Shinnecock Indians

I don’t claim authorship of this ethnograph, only compiling rights. A portion of it has been directly lifted from various dubiously academic sources, while other sections have paraphrased unattributed and uncited sources. Nonetheless, it serves as a decent primer.

Aboriginal Life

  • Inhabited eastern long island
    • In the beginning, Long Island was Sewanhacky. This Algonquian word roughly translates to ”Place of Shells.”
  • Algonquin band
  • Numbered ~6,000 in 1620.
  • Lived in a temperate coastal area with abundant resources
  • Mild temperatures and abundant precipitation created lush and varied vegetation
  • With the gradual melting of the glaciers, a number of significant ecological changes occurred throughout the Northeast which were in process until around 3,000 B.C.
    • It seems likely that the warming climate encouraged the northward spread of deciduous trees bearing a bountiful variety of protein-rich nuts such as black walnut, pignut, butternut, and chestnut.
    • The forests also provided a supply of fruits and seeds which soon became a regular part of the Indian diet.

Origin Myth

  • The human children of the goddess who descended from the sky.
  • It was she, the story goes, who caused the land to form beneath her feet from the back of Great Turtle, deer to spring forth from her fingertips; bear to roar into awakening, wolf to prowl on the first hunt.
  • It was she who filled the sky with birds, made the land to blossom and the ponds and bays to fill with fish and mollusks.
  • And when all was done, the Shinnecock, the People of the Shore, appeared in this lush terrain.

Appearance and Clothing

  • Tall, lean people.
  • Shinnecock women wore knee-length skirts and the men wore loincloths and leggings. Shirts were not necessary in the Shinnecock culture, but Shinnecock people did wear deerskin mantles in cool weather.
  • Shinnecock men and women both wore earrings and moccasins on their feet.
  • Wore headbands with a feather or two.
    • Chiefs wore a prominent, full headband with feathers jutting upward.
  • Shinnecock men commonly styled Mohawk hairstyle or shaved their heads except for a small patch of hair known as a scalplock
  • Decorated their appearance with beads, porcupine quills and shells
  • Verrazano wrote July 8, 1524, to Francis I:
    • Many people who were seen coming to the seaside fled at our approach, but occasionally stopping, they looked back at us with astonishment, and some were at length induced, by various friendly signs, to come to us. These showed the greatest delight in beholding us, wondering at our dress, countenances and complexion. They then showed us by signs where we could more conveniently secure our boat, and offered us some of their provisions …They go entirely naked, except that about the loins they wear skins of small animals like martens fastened by a girdle of plaited grass, to which they tie, all round the body, the tails of other animals hanging down to the knees; all other parts of the body are naked. Some wear garments similar to birds’ feathers.

      The complexion of these people is black, not much different from that of the Ethiopians; their hair is black and thick, and not very long. It is worn tied back upon the head in the form of a little tail. In person they are of good proportions, of middle stature, a little above our own, broad across the breast, strong in the arms, and well formed in the legs and other parts of the body; the only exception to their good looks is that they have broad faces, but not all, however, as we saw many that had sharp ones, with large black eyes and a fixed expression. They are . . . acute in mind, active and swift of foot, as far as we could judge by observation. In these last two particulars they resemble the people of the east . . .


  • Lived in small bands of 25-50 people who shared a kinship connection. The size of the community was probably determined by the number of young men necessary for an effective hunting team.
  • Their villages sat on necks of woodland and alongside tidal creeks that overflowed with food.
  • Constructed palisade forts around their industries inhabiting large tracts of plantation for protection from raids.
    • Probably became necessary to repel the attacks of the New England Indians, who came to wrest control of the wampum production sites.

