Sunsamon, James, 1763 - 1842
James Sunsamon was a prominent member of the Mashantucket Pequot community and was involved in the legal and political affairs of the Tribe for generations.
Born circa 1763, Sunsamon was likely one of children of Moses Sunsamon. Little is known of James Sunsamon’s early years. In November of 1800, James Sunsamon, together with fellow Pequots, Benjamin George, Benjamin Charles, James Boney, and Josiah Charles Scaudub sold, on behalf of the tribe, in two transactions, a total of 22 acres of tribal land, a 3 acres parcel to Peter Williams and a 19 acre parcel to the Town of Groton. In October of 1818, Sunsamon, by then a middle-aged man, first appears in the records of the State appointed overseer, William Williams, as receiving goods and services. Over the course of the following 24 years he, sometimes with his wife, Phebe, or other members of the family, is noted in the records of the overseers as receiving provisions or care paid out of the tribal funds.
James Sunsamon was a signatory to two petitions for the appointment of new overseers, first in April of 1819 where he petitioned with 24 others for the appointment of Captain Eneas Morgan as overseer. Six year later, in 1825, he again petitioned the New London County Court, this time for the discharge of Overseer Elisha Crary and the appointment of Erastus Williams. Three month later, Sunsamon’s name was included in a list of members of the tribe, likely generated by either the incoming or outgoing overseer.
Records indicate that Sunsamon and his family lived on the reservation, quite possibly on a portion that the non-Native Hallet family leased from the tribe. For decades the Hallets rented the Sunsamon Pasture “east of the brook”. While little is known regarding the specifics of the Sunsamon’s homestead, it was large enough to contain a garden which was plowed each season for planting.
On February 7, 1831, Sunsamon, along with eight others from the community, put his name to yet another petition to the New London County Court praying to retain Overseer Erastus Williams who they considered well suited to the job. Not quite three years later, in December of 1833, James Sunsamon was enumerated in a private census of tribal members living on the reservation. Erastus Williams, having just concluded his tenure as overseer, described James, in a letter to William Williams, as 70 years old and married to Phebe Sunsamon, a 90 year old Indian woman from Long Island.
Given their advanced ages, it’s not surprising that their health might soon begin to suffer. Over the ensuing months, records show multiple visits and medicine provided by Dr. Mason Manning to both James and Phebe. It appears that this is around the time that the elderly couple moved in with fellow tribal member, Hannah Miller who provided them with board, care, and various necessaries for a number of years. Accordingly, individual entries for the Sunsamons for provisions in the overseer’s account are less prolific during this period, as Hannah Miller assumed much of their care.
Even as the frailties of age challenged James Sunsamon, he, “one of the Chief men of the Pequot tribe”, still acted on behalf of his community by bringing a lawsuit, with the assistance of Overseer George Ayer, against various members of the Latham family. Jonas, Amos L., and Robert Latham had, two years earlier, been found guilty of trespassing on tribal lands and illegally extracting hundreds of dollars’ worth of timber. The lawsuit claimed that the defendants had never fully paid the tribe for these encroachments.
Sunsamon’s health concerns continued and he was attended to by Dr. Thomas W. Gay from November 1834 to February 1835. Hannah Miller was reimbursed for nursing him during this time. Phebe and James continued to live with Miller until early in the winter of 1838 when Phebe Sunsamon died. On December 18, 1838 fellow Pequot Charles Fagins was paid for digging the grave for Phebe and a month later the expenses of her coffin and grave clothes were settled.
Despite this loss, James Sunsamon remained involved in the political affairs of the Tribe. In January 1839, he put his mark, along with that of ten others from the Tribe, on a memorial to reappoint Erastus Williams, this time to replace Elisha Crary as overseer.
James Sunsamon lived in Hannah Miller’s household until his death in 1842, when the final expense ascribed to him was 5 yards of bleached cloth for a burial shroud.
CHS, William Samuel Johnson Papers, III, 100: December 13, 1833 Letter from Erastus Williams to William T. Williams; Brown and Rose, Black Roots, 399; Groton Land Records, Vol.14, p.165-165b; NLCC:PbS, Indians, Mashantucket Pequot; Petition of the Western Pequots to the Connecticut General Assembly, 1819.04.24.00, Connecticut State Library, Connecticut Archives, Indians, Series 2 (1666-1820), Vol. 1, Doc.21.