Survivance Strategies and the Materialities of Mashantucket Pequot Labor in the Later Eighteenth Century
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Scholars in New England have long been puzzled by the mixed materialities of colonial period Indian homes. Variously interpreted as a strategy for survival, a reflection of cultural loss, or as representations of continuity and change, these sites and their assemblages remain undertheorized. This article focuses on three sites from the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation in southeastern Connecticut, dating between the 1740s/1750s and the 1780s. By considering the differences among them, archaeologists can begin working toward new understandings of Pequot Indian survivance. That research pathway starts with a reconsideration of Indian work in the 1700s, in which household subsistence labor is distinguished from household surplus labor and labor products from labor time. This tactic allows for more in-depth, contextual studies of furnishings and foodways, in which the differences amongst site assemblages become clues to changing reservation ecologies, social exchange networks beyond the reservation, everyday household rhythms, and acts of “quiet defiance.”
Keywordssurvivance household labor hybrid material cultures social exchange Pequot Indians
Los eruditos de Nueva Inglaterra están perplejos desde hace tiempo por las materialidades mezcladas de los hogares indios del período colonial. Interpretados de manera variada como una estrategia de supervivencia, un reflejo de la pérdida cultural o como representaciones de continuidad y cambio, estos yacimientos y sus ensamblajes siguen padeciendo una insuficiencia de teorías. El presente artículo se centra en tres yacimientos de la Reserva India Mashantucket Pequot en el sudeste de Connecticut, que datan entre las décadas de 1740/1750 y 1780. Al considerar las diferencias entre ellos, los arqueólogos pueden empezar a trabajar hacia nuevas comprensiones de la supervivencia de los indios Pequot. Esa vía de investigación comienza con una reconsideración del trabajo de los indios en los años 1700, en los que la mano de obra de subsistencia de los hogares se distingue de la mano de obra en exceso de los hogares y los productos de la mano de obra del tiempo de trabajo. Esta táctica permite estudios más en profundidad y contextuales de muebles y hábitos alimentarios, en los que las diferencias entre los ensamblajes del yacimiento se convierten en pistas hacia ecologías de reserva cambiantes, redes de intercambio social más allá de la reserva, ritmos diarios del hogar y actos de "callada resistencia".
Les chercheurs en Nouvelle-Angleterre ont longtemps été surpris par les matériaux mixtes des maisons indiennes de la période coloniale. Interprétés de diverses façons comme une stratégie de survie, un reflet de perte culturelle ou comme des représentations de continuité et de changement, ces sites et leurs assemblages restent insuffisamment théorisés. Cet article porte essentiellement sur trois sites de la réserve indienne des Mashantucket Pequots dans le sud-est du Connecticut, datant des années 1740 et 1750 et des années 1780. En examinant les différences entre eux, les archéologues peuvent commencer à œuvrer en vue d’une nouvelle compréhension de la survivance des indiens Pequot. Cette voie de recherche commence par un réexamen des ouvrages indiens dans les années 1700, dans lesquels le travail de subsistance des familles se distingue du surplus de travail des familles et les produits de ce travail du temps de travail. Cette approche tient compte d’études plus approfondies et contextuelles du mobilier et des habitudes alimentaires, dans lesquels les différences entre les assemblages des sites deviennent des indices pour l’évolution des écologies de la réserve, des réseaux d’échange social en dehors de la réserve, des rythmes quotidiens des familles et des actes de « défiance calme ».
More than 55,000 people visit the Mashantucket Pequot Museum each year, touring its rich immersive exhibits that are based upon several decades of archaeological research on the tribe’s reservation in New London County, southeastern Connecticut. Museum staff has undertaken visitor studies since 2007 (Kasper and Handsman 2015), learning that most spend several hours in the first-floor galleries, which span the time from the late glacial period through the Pequot War (1637) and include a life-sized, walk-through, recreated Pequot village of ca. 500 years ago. By the time museum visitors arrive on the second floor, with its reservation period exhibits (1680s–present day), they are exhausted and looking for a break. Consequently, they devote less than 15 min. to exploring what are, arguably, key spaces for illuminating the still-misunderstood, almost-invisible histories of Pequot Indians having to live and work in and against the modern world, often in unexpected ways and new places (Vizenor 1990; Deloria 2004).
