Learn about the Montauk Tribe’s Interesting History

The term “Montauk” has been used in many different settings, occasionally solely referring to the particular hand or tribe known by that name, but more frequently including the bulk of the tribes on Long Island, except those near the west end. It is occasionally mistakenly used in place of Metoac. Indians from Long Island were connected to those from Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Montauk dialect was more like the Natick of Massachusetts than it was to Narraganset.

The Montauk tribes, which included the Shinnecock, Manhasset, Massapequa, Montauk proper, Patchogue, and Rockaway tribes, were a confederacy of Algonquian-speaking North American Indian tribes that resided in what is now Long Island, New York. In addition, New York is famed widely for many things, and aside from Long Island it also has Staten Island

The Montauk proper, like other Algonquian tribes in this region, relied mostly on women’s corn (maize) farming for survival. Men also participated in hunting and communal fishing. They were semi-sedentary and moved sporadically between predetermined locations depending on the availability of food.

Montauk” Pronunciation

The name Montauk, often written Montaukett or Metoac, is pronounced “Mon-tawk” and is derived from the Mohegan-Pequot placename Manatauke, which likely means Island House.

What Dialect Do the Montauk People Speak?

All Montauk Indians today speak English. The Mohegan-Pequot language was once spoken by the Pequots, Mohegans, Montauks, Niantics, and other tribes of New England. Although this language has been extinct for more than a century, some young people are striving to bring it back.

The Past of Montauk Tribe

Native Americans of the Algonquian group who were loosely divided into bands and united into a confederacy under the leadership of the Montauk Sachem, who was regarded as the ruler from Montauk to the western end of the island, were living on Long Island when European settlers first arrived there in the early 1600s. Both the Indians and the Europeans recognized this chieftaincy as the island’s ruling family. The main Montauk village, which most likely carried the name of the tribe, was located close to Montauk Point, about Ft Pond. They shared a close relationship with the Indians of Massachusetts and Connecticut, just like the other Long Island Indians. According to Tooker (Cockenoe-deLong Island, 1596), the Montauk dialect was closer to the Natick of Massachusetts than the Narraganset.

The Montauks, like many Native Americans, did not live in a single location before contact. Instead, they roamed an area. Given that they lacked a written language, nothing is known about these early inhabitants. They farmed corn, squash, and beans, and harvested berries, herbs, and roots while also eating a lot of wild game like deer and wild birds, fish, and crabs. They used the entire whale, including the whale oil, which they burned in big clamshells or on rocks, in their canoe whale hunting operations. 

The Native Americans were the ones who showed the Europeans how to hunt whales. They erected forts, the biggest of which was on the hill where the present-day Montauk Manor is located.

History of Montauk

The Montauks fought against the Pequots and the Narragansetts, but a plague destroyed their tribe, and by 1659 they were compelled to ask the “English” for protection from their longtime foes, the Narragansetts. When most of them joined the Brotherton Indians of New York in 1788, following Samson Occum’s leadership, their numbers further decreased. After Benson acquired Montauk in 1879, the few remaining Indians were forced to leave their homes and land at Indian Field (the present-day Deep Hollow Ranch). Even though the State Supreme Court ordered the tribe to be exterminated in 1910, a few mixed-blood descendants still reside in East Hampton and Brotherton.

A group of English men and women from Massachusetts were the first Europeans to settle in East Hampton. To know more, you can read about the amazing history of Life in the Hamptons. In 1648, the colonists bought the territory from the Montauk Indians that stretched from Southampton’s eastern border to the Napeague shore. Wyandanch, the grand sachem of the Montauk tribe, didn’t grant the settlers permission to pasture their livestock on Montauk until 1665. 

The proprietors, a group of East Hampton residents who purchased Montauk from the Montauk Indians in 1686, held the land in common trust for nearly 200 years. Thus, began Montauk’s history as a seasonal pasture for livestock like sheep, cattle, and horses. The yearly cattle drives began on May 1 and ended on November 1 each year (going off). Townspeople flocked out in large numbers to watch the riders herd their livestock during these annual cattle drives, where 1200 to 1500 cattle would arrive from all across Eastern Long Island.

The keepers protected the animals while they were on Montauk. To house them, three homes were constructed. They were the only structures on Montauk, aside from the lighthouse, until the late 19th century. The First House burned down in 1774 and was never rebuilt. It was situated right where the hills known as the Nominicks emerge from the level Napeague plain. The Historical Society now manages Second House, a museum that was constructed in 1797. Third House, which dates to 1806 and is presently managed as a museum by Suffolk County, is located on the grounds of Theodore Roosevelt County Park overlooking Indian Field.

George Washington ordered the construction of the Montauk Lighthouse, which was finished in 1797. For many years, it served as a Coast Guard station, where its foghorn and signal light alerted sailors to avoid the perilous rocky shoals that extend from the point. A million people visit the lighthouse each year, which the Historical Society now runs as a museum.

Tourism in Montauk

It began when Arthur Benson, who brought out his powerful friends and erected a few residences near the point, purchased Montauk for $151,000 from the descendants of the original owners. Their group identified itself as the Montauk Association. These homes are now recognized as historic landmarks. In the 1920s, Carl Fisher fell in love with Montauk because of its rolling hills and sparse vegetation, which reminded him of moorland in England. In 1926, Fisher bought Montauk from Arthur Benson’s heirs.

In preparation for a summer resort for the affluent, he constructed the Montauk Manor, the town’s office building, the golf course, the yacht club, Tudor-style residences, and even a Tudor hamlet for the labor force. Although the 1929 stock market crash put an end to his great plans for Montauk, the area’s appeal as a tourist destination has continued to rise. The village’s Plaza was christened the Carl Fisher Plaza this year in recognition of Montauk’s brilliant developer.