The Wappinger were a confederacy of Native Americans whose territory in the 17th century spread along the eastern bank of the Hudson River. Primarily based in what is now Dutchess County, New York, their territory bordered Manhattan Island to the south, the Mahican territory bounded by the Roeliff-Jansen Kill to the north, and extended east into parts of Connecticut.
They were most closely related to the Lenape, both being members of the Eastern Algonquian-speaking subgroup of the Algonquian peoples. The Lenape and Wappinger spoke using very similar Delawarean languages—similar enough that a Wappinger speaking in the Munsee Delaware tongue and a Lenape would mostly understand each other.
Their nearest allies were the Mahicans to the north, the Montauketts to the south, and the remaining New England tribes to the east. Like the Lenape, the Wappinger were not organized into cohesive tribes for most of their history; instead, they formed approximately 18 loosely associated bands.
The first contact with Europeans came in 1609, during Henry Hudson's expedition. As the Dutch began to settle in the area, they pressured the Connecticut Wappinger to sell their lands and seek refuge with other Algonquian-speaking tribes. The western bands, however, stood their ground amidst rising tensions.
During Kieft's War in 1643, the remaining Wappinger bands united against the Dutch, attacking settlements throughout New Netherland. Allied with their trading partners, the powerful Mohawk, the Dutch defeated the Wappinger by 1645. The Mohawk and Dutch killed more than 1500 Wappinger in the two years of the war. This was a devastating toll for the Wappinger, whose population in 1600 was estimated at 3,000.
The Wappinger faced the Dutch again in the 1655 Peach Tree War, a three-day engagement which left an estimated 100 settlers and 60 Wappinger dead, and strained relations further between the two groups. After the war, the confederation broke apart, and many of the surviving Wappinger left their native lands for the protection of neighboring tribes.
In 1765, the remaining Wappinger in Dutchess County sued the Philipse family for control of the land but lost. In the aftermath the Philipses raised rents on European-American tenant farmers, sparking riots across the region.
Many Wappinger served in the Stockbridge Militia during the American Revolution. Following the war, most of the surviving Wappinger moved west to join the Algonquian Stockbridge-Munsee tribe in Ohio. Later they were removed to Wisconsin. Today, members of the federally recognized Stockbridge-Munsee Nation reside mostly in Wisconsin.
The origins of the word "Wappinger" are uncertain. While the present-day spelling appeared as early as 1643, countless alternate phonetic spellings were also used by early European settlers well into the late 1800s, including Wappinck, Wapping, Wappingo, Wawping, Wappans, Wappings, Wappinghs, Wapanoos, Wappanoos, Wappinoo, Wappenos, Wappinoes, Wappinex, Wappinx, Wapingeis, Wabinga, Wabingies, Wapingoes, Wapings, Wappinges, Wapinger and Wappenger. There are also a couple of references to the names Wam-pa-nos and Wamponas, a possible confusion of the Wappinger with the Wampanoag of southeastern Massachusetts.
Some early sources derive the name from the generic Algonquian word Wapani or "Eastern People", so-called by their local neighbors, given their location east of the Hudson River, and also by the Lenape, since the Wappinger were the most eastern nation of their own stock.
Other sources emphatically dispute both of the above origins, saying that the name originates from the Munsee language. These sources claim that the name derives from the Munsee word for "Opossum", or moo-wha'-pink-us, which literally translates to "he has no fur on his little tail". The Lenape used the shortened form Wappinkus to refer to them, in much the same way that one might say 'possum in modern-day English.
- Wappinger proper, members lived on the east side of the Hudson River, in present-day Dutchess County, New York
- Hammonasset, an eastern group at the mouth of the Connecticut River, in present-day Middlesex County, Connecticut
- Kitchawank, northern Westchester County, New York
- Mattabesset, present-day New Haven County, Connecticut
- Massaco, along the Farmington River in Connecticut
- Menunkatuck, along the coast in present-day New Haven County, Connecticut
- Nochpeem, in southern portions of present-day Dutchess County, New York
- Paugusset, along the Housatonic River, present-day eastern Fairfield County and western New Haven County, Connecticut
- Podunk, east of the Connecticut River in eastern Hartford County, Connecticut
- Poquonock, western present-day Hartford County, Connecticut
- Quinnipiac, in central New Haven County, Connecticut
- Sicaog, in present-day Hartford County, Connecticut
- Sintsink, east of the Hudson River in present-day Westchester County, New York
- Siwanoy, coastal Westchester County, New York, into southwestern Fairfield County, Connecticut
- Tankiteke, central coastal Fairfield County, Connecticut north into Putnam County and Dutchess County, New York
- Tunxis, southwestern Hartford County, Connecticut
- Wecquaesgeek, southwestern Westchester County, New York
The Wappinger are the namesake of several areas in New York, including:
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- Federal Writers' Project (1975). Dutchess County. AMS Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-404-57944-2.
- Vasiliev, Ren (2004). From Abbotts to Zurich: New York State Placenames. Syracuse University Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-8156-0798-9.
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- "New York Indian Tribes". Retrieved 2008-09-19.