Manufactures and Conveyances

  • Paleo Clovis people utilized gravers, knives, scrapers, drills and choppers
  • Created dugout canoes for fishing and whaling
    • Could hold as many as 30 men.
  • Created small round houses called wigwams.
    • A map made in 1639 by a Dutchman named Johannes Vingboons shows four longhouses — longer wigwams that held several families — on a jagged neck of land in present-day Brooklyn.
  • Used dogs as pack animals.
  • Created sleds and snowshoes for the winter.
    • Inherited from the northern Cree Indians.
  • Bows and arrows, spears and clubs for hunting/war.
  • Pronged spears, nets, and bone hooks for fishing.
  • Known for their intricate wampum beadwork and basket weaving
    • Wampum belts depicted stories, either illustrating treaties or telling of a family’s history.
    • Wampum was also used a currency.
  • Dug deep storage pits during the winter to preserve food and insulated them with woven mats.

Subsistence Activities

  • Temporary multi-band congregations were organized for specific functions such as seasonal hunting parties, religious celebrations, and trade
  • Used dugout canoes to hunt whales
  • Harvested corn, squash and beans.
    • Used fish obtained from the river mouths as fertilizer.
    • They may have tracked the movement of stars in the winter sky. A crude lunar calendar was found at the Mount Sinai site. When the stars suggested spring had arrived, Indian women dug up the fields for planting.
  • Supplemented their diet with rabbit, berries and clams.
  • Abundant shellfish meant that starvation or deprivation was rare.
    • Shinnecock used baskets to scoop fish and oysters out of rivers, as it as was so abundant.
  • Harvested tobacco, traded it with colonists to acquire goods.
  • Corn and tobacco slowly moved from Mexico to the North East over the ancient history of North America, neither are native to Long Island, but were common by the time the colonists came.
  • One of the earliest forms of economic development that the Shinnecock Nation undertook was to lease Reservation acreage to local area farmers for their crops, mainly potatoes and corn.
    • While the project did bring in a small income for the Tribe, the resulting damages from pesticides leaking into the ground water and polluting our the water supply were enormous.
  • The Shinnecock Shellfish Hatcheries and Environmental Center
    • brown tide and general pollution forced it to close before it had the chance to develop into the business enterprise it was planned to be.
  • In the summer of 2005, the Tribe began reseeding parts of its waterways with oysters, and celebrated a renewal harvest of Shinnecock chunkoo oysters at the Tribal Thanksgiving Dinner, November 2006.
  • At the present moment, the Shinnecock annual Powwow is the economic development project of record for the Shinnecock Nation.
    • At the mercy of the weather. For the past two years, rainstorms have forced them to drastically revise budgeting plans.
  • Now exploring casinos.

Descent, Kinship and Marriage

  • Three-tiered social structure: the nuclear family, the band and the multi-band congregation.
  • Bands were likely to be composed of families who had a kinship connection.
  • Members of the band marry outside their own band (exogamous marriage pattern) establishing avenues of kinship with neighboring bands.

Social Dimensions

  • They had no concept of individual ownership.
    • Treaties ceding lands to Europeans was considered to be sharing, depriving them of land.
  • Shinnecock comes from a Mohegan-Pequot place name, which probably meant “by the level ground.”
  • Shinnecock mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs.
  • Spoke the Mohegan-Pequot – now an extinct language, except for a small vocabulary which has survived into modern times.
  • Children played with corn husk dolls, ball games, and bows and arrows.
  • Shinnecock men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families.
  • Shinnecock women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking.
  • Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.
  • Exchanged gifts at weddings.
  • Held annual harvest festivities.


  • Traditionally, decisions concerning the welfare of the tribe were made by consensus of adult male members.
    • Traditionally the chief was male.
  • Traded with other Algonquian tribes of southern New England, such as the Lenape, Montauk, and Mohican tribes.
    • Also skirmished with these tribes.
  • Were controlled by the Montauk sachem (king), who ruled a confederation by the time the colonists arrived. That these so called tribes were but parts of one group or tribe, or the loosely connected elements of what had been an organized body, seems apparent.
  • Wampum production (analogous to a gold mint) made the region a target for Pequot incursion, and later, subjugation by the colonists.
  • Established congenial relations with the colonists but were eventually devastated by disease anyway.
  • The place the Indians lived in had a name, but not the people themselves, except as members of certain clans, or social groups.


