autonomía de Pocumtuck en relación con los grupos nativos vecinos y con los colonizadores holandeses, ingleses y franceses durante el siglo XVII. Empleamos un marco descolonizador, inspirándonos en la crítica de H.M. Wobst sobre la preocupación con los “centros” geopolíticos y de predominio para analizar esta evidencia. Enmarcando artefactos, textos coloniales e interacciones culturales, tanto “intervenciones materiales” pasadas como presentes, podemos generar una mejor comprensión de la identidad, acción y autonomía política de Pocumtuck.



We offer a heartfelt thanks to H. Martin Wobst for inspiration and unflagging support. Whether meeting among the stacks of papers in his office, or meandering on an unexpected hike in an unfamiliar place, Martin has taken us down compelling intellectual pathways we would not have found on our own. We are grateful to Kimberly Kasper and Bob Paynter for organizing the AAA session in honor of Martin, and we thank them and Broughton Anderson for their work in seeing this through to publication. Two anonymous reviewers are thanked for their comments. Thanks are due to Memorial Libraries in Deerfield, Forbes Library in Northampton, and the Massachusetts Historical Society for archiving so much of the crucial seventeenth-century documentation. Archaeological investigations of the Area D site were made possible by staff and students of the UMass Field School in Archaeology in 2006, 2008, and 2011 with support from Historic Deerfield, Inc. We thank the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs for their support of this project. Will Griffin and Taber Morrell (Binghamton University) contributed to the analysis of the Area D copper alloy. A WBH Dowse Fellowship (2005) from the Massachusetts Historical Society supported Siobhan Hart’s research on seventeenth-century Native American forts. Two Graduate School Fellowships at the University of Massachusetts Amherst supported her dissertation research on the Area D site in 2006–2008. Margaret Bruchac’s research on Pocumtuck history was inspired by a Bay State Historical League Fellowship at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in 1998, and supported by two Graduate School Fellowships at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2002–2004 and the Five College Dissertation Fellowship at Amherst College in 2004–2005. Special thanks are also due to Peter Thomas for his groundbreaking work on CRV history and his insights on the Pocumtuck Fort site.


  1. 1.

    The National Park Service’s National NAGPRA program requires institutions holding collections of human remains to determine the cultural affiliation of Native American remains using a “preponderance of the evidence” derived from all available sources (National NAGPRA 1999, 2012).


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Copyright information

© World Archaeological Congress 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyBinghamton UniversityBinghamtonUSA

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