From Anarchy In Action

“Quinnipiac,” meaning “Long Water Land” refers to one part of the land of "Quiripi" belonging to an Algonquian-speaking indigenous people who variously call themselves the Quinnipiac, Quiripi, and Renapi. Linguistic research suggests they once lived in all of Connecticut and parts of eastern New York and Long Island.[1] When English settlers arrived in 1638, they documented Quinnipiac residency in what are now the Connecticut towns of New Haven, North Haven, Guilford, and Branford.[2]

Archaeologists have found human artifacts in New Haven that date back to about 6000 BCE. Dena Dincauze dates the rise of sachems in Quinnipiac societies to the “Late Woodland period” of 1000-1500 CE, the same times as the adoption of maize agriculture.[3]

Information about the present-day Algonuian Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council can be found on their website.[4]


Each Quinnipiac nuclear family traditionally lived in a wigwam, typically about eight feet high and sixteen feet long. Sometimes the family shared the house with other relatives. Women did most of the farming, child-raising, and meal preparation. Divorce was easy, and women commonly left abusive husbands. From a young age, children were encouraged to be independent and to assist the elderly. Men did most of the hunting and fishing.[5]


As described in a 2007 essay by the current Quinnipiac Grand Sachem Iron Thunderhorse, the nation's traditional government consisted of local sachemdoms, who federated under a Grand Sachem and belonged to very large federations of other Algonquian and Iroquoian-speaking peoples.[6] The Grand Sachem, according to Thunderhorse, “was responsible for conducting diplomatic relations, welcoming runners (news carriers), merchants, etc.”[7] The Grand Sachem collected a tribute from the local sachems' villages.

At the village level, a Long House Chief or sachem led a council of stump chiefs or Sagamore/Sagamaugh. The Long House Chief inherited his or her position, while the stump chiefs did not.[8] The stump chiefs were elderly and well-respected community members.[9] According to Thunderhorse, their duties included “operating the outlying summer fishing camps, wampum bead processing, collecting and drying foods, harvesting commodities...”[10]

“It was not uncommon...for sachems in New England to be women,” anthropologist John Menta observes, citing the female Quinnipiac sachems Shaumpishuh and Sjambisqia.[11]

By some accounts, the sachems and their councils had little or no coercive authority over their villages. Anthropologist Robert Grumet claims that the sachem's “power depended on the power of persuasion rather than the persuasion of power.”[12] If people did not agree with their sachem, they would either disobey or leave to join another sachemdom. By necessity, then, the sachems appear to have followed the expressed consensus of the band for all important decisions.

Menta elaborates, “Important decisions were made by the sachem and his or her council based on the general consensus of the band. Families, factions or individuals who disagreed with the consensus were free to relocate and join another native community.”[13] On minor decisions, the sachem usually went along with the view of the council.[14]

Once in 1645, Quinnipiacs' dogs killed some pigs belonging to English settlers, and the settlers convinced the sachem Momauguin to order all of his band's dogs to be killed. The vast majority of the band's dog-owners refused to kill their dogs, and Momauguin explained the New Haven's Town Marshall that he had not pressed the issue since he feared other tribe members might poison him.[15]

There is not a consensus over the degree of government that the Quinnipiac traditionally had. By Menta's account, “the Quinnipiac lacked a strong, centralized form of government.”[16] However, a study of the southern New England Indians by Kathleen Bragdon describes a more hierarchical society as typical of the region, with sachems getting wealthy by taxing subjects, and a class of people born into permanent slavery.[17] Bragdon's analysis, while not specifically about the Quinnipiac, may call into question aspects of Menta's account of a relatively society. Thunderhorse communicated with both Menta and Bragdon and has commented favorably on the work of both scholars.[18] The current constitution of the Algonquian Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council describes the Grand Sachem as the nation's “ultimate sovereign.”[19]


