A Narragansett Witness to History

 One hundred fifty-four years ago today, on the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Seated in the audience that night, a witness to the horrible event, was Levene C. B. Stewart, a Narragansett Indian woman.  In fact, she may have recognized the assassin straightaway — She and Booth were on familiar terms as neighbors.

Born in Baltimore on September 12, 1832, Levene (Levina) claimed descent from the Narragansetts chief Ninigret. She trained as a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital where her brother was on the medical staff. Later in life, she moved to Westerly, Rhode Island where she died at the age of 100 in 1932.

Levene’s presence in both ante- and postbellum Washington society needs further exploration.  Apparently, she witnessed at least one other important, but less violent, historical political event. She attended an inaugural ball celebrating the election of President Ulysses S. Grant on March 4, 1869.  She was buried in the dress she wore that day when she was laid to rest in the Westerly cemetery, sixty-three years later.

Hopefully, more to come on this interesting woman!


Images: Items from Lincoln’s assassination, Ford Theatre website. The assassination of President Lincoln, The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana/Library of Congress. Grant Inaugural: Washington, D.C. – The great inauguration ball on Tuesday evening, the 4th of March, in the temporary building in Judiciary Square / from a sketch by Jas. E. Taylor, Library of Congress.

Passamaquoddy Reclaim Their Culture through Digital Repatriation

A recent New Yorker article by E.Tammy Kim highlights the collaboration between the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the Passamaquoddy in their efforts to digitally reclaim historical sound recordings.  In addition, there is an interesting discussion about the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials and the Mukurtu content management system.  Both the protocols and the sharing capabilities of Mukurtu have been invaluable to our work here at Yale, both in terms of meaningful engagement with our Native partners and enhanced visual and intellectual access to important primary source materials to the broader public.



2018 In Review

In our last few posts, we acknowledged the two interns from Mohegan and Mashpee who worked with us this past year.  That gave us an idea to post a short summary of some of our accomplishments during 2018.

Editorial Assistance

Helping us with our editorial tasks this year, besides Eric and Danielle, were a number of people.  Julie Fisher tackled a hefty load of Massachusetts Archives materials.  In an upcoming article, we’ll share some of the transcription stumpers she had to deal with. Anya Montiel, a recent Yale graduate and now an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Arizona School of Art, spent the summer transcribing Phineas Fish’s correspondence with Harvard authorities about the Mashpee troubles in the 1830s.

This year we had two university classes contributing to the transcription production.  Students from Amy Harris’ Family History program (Brigham Young University) transcribed secretary and mixed-hand materials from the National Archives of the U.K. and the Massachusetts Archives, while those in Jeff Glover’s English Department Seminar (Loyola University, Chicago) addressed documents from the King Philip’s War period.

Also working with editors in producing Scholars’ Transcriptions were Michael Vander Heijden and John Nann from Yale’s Law School Library.  More on all these assisters in the weeks to come.

Website Improvements

We’ve moved to a new web platform, The Native Northeast Portal.  It’s built upon the Mukurtu Content Management system that provides for the ethical curation and sharing of Native cultural heritage items.

While most of the materials there relate to Massachusetts tribal communities, we will soon be uploading the over 2,000 Connecticut documents migrated from our older platform, the New England Indian Papers Series, into the Portal to bring our records into one single repository.

More work is being done to provide better access to the information and to improve the website’s looks.  We’ll keep everyone posted about our progress.

Native Partnerships and Collaboration

During the past year, members of the following Massachusetts Indian tribes have assisted Project editors with the review of digital heritage items.

Tribal representatives assess documents relating to their community and to those historical Native communities that no longer survive but to whom they have existing meaningful relational ties. Depending on the subject matter of a particular document, community review may be required of multiple tribes.

One of the more responsive features of the Native Northeast Portal is that it allows for dialogue within a community, among communities, and possibly with scholars and the interested public.

In some instances, tribal representatives have created their own Portal landing pages, with text describing their community and a profile image of their own choice (see image on left), or built out their community record further by assigning keywords of their own and providing cultural narratives to accompany a document.


