Loss of Tunxis Land:  Getting to the Root of the Matter

By Dr. Renee Gralewicz (Brothertown)
It’s never been a surprise to indigenous peoples on why or how less than 2% of all United States and is currently controlled by indigenous. I struggle with the word “controlled” as much as I struggled with “owned.”  Indigenous peoples never had the ideology that one could “own” or “control” land or those who live on it. I thought to use the word “manage” which best describes indigenous relationship with land and other creations. However, many indigenous reservations have non-indigenous occupiers due to the Dawes Act of 1887 which was a massive land grab by the US government. The root cause of the disenfranchisement is colonialization and colonial mentality/ ideologies.  This essay is a short exploration into one indigenous nation, Tunxis, and the loss of their land between 1650 and 1806.
Land is important for all peoples and beings. Many wars across the globe have been fought over land and the desire for more. Land for European cultures and nations was a commodity early in their histories. By the time colonists settled upon Turtle Island, land defined the man. A man was not considered a “man” if he didn’t own property. Land also defined ones’ citizenship at the onset of US history; only propertied men were able to vote and hold office. Land however, for many Turtle Island indigenous was not a commodity but a requirement of life, and not just human life.  Indigenous peoples know that land could not be owned, could not be controlled because too many beings depended upon it and depended upon those other beings to help manage the land. This holistic worldview acknowledged the complexity of the ecosystems.
To start this story, here is a sentence found in the Farmington Public School “History:  Tunxis Indians” website1.  “The settlers and the Tunxis lived peacefully in Farmington together for the first quarter century, the Indians were guaranteed to their reservation, wood, the animals and fish within their property, as long as they lived according to the settlers policies.”  That sentence was followed with “Unfortunately, as most could guess, this utopic society between the two different cultures could not live forever.” Only a colonized mind could have thought that requiring the host, the Tunxis, to live according to the English customs as utopian.  While most colonists were not duplicitous, however, all of them were products of their culture. Their cultural worldview did not allow for gender equality or for leadership and decision-making by consensus.  Colonial worldview also could not conceive indigenous people as equals and could not conceive indigenous cultures as valid.
Unfortunately, the Tunxis peoples did begin to assimilate and abide by English culture as they were coerced into abiding by decisions made in the township’s General Assembly.  We have documents detailing indigenous purchasing and selling lands. Treating the land as a commodity was a requirement. This allowed the township to control land deeds.  Ironic as it may seem to many indigenous peoples, in 1650 the Tunxis were allowed to purchase about seventy-three acres and a half by the early settlers of the Town of Farmington.  May 22, 1673, “The Town of Farmington freely giving to the Indians aforesaid two hundred acres of upland within the bounds of their plantation, as also three pounds in other pay, which lands aforesaid is given upon the conditions, following, namely, that this land the English do hereby engage the Indians not to make any sale thereof but keep it for the use and benefit of themselves and their posterity…” (1724.03.19.00, emphasis mine). The land acquired was about 200 acres total.  Needless to say, this clause was ignored.  Tunxis Tribal land was essentially gone by the time Timothy Root died.
Though the Tunxis were forced to discuss land as a commodity due to the imposed legal structure of the colonies, they were not ignorant of the ways of the English.  In 1672 their leadership petitioned the General Assembly of the Colony of seeking satisfaction over tribal lands that were now occupied by settlers at Indian Neck (1672.05.13.00). They demanded reparations.  The Tunxis 1672 petition was not acted upon and once again the tribe asked for amends in 1738 (1738.05.10.00). This time the town of Farmington did acknowledge the transgression (1738.05.02.00, but the General Assembly never responded. Over time, the Indian Neck dispossessions continued to be problematic.  In 1767, another tribal petition to the General Assembly revealed that settler occupation of Native land still occurred there and at Indian Hill.  Tribal authorities insisted that tribal members' rights in their land be surveyed and recorded. 
We do know that on July 3, 1769, the General Assembly adjudicated fifty-six pounds, ten shillings to tribal members for the land.  Fifty-six acres and half were deeded to about 17 individual settlers for the sum of about 20 shillings per acre (1769.07.03.00). It is difficult to assess the sale price per acre because capitalists’ land value depends on a number of variables such as water access and farm ability. Also, the fluctuation of the value of a pound will not be taken into consideration.  For this essay, one-pound equals 20 shillings.
Given the opportunity to review documents processed through the General Assembly, land sold for as little as one shilling per acre depicted in the Deed from James Wawawos to Samuel Adams (1771.04.17.00). This was the sale of 200 acres that was granted to the Tunxis from the Town of Farmington in 1673.  The 200 acres which included fruit trees and fences sold for 10 pounds.  Land was sold for as much as 1000 shillings per acre with the 1748 sale of land by Cusk, a Farmington Indian, to Thomas Cowles (1748.07.28.00).  Here Cusk sold one acre of land for 50 pounds, or 1000 shillings. These two examples make it clear that one cannot simply average the price per acre of land.
However, I was able to follow the acquisition of land of one individual, Timothy Root.  Using Timothy Root (1740-1815) as a case study, we see men in positions of power abusing that power to attain more. Timothy Root was born to Mary Root (nee Hart) and Lt. Timothy Root. Lieutenant Root died when Timothy was about six years old.  Upon the remarriage of his mother to Rev. Samuel Newell. Timothy married Mary Langdon in 1764. Timothy Root was well integrated within the political realms around the Farmington area including being an advisor to the Tunxis tribe. A significant aspect of his life is that in October 1776, he along with Elnathan Gridley was appointed to a committee that had full power and authority to govern the sale of Indian proprieties (1776.10.00.00). By 1786 he was already on the committee that supervised all the Tunxis Tribe affairs (1786.05.00.02).
Documents reviewed for the NEH Tunxis Project revealed that Timothy Root had acquired about 153 acres of the 200 Indian Neck land, directly from Tunxis individuals. Much of this was acquired while in his official capacity as Committee Member to oversee the sales of Indian lands.   This is very misleading given that many of the sales supervised by Timothy Root were from Tunxis to other settlers; yet landed into the hands of Timothy Root.  Prior to his appointment to the 1776 appointment, he had already acquired a large track of land in the Farmington area. Authors of The Native Northeast Portal wrote that, “At his death in 1815, Root's properties in Farmington amounted to over 338 acres worth $16,416, … Documents indicate that Root accumulated at least 92.29 acres and likely even more in the 200-acre Tunxis reservation parcel, …” (https://nativenortheastportal.com/node/4207).
Many today, as well as those in the past, would congratulate Timothy Root for his business acumen.  Many today, I hope, would see this as a violation of his duties to protect Indian lands from unscrupulous individuals. Nonetheless, this is but one example when government officials are not monitored.
The table below is not 100% accurate, but close enough as a start to assess the sales of Indian land to Timothy Root.
  • Rood = ¼ acre (about 40 rods)
  • 1 Acre= 160 Rods
Document Number
Approximate acreage
Shilling price per Acre
As I reflect upon my participation in this project, I am very grateful to my ancestors and better appreciate the difficult decisions they were forced to make. I learned much about myself as well. After the many years of education I have and the many years of teaching Indigenous Studies at universities, I have so much more to learn.  Thank you for allowing me to participate.