Committee Report on Mohegan Petition

To the Honorable General Assembly of the State of Connecticut to be holden at Hartford second Thursday of May 1783

Whereas, Zachary Johnson, old councilor of the Mohegan Tribe of Indians, in behalf of himself and others, preferred his petition to Your Honors at your session in May last therein stating and complaining that several foreign Indians of different tribes have for many years past intruded themselves into the Mohegan settlements and took possession of great part of the same, and presumed to commit great trespasses to lease out a great quantity of it to strangers that avoid paying taxes to the State, to the great hurt of the State and much disadvantage to the petitioners, and praying that method may be found to hinder said strangers from living on said land or that they may not commit any more waste and depredation on the same and proposing whether such strangers who take leases of said land should not be rated for the use of the State, and further showing that most of those foreign Indians were advocates for the Masons’ cause etc. and that, being so unfriendly that they may be removed, as well whites as blacks, or at least made to pay something to keep them more in subjection for the benefit of the State, and also for the true Mohegan tribe etc., as per memorial on file.  Whereupon, Your Honors appointed us a committee to repair to Mohegan, notifying the overseers of said tribe and also the Indians of time and place of meeting, to examine into all the matters of grievance mentioned in the memorial, whether the instructions given the overseers by the General Assembly in October 1774 have been observed, whether any instructions are wanting, to examine into the state of the leases of the lands and to report of all make etc. in October then next, and in October last further directed us to report in the present session.

Your Honors’ committee beg leave now to report that we have attended the directions in our appointment by giving the notice required and met accordingly on the fifth day of August last at the house of Mr. James Haughton near Mohegan, where said overseers and almost the whole tribe met us, and seemed well pleased with the fatherly care the Assembly had taken and took of them.  We enquired into and viewed their state and circumstances, and the grievances complained of etc., and, not having time to go through with the business, we met there again on previous notice on the twenty second of April 1783 and further examined into the matters represented and their state etc.       

We find that Zachary Johnson, the old councilor to the sachems, who has been a fixed and uniform friend to the Colony, and almost the only inveterate opposer of the Mason Claim in all its progress, is more especially possessed with the idea that most of the present inhabitants of Mohegan are not of the true tribe but interlopers of other nations, in which there is some truth.  He is also firmly persuaded that none of the favorers of the late Mason claim have any right to hold possession of the lands but ought to be cast off, by which means he has incurred the dislike of many of the Indians who were, most of them, Masons’ friends.  We find indeed that many of the present Indians claiming to be of the tribe were not originally Mohegans, but by long residence, consanguinity, intermarriages, explicit and practiced recognitions, they seem to be naturalized, and it is difficult precisely to distinguish and, in our opinion unjust, to separate or discard any of those contained in a list of them herewith presented to Your Honors, which we have taken pains to make out as near as possible that the same may be preserved, and their overseers directed to keep for the future an exact account of the increase or decrease of the tribe, and lay before Your Honors as often as Your Honors shall think proper, their present number by the list is one hundred and thirty six. We beg leave to mention also that the said tribe have been, from the beginning, firm friends to the English settlers of this State and were originally of great service to them, that they have taken a great share on the side of the state in all the wars in which they have been engaged, a large proportion of them went into and lost their lives in the expedition to Louisbourg, which loss1much reduced their numbers in the late war with Great Britain (now happily closed).  Seventeen or eighteen of them have died.  The late sachem Uncas’s widow has lost three; Samuel Ashbow, four, and Widow Tanner five sons, which is all their children.  We find that most of the improved lands (except which is leased out by the overseers) is in the occupancy of individual Indians in severalty, taken up according to their custom by each one as much as he can secure, which is descendible to his heirs, or in failure, goes to any new possessor as many have got into English manners by buildings, stocks of cattle, etc.  It affords a ground of complaint that some take up too much land.  Most of the principal holders, through their own indolence or ignorance of tillage, take in and keep English or other tenants, most of whom are disposed to take all the advantage in their power, make great consumption of the wood and pastures and commit trespasses, which causes great complaint.  But while some justify and support them, it is very difficult to do justice in those cases.  Numbers of the Indians are very deficient in their proportion of duty in fencing their common fields but claim equal benefit, as also in keeping up their own fences, whereby great part of their crops are often lost that some of them have do from time to time sell off undue proportions of wood and timber for their own benefit.2

There is one farm called Fort Hill Farm of about five or six hundred acres, now under lease by the overseers, to Hezekiah Monroe since the year 1774, renewed from time to time, to expire in April 1784.  He gives at the rate of forty pounds per year, twenty five pounds of which is payable in stone wall. We find the Indians are not well satisfied with his conduct.   Four or five smaller tracts are under lease to other tenants, all to expire at that time.  We are of opinion they may in future be rented higher.  We do not find but that the overseers have attended and acted agreeable to the instructions of the General Assembly and faithfully executed their trust, though it might be well if they should keep more particular accounts of the disposition of the rents.  We are of opinion that in future no stranger or tenant, white or black, be permitted to come in or continue on their lands without the consent of the overseers. That no person be allowed to purchase any wood or timber of any of the Indians without leave of the overseers, on penalty of being deemed and punished as trespassers and that for these and other purposes, for the interest of the tribe, the overseers be further instructed and authorized to institute and prosecute any suit against any person or persons for trespass or other punishable offense committed against any of the said Indians or their property.  That they by writing under their hands or the major part of them, warn any resident on said Indian lands without such license and consent to depart with in such time as they shall limit on penalty of the law respecting the admission of inhabitants in towns.  That they be authorized to assign to particular Indians, according to their improvement, their proportion of fence and to punish their neglect of duty respecting the same or other misfeasances, withholding from them proportions of rent or other proper restraints.  That any tenant to any Indian be confined as to improvement and wood to the occupancy of his owner, unless by special license of the overseers, on penalty of being considered trespassers. That the overseers be authorized if they judge it for the best good of the tribe, and with the consent of the major part of them, to divide the remaining lands, as to the use and improvement of them to and among the several families and make such alterations from time to time as their circumstances and

justice shall require.  All their affairs to be at all times under the regulations and control of the General Assembly and old Councilor Zachary is of pure Mohegan blood, is and has been almost alone, a staunch friend to the Colony or State through the Mason quarrel and in every other matter is unable to labor.  Your committee are therefore of opinion that the overseers to be instructed to supply him out of the profits of the lands with all the necessaries and comforts of life for himself and his wife, all which is humbly submitted by Your Honors’ most obedient humble servants,

Joseph Spencer, William Williams, Nathaniel Wales, Committee

Dated at Hartford, May 22, 1782                    

            Legislative Action:       In the Lower House, foregoing report is accepted and approved

and that a bill in form be brought in accordingly. Test, John Treadwell, Clerk

                                                Concurred in the Upper House.  Test, George Wyllys, Secretary

Report of Committee / Mohegan Indians / May 1783 / passed Lower House / passed Upper House / Bill / passed Lower House / passed Upper House / Public

Cataloguing:                326a

  • 1. Deleted text: They have never recovered
  • 2. Deleted text: We do not find but that the overseers have duly attended to and acted agreeable to the instructions of Your Honors, and faithfully executed their trust.