Community Visits and Dialogue

In February, as part of the Project’s on-going Thomas Commuck’s Indian Melodies Initiative, the Brothertown Indian Nation, the New Haven shape note singing community, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and the Yale Indian Papers Project hosted a public singing and sharing.  The event was filmed by a Yale Divinity School graduate student, who is writing his Masters Thesis on the Initiative.  A sample clip can be seen here.  A group of Yale students, shape-note singers and members of the Brothertown Indian Nation hosted a similar event at the All Nations Indian Church, Minneapolis, MN, on July 28, 2018.

In May, the Stockbridge-Munsee held a conference, Remembering the Indian Nations in American History, at the Town Hall in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  In one session, several tribal members read passages from documents their ancestors wrote and reflected on the relevance of the messages to today’s community.

During the 200th Anniversary Celebration of the Cornwall Indian School in Cornwall, CT in June, editor Paul Grant-Costa assembled primary source materials in Yale archives relating to Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia (Obookiah) for a visiting delegation of his Hawaiian descendants to the University campus.

In early July, Project editors traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to attend the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag’s annual gathering and participate in a presentation to the community that included a segment in which several of the Project’s tribal representatives gave their perspectives on several of the Chappaquiddick documents in the Portal‘s collection. (Image on left.)

Later that month, editors presented to the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation/University of Massachusetts archaeological field school working on the reservation in North Stonington, CT.

On a sad note, we mark the passing of one of our tribal consultants this year, Donna Mitchel (Minoweh Ikidowin, Cloud in the Wind), a descendant of 1800s medicine man and shaman, William Pequot Pellawango Perry from the Indian community at Fall River, Massachusetts.  We met Donna two years ago at the Wattuppa reservation homestead and were struck with her knowledge, enthusiasm, dedication to her family, and preservation of Fall River’s Indian history, especially the Perry Clan.   You can watch interviews with Donna, Traveling the Wampanoag Trail with Minoweh, here and here. The accompanying image is of Tobias Glaza, Donna, and Michael Lebossiere, Watershed Forester, City of Fall River.

Scholarship and Academic Engagement

Throughout the year, we engaged the academic community, through presentations to Yale classrooms and providing individual students with resources and guidance for research projects and course papers.

In May, we traveled to the Huntington Library in Los Angeles, California to participate in the William and Mary Quarterly/Early Modern Studies Institute Workshop, Archives-based Digital Projects in Early America,  Organized by Molly O’Hagan Hardy, Peter Mancall, and Joshua Piker, the two-day event was designed to bring together digital scholarly technologies that offered fresh perspectives on the early American past.  Other panel discussants were from the Jesuit Plantation Project, the George Washington Financial Papers Project, the First Books Project, The Early Novels Database, the Early California Populations Project, and the Georgian Papers Programme.

We are happy to welcome another contributing partner institution — the Vermont Archives and Records Administration — to the Indian Papers Project collaborative.  They are sharing with us several Stockbridge documents, including some that relate to the town of Marshfield, whose charter was issued to the tribe in 1790. (More about them in a future post.)

One of the initial goals of the Yale Indian Papers Project when we first began over sixteen years ago was to provide a robust set of primary source materials to increase the scholarly literature on the history and culture of New England Indians.  It always amazes us every year to see the number of Masters’ theses, dissertations, and scholarly publications that use documents from either the New England Indian Papers Series or the Native Northeast Portal.  Of these, we note the following from 2018.






Thank You, Eric

Eric Maynard, a member of The Mohegan Tribe, just concluded a successful internship with the Yale Indian Papers Project.

Beginning in June and running through October, his primary responsibilities included learning the workings of our Mukurtu-based Native Northeast Portal platform.  To that end, Eric participated in a number of tutorial and training sessions with Project staff which prepared him to create, edit, and publish Digital Heritage Items (DHI) associated with participating Massachusetts Native communities on the Project’s platform.

These DHIs (combinations of document images, metadata, and transcriptions of primary source documents) could then be shared with tribal representatives for review before being made public.

In 2016, Eric interned with the Project, with his work then focusing on document transcription.  This, together with his library science background, made the transition to DHI creation and editing a natural next step.

