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Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States (Long Island)
Christianity, Native
Related ethnic groups
Shinnecock, Pequot, and Narragansett

The Montaukett or Montauk people are a Native American tribe of Algonquian-speaking people from the eastern end of Long Island, New York. They are related in language as well to Native American tribes who lived across Long Island Sound in what is now Connecticut and Rhode Island. Native relics and ruins are still visible at Theodore Roosevelt County Park, just east of the village of Montauk, New York.

Culture and language[edit]

Montauk people historically spoke the Mohegan-Montauk-Narragansett language, also known as the Algonquian Y-dialect, similar to their New England neighbors, the Pequot and the Narragansett. Native Americans living on Long Island eventually became identified by European settlers by the place name in which they lived, such as the Montauk and the Shinnecock, artificially identifying the peoples separately and erroneously into "tribes", although they all shared the same culture and language.[2] The Native Americans of the east end of the Island shared a common culture with each other and with other groups along most of the northern shore of what is now called Long Island Sound, while the west of Long Island were the culturally and linguistically distinct Lenape groups that lived in all of what is now New Jersey and in parts of what is now eastern Pennsylvania and the northern shore of Delaware. The Montaukett, like any other tribe, had their own ways to assign jobs to get the things they needed such as food. The Montaukett "were farmers and fishermen." While the men fished and hunted whales, the "women would harvest corn, squash and beans."[3] The men hunted whales by using their dugout canoes; the dugout canoes were made by hollowing out large trees.[3]


Montaukett and their neighbors, circa 1600

The Montaukett derived great wealth from the wampompeag (or wampum) available on Long Island, but its value contributed to competition, attacks and their demise. Before the Montaukett obtained metal awls from the Europeans, the Montaukett artisans would make "disk-shaped beads from quahog shells...used for trade and for tribute payments" with the nearby tribes.[4] Since it became desired for trade and payment by Native Americans and the English and Dutch colonial powers, the Montaukett were raided and made politically subject by more powerful New England tribes, who demanded tribute or just stole the wampum. Introduced infectious diseases, such as smallpox, to which they had no natural immunity, and intertribal warfare, combined for great population losses, similar to that suffered by other Native American groups.

In the late 17th century, Chief Wyandanch signed a treaty transferring much of the territory of Long Island to English settler Lion Gardiner. The Montaukett reportedly thought they were signing a treaty with the colonists for alliance and protection from the Narragansett tribe, rather than losing control of their land. This interpretation may also have been due to differing cultural concepts about land and its uses.[citation needed] According to legend, Chief Wyandanch was poisoned by tribesmen in retaliation for selling the land to the colonists.

Montaukett graves in Montauk. The only recognizable grave is that of Stephen Talkhouse.

Mohegan missionary and preacher, Samson Occom, formed the Brothertown group along with members of the neighboring Shinnecock band. They moved from Long Island to escape colonial encroachment, to Oneida County, New York. Later most of the people relocated to Wisconsin. Today they are part of the Brothertown Indians movement.

Many Montaukett remained in the area around Montauk, chiefly because the land was often considered inaccessible. At the end of the 19th century, the most notable Montaukett was Stephen Talkhouse (Stephen Taukus “Talkhouse” Pharaoh). He was known to walk 30 to 50 miles round-trip per day from Montauk to East Hampton or Sag Harbor. Various stones on his routes, part of the present-day Paumanok Path hiking trail, have been marked with this account. P.T. Barnum featured Pharaoh as "The Last King of the Montauks", despite his being neither a king nor the last Montaukett!

In 1879, an extension of the Long Island Rail Road reached Montauk. Arthur W. Benson began buying up land in the area with an eye to future development. In the court battles that ensued, the Montaukett lost their legal status and right to compensation. The 1910 court case labelled the Montauk people as "extinct."[5] African-Americans and Indians interacted in many ways. Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, African-Americans and Indians intermarried; this led to the conclusion that the Montaukett were extinct.[6] Since there was intermarriage between these two groups, the lawyers argued that the Montaukett had "diluted their 'Indian blood'" leading Martian Fisher Ales to the conclusion that the Montauketts no longer existed as a tribe.[7] During the lawsuit, the developers of the Long Island Rail Road defense rested heavily on the argument that the Montaukett were no longer Montauketts because of intermarriage.[6]

Current issues[edit]

The Montaukett Indian Nation is an unrecognized tribe of individuals who claim descent from historic Montaukett people.[5] The Montaukett Indian Nation did not become extinct but have "their own government in the position and administration of Chief Robert Pharaoh." Additionally, the nation has over 600 members on its original tribal roll."[1] The nation claims a relation to the language and culture of the now federally recognized Shinnecock Indian Nation in neighboring Southampton.

The entirety of Montauk was sold in 1890 to Arthur W. Benson "subject to the rights of the Montauk tribe of indians" noting the existence of a few members and their families. A case brought pursuant to a 1906 New York State legislative to enable the Montaukett to establish claims to land through deeds from 1660 through 1702 failed with the tribe being found to be extinct for the purpose of making any such claim. The 1686 Dongan Patent allowed the Montauk Proprietors to purchase the remaining unpurchased lands between the ponds and east of Lake Wyandanee (Lake Montauk), a purchase that was made in 1687.

The Montauk Friends of Olmsted Parks/Montauk Trustee corporation claims to be the successor to the proprietors of Montauk that entered into the deeds with the Montauketts. It remains before the court making claims through the Indian deeds and the 1686 Dongan Patent and Charter. The Montauketts have been unsuccessful in getting their title back. The Montauketts recent concern has been to develop a museum and learning center in the county park.[4]

The New York State Assembly approved the 2013 Montaukett Act, which reversed the century-old state declaration that the tribe was extinct.[8] This bill could pave the way for state recognition of the tribe.[9]

Notable Montauk people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Devine, James "White Feather". "Facts about the Montaukett Indian Nation". Montaukett Indian Nation. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Strong, John A. We Are Still Here: The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island Today, 2nd edition. New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, June 1998. ISBN 978-1-55787-152-7
  3. ^ a b Redish, Laura. "Montauk Indian Fact Sheet". Native Languages of the Americas. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  4. ^ a b "Montauk". Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Houghton Mifflin. Credo Reference. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Walla, Claire. "Montauketts Vie For State Recognition." The Sag Harbor Press. 6 Oct 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Long Island: African Americans and Native Peoples". Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Credo Reference. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Mulin, Michael J. (2002). "The Montaukett Indians Of Eastern Long Island (Book)". American Indian Culture & Research Journal 26 (2): 188–190. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  8. ^ Drumm, Russell. "Reflecting on State’s Reversal." The East Hampton Star. 27 June 2013. Retrieved 6 Sept 2013.
  9. ^ Harrington, Mark. "Senate passes Montaukett recognition bill." Long Island Newsday. 18 June 2013. Retrieved 6 Sept 2013.
  10. ^ "Olivia Ward Bush: 1869–1944." New York State Hall of Governors. Retrieved 9 July 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Strong, John A. The Montaukett Indians of Eastern Long Island (Iroquois and Their Neighbors). New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, June 1998. ISBN 0-8156-2883-8.

External links[edit]