For insiders, meaning both museum staff and the Mashantucket tribal community, interpreting the space is equally problematic: some exhibit texts talk about “near self-sufficiency” or “a growing reliance on store-bought goods” (somewhat contradictory assertions), while scholars write about “slow transformations by degree” (McBride 2005). (Is this just another way to talk about acculturation?) Or perhaps the farmhouse is about a credit-based economy leading to cycles of dependency, debt, and impoverishment, a story favored by tribal educators who work at the museum.
What should be made of this plurality of interpretations, seemingly all truth-filled and based on widely believed stories of what happened after contact (museum visitors), or data-informed inferences (museum scholars), or community-based accounts (Mashantucket Pequot)? I argue that this rich multiplicity of often conflicting interpretations does not yet encompass enough possibilities of other, still-hidden, alternative histories. Specifically, the farmhouse exhibit and its archaeological and archival records can be an entry point for the building of an historical archaeology of Pequot Indian survivance. That project focuses on the complexly layered, entangled processes of interactions, creative adaptations, losses, ongoing traditions, and newnesses that have always been part of Indians living and working and surviving in (and against) the ever-changing modern world (Raibmon 2005; Clifford 2013:13–49). Survivance stories challenge the trope of Indian authenticity (Cipolla 2013b) and its essentialist model of singular, static societies/communities/experiences by recovering evidences of diverse, ever-changing strategies of accommodation, subtle processes of resistance, and a hidden archive of small behaviors and expressive actions—another plurality of stories about what “really happened” as Mashantucket Pequot and other native peoples made and remade their lives.
Mixed Materialities and the Differentiation of Pequot Labor
PHL = Subsistence Labor (SbL) + Surplus Household Labor (SrHL), or
PHL = SbL + [SrHL1 + SrHL2], where SrHL1 refers to materials, supplies, and objects that are the products of Pequot labor not used by households and thus useful for exchange in settings beyond the reservation, and where SrHL2 refers to a more abstract Pequot labor (labor time) also available for exchange. Opportunities for off-reservation work (SrHL2) varied from moment to moment, but certainly they grew as southeastern Connecticut became more settled and urbanized
Together, these three components of household labor are key pathways for the production or acquisition of the Pequot material culture recovered by archaeologists. For example, at Site 72-58, SbL is represented by faunal and botanical remains (and their archaeological contexts) from hunting and fishing; some animal husbandry (sheep and cattle bones); shellfish collecting from coastal locations; gardening; and the gathering of firewood, nuts, and wild plants across the ecologically diverse reservation (Handsman 2013, Kasper 2013:104–105,110,122,126,130,170,174,431–445). In some Pequot households, part of these subsistence resources was allocated for use in exchange networks beyond the reservation. For example, the hides of butchered deer or cattle could have been used in the regional exchange system, while the meat would have remained “at home.” Other “Pequot-made” products useful in exchange likely included sewn clothing, splint baskets, and carved wooden bowls and spoons, or even processed medicinal plants. SrHL1 produced these goods, a process that is represented in part by specific assemblages and activity areas seen at archaeological sites, including, for example, 72-58’s sewing-related toolkit and materials.
C→M→C′, where one group of commodities, including labor time, are given values (M) that can then be used to obtain other commodities (C′), where cash is not yet key to transactions, and where production and exchange are always about household provisioning, use, and reproduction. (Sahlins 1972:41–99)
This model of labor differentiation builds upon earlier discussions of native consumption in southern New England (Silliman and Witt 2010) by beginning with the idea that 18th-century regional economies had to grow and develop into well-integrated market systems in which Pequot Indians could then have behaved as consumers and wage-earning laborers. It took most of the 18th century for that world to be built (Kulikoff 2000), a slow and sometimes disrupted process that impacted native lives while shaping their responses to it. It is, therefore, a world and time with complexly layered regional and local histories that can be explored archaeologically to illuminate both the pushing and pulling of Indian survivance, and the diverse ways in which it was experienced by and enacted in each local community.
By looking more closely at the components of Pequot labor, documentation of the structural diversity of Mashantucket households (their size, age groups, and gender differences) can begin, and the ways their composition shaped their economies and material records can be explored. For example, Site 72-34a is contemporaneous with Site 72-58. Its size and settlement plan, spatial organization, and ecofact assemblage are almost identical, and its occupants acquired and used some domestic goods, including nails, gunflints and lead shot, kaolin pipes, and sewing materials (beads and buttons). But, its ceramic assemblage is quite different, composed only of glazed red earthenwares, with no sherds of English-made vessels (Handsman 2013:164–166). Clearly, this is a household where subsistence labor needs were being met, but one that had comparatively fewer surplus labor products or less labor time available for use in the off-reservation exchange economy, likely because there were fewer able-bodied adults in the household and, thus, less SrHL. A 1762 Mashantucket census (Stiles 1809) lists some 20–30 families, of which 6 were headed by widows and at least 2 included mostly elders and young children. Thus, community households varied in their family cycles; in turn, this shaped their labor processes, creating different survivance pathways represented by measurable differences in ceramic assemblages.
