Harper's New Monthly Magazine
November, 1871.

A New England Village.


and in every field and door-yard, and even in the nicely graveled foot-paths by the roadside, he sees the marks of care and culture -- he seems to have found the most admirable blending of nature with art and taste, and altering only a little the verse of Goldsmith, is disposed to exclaim,

       "Sweet Stockbridge! loveliest village of the plain!"

       But how few of those who from year to year are surprised by this scene of loveliness are aware that this most beautifully set jewel of Berkshire was only a little while ago the wild hunting-ground of the Indian, kept as such long after the surrounding region had come under the ownership of the whites! It is but a step from there are those alive to-day in Stockbridge who were living there when the Indian tribe who owned its whole territory had not yet parted with it nor removed to their new home nearer the setting sun. Such is the change wrought within a human lifetime. The later settlements of the West, aided by our modern appliances of railroads and telegraphs, may show greater changes in a briefer period of tune, but for New England the change here wrought is little less than a marvel. The growth of our country during the first century and a half, if we may not say two centuries, was comparatively slow. The day of railroads and steamships had not come. It was a hundred years after the settlement at Plymouth before Massachusetts had any white inhabitants west of the Connecticut River valley, or the region properly included in it. Westfield, as its name tells us, was then the westernmost settlement, the very outpost of civilization. All beyond to the Mississippi, and to the Canadian line on the north, was a wilderness. But in the year 1722 the wave of migration, which had rested for sixty years in the fertile meadows of the Connecticut, rolled forward to the valley of the Housatonic. Upon the petition of Joseph Parsons and nearly two hundred other inhabitants of Hampshire County--which then embraced almost all the western half of Massachusetts--for the grant of two townships of land upon the Housatonic River, a committee was appointed for the purpose of purchasing the Indian title to the designated tract, and dividing the same properly among the settlers. The committee was instructed also to reserve a suitable portion of the lands for the first minister, for the subsequent maintenance of the ordinance of the Gospel, and for the support of schools. Thus the new settlements were begun in the true Puritan style, with scrupulous regard to the rights of the aborigines, and with a zealous interest in behalf of education and religion.
       The townships thus granted and opened to settlement embraced all the lower part of the present county of Berkshire, with the reservation of a small portion on the southern border, and another larger portion (including nearly all of the present town of Stockbridge), which were then Occupied by Indians. These Indians, the sole inhabitants of this whole region, were a small band of the Mu-he-ka-ne-ok, or River Indians, as they were called, from their residence being on and near the Hudson River. Their name signifies "the people of the continually flowing water." That portion of the tribe who resided in Berkshire came to be known as the Housatonic Indians, from the name they gave to the river on whose borders they lived. They had a tradition that their tribe came originally from a country northwest of their present home, having, as they said, "crossed the great water at a place where this and the other country are nearly connected." They said, also, that in coming from the west "they found many great waters, but none of them flowing and ebbing like Muhekaneok until they came to Hudson River." Then they said, one to another,
       This is like Muhekaneok, our nativity." Here, then, we have a tradition which, if to be relied upon, indicates that one tribe of Indians at least found its way hither from Eastern Asia by way of Behring Strait an origin which agrees; it is well known, with the theory of some of the best ethnologists.
       The committee charged with the duty of laying out the new townships set about their work at once. In a few months they had received the names of fifty-five proposed settlers; and in April, 1724, the Indians gave a deed of the land, signed by Koukapot, their king, or chief, and twenty others. The consideration in the case is somewhat peculiar, but indicates strongly the change, in some respects, which has taken place in the usages of society. The land was given, as the deed says, "in consideration of 450 three barrels of cider, and thirty quarts of rum."
       As the settlers occupied their newly granted lands, and thus came into contact with the Indians, they were surprised to find them well disposed and of good moral character, and that Koukapot, their chief; was even favorably inclined toward the Christian religion. This coming to the knowledge of Rev. Samuel Hopkins, of Springfield, he became very desirous that the Indians should have the Gospel preached to them. After conferring with some others, he made his wishes known to the Commissioners of Indian Affairs at Boston. This board, embracing among others the Governor of the colony, was an agency of the London Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The Commissioners approved the plan of Hopkins, and requested him, in conjunction with Rev. Stephen Williams, who in his youth had been carried away as a captive from Deerfield by the Indians in their fa-.

816
| Previous Page | Next Page |
| Berkshire County Home |


Transcribed by Laurel O'Donnell
© Laurel O'Donnell, 1999-2000, all rights reserved,
Do not reproduce nor distribute without express written permission.