Samson Occom and Brothertown Stories on Rhode Island NPR

“The impact of early European immigration on Native Americans in New England is examined through the story of Samson Occom, a brilliant Mohegan Indian from Eastern Connecticut who gains fame on two continents before his story takes a dramatic and unexpected turn.”


Alex Nunes and Ana Gonzalez of the Rhode Island NPR station have produced a three-episode story on the Brothertown, the first of which, The Betrayal of Samson Occom, went live the other day.

Appearing with Alex and Ana are Kathleen Brown-Perez (Brothertown, UMass Amherst) as commentator and Bruce Two Dogs Bozsum (former chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council and a current tribe elder and justice) as the voice of Samson Occom.

You can listen to it at the link below, or at Apple Podcasts and the other major podcasting platforms.


Images:  Samson Occom portrait, courtesy, Explore, Samson Occum, Mohegan Tribe.

Faith Damon Davison (1940-2019)

We share the sad news of the passing of our friend, colleague, and mentor, Faith Damon Davison.

A wonderfully caring person, Faith was an elder, Nonner, and former Archivist of the Mohegan tribal community. One of the Native elders we consulted when putting the Yale Indian Papers Project together years ago, she subsequently became a founding member of our Board of Advisors and an enthusiastic supporter of the work the Project does.

A font of knowledge about Native history and presence in Southern New England, Faith was also a writer and lecturer.  In two short essays for Dawnland Voices, she shared some of her memories of growing up in Connecticut.

In 2013, Faith was recognized by the Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards Program with the “Honored One Award” for her contributions to the cultural sovereignty of the Mohegan Tribe.

Our heartfelt condolences to her family, friends, and to the Mohegan community.

Faith, we’ll miss you very much.

Your friends,

Paul & Toby


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.