Narraganset Indian Tribe History
Narraganset ('people of the small
point,' from naiagans, diminutive of naiag, 'small point of
land,' with locative ending -et).
An Algonquian tribe, formerly one of the leading tribes
of New England. west of Narragansett Bay, including the Niantic territory,
form Providence River on the northeast to Pawcatuck River on the
southwest. On the northwest they claimed control over apart of the
country of the Coweset and Nipmuc, and on the southwest they claimed by
conquest form the Pequot a strip extending to the Connecticut line.
They also owned must of the islands in the bay, some of
which had been conquered from the
Wampanoag. The Niantic, living in tho western part of the, country,
were a subordinate tribe who became merged with the Narraganset after King
Philip's war. The Narraganset escaped the great pestilence that in 1617
desolated the southern New England coast, and, being joined by numbers of
the fugitives from the east, became a strong tribe. The early estimates,
as usual, greatly exaggerate, but it is certain that they numbered,
including their dependents, several thousand when first known to the
whites. In 1633 they lost 700 by smallpox, but in 1674 they still numbered
about 5,000. The next year saw the outbreak of King Philip's war, which
involved all the neighboring tribes and resulted in the destruction of the
Indian power in southern New England.
The Narraganset threw their whole strength into the
contest and shared the common fate. In the celebrated swamp fight near
Kingston, R. I., on Dec. 19, 1675, they lost nearly 1,000 in killed and
prisoners, and soon thereafter the survivors were forced to abandon their
country and take refuge in small bands among the interior tribes in the
north and west. It is probable that most of them joined the Mahican and
Abnaki, though souse may have found their way to Canada. In 1082 a party
of about 100 fugitives at Albany asked permission to return in peace. The
Niantic had taken no part in the war against the whites, and in this way
preserved their tribal organization and territory. The scattered
Narraganset, as they surrendered, were settled among them, and the whole
body henceforth took the name of Narraganset.
They were assigned a tract near Charlestown, R.
I., and constantly decreased in numbers, as they were hemmed in by the
whites. Many of them joined the Brotherton Indians in New York in 1788.
Those who remained numbered about 140 in 1812, and 80 in 1832, but these
are now reduced to a few individuals of mixed Indian and Negro blood, some
of whom have joined the Mohegan near Norwich, Conn.
The Narraganset were ruled by eight chiefs, each of
whom had his own particular territory, but was subject to the head chief,
who lived at their principal village, called Narraganset, about the site
of Kingston. Of the religion of the aborigines of Rhode Island, Roger
Williams wrote, Feb. 28, 1638 (Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., 4th s., vi, 225,
1863) as follows: "They have plenty of Gods or divine powers: the Sunn,
Moone, Fire, Water, Earth, the Deere, the Beare, &c. I brought home lately
from the Nanhiggonsicks the names of 38 of their Gods, all they could
remember." Demson says: "They made no images; their divinities were
ghosts; they were extreme spiritualists. Every element and material and
object had its ruling spirit, called a god, or Maniton. These divinities
seemed ever passionate and engaged in war with each other; hence the
passionate and warlike character of the worshippers. They adored not
intelligence and virtue, but power and revenge. Every person was believed
to be under the influence of some spirit, good or evil that is, weak or
strong to further the person's desires. These spirits, or Manitous,
inhabited different material forms, or dwelt at times in them. The
symbolic signature employed by sachems and chiefs, in signing deeds,
represented, in many cases, the forms inhabited by their guardian or
inspiring spirits; these were bows, arrows, birds, fishes, beasts,
reptiles, and the like."
The following were the Narraganset and Niantic
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of American Indians, 1906
Index of Tribes or Nations
Index of Tribes or Nations