Podunk people

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The Podunks were an indigenous people living in some of the southern parts of what came to be known as New England. The Europeans referred to these people as the Podunk, but they did not have a name for themselves, or a written language, and they spoke an Algonquian dialect. The word Podunk is of Algonquian origin and it means "where you sink in mire", a boggy place, in the Nipmuc dialect. The Podunk peoples called their homeplace Nowashe, "between" rivers.[1]

The valley became known to Europeans around 1631; it was inhabited by what were known as the River Tribes — a number of small clans of Native Americans living along the Great River and its tributaries. Of these tribes the Podunks occupied territory near the mouth of the Little River, and the land that now makes up the towns of East Hartford, East Windsor, South Windsor, Manchester, part of Ellington, Vernon, Bolton, Marlborough and Glastonbury.[1] The region north of the Hockanum river was generally called Podunk; that south of the river, Hockanum; but these were no certain designations, and by some all the meadow along the Great River was called Hockanum.[2]

The Podunks built their summer lodges near the Great River, living upon the swarming shad and salmon, and lampreys in their season, hunting deer and bear in the meadows, and growing maize and beans in alluvium. For clothing they hunted the otter, the mink, and beaver, covering their wigwams, perchance, with coarser peltries of deer, wolf, and bear. The winter habitations of the Podunks were farther inland, along the warm valley brooks, in the deep recesses of the woods. To these they retired when autumn let loose his blasts down the broad river valley, threatening to lock their fisheries beneath the ice. As part of their winter diet they ate dried venison and bear meat. There are also abundant traces of their former presence all along the meadow bank; while the highlands bordering the valley of the Hockanum have been found especially rich in their implements of flint and stone. In troublesome times the Podunk built their forts of stout posts, or palisades, and gathered into closer habitations, leaving a central space in the village for a camp fire, about which to celebrate their wild and varied ceremonies.[2]

English settlers[edit]

After the English began to settle in this area around 1630, much of this land was reserved to the Podunks by the General Court. During this time, the Podunks were governed by two sachems, Waginacut and Arramamet, and were connected in some way with the Indians who lived across the Great River, in Windsor.[2] The Podunk tribe consisted of three bands: the Namferoke (Podunk, "fishing place"), who lived near the village of Warehouse Point; the Hockanum (Podunk, "a hook", or "hook shaped"), led by Tantonimo, who lived near the village still known as Hockanum; and the Scanticook (Nipmuc, "at the river fork"), who lived on the north bank of the Scantic River near the section called Weymouth—their leader was called Foxen (or Poxen). Foxen, a.k.a. Poxen, witnessed land deeds in 1640. He became the great councilor of the Mohegan (Mohegan, "wolf people") and his name appears repeatedly in early records.[1]

Prior to the English-Narragansett war, the relation of the Podunk to the early English settlers appears to have been for the most part peaceful, and until about 1675 they lived in close proximity. In the Winter of 1635, the ill-prepared settlers at Hartford were kept alive with gifts of "malt, and acorns, and grains." However, the English restricted the Podunk in many ways. Smiths were not to work for the Podunk, and none but licensed traders were to buy their corn, beaver, venison, or timber. The English forbade any trade in arms, horses, dogs, or boats, or in "dangerous" supplies, such as cider or alcohol. The Podunk were forbidden to enter English houses or handle the arms of the settlers, nor were they to bring their own arms into the towns; and if found in the plantations at night they were to be arrested by the guard, or, resisting arrest, to be shot. The Podunk were not allowed to harbor stragglers, or strange Indians in their villages; and in 1653 were required to give up their arms in token of their fidelity. In 1659, Thomas Burnham (1617–1688) purchased the tract of land now covered by the towns of South Windsor and East Hartford from Tantinomo. "Fort Hill" is probably the fort to which "one-eyed" Tantinomo withdrew at the time of his quarrel with Oncas and Sequassen in 1665, when the English unsuccessfully attempted arbitration between them.[2]

By 1736, the Podunk had amalgamated with others to form the Schaghticoke tribe.

Their lands are marked Nowass on Dutch maps of the early 17th century.


Their early chief of Podunk was Chief Foxen, or Poxen. Bog in Algonquian usually is reported as "paug", which comes from "bi", while "po" and "paut" often mean a projection, bulge, pock, or pout. Another Native American associated with Podunk was Adam Puit, whose name in Dutch means "Frog", the pouter, or the one with the large neck. In Chippewa/Ottawa "bagdanak" means the "bulge dwelling". Podunk, or Pautunk, was called a neck of land, which means a projection or bulge in the land. "Pautage" means a neck, where the land juts out and seems to connect with Podunk, which probably means where the land juts out and people dwell. The prefix "paut" means poddy, pouting, or bulging, while the suffix "age" [aki] means land. "Pautapaug" and "Potapaug" mean a bulging in the bay, cove, or pond where there is standing water. "Paug" means bay or bog. "Pautipaug" was said to mean where you sink in mire, but here it is the suffix "paug", which means mire or bog not "pod" or "paut". The name Podunk does not have a bog element in it and ends with a suffix that means dwelling place or "danak". Another example is Poodhumsk, which means projecting rock.


  1. ^ a b c "Native Americans of Quinnehtukqut". Historical Sketch. Retrieved 2007-09-21. 
  2. ^ a b c d Goodwin, Joseph Olcott (1879). East Hartford: Its History and Traditions. Hartford, Connecticut: Case, Lockwood, and Brainard Co.