  • Polytheism: believed in an abundance of gods, in a devil who was responsible for evil, and in an afterlife in which their souls went west to live either in peace or in torment.
    • Samson Occum : “…there was a god over their corn, another over their beans, another over their pumpkins, and squashes. There was one god over their wigwams, another of their fire, another over the sea, another of the wind, one of the day, and another of the night …”
  • They had a notion of one great and good God, that was over the rest of the gods, which they called Cauhluntoowut
    • This great god is not concerned with earth or punishing the devils, as he is occupied with the mother goddess.
  • Blamed the devil spirit for death.
    • Made offerings of fruit and other goods to the devil to insure they would not be injured during the hunt.
  • Believed in the soul, thought the soul went westward upon death
    • Tribe members rejoiced by creating great fires and wearing black otter and bear skins.
  • Believed all things were occupied by a manito, a spirit, and thus sacred.
  • Tribal priest was referred to as a Kitzinacka.
    • Used herbal remedies to heal people
    • Managed sweat lodges, also used to cure the sick or to create spiritual visions.
  • Extensive folklore tradition was often used to disseminate mythology
    • Konchi Manto: This means “Great Spirit” in the Mohegan-Pequot language, and is the Mohegan name for the Creator (God.) In most contexts just Manto (the Spirit) is used. Konchi Manto is a divine spirit with no human form or attributes (including gender) and is never personified in Pequot or Mohegan folklore.
    • Moshup is a giant who is the culture hero of the Mohegan, Pequot, and Wampanoag tribes (sometimes referred to as a “transformer” by folklorists.) He has a wife named Squannit (also spelled Squant, Squaunt, or Squauanit.) Moshup shares some similarities with other Algonquian heroes such as the Wabanaki Glooskap.
    • Makiawisug (also spelled Makiaweesug.) These are the Little People of the Mohegan and Pequot tribes. They can be dangerous if they are disrespected but are generally benevolent nature spirits.
    • Chahnameed (also called Big Eater.) Chahnameed is a trickster character who lies, cheats, is greedy, and basically acts completely inappropriately by Mohegan-Pequot standards– often in the most amusing possible way. Stories about him are usually humorous in nature.
    • Some coastal Indians believed a crow that had flown from thousands of miles away brought them their corn and bean seeds.
    • Others passed on stories from generation to generation that it was a god who lived in the west who brought them the seeds.

Life Cycle

  • Individuals were named via an elaborate naming ceremony which was a large festivity including feasting and gift giving.
    • Additional names could be obtained through a spirit dream or an important personal event.
  • Male rite of passage involved a solo hunt into the woods, if he returned he was considered a man.
  • Female rite of passage involved sequestering into a menstrual wigwam and the shaving of the head.
  • The father of a male child seeking to marry him off to a girl in his village presented animal gifts to the prospective bride’s parents. If the parents agreed, they accepted the gifts.
    • A massive feast involving both families and all distant relatives and friends followed.
    • Less fanfare when adults married

§  They often just moved in together and shared a meal to mark their marriage.

  • Divorce was a common practice.
  • The dead were buried with grave offerings which included a six-inch Clovis point and oval stones.
  • The bodies and the grave goods had been sprinkled liberally with powdered red ochre.
    • This powder is believed to have been a powerful symbol representing the vital life blood of man.
    • The red ochre ceremonial became a fixed part of Eastern North American death ritual during the Archaic period.
  • Dutch account:
    • ”The next of kin closes the eyes of the deceased,” a document in ”A Description of New Netherland” states, continuing:
    • After being waked there a few days, they are thus interred. The body hath a stone under the head … They place beside it a pot, kettle, a platter, spoon, money, and provisions, to be made use of in the other world … The men make no noise over the dead, but the women carry on uncommonly; they strike their breasts, tear their faces, call the name of the deceased day and night. The mothers make the loudest lamentations on the death of their sons. They cut off their hair, which they burn on the grave in the presence of all the relatives.
  • Personal belongings were included in the graves including dogs (to guide them to the afterlife), beads, pipes and pots.


