The Mohican, a branch of the Mahican Tribe, once occupied lands in the Hudson Valley from Poughkeepsie to Albany, including the Catskill Mountains, in what is now New York State. Living near the Hudson River and its banks, the Mohican relied heavily on the resources provided by the river, including food, building materials, and transportation via canoes (Mohican). The Mohican were a flourishing American Indian tribe for several hundred years prior to European colonization in the 17th century. However, warring with rival tribes, such as the Mohawk, who were supported by white settlers, would forever change their culture.
The name Mohican stands for “the people of the waters that are never still”; however, they were known to European settlers as the Loups, or “Wolves” (Mohican). The Mohican spoke Algonquian, a language central to the Atlantic Coast of today’s United States and extending upward into Canada. They lived in small villages and specialized in collecting pelts and furs from various woodland animals for clothing and trade. The Mohican had an estimated population of 5,000 – 8,000 tribesmen and women, structured matrilineally, meaning the line of decent was recognized primarily through the mother’s line of heritage (in contrast to the predominately patrilineal descent structure of the current United States) (Dunn). This tribe consisted of three major divisions beneath the Mohican heading: the Turtle, Wolf, and Turkey (Dunn). The Mohican social and leaderships structures were led by what is known as “sachems,” or tribal leaders who act in the same capacity as chiefs. Leadership structure also included counselors, messengers, and war leaders (Dunn). Descendants of the Mohican Tribe still live today, primarily concentrated on Wisconsin reservations (DeVries).
When Henry Hudson “discovered” the Hudson Valley for the Dutch East India Company in 1609, the Mohicans had been calling the area home for centuries (Greer 4). The Mohican first greeted the European settlers with the kind of hospitality that had long-defined their culture. They brought food and gifts and expressed an interest in trading with the newcomers, as shown by this quote from author William Greer: “The natives brought great presents of beaver and other pelts and told [the settlers] of their desire that they might come and have a constant free trade” (3). Many hoped that the “Covenant of Friendship” established between the Mohicans and the European settlers would usher in a new era of inter-cultural collaboration; however, for the Mohican, the peaceful times would not last.
The Mohicans were primarily a peaceable nation, though they did war with other tribes, most prominently the Mohawk Indians of what is today upstate New York. Unfortunately, the Dutch settlers formed alliances with the Mohawk tribe, which angered the Mohican, as they were natural rivals, and the Mohawk would often disrupt Mohican trade routes (Greer 15). The Mohawk were the first to secure guns from white settlers, which clearly gave them an advantage over all other tribes, including the Mohican. A series of Mohican defeats at the hands of the Mohawk led to a decline in their presence in New York by 1630, and they were forced east from the Hudson Valley to present day Connecticut River (Greer 18).
The Mohican held a thriving culture in the Hudson Valley for many centuries prior to the arrival of Henry Hudson and the influx of white settlers. Constant warring with the belligerent Mohawk tribes, supported by white technologies, decimated their culture, and they were eventually forced east. Descendants of the Mohicans can still be found today on reservations in Wisconsin.
- DeVries, Colin. “Project Promotes Mohican Legacy.” The Poughkeepsie Journal, May 17, 2009.
- Dunn, Shirley W. “Mohicans.” Encyclopedia of New York State, edited by Peter R. Eisenstadt and Laura-Eve Moss, Syracuse University Press, 2005, p. 996.
- Greer, Bill. “Broken Chain: How the White and Indian Worlds Remembered Henry Hudson and the Dutch,” 2009.
- “Mohican.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mohican