Mattabesset was a region and settlement once occupied by Algonquian language-speaking Native Americans called the Wangunk, along the Connecticut River. The Mattabesset River reaches the Connecticut River near Middletown, Connecticut. The settlement of Mattabesset became Middletown, on the east bank of the Connecticut, and a succession of settlements on the west, including Chatham and Middle Haddam which today is East Hampton, Connecticut.
Romanizations vary widely, including Mattabesec, Mattabeseck, Mattabesic, Mattabesset, and Mattabéeset.
This region was occupied by a tribe known as the Wangunks. Dutch explorers initially visited the region in 1614. At the time of English incursions into the area, the local sachem, or Native political leader, was Sowheag, also known as Sequin. After conflict with settlers, he moved from the village of Pyquaug, or Weathersfield, Connecticut, to Mattabesett.
As recorded by historian John Warner Barber:
The lands in this township were obtained from the Indians in connection with the lands in Middletown. But a reservation, laid out partly at Indian hill, and partly a little east of the Chatham meeting house, was held by them till about 1767; when, having dwindled to small number, they sold their right, and united with the Farmington Indians. These Indians have been sometimes called Wongonks or Wongoms, but the reservation was for the heirs of the Sowheag and Mattabessett Indians, and they were doubtless of the same tribe with the Indians on the weest side of the river. A little clan inhabited, or frequented, the region about Pocotopogue pond, and had a place of rendezvous on the principal island which that encloses. These were also, probably, a part of the Mattabessett Indians.
In 1650, the General Court of Connecticut sent researchers to the Mattabesett region and believed Middletown and Chatham could support 15 families. Sowheag apparently had ceded some of the land to Governor John Haynes.
Three reservations were established for the Wangunk people in Middletown and Chatham. On in the Newfield neighborhood of Middletown was occupied until 1713. In Chatham, one was established for a man named Sawsean and his descendants. The third, three-hundred acres large, was established for Sowheag, the sachem of Mattabesett, and the Native peoples of Mattabesett. In a 1761 survey of indigenous peoples in Connecticut, local Native peoples still resided at "Mattabéeset (at Wongunck, opposite Middletown)."
Archaeologist Bert Salwen, writes, "Names like Nipmuck, Pocumtuck, and Mattabesec sometimes appear in the literature as designations for large 'tribes' or 'confederacies' (Speck 1928a: pl. 20; Swanton 1952), but this usage does not seem to fit the seventeenth-century situation. At best, some of these names may reflect linguistic or cultural homogeneity, but the scarcity of evidence makes even linguistic identification difficult in most cases (Day 1962, 1969)." Both Salwen and Ives Goddard contest the idea of a "great Delaware-speaking Wappinger-Mattabesec confederacy stretching from the Hudson to the Connecticut."
- De Forest ix
- Salwen 173
- De Forest 54
- Barber 507
- De Forest 241–242
- De Forest 363–364
- Conkey, Boissevian, and Goodard 188
- Barber, John Warner (1837). Connecticut historical collections, containing a general collection of interesting facts, traditions biographical sketches, anecdotes, etc., relating to the history and antiquities of every town in Connecticut, with geographical descriptions. p. 507.
- Conkey, Laura E.; Boissevain, Ethel; Goddard, Ives (1978). "Indians of Southern New England and Long Island: Early Period". In Trigger, Bruce G. Handbook of North American Indians: Northeast, Vol. 15. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 160–176. ISBN 978-0-1600-4575-2.
- De Forest, John William (1871). History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850.
- Salwen, Bert (1978). "Indians of Southern New England and Long Island: Late Period". In Trigger, Bruce G. Handbook of North American Indians: Northeast, Vol. 15. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 177–189. ISBN 978-0-1600-4575-2.