According to reports of settlers such as Roger Williams, the Indians of New England communally owned land and did not have individually-owned private property. Williams wrote, “the Natives are very exact and punctuall in the bounds of their Lands, belonging to this or that Prince or People.”[20] Each village appears to have had a gift economy, and even trades between villages “were articulated in the language of gift-giving.”[21]

The Quinnipiac farmed, hunted, and fished for food. Starting in 1622, they traded wampum (beads made from clam shells) with the Dutch and then other settlers in exchange for fur.[22]


Algonquian cosmologies viewed all things as alive and intrinsically valuable. Menta summarizes, “all things—animals, trees, rocks and natural phenomena—were living beings who possessed supernatural powers.”[23]

Indians' activities affected their environment but not always for the worse. For example, Southern New England's Indians set fire to selected forests once or twice a year to clear land underbrush. These burnings allowed more sunlight to reach the ground, killed certain pests and plant diseases, and increased the rate that the soil recycled nutrients. The resulting landscape, resembling the edges of forests, were good habitat for strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, elk, deer, beaver, porcupine, turkey, quail, wolves, foxes, eagles, hawks, and lynxes. Environmental historian William Cronon remarks, “Indian burning promoted the increase of exactly those species whose abundance so impressed English colonists.”[24]

Neighboring Societies

Thunderhorse writes that the Quinnipiac nation traditionally affiliated with the Wappinger Confederacy, which belonged to an even broader Dawnland Confederacy that “included Algonquian and Iroquoian speaking peoples of the [northeast] Woodlands who met once a year at a Grand Central Fire. Wampum belts, known as Covenant Chain belts, and strings of wampum were carried by the Iroquoian Pine Tree Chiefs, Algonquian Long House Chiefs and Stump Chiefs, who, with wise powwamanitompoag (shamans), met at these large assemblages.”[25] By contrast, Menta descries the Wappinger Confederacy as a “myth” and contends that the Quinnipiacs “were not members of a confederacy or effective military alliance.”[26]

On 24 November 1638, English settlers signed the “Momauguin Treaty” with the Quinnipiac sachem Momauguin. Allegedly, this treaty ceded almost all Quinnipiac lands to the English in return for military protection from other Indians. However, John Menta comments:

That the Quinnipiac sachems perceived the terms of the treaty in the same light as the English did is doubtful. Though the colonists viewed the treaty as essentially a deed of purchase to the territory, the Indians interpreted it more as an agreement for joint occupation of the land.[27]

The Quinnipiac refer to the English settlers' long campaign of dispossessing and converting Indians as a “Trail of Heartaches.”[28]

  1. Iron Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight,” 2007, https://web-beta.archive.org/web/20160205190427/http://acqtc.org/Articles/SettingTheRecordStraight.
  2. John Menta, The Quinnipiac: Cultural Conflict in Southern New England (New Haven: Yale University, 2003), 52.
  3. John Menta, The Quinnipiac: Cultural Conflict in Southern New England (New Haven: Yale University, 2003), 3-5.
  4. http://acqtc.org
  5. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 25, 33, 43.
  6. Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight,” http://acqtc.org/Articles/SettingTheRecordStraight#SECT2B.
  7. Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight.”
  8. Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight.”
  9. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 55.
  10. Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight.”
  11. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 54-55.
  12. Quoted in Menta, The Quinnipiac, 55.
  13. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 55.
  14. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 55.
  15. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 55-56.
  16. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 52.
  17. Kathleen J. Bragdon, Native People of Southern New England, 1500-1650, 155.
  18. Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight.”
  19. http://acqtc.org/Organization/Constitution.
  20. Quoted in William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003), 60.
  21. Cronon, Changes in the Land, 92.
  22. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 66.
  23. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 35.
  24. Cronon, Changes in the Land, 51.
  25. Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight.”
  26. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 58-59.
  27. Menta, The Quinnipiac, 87.
  28. Thunderhorse, “Setting the Record Straight.”