The Pequot inhabitants of Sites 72-58 and 72-34a participated in the same regional (New London County), merchant-focused, credit-based economy of the mid-18th century, where domestic goods were primarily acquired at ports, such as Norwich and New London, places involved in the coastal and intercoastal trade linking southeastern Connecticut to greater Boston, Newport, New York City, Philadelphia, and the Chesapeake (Decker 1970; Avitable 2009). The goods procured were stored in shipping houses on the merchants’ wharves2 and made available there through a system of account keeping in which daily entries were recorded, showing names, goods, and supplies received, and their values (“M” in the equation above). Norwich merchant Gershom Breed owned one such facility on the Thames River. His day books (Breed 1755, 1765) include the names of both Pequot and Mohegan Indians, whose purchases included cloth, buttons and thread, molasses, rum, flints, tea, sugar, nails, and woodworking tools (Handsman 2013:168).
Accounts were often unbalanced, although periodically reconciled, so entries listing Pequot and other Indian receivables were separated from ones detailing their credits, the values assigned to their surplus-labor products or labor time (Handsman 2013:166,168). In this system, consumers (Indians) and suppliers (colonial merchants) were both independent and socially connected; both were active participants with familiar roles yet very different lives. Pequot labor and its products could not be appropriated—as labor time was not translated uniformly into monetary earnings, since cash was limited and underused.
In the first half of the 18th century, Mashantucket Pequot Indians were not wage laborers, as a mature capitalist economy did not then exist in southeastern Connecticut. Instead, Pequot households and their mixed economies (and materialities) were much as they had been since the mid-17th century—somewhat traditional and mostly autonomous—yet, integrated to varying degrees into the world beyond their reservation, a survivance strategy seen elsewhere in Indian country (Merrell 1989:49–91; Matthews 2007). But, as customary as this world had become by the mid-18th century, it was also changing, and this presented Mashantucket families with new challenges and opportunities over the next two generations.
Mashantucket Pequot Survivance in the Last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century
In October 1774, overseers for the Mashantucket Pequot petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly to authorize the erection of visible memorials (stone markers) formalizing the boundaries of the “anciently sequestered” reservation in an effort to prevent future trespasses and losses while protecting tribal access to land and resources. Those boundaries had been legally established earlier, in May 1761, but the plan showing them was “concealed and secreted” or, supposedly, had been lost (Connecticut Archives, Indian Series 1774). Without it, the Mashantucket and their agents could do little to prevent colonial incursions, which had reduced the reservation’s size by some two-thirds since the 1750s. This suggests the community’s subsistence practices may have been significantly altered over a two-decade-long span.
Meanwhile, the regional economy of New London County was becoming more extensive, differentiated, and market oriented as populations grew, center villages developed, and transportation networks spread across the countryside (Daniels 1979; Avitable 2009:320–361). Merchants and their trade networks still dominated regional exchange, even as local artisans and storekeepers became more numerous and agricultural production intensified. This growth would have impacted Pequot lives, as there were now more opportunities for off-reservation work (SrHL2) and more places from which to acquire household goods and supplies. These changes shaped the survivance experiences of the Pequot in the Revolutionary War era, creating challenges and possibilities for everyday life and work that could have been accommodated, resisted (in part through the submission of petitions), redefined, or even ignored by tribal families as they sought to preserve reservation lands, make a living, care for their elders and children, and pass on their cultural identity and traditions.
All of this comprises the history of survivance at Mashantucket over a generation or two, the pushing and pulling of reservation life, which engendered loss and complaints, as well as new practices and small acts of defiance (Vizenor 1984). Seen this way, survivance studies are about the historical agency of native peoples and their complex relationships with changing places—both as producers and reactors—focusing on household differences, momentary responses to colonialist practices and ideologies, and small-scale transitions that may or may not have endured—what Silliman (2012) calls the “short purée.” Any archaeology which seeks to recover and illuminate survivance histories must, at some point, engage with this kind of complexity. However, to date, there has been little effort to build and assess a middle-range theory of concepts and methods. Even Silliman’s most recent work on Eastern Pequot survivance (Silliman 2014) does not really move beyond some interesting theoretical statements about the role of various material cultures in creating and sustaining residence. So, while he foregrounds the rich and diverse material cultures found on 18th- and 19th-century sites, Silliman does not provide any framework for analyzing those assemblages. What follows here, and in the next section, are two more case studies from Mashantucket, illustrating how archaeologists can build some middle-range theory for exploring native survivance by looking more closely at labor, exchange, and household assemblages and spaces in reservation contexts from the late 18th century.
