Inside a Connecticut Indian Wigwam

In the fall of 1761, Ezra Stiles visited the Western Niantic Indian community in the Niantic-East Lyme, Connecticut area.  Of the several Indian dwellings or wigwams standing there, he made sketches of two in particular, that of George Waukeets and Phoebe and Eliza Moheage.  Both residences are representative of East Coast Algonquian Native architecture – a structure made with a bent-sapling frame covered with reed mats, tree bark, or animal skins.  

The Moheages’ wigwam was a little over ten feet high and could accommodate about a dozen individuals.  It contained a raised platform inside, providing space for bedding and other furniture.  By the mid-eighteenth century, familiar household items included colonial-styled tea tables, chests, tables, chairs, and dressers. Heat came from a fire pit hearth placed in the center of the earthen floor.  Larger wigwams, such as those owned by tribal leaders, had several hearths.  Pots made from earthenware or iron hung over the fire from hooks (quaúnghkéete in the Niantic-Mohegan language) that could be adjusted by moveable devices or trammels (paubpygouzinauzshacks).

Explore Stiles’ drawing here.  For a modernized version of the drawing, click here (citation).  More documents about wigwams or those mentioning wigwams can be found here.  Stiles’ drawing is from the Ezra Stiles Papers at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


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