“My mother’s name was Dimiss Occuish…”

In the summer of 1844, Lurea Dick, a Brothertown Indian from what was then Wisconsin Territory, corresponded with the overseer of the Niantic Tribe in East Lyme, Connecticut, seeking a distribution from the Niantic tribal funds.  This request was not as strange as it might seem, as she was an heir to the estate of Philip Occuish and daughter of Dimiss Occuish, both Niantic Indians.  What made this case different was that Lurea was now a member of another tribe, had never lived on the Niantic lands and, quite possibly, had never set foot on those ancestral lands.

Beginning as early as the late 1790s and peaking in the 1830s, Connecticut Indian reservations, and the state appointed overseers charged with their management, began to see the return of some of the tribal members who emigrated to the Christian agrarian settlement of Brothertown in upstate New York. In some cases the individuals returned to stay in their former communities, disillusioned with political and religious infighting and the depredations of their non-native neighbors.  Others were simply unwilling to make the impending emigration to new tribal lands granted to them by the Menominee and Ho-chunk in the territory of Wisconsin. Some Brothertown Indians stopped off at their former reservations, prior to moving west, to say their final goodbyes to relatives and friends and to request annuities that had accrued over the years from the rental of family property, lands to which they felt they still retained some rights. Occasionally, those that did remove to Wisconsin Territory, like Lurea Dick, still claimed rights in family property and, although they were no longer a part of their New England communities, they attempted to exercise those rights either through letter, proxy or, in rare cases, visits.

The outcome of Lurea Dick’s petition to the overseer of the Niantics may remain a mystery.  But what emerges from the letter, perhaps overshadowing its more pragmatic content, is that which is added onto the end:

Martha Palmer wishes to inform her two sisters and brothers that she and her sister Lucy are alive and well and wishes them to write to her soon. Thomas Commuck wishes to be remembered to Mary Paul and George Waukeet.

This post script captures the echoes of a past community, highlighting the sacrifices that those in the Brothertown Tribe made as they sought to maintain their nascent community, emigrating from New England to upstate New York and finally, Wisconsin.

Lurea Dick’s original letter is held at the Connecticut Historical Society.  For a transcription and digital image of the letter, click here. For an in-depth look at Brothertown Indian history, explore the classic Sampson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England by William DeLoss Love or the more recent Becoming Brothertown by Craig N. Cipolla and Red Brethren by David Silverman.

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