Outside the wetu, and in contrast to 72-58, the archaeological record is sparse, mostly consisting of postmolds and other evidences of fence lines, likely representing pens for domestic animals, including cattle, pig, and either sheep or goat, all of whose remains are present. There are no exterior shell middens or activity areas, such as cooking pits or hearths, and artifact concentrations are scant. This underused space probably reflects a reduction in the labor time committed to some subsistence pursuits, especially hunting and shellfish collecting, that were becoming more limited as access to lands and resource locations was being constrained on and off the reservation. In part, those losses are what led to the October 1774 petition.
In contrast, 72-161’s archaeobotanical assemblage is much like the one recovered from 72-58: abundant; well-preserved in a variety of features; and representing the reservation’s diverse ecosystem of forest patches, including nut-bearing species (primarily hickory); wetlands; and open fields in various stages of succession (Kasper 2013:114,124,128,144–147,174). Evidently, the colonial incursions and land losses of the period had less impact on plant gathering than on hunting and collecting. Certainly this is, in part, a reflection of the continued importance of gendered-based, gathering economies, as Pequot women, older and younger, tended to remain “at home,” unlike adult men who often worked beyond the reservation.
Still, if one hypothesizes that the subsistence labor component in Mashantucket households declined between the early 1750s and the late 1770s, then one might wonder what families did to compensate. Other data from 72-161 suggest that one strategy was to intensify women’s input into surplus household labor, in part through sewing clothes that could then be used as credits in the exchange economy.3 The sewing assemblage from 72-161, mostly associated with the wetu floor, includes pewter and cupriferous buttons (n=19), glass beads (n=15), a pair of scissors, and 287 straight pins (cupriferous or copper). The frequency of these artifacts is more than 30 times greater at 72-161 than 72-58, even though the house sizes are almost identical. Pequot men may also have contributed in this way, producing household objects of value, such as carved wooden ladles and “pudden” (pudding) spoons.4
Even more additional household labor could have been invested in surplus labor time (SrHL2), as the growing market economy provided Pequot men with more opportunities for farm employment (seasonally) and day labor as teamsters, unskilled assistants to artisans, and dockworkers, while women worked as domestics for merchants and in the homes of other elites. Their earnings were entered into farm, household, mercantile, and shop account books as credits, thereby enabling Mashantucket families to acquire supplies, foodstuffs, and domestic goods at more locations than possible in the mid-18th century. For example, in the 1770s and 1780s, many Mashantucket Pequot routinely visited Ebenezer Punderson’s store in Preston, Connecticut, just north of the reservation. Among them were Joseph Charles, Joshua George, Samson Pauquenup, Jacob Quocheatts, and Charles Skandaup, all signers of a May 1773 memorial complaining of frequent land encroachments (Connecticut Archives, Indian Series 1773).
Mashantucket Joseph Sunsimun (Sunsimon, Sunsimain) also signed the memorial; a frequent Punderson customer, Sunsimun’s purchases (August 1772–July 1775) included cloth (black silk, flannel, lace, fringe, and binding), buttons and thread, shoes, a scythe, rum, molasses, and glasses (glassware). He was credited for bushels of beans and rye, and for cash provided by a third party for whom he had presumably worked (Punderson 1772–1811). There is even an entry indicating Sunsimun acquired a teapot there in February 1775, perhaps just like the three vessels of lead-glazed, red earthenwares with compact pastes and black, metallic lusters (English-made Jackfield or American-made Jackfield-like wares) excavated from the wetu floor at 72-161. That household ceramic assemblage also included sherds of over-glaze hand-painted porcelain and creamware, and English-made yellow slipware decorated with dots and trailed lines, mostly represented by thin-walled teacups or tea bowls. Less common are fragments of handled mugs (annular creamware) and underglaze blue-painted pearlware sherds (chinoiserie decoration), also from teacups and tea bowls. Some of these vessels were available at Ebenezer Punderson’s store, the inventory of which included imported teapots, matching sets of cups and saucers, cups without saucers, and mugs (Trunzo 2008:283–284).
