The Montaukett or Montauk people are an Algonquian-speaking Native American culture from the eastern end of Long Island, New York. Historically, they are related in language and ethnicity to the Pequot and Narragansett peoples who live across Long Island Sound in what is now Connecticut and Rhode Island. Relics and ruins of their settlements are visible at Theodore Roosevelt County Park, just east of the village of Montauk, New York. While descendants of this tribe still live among the neighboring tribes in the region, the Montaukett do not currently exist as a New York State recognized tribe.

Indian Field by Little Reed Pond
Regions with significant populations
United States (Long Island)
English, formerly Mohegan-Pequot
Christianity, Native
Related ethnic groups
Shinnecock, Pequot, and Narragansett

Culture and language

Montauk people historically spoke the Mohegan-Pequot language, also known as the Algonquian Y-dialect, similar to their New England neighbors, the Pequot and the Narragansett. Native Americans living on Long Island are often known in colonial writings by the place name of their geographic territories, such as the Montauk and the Shinnecock, which may or may not be the same as their name for themselves. European colonists tended to mistakenly assume that the different bands they encountered were different tribes, even in cases where the bands clearly shared the same culture and language.[1] The Native Americans of the east end of the Island shared a common culture with each other and with other groups along most of the northern shore of what is now called Long Island Sound.

Those in the western part of Long Island were Lenape groups, culturally and linguistically distinct and related to a people who lived in a large territory extending from western Connecticut through the lower Hudson River Valley into New Jersey, parts of eastern Pennsylvania and the northern shore of Delaware.

The Montaukett divided their roles to obtain and process foods. The Montaukett "were farmers and fishermen." While the men fished and hunted whales, the "women would harvest corn, squash and beans."[2] The men hunted whales by using their dugout canoes, made by hollowing out large trees.[2]


The pre-colonial Montaukett derived great wealth from the wampompeag (or wampum) available on Long Island. Before the Montaukett obtained metal awls from the Europeans, the Montaukett artisans would make "disk-shaped beads from quahog shells...used for trade and for tribute payments" with the nearby tribes.[3] Since the wampum became desired for trade and payment by Native Americans and the English and Dutch colonial powers, the Montaukett were raided and made politically subject by more powerful New England tribes, who demanded tribute or just stole the wampum. Infectious diseases brought by the Europeans, such as smallpox, to which the natives had no natural immunity, combined with intertribal warfare, resulted in great population losses, similar to that suffered by other Native American groups. Cockenoe a Montaukett captured during the Pequot War in 1637, worked with John Eliot in Boston in the 1640s to translate the first parts of the Eliot Indian Bible, before returning to Long Island.

Mohegan missionary and preacher, Samson Occom, formed the Brothertown group along with members of the neighboring Shinnecock band. They moved from Long Island to escape colonial encroachment, to Oneida County, New York. Later most of the people relocated to Wisconsin. Today they are part of the Brothertown Indians movement.

Many Montaukett remained in the area around Montauk, chiefly because the land was often considered inaccessible. At the end of the 19th century, the most notable Montaukett was Stephen Talkhouse (Stephen Taukus "Talkhouse" Pharaoh). He was known to walk 30 to 50 miles round-trip per day from Montauk to East Hampton or Sag Harbor. Various stones on his routes, part of the present-day Paumanok Path hiking trail, have been marked with this account. P.T. Barnum featured Pharaoh as "The Last King of the Montauks", despite his being neither a king nor the last Montauk.[4]

In 1879, an extension of the Long Island Rail Road was constructed to Montauk. Arthur W. Benson began buying up land in the area with an eye to future development. In the court battles that ensued, the Montaukett lost their legal status and right to compensation. The 1910 court case described the Montauk people as "extinct."[5] African Americans and Indians interacted in many ways. Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, African Americans and Indians intermarried; this led to the conclusion that the Montaukett were extinct.[6] Since there was intermarriage between these two groups, the lawyers argued that the Montaukett had "diluted their 'Indian blood.'" Martian Fisher Ales concluded that the Montauketts no longer existed as a tribe.[7] During the lawsuit, the Long Island Rail Road defense relied on the argument that the Montaukett had lost their cultural identity because of intermarriage; they did not understand that the Montauk and other tribes could absorb newcomers, and that their children were raised to identify as Montauk regardless of mixed race.[6]

The entirety of Montauk was sold in 1890 to Arthur W. Benson "subject to the rights of the Montauk tribe of indians," noting that a few members and their families survived. In 1906 New York State passed legislation to enable the Montaukett to establish land claims through colonial deeds from 1660 through 1702. The 1686 Dongan Patent allowed the Montauk Proprietors to purchase the remaining unpurchased lands between the ponds and east of Lake Wyandanee (Lake Montauk), a purchase that was made in 1687. In the early 20th century, the Montauk filed a land claims case under the 1906 legislation; it failed and the representatives were told that the tribe was "extinct" for the purpose of making such claim.

Current issues

There are a variety of groups and individuals that claim descent from historic Montaukett people. One of these groups is the Montaukett Indian Nation[8] - a group of individuals who have formed an unrecognized tribe that claims a relation to the language and culture of the now federally recognized Shinnecock Indian Nation in neighboring Southampton.[5]

The Montauk Friends of Olmsted Parks/Montauk Trustee corporation claims to be the successor to the proprietors of Montauk that entered into the deeds with the Montauketts. It remains before the court making claims through the Indian deeds and the 1686 Dongan Patent and Charter.[3]

In 2013 The New York State Assembly approved the Bill, the Montaukett Act, which would have reversed the 1900 State Supreme Court decision that declared the Montaukett tribe extinct.[9] However the Bill was vetoed by the Governor, Andrew M. Cuomo.[10]

Notable Montauk people

See also


  1. Strong, John A. We Are Still Here: The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island Today, 2nd edition. New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, June 1998. ISBN 978-1-55787-152-7
  2. Redish, Laura. "Montauk Indian Fact Sheet". Native Languages of the Americas. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  3. "Montauk". Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Houghton Mifflin. Credo Reference. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  5. Walla, Claire. "Montauketts Vie For State Recognition." Archived 2011-11-29 at the Wayback Machine The Sag Harbor Press. 6 Oct 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  6. "Long Island: African Americans and Native Peoples". Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Credo Reference. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  7. Mulin, Michael J. (2002). "The Montaukett Indians Of Eastern Long Island (Book)". American Indian Culture & Research Journal. 26 (2): 188–190. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  8. Devine, James "White Feather". "Facts about the Montaukett Indian Nation". Montaukett Indian Nation. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  9. Drumm, Russell. "Reflecting on State’s Reversal", The East Hampton Star. 27 June 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  10. Harrington, Mark. "Montaukett Indian Nation denied a second time as governor vetoes recognition bill", Friday, December 8, 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  11. "Olivia Ward Bush: 1869–1944", New York State Hall of Governors, Retrieved 9 July 2012.

Further reading

  • Strong, John A. The Montaukett Indians of Eastern Long Island (Iroquois and Their Neighbors). New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, June 1998. ISBN 0-8156-2883-8.
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