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Mattabesset or Mattabeseck refers to the Native American group which had its principal settlement at the Mattabesset River of what is today Connecticut, United States. It is presumed that the portage offered the Mattabeseck additional opportunities for trade. The Mattabesset River also forms an extensive swamplands where it meets the Connecticut, which would also have offered a variety of natural resources for exploitation.
Also spelled Mattabesic, or Mattabesec, their land appears to be also referred to as the Makimanes and are a branch of the Algonquian Indian tribe or tribes of people. Sowheag, Chief of the Connecticut Indians claimed the allegiance of the Indians of Hartford and Wethersfield also was considered chief of the Mattabesecks. He moved his principal residence to Middletown after Hartford and Wethersfield were occupied by English colonists. His son, Manitowese, claimed the allegiance of Quinnipiac Valley Indians, (Meriden to New Haven).
Whether the Mattabesecks were a distinct tribe or simply the members of a larger tribe resident at Mattabeseck is an open question. The 1920 Encyclopedia Americana lists them as part of the Wappinger Confederation. Given the close interplay of the various groups, the best option may simply be to consider them part of one larger tribe, the Connecticut Indians.
The last lands of the Mattabesecks were a small section in Portland on the east side of the river, and a larger tract in the Newfield section of Middletown, still close to the Mattabeseck marshlands. The last remnants of the tribe left in the late 18th century for upstate New York, and were among the many New England Indian groups that merged with the Indians at Schaghticoke.
The Mattabesset spoke a now extinct language of the Algonquian family.
In early Dutch maps of the American colonies from the early 17th century, the term Mattabeseck is applied to an area of land just to the north of New Haven, between the Housatonic and Connecticut rivers. This land was eventually absorbed by the English Colony of Connecticut.
Although the Dutch used the term broadly, specifically speaking, Mattabeseck is a place name for the location known today as Middletown. Linguistically, Mattabeseck is a regional variant of the same word as Mattapoisett, and means "land between waters". It was used in both instances to indicate a place of portage. In this instance, the portage refers to the trail connecting the Quinnipiac River in Meriden to the Mattabeseck River (today known as the Mattabesset River) in Middletown, and which subsequently links to the Connecticut River. In other words, travelling south on the Connecticut, at Middletown the river turns to the southeast toward the mouth of the Connecticut, but, by taking the Mattabesset River and then portaging (roughly along the route of today's Route 66), one can connect to the Quinnipiac River and reach Long Island Sound at New Haven Harbor.
For the first few years of its existence, the town of Middletown was named Mattabeseck, which was laid out on the broad hill south of the mouth of the Mattabeseck swamplands in 1647 and afterwards.
- Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. p. 10.