Certainly, more of the Pequots’ household ceramics would have been acquired at Chelsea Landing (also known as Norwich Landing) on the Thames River below Yantic Falls, some 15 mi. from Mashantucket. Merchant shops there were stocked with imported ceramics, such as “Queen’s Ware” (creamware), “Blue and white China” (porcelain), and various earthenwares, known collectively as “Liverpool Ware.”5 Or, the Pequots could have traveled several miles farther up the Yantic River, a tributary of the Thames, to the settlement of Norwichtown, founded in the later 17th century, where imported wares were also available in small shops and stores operated by brothers Samuel and Dudley Woodbridge, Christopher Leffingwell, Lynde McCurdy, and others. Their inventories included “teapots, mugs, pudding dishes, and bowls, plates, and platters of various sorts,” made of “China Ware, White Stone Ware, and Queens Ware,” which were sold “for Cash” or given in exchange for “wheat, rye, oats, hops, pork, cheese and beans, Soldier Notes now due, and State Money.”6
While some archival documents reflect continuing colonial incursions and Pequot losses during the Revolutionary War period—as well as ongoing community protests—Mashantucket’s archaeological record reflects an even more complex history of survivance. It is another archive filled with evidences of multiple accommodations and adjustments in which Pequot families maintained their traditions of plant use while integrating their surplus household labors and products into a growing market economy. That economy became more and more differentiated and dispersed during the last quarter of the 18th century, providing many more sites for social interaction and exchange than were present several decades earlier. It was an emerging geography that Pequot families understood, participated in, and used advantageously, a process of survivance that was shaped by the acquisition and use of specific, everyday material cultures.
Re-Excavating the Pequot Farmhouse: Toward an Archaeology of “Sly Civility”
Not all Mashantucket families in the later 18th century lived in wetu-based hamlets; some inhabited wood-framed, cellar-less, and partially floored one-story houses with lofts, interior hearths, and partial chimneys,8 much like the farmhouse on the Mashantucket Pequot Museum’s second floor (Fig. 1). That space was recreated using archaeological data excavated from Site 72-66 in the early to mid-1990s. A rich and diverse historical assemblage was recovered from some 600 m2 of units, including faunal remains (shellfish and mammal bone, mostly calcined), bottle and window glass, kaolin pipe fragments, iron nails (both T- and L-heads), pewter and cupriferous buttons, glass beads, sewing tools (scissors, straight pins, a needle), and an array of imported and locally made earthenwares and stonewares.
Thus, sometime around the early 1780s, a Mashantucket Pequot family moved into its new home at Site 72-66. The frame house was not then unique on the reservation. Some of its furnishings were more costly than average, but could have been found at contemporaneous wetu-based sites at Mashantucket, including 72-161. Still, the frame house would not have stood out in its reservation setting, looking quite familiar on the exterior—ordinary and typical for colonial landscapes. But some visitors would have been surprised by its carefully ordered space, interior furnishings, and familiar material culture of teapots and teacups, dining utensils (iron forks and knives, pewter spoons), decorated serving platters, and so on. Many outsiders expected to find Indian families looking poor or needy, being lazy and resistant to change, unable to care for their children, and scarcely surviving on their subsistence economy. Certainly there were those who struggled even to make do—but the realities of Mashantucket life were more complicated, including households with “flourishing” families who, in the words of one legislative report, “have made handsome improvements, and have some Cattle, and seem to be Desirous of Improving after the English Manner” (Connecticut Archives, Indian Series 1761).
One archaeological perspective would point to the evidence from wetu-and-wood frame houses at Sites 72-161 and 72-66 as being representative of such desired changes, an inevitable outcome of being less and less Pequot as the 18th century progressed. But, it seems just as likely that some of the “handsome improvements” were meant as subtle, critical, wordless acts—a carefully constructed materiality that turned the colonist’s idea of an “English Manner” on its head—as when, for example, they sipped their herbal teas made from sumac leaves they had gathered9 and then brewed in their creamware and Jackfield-ware teapots. To use Homi Bhabha’s (1994:141) compelling image: “[I]t is the native refusal to satisfy [live up to, fulfill, become] the colonizer’s narrative demand”—less a disguise, and more a ruse. At Mashantucket, some Pequot families resorted to small, yet visible, “sly acts of civility” to begin constructing another kind of Indian-ness that undercut the common belief that Pequots could not be indigenous and modern all at once. It was another strategy of survivance, part of the ongoing and eternal push-and-pull history of reservation life.
