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Native American Tribes

of the Hudson River

In 1609 when Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson, there were about ten thousand Indians living on either side of the Hudson. According to E.M. Rutterber in Indian Tribes of Hudson's River to 1700, on the East bank the Mahicans held land from north of Albany to the sea including Long Island and east toward Connecticut. On the west bank, they occupied from the Catskills west to Schenectady where the territory of the Mohawks began. South of the Catskills there were the Minsis or Munsees, a tribe of the Lenni Lenapes whose territory extended south to the sea and west to the Delaware River. The Lenni Lenapes were also known as the Delawares.

The Mahicans named the great river on which they traveled Mahicanituck. Their governmental seat was where Albany now stands and was called Pempotowwuthut-Muhhecanneuw or fireplace of the Muhheakunnik nation. Their government was a democracy. A sachem or leader was chosen by the nation and he was assisted by counselors who were also elected. Other important positions in the tribe were a hero, who had demonstrated great bravery, an owl, who had a great memory and a strong speaking voice and a runner who could carry messages.

The Lenni Lenape were based in what is now Philadelphia. Their government was based on the liberty of the people and consensus by all in power. The nation was divided into three tribes, the Unami, the Unlachto and the Minsi. Each tribe had its chief and counselors. In peace nothing could be done without the unanimous consent of the council. The chiefs were required to give good order and to decide in quarrels. They could not punish or command only argue their case before the counselors. If a chief didn’t act according to these rules, he was deposed.

Henry Hudson’s description of the Indians who met the Half Moon were that they were "clothed in mantles of feathers and robes of fur, the women clothed in hemp, red copper tobacco pipes, and other things of copper they did wear about their necks."

Shirley Dunn in The Mohicans and Their Land 1609-1730 said that Robert Juet's journal from the Half Moon described a people with "friendly attitudes, a complex social organization, ample food supplies, a peaceful lifestyle, and extensive territory at the moment of European contact.

Most of the "River Indians" lived in long houses or wigwams, made from bended saplings covered with tulip tree bark. They planted corn, squash and beans which supplemented their diet of fish and game.

The first meeting between Henry Hudson and the Indian was characteristic of what relations would be between Europeans and Native Americans. Hudson's men distrusted the Indians and fighting ensued. Once the Dutch began to settle the Hudson Valley, competition for land became fierce. By the end of the 1600’s all of the tribes living near the Hudson had been decimated by small pox, which the settlers brought with them and wars with the Dutch. Many who survived moved west. By the end of the eighteenth century there were so few Indians, their villages were no longer noted on the maps.

Artifacts of the Indians who lived by the Hudson have been found especially near to brooks and streams. Some of these artifacts can be seen in a display at Constitution Marsh in Garrison.

 Lenni Lenape on the Web:

The Lenapes: A Study of Hudson Valley Indians