(Photo: a typical New England Stone wall that are common throughout the northeastern U.S., and built by enslaved and contract labor of Indigenous Americans and Africans in the Hudson Valley, New York)
I learned of the Nanticoke Indians from a letter-to-the-editor to my local paper, the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, when I was a teenager in the 1970s. The Nanticoke Creek flows into the Susquehanna River across from where I grew up.
The letter said the first Black child born in the area had been born to a Nanticoke chief in the 1700s. The Nanticoke people had migrated from Maryland, and merged with the Oneida, who later moved to either Canada or Wisconsin.
Sources describe the Nanticoke as dark-skinned, and admired by other Indians for their medicinal skills.
Much of this history was buried in 1779 when George Washington destroyed most towns in the Iroquois Confederacy, which included the Nanticoke who lived there as guests.
Fast forward to 2023, and columnist revealed history in the The Putnam Examiner. Bill Primavera’s column, The Home Guru, covers architecture here in the Hudson Valley, NY.
His recent column discusses the stone walls criss-crossing the countryside, including my own backyard.
Usually attributed to “settlers,” Mr. Primavera writes that unpaid laborers built these stone walls. Enslaved Pequot survivors of King Philip’s War of 1675, along with Indian debtors and landless laborers, were part of this labor force.
Enslaved Africans also served in the Hudson Valley, but some were free. Tonetta Lake in Brewster, NY was named for Tone, a former slave and Revolutionary war veteran, and his Afro-Native wife Etta, who ran a fishing lodge there in the 1790s, according to local historical markers.
Kudos to Bill Primavera for his article, and to that letter-writer who hipped me to the Black-Nanticoke connection in my hometown.
And kudos to local print newspapers who made both of these possible.
“Some Surprising History About Our Old Stone Walls” by Bill Primavera, The Putnam Examiner, Volume 15, July 25, 2023.
Letter to the Editor, Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, 1970s.