Toward Future Archaeologies of Native Survivance
Sometime in the early fall of 1766, a committee appointed by the Connecticut General Assembly visited Mashantucket to inquire into “the State and Circumstances of the Indians.” They found 150 in residence on “Land not [of] the best quality,” although some of it was “good and improved after the English mode.” Many of the Indians, they reported, “appear poor and needy; sundry of them [were] Widows who lost their husbands in the Late war [Seven Years War]” (Connecticut Archives, Indian Series 1766). There is no reason to doubt the committee’s observations, which resulted in an appropriation for clothing and education for Mashantucket children, but it is also known from archaeology that poverty was not then endemic or even persistent across the community, and that some households were deeply engaged in the market economy beyond the reservation. These initial insights make evident the plurality of Pequot lives, while also exposing the limits and ambiguities (Leone and Crosby 1987) of the colonists’ written archives, both important entry points for any postcolonial archaeology of native survivance.
My work here engages with that project and with its future challenges to be comparative, global, and more analytical by seeking to build some middle-range theory. I focus on Pequot households and differentiate their potential labor into several components whose materialities can then be traced out through detailed studies of archaeological assemblages. As archaeologists, that approach helps to focus our gaze on the lived realities of reservation life (Ferris 2009:32–78), which are always about the simultaneity and syncretism of changing subsistence and market economies, and how those systems were both enabled by and expressed in a mostly nonnative material culture. A focus on household labor can also be key in the ongoing effort to build a comparative archaeology of colonialism. That project has already deepened our understandings of the diverse strategies enacted by native communities, and how they can be recovered archaeologically; see various essays in Ferris et al. (2014). But there is still too little study of the underpinnings of some of those practices, especially those without a long, deep history: How did they come to be, and what forces, structures, or systems produced them and then kept them going? Part of the answer lies in a more carefully differentiated analysis of indigenous labor. Consider, for example, the close-to-the-ground research of Tsim Schneider (2015) in northern California, focused on processes of memory making and place keeping amongst post–Spanish mission Coast Miwok communities in the hinterlands. Beyond the commemorative trips and persistent reoccupation of ancient shell mounds, Miwok families invested their surplus labor time in the growing mercantile and agricultural economies of the Marin Peninsula, working on farms and ranches and learning trades, such as blacksmithing and carpentry. Presumably, their home sites contain a rich and diverse material record reflective of their abilities to connect with and use the region’s market economy, while also continuing and adapting traditional subsistence practices.
Context is everything in that work and in the research at Mashantucket. It specifies the historical conditions of reservation ecologies and how those were altered by colonial policies and native practices, as well as the economic and social relations of emerging market economies and the changing possibilities in them for Pequot interaction. And, of course, the archaeological contexts of specific artifact assemblages allow for the study of household diversity and everyday life through the use of longstanding analytical methods, such as seriation, vessel reconstruction, minimum vessel counts, archaeobotanical studies, spatial patterning, and intersite comparisons. Searching for small-scale, meaning-filled differences can make a difference in how the interconnected products of subsistence and surplus household labor are explored, and the ways in which these were shaped by the reservation’s changing ecologies. Specific assemblages, such as sewing kits and archaeobotanical remains, when linked to one another and to absences or infrequencies of other resources, often represent small-scale changes and reservation histories of loss, adjustments, and household survival.
Sometimes there is a pattern that, when noticed, might lead to other possibilities and then on, perhaps, to a new insight. Imagine the role that trapping may have played in the economies of late 18th-century Pequot households at a time (1785–1795) when New London County merchants actively sought the furs of small mammals for use by growing numbers of hat-makers.10 The meat of trapped animals would have ended up in household soups and stews, seen archaeologically as calcined bone fragments, while the furs would become another Pequot credit in the market economy. Parts of traps have been recovered from the assemblage of Mashantucket Site 72-66, but, I suspect, even more await discovery in the inventory of metal artifacts.
Surplus household labor, especially labor time, enabled the Pequots’ active participation in both local and regional market economies. In turn, that process and its layered histories were expressed materially through the 18th-century household assemblages at Mashantucket—ceramics; metal ware, such as cooking pots and pewter utensils, nails and other hardware; smoking pipes; glassware; window glass; and technologies for hunting, fishing, sewing, trapping, and wood harvesting—almost everything that can be recovered from the archaeological record of reservation homes. The diversity of pottery wares and vessel forms indicates that Pequot families were savvy, knowledgeable, and experienced “consumers” who acquired imported and domestic-made ceramics from a network of small stores and shops, as well as from Norwich merchants connected to the coastal, intercoastal, and international economies.
Further in-depth studies of the “biographies” (Cipolla 2015:25–26) of pottery types and individual vessels will certainly clarify the workings of these face-to-face, customary exchange networks, while contributing to the reconstruction of more detailed household-by-household profiles of the ceramics used by Mashantucket families. For example, initial comparative studies suggest that some Mashantucket households (72-161 and 72-66) in the last quarter of the 18th century frequently used stoneware vessels from local potteries in Norwich and Stonington. This is in contrast with four archaeologically known households from the same period: one from an Eastern Pequot family living on its own near the reservation (Site 102–123) (Silliman and Witt 2010:59–62); one from Site 102–65, occupied by nonnative neighbors of the Mashantucket, just north of the reservation (Dye Farm II) (Trunzo 2008:157–159,204–206,220–230,328); and Pequot Site 72-42 (ST2) and Site 72-85, both located along historic Kate Swamp Road on the reservation, in the place known today as Indiantown (Jones et al. 2003). At all of these sites, locally made stoneware vessels are either absent or uncommon, suggesting that local communities or household clusters created and re-created exchange networks that differed in their content and geography and in the products acquired.
Small-scale differences in assemblages and their spatial patternings may also be connected to Pequot “acts of civility,” deliberately shaped, understated materialities that were meant as comments on and critiques of the supposed irreconcilability of the colonial and native worlds, of the civilized and indigenous. When colonial visitors entered Mashantucket farmhouses, they sometimes found themselves in familiar, yet surprising, settings, spaces that defied their expectations while validating their ideas about the need for and value of acculturation. In contrast, their Pequot hosts likely created and saw these spaces as evidence of the lived realities and synchronicity of persistent traditions and creative accommodations—of their abilities to move through and make use of the changing colonial world, much more than simply “making do.”
It is certain that the interiors of all late 18th-century Mashantucket frame houses would not have looked like the one at Site 72-66 or the one in the museum’s exhibit. Some households would not have had enough surplus labor to enter fully into the emerging market economy and, thus, would have been unable to engage in the materialization of sly acts of civility. Among them were those headed by widows or wives whose husbands had served in the Revolutionary War (Naumec 2008). Their gathering economies contributed to household subsistence while also producing medicinal plants useful to their work with the sick, for which they likely received food and firewood.11 Periodic allowances of food and cash, distributed by tribal guardians, could also have helped them maintain their families. Still, their houses would have been underfurnished, “after the English manner,” in comparison to others on the reservation, differences that should be recoverable from archaeological records.
Pequot expressions of civility in the Revolutionary War period were developed, I argue, at a time when it was commonly assumed that, to survive, Indians needed to become civilized, English, and modern—by so doing, it was thought, they would cease to be native. Some at Mashantucket successfully undercut that idea by creating and furnishing spaces that partly mimicked those of their colonial neighbors, while sustaining their everyday lives. They were able to do so because they understood how to connect with an emerging market economy whose suppliers knew their Indian clients and valued their labor and its products. However, that economy certainly changed as the 19th century unfolded, perhaps leaving Pequot families less able to make connections, find off-reservation work, and acquire material culture. Their house interiors would have looked different, and so would the archaeological assemblages from their changing lives and new survivance strategies.
The process of pushing and pulling against the ever-changing, colonial world was, I argue, central to reservation life in Indian New England, and, thus, should be integral to studies of community persistence and tribal survivance across the region. The life and writings of Mohegan Samson Occom (1723–1792), community leader and preacher, are illustrative here. In late November 1765, shortly before he left for a three-year fundraising tour in England, Occom wrote to the Connecticut Board of Correspondents. He asked them to pay Norwich merchant Gershom Breed more than £9 against Occom’s outstanding accounts; see letter in Brooks (2006:73). Those accounts had accrued over the previous 10 months at Breed’s wharf-based store at Chelsea Landing in Norwich as Occom acquired tea and rum, flints (for fire making or firearms), various spices, household and cooking supplies, cloth for his sister Sarah and his wife Mary, nails and hinges, shot (for firearms), and paper for writing. His entries reveal he visited Breed’s store once or twice each month, but there are only two entries showing credits, both for cash to be paid by others against Occom’s accounts (Breed 1765). His name can be found in other ledgers and day books across New London County, and it is clear that Samson Occom actively participated in and expertly used its regional exchange networks. He even lived in a two-story, wood-framed house on the Mohegan Indian reservation in Uncasville (Barber 1836:339–340).
Samson Occom’s life is a survivance story filled with accommodations, daily practices, and resistances (voiced or not), much like those now coming to light on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation and elsewhere in Indian New England (Cipolla 2013a; Delucia 2015; Handsman 2015; Mrozowski et al. 2015). By extension, studies of survivance should always be at the heart of archaeologies in Indian country across the Americas, any place where researchers are being challenged to make a different sense of the materiality of native lives, on and off historical reservations. Indigenous survivance histories are mostly unrecorded in the colonial archives, where one finds documents witnessing loss and protest and, seemingly, the inevitability of change. Yet, the archaeological record provides an important, compelling, factually rich counter archive of small acts and systematic behaviors, glimpses (and more) of other lives and places. Thus, archaeologists are not, in Mark Leone’s (2008:131) words, “beholden to history.”
Yet, we archaeologists must be more conscious of how our work and its emerging insights can become a pathway for enriching public understandings of native peoples and their histories through new representations and counter narratives. Archaeological studies of late 18th-century Mashantucket households have recovered a rich materiality from both wetu and frame houses, an important discovery that is both “unexpected and actually there” (Leone 2008:127). Yet, the discovery’s potential to challenge and overturn visitor understandings is unfulfilled—since survivance stories are still uncommon at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum (Kasper and Handsman 2015). Therein lies both opportunity and challenge as we continue to work.
Silliman’s research focuses on the Eastern Pequot Reservation in North Stonington, Connecticut, established in 1683; my studies are of Mashantucket Pequot sites from their reservation (1666) in nearby Ledyard.
One such facility was described in May 1784 as “a large and commodious Store ... three stories high with an excellent cellar under it. It is situated in the center of business, and is finely accommodated for an extensive wholesale dealer; or it may very conveniently serve for three retailers” (Norwich Packet, or, the Chronicle of Freedom 1784b).
Account books for the Ebenezer Punderson store (Punderson 1772–1811) in Preston, Connecticut, include numerous entries detailing Indian purchases of buttons, cloth (flannel, lace, silk), indigo dye, pins, and skeins of thread. An August 1796 entry lists a credit of cash to Pequot Joshua George’s wife: “in part pay for a cloak to be taken up at this Shop hereafter,” presumably after she completed it.
Stiles indicates that in 1762 one-third of Mashantucket families lived in frame houses on the reservation; the others inhabited wetu (Stiles 1809).
Sumac seeds were plentiful in flotation samples excavated from Feature 1 at 72-66, the stone-and-brick-lined hearth in the frame structure (Kasper 2013:116,131).
Norwich newspapers commonly included fur-related listings from merchants and hatmakers starting in the mid-1780s or so.
Mashantucket Sally George was one such Indian doctor; an autobiographical fragment can be found in William Apess’s 1833 work, “The Experiences of Five Christian Indians” (Apess 1992).
The collections and excavation records used here are archived at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, located on the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation, southeastern Connecticut. Over the years, Roberta Charpentier, the museum’s archaeology lab supervisor, has provided access and shared insights. Doug Curry, formerly on the Pequot Museum staff, helped with some photographic needs. My thanks to the staff of the Connecticut Historical Society (Hartford), the Otis Library (Norwich), the Leffingwell House Museum (Norwich), and the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the Yale University Library (New Haven) for access to account books, historical newspapers, and other documents. The Eastern Pequot Tribal Council and Stephen W. Silliman, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts––Boston, kindly provided access to archaeological materials from Site 102-123. A first version of this article was prepared for a 2013 Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting in Chicago, Illinois; my thanks to Brad Phillippi and Chris Matthews for their kind invitation to join their session, “Making the ‘Invisible’ Visible in Plural Sites and Communities.”
For more than 35 years, I have learned much from the work of Mark Leone, good friend and respected colleague. The comments of Emily Button, Kurt Jordan, and Bradley Phillippi measurably improved this essay. Tsim Schneider sent along examples of his ongoing California-based research. But, I alone am responsible for the interpretations presented here. This essay is dedicated to the memory of Saundra Siemens Hall (1957–2014), who delighted in the image of 18th-century Pequot families sitting around their wetu while drinking herbal teas brewed in their English-made teapots. “It’s a shame,” she often told me, “Ezra Stiles didn’t record that scene.” Indeed!
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