At times, the handwriting of the texts may have seemed daunting.  Nevertheless, Eric’s editorial skills allowed him to transcribe the document accurately.  (Click on the images above to see them better.)

Another of Eric’s tasks was to develop and implement a list of keywords for the creation of DHI metadata.

The metadata and scholarly transcription process focused on legal petitions and resolves, ranging from the late 17th Century through the early 19th Century. Specifically, Eric’s transcription work encompassed documents relating to Chappaquiddick, Mashpee, Aquinnah, and Stockbridge communities.

Often these documents described land and property disputes, with Native peoples requesting legal and monetary relief and justice from the Massachusetts General Court. While it is not wholly evident from these documents that justice was regularly served, the responses from the Court were typically in favor of the aggrieved Natives.

Eric found the internship to be enriching as an educational experience, and on a regional and personal level. As a resident of Southeastern Connecticut, Eric felt that the internship gave him a more informed sense of Massachusetts local histories and Native and Colonial government-to-government outcomes.

The Editors want to thank Eric for his hard work and look forward to other opportunities to collaborate with him in the future.


American History, 2018

This year there is much to consider at Thanksgiving time.

We suggest you watch Real America w Jorge Ramos’ recent podcast episode: The Untold Story of Thanksgiving.

Real America With Jorge Ramos: The Untold Story of Thanksgiving

"This is an American history issue. When Thanksgiving is talked about, many tribal nations prior to the pilgrims is never told."This #Thanksgivingweek on Real America with Jorge Ramos, we take you to a side of U.S. history that is often untold. The attack on native land rights is the current issue native tribes are facing with Congress that could potentially threatened their livelihood.

Posted by Real America with Jorge Ramos on Tuesday, November 20, 2018

It highlights a modern issue that has historical underpinnings.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe received federal acknowledgment in 2007.  In 2015, President Barack Obama’s Department of the Interior placed 321 acres of land into trust for the tribe declaring it the tribe’s sovereign reservation.

Land in trust is a special status in which the federal government holds the title to the property and allows the tribe to make its own decisions on how to develop the tax-exempt land and its natural resources.

The U.S. Supreme Court of the United States recently held that in order for the federal government to take land into trust in behalf of a tribe, the tribe had to be under federal jurisdiction at the time of the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934.

After the Mashpee land was taken into trust, some Massachusetts residents who opposed the tribe’s plans for a resort casino filed suit against the tribe, challenging their “Indianness”.  In 2016, a federal judge held that the Mashpee did not qualify as “Indian” under the 1934 Act and ordered the Department to reconsider its decision recognizing the reservation.  The U.S. Department of the Interior, under the current administration, decided in early September that it would not dispute the judge’s decision and reversed its 2015 determination.

Through this decision, the Mashpee’s sovereignty is restricted as is the tribe’s ability to exercise meaningful self-governance. Moreover, its reservation is also threatened with being disestablished.  Millions of dollars in funding are being lost or delayed for the tribe’s critical community service programs and emergency services.

Some suggest that the Department of the Interior’s decision marks the return of the Termination Era.  Indian law experts have suggested a decision against the tribe would represent the first time in decades a tribe had lost lands after they had been placed into trust by the U.S. government.

Since the September decision, the Mashpee community has been building awareness and support.  Earlier this year, Massachusetts Congressmen Bill Keating and Joe Kennedy proposed legislation, H.R. 5244/S. 2628, The Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act, to protect the tribe’s reservation, preventing further legal challenges.  On Wednesday, November 14, the Mashpee organized a protest march and rally in Washington, D.C., to gather support for it.

In a speech that explained what a loss of sovereignty would mean to her community — the loss of funds for education, housing, and natural resources — Mashpee Vice Chair, Jessie Little Doe Baird explained the urgency of the matter:

“I … want to say that I stand here not only on behalf of my people, but the people that came before us and the 127 tribes that got their federal acknowledgment after 1934 … the other 127 tribes that they’re going to come for if we don’t put a stop to this right now.

After the event, the tribe encouraged people to call their representatives in Congress and urge them to support the Act.

Image of Mashpee protest in D.C., courtesy of The Mashpee Enterprise

Our other Thanksgiving posts can be found here: