Wongunks in Pyquag
Residents often forget that the European migration and settlement of Connecticut was not the beginning of this land’s history. Native Americans can be traced long before John Oldham and the Adventurers. The first Native Americans are believed to have arrived about ten thousand years ago when the melting of the glaciers opened a hunting landscape. Different native settlements migrated through the area until about three thousand years ago when the Algonquin arrived. The Algonquin was a nation of Native American tribes that were differentiated by Sachems (chiefs) and geographic location. The tribe that settled Wethersfield was the Wongunk.
The Wongunks lived in large villages by the Connecticut River with cleared land, cultivated soil and gardens. Archeological evidence of early settlers has been discovered throughout Wethersfield, especially in the Great Meadows. Because of their established settlements, Wongunks had to protect their villages from other warring tribes who also sought the prime location. The Wongunks occupied the land from Sicaogg to Mattabeseck (also known as Hartford to Middletown). Unfortunately, along with the European settlement in New England came smallpox to Connecticut and devastated the friendly tribe. A weakened tribe was a sitting duck for the Pequots.
Sowheag, the Wongunk’s Sachem, traveled to Massachusetts in April 1631 to invite English settlers to Pyquag in exchange for protection. Due to the hostile environment and untold dangers in the Connecticut River Valley, the request was denied until John Oldham decided to explore the area with three men. Oldham and his group traveled over land through the untamed wilderness and were welcomed into Wongunk dwellings and were provided a plethora of beaver pelts and hemp. Oldham reported the wealth of Pyquag to the Massachusetts government and in 1634, he and a group established the first town in the Connecticut Colony. More English settlers and their families arrived the following year and the Wongunks began to sign land deeds. In 1636, an unofficial exchange occurred for the Pyquag land for twelve yards of cloth. The deal was later made official by an agent in 1671, and the deed was signed by Sowheag’s son, Terramuggas, the current Sachem. The deed permitted the Wongunks to forever be able to peaceably use the land. Additional deeds began to appear in the 1670s and Terramuggas signed over a vast amount of Native American territory in central Connecticut.
Peace between the settlers and the Wongunks did not last long, and just two years after John Oldham settled the area, the Wongunks moved to Mattabeseck (Middletown). The Wethersfield settlers were now prime targets for the warring Pequots. Wongunks had removed to reservations in Middletown and gradually their numbers dwindled as some joined the Mohegans and other migrated to less populated areas. By 1785, there was no record of a living Wongunk.
Robert Low Pays Homage
Robert Low was a distinguished woodcarver in town, active member of the historical society and proud member of the Robert Low Woodcarving Club in town. Bob was also interested in the local Native American history, and in 1984, he started a project to pay homage to Sachem Terramuggas, the chief of the Wongunks. For three summers and approximately 850 hours, Bob carved a seven and half foot ash tree stump in his backyard. In 1989, Mr. Low, at age 91, donated the carving to Wethersfield Historical Society. The carving now stands in Keeney Memorial Cultural Center for visitors to view and question what was here before the settlers.
Wongunks in Pyquag