  • Paleo-Indian Period (Clovis culture) 7,000-3,500 B.C.
  • Archaic Period (hunting-gathering-fishing) 3,500-1,300 B.C.
  • Transitional Period (stonepots to ceramics) 1,300-1,000 B.C.
  • Woodland Period (horticulture) 1,000 B.C.-1,600 A.D.
  • Pre-history involved a migration overland by hundreds of generations from the Bering Strait.
  • Paleolithic proto-Shinnecocks entered the region circa 8000 B.C.E. as members of the Clovis culture.
    • Evidence of their presence is limited to a small handful of uniquely formed projectile points
  • In the 1700’s, they became noted among the northeastern coastal tribes for fine beads made from the Northern quahog clam and whelk shells.
    • The Dutch, who arrived in the area before the English, turned the Shinnecock beads (wampum) into the money system for the colonies.
  • Disease decimated tribal populations, which were consolidated, and with interbreeding with blacks, the tribal character, religion, language and history have been lost.
    • As tribal populations were depleted land was gradually lost to pioneers, reducing the size of the reservation.
  • The Shinnecock Nation is among the oldest self-governing tribes of Indians in the United States and has been a state-recognized tribe for over 200 years. In 1978, it applied for Federal Recognition, and in 2003, it was placed on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ “Ready for Active” list.

11 replies on “Shinnecock Indians”

My grandfather was 1/2 shinnecock, his mother was full-blooded shinnecock. I don’t know her name, my grandfather’s name was Clarence Young. I’m interested in gaining more information.

@Ms. Clark-please contact Shinnecock Member- Staysea Lee Hutchings. She is the person who will enrolled you as a tribal member if have paperwork proving you areare a direct descendant to the Shinnecock.

my fathers father was chapaqua. from upstate. from what my father told me years ago. he was full blooded indian. later in the years he left my fathers mother to go back from where he came from.

Most of us take pride in our heritage, It’s good. But I am really tired of hearing that the native tribes owe their demise to intermarriage with Africans and African Americans. It could be said that if the alliances had not taken place, perhaps native peoples would not have survived to the extent they did. It is my understanding that European genocide and exploitation resulted in an unequal balance, too few male Indian and too black females. I am sure that there were other reasons people chose to intermarry, but please don’t blame intermarriage for what Europeans perpetuated. Besides who is the government to tell us whether our tribes are legitimate? Another form of economic, cultural and political control which we have been struggling against for centuries.

My Great Grandmother was from or raised bythe Shinnecock Indians based on what my living family tells me and was later adopted. I would like to get more Information on this and who I would need to contact

Verrazano wrote July 8, 1524, to Francis I: “The complexion of these people is black, not much different from that of the Ethiopians; their hair is black and thick, and not very long. It is worn tied back upon the head in the form of a little tail….” Hmmm, sounds like they were black long before mixing with the people whites now call “African Americans”.

My very good friend is a full-blooded Shinnecock Indian by the name of Katherine Primas of Mayslanding NJ. I was wondering if there is a picture of the current chief of the Shinnecock Indians. My husband would like to paint a picture of him for Katherine.

@ana venzen, my great grandmother was Shinnecock her name was Lily. Thus far I have no sur name, she married a Dutchman, Ryerson. My mother is working with a genealogists, we are clear on the Ryerson side of our lineage. What documents are needed to prove we are descendants of the Shinnecock?

Both my Great-grandfather and Great-grandmother where full blood Shinnecock. How can I get more information on them.

I’ve been hearing for years my grandfather was shinnecock his name was Oliver Townsend i long to find out about my Native American Heritage if someone could help me with that.

I am writing a book and i want to know if it’s ok to add in information including the Shinnecock name is that ok or do i need to speak to someone first

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