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Mohegan Indians (from maïngan, ‘wolf.’ Trumbull). An Algonquian tribe whose chief seat appears originally to have been on Thames river, Conn., in the north part of New London county. They claimed as their proper country all the territory watered by the Thames and its branches north to within 8 or 10 miles of the Massachusetts line, and by conquest a considerable area extending north and east into Massachusetts and Rhode Island, occupied by the Wabaquasset and Nipmuc. On the west their dominion extended along the coast to East river, near Guilford, Conn. After the destruction of the Pequot in 1637 the Mohegan laid claim to their country and that of the western Nehantic in the south part of New London county. The tribes west of them on Connecticut river, whom they sometimes claimed as subjects, were generally hostile to them, as were also the Narraganset on their east border.
The Mohegan seem to have been the eastern branch of that group of closely connected tribes that spread from the vicinity of Narragansett bay to the farther side of the Hudson, but since known to the whites the eastern and western bodies have had no political connection. At the first settlement of New England the Mohegan and Pequot formed but one tribe, under the rule of Sassacus, afterward known as the Pequot chief Uncas, a subordinate chief connected by marriage with the family of Sassacus, rebelled against him and assumed a distinct authority as the leader of a shall band on the Thames, near Norwich, who were afterward known in history as Mohegan. On the fall of Sassacus in 1637 the greater part of the survivors of his tribe fell under the dominion of the Mohegan chief, who thus obtained control of the territory of the two tribes with all their tributary bands. As the English favored his pretensions he also set up a claim to extensive adjoining territories in the possession of rival chiefs. He strengthened his position by all alliance with the English against all other tribes, and after the destruction of the Indian power in south New England, by the death of King Philip in 1676, the Mohegan were the only important tribe remaining south of the Abnaki. As the white settlements extended the Mohegan sold most of their lands and confined themselves to a reservation on Thames River, in New London County, Connecticut. Their village, also called Mohegan, was on the site of the present town of that name on the west bank of the river. Their ancient village seems to have been farther up, about the mouth of the Yantic. Besides the village at Mohegan, the villages of Groton and Stonington, occupied mainly by the remnant of the Pequot, were considered to belong to the Mohegan. They rapidly dwindled away when surrounded by the whites. Many joined the Scaticook, but in 1788 a still larger number, under the leadership of Occom, joined the Brotherton Indians in New York, where they formed the majority of the new settlement. The rest of the tribe continue to reside in the vicinity of Mohegan or Norwich, Conn., but are now reduced to about 100 individuals of mixed blood, only one of whom, an old woman, retained the language in 1904. They still keep up a September festival, which appears to be a survival of the Green Corn dance of the Eastern tribes.
In 1643 the Mohegan were estimated to number from 2,000 to 2,500, but this included the Pequot living with them, and probably other subordinate tribes. In 1705 they numbered 750, and in 1774 were reported at 206. Soon after they lost a considerable number by removal to New York, and in 1804 only 84 were left, who were reduced to 69 five years later. They were reported to number 300 in 1825, and about 350 in 1832, but the increased numbers are probably due to the enumeration of Negroes and mixed bloods living with them, together with recruits from the Narraganset and others in the vicinity.
The Mohegan villages were:
For Further Study
The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Mohegan as both an ethnological study, and as a people.
- For further information and synonyms, see Mahican.
- For interesting notes on the remnant Mohegans remaining in the vicinity of the old Mohegan village, see Prince and Speck in Am. Anthrop., 1903 and 1904.