This manuscript map was created in 1639 to show lands referred to in a land deal between the colonist Henry Whitfield and the sachem Shaumpishuh. The lands defined are part of the current-day Connecticut shoreline.
In August 1639, Shaumpishuh (?-1686?) and her uncle, Quassaquanch, met with the English colonist Henry Whitfield on the Connecticut coast. Shaumpishuh was the sachem (leader) of the community of Menunkatuck and Quassaquanch led the neighboring village of Totoket. While both Shaumpishuh and Quassaquanch acted as independent sachems of relatively small villages, they had some familial and political ties with the more powerful Quinnipiac sachem, Momaugin, based in present-day New Haven. Some English records referred to Shaumpishuh as Momaugin’s sister, and Quassaquanch as his “Counsellor.” Scholars have speculated that Quassaquanch was an expert diplomat. After some negotiations, Whitfield purchased the right to settle on part of Shaumpishuh’s lands in exchange for goods and promises.
With negotiations concluded, Whitfield wrote a deed and Quassaquanch made this map. In the map, he depicted both the lands Whitfield purchased and the surrounding territories. South is the top of the map and North the bottom. The single horizontal line represents the coastline, and each vertical line represents a river. The small circle adjacent to one of the rivers represents the village of Kuttawo and the circles above the coastline are islands. After the drafting was complete, Whitfield and his scribe John Higgenson carefully labeled locations on the map and added the text below
From Tuckshis to oiockocommock River ye land wholly & only belongs to ye Squa Sachem & is at her dispose: The description of it being given by Quassaquanch her uncle & assented to by her selfe [...]
Shaumpishuh and Quassaquanch sold rights to their land and made this map in a context of violence. Between 1636 and 1638, colonists had waged war against the Pequot nation, killing and enslaving hundreds of people. During the conflict, Pequot soldiers raided English settlements and besieged the English fort at Saybrook. As the English gained the upper hand in the conflict in 1637, soldiers captured and executed Pequot sachems on Shaumpishuh’s territory in an area that the colonists grimly renamed “Sachem’s Head.” In search of safety, Shaumpishuh and her people fled and lived alongside English settlements until the war’s conclusion. When Shaumpishuh sold rights to her land to the English two years later, it was to a people who had amply demonstrated their penchant for violence.
The Indigenous people of New England possessed what historians of cartography call “map consciousness,” the awareness of maps as useful tools. Alternatively, the English colonists in the region were a people who, in 1639, almost never made maps. Quassaquanch’s map is representative of the minimalist mapping culture of the region. Unlike much European mapping in the early 1600s, or later mapping by Euro-Americans, Indigenous mapping in the Northeast eschewed representing imaginary boundary lines. Instead, maps focused on identifying different major landmarks to demarcate the territory of different communities. Verbal communication was integral to the map, and Quassaquanch and Shaumpishuh spoke at length to identify and explain what they drew to Whitfield.
Shaumpishuh’s lands were hotly contested by diverse groups of colonists and Indigenous people in the aftermath of the Pequot War. Uncas, sachem of the Mohegans sought to bring many smaller villages, like Shaumpishuh’s, under his authority. English colonists hungrily seized land as they began to migrate into the “conquered” territories of Connecticut. Communities who resisted received thinly veiled threats that referred to unpleasant “visits.” While the deed associated with this map represented a relatively traditional English acquisition of land, Shaumpishuh and Quassaquanch savvily provided their own version of the deal in their map and testimony. They made clear where the English rights ended and managed to protect essential hunting rights to those lands in negotiations.
However, colonists saw the utility of the map, labeled it, and eventually copied it. Through bureaucratic processing, the English transformed it from a negotiated document, in which Shaumpishuh reserved lands and rights for her people, into something to establish English ownership and political authority in their own records.
By Nathan Braccio, NEH Long-Term Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society and Assistant Professor at Lesley University
The Battlefields of the Pequot War Project provides information about the Pequot War and the identification and preservation of its battlefields.
Braccio, Nathan. “Map Scarcity in Early Colonial New England.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 57, no. 3 (Summer 2021), 457-494.
Lewis, G. Malcolm. “Maps, Mapmaking, and Map Use by Native North Americans.” The History of Cartography, vol 2, edited by David Woodward and G. Malcolm Lewis, 51-182. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Menta, John. The Quinnipiac: Cultural Conflict in Southern New England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
The Native Northeast Portal provides digitized primary source materials by, on, or about Northeast Indians from repositories around the world.
Pearce, Margaret Wickens. “Native Mapping in Southern New England Indian Deeds.” Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Mapmaking and Map Use, edited by G. Malcolm Lewis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Warhus, Mark. Another America: Native American Maps and the History of Our Land. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.