© 2023 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Stockbridge to transfer 18th-century documents to Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans

A new law in Massachusetts authorizes the town of Stockbridge to transfer 18th-century documents to the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans.

A bill filed by state Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, was signed into law by former governor Charlie Baker just before he left office.

The facilities manager in Stockbridge, Chris Marsden, had discovered the documents in 2019 tucked among other papers in the old town hall.

Local historian Rick Wilcox, who helped identify the documents, said they were a "great find." One of them, signed by tribal leaders, is about the tribe's efforts to regain control of land distribution in about 1780.

The Massachusetts legislature passed a bill authorizing the town of Stockbridge to transfer this 1780 document, and others, to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. It is signed by tribal leaders. Former Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill into law just before he left office.
courtesy Patrick White, the town of Stockbridge, Mass.
/
The Massachusetts legislature passed a bill authorizing the town of Stockbridge to transfer this 1780 document, and others, to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. It is signed by tribal leaders. Former Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill into law just before he left office.

"This document was a request from the members of the leadership to call a meeting in order to undo the relationship they had with two English colonists who were supposed to be helping with the distribution of land, but in essence were stealing it," Wilcox said.

Today the Stockbridge-Munsee community is based in Wisconsin, but their original homelands included the Housatonic River valley. The documents will be housed in the Arvid E. Miller Library and Museum on the tribal reservation in Bowler, Wisconsin.

"It is a rare occurrence to see records of this nature returned to a Tribe since much of our historical documents remain in external repositories located thousands of miles away from the people who need them the most,” spokespeople from the Stockbridge-Munsee community said in a statement. “ It is our hope that other records repositories and archives will seek to do the same so that we can once again tell our story from our own voice."

In 1737, royal charter established a new township where Stockbridge is today. It brought together native people and colonists in a Christian community.

By the end of the 1700s, the colonists had taken much of the tribal land.

"Between 1750 and 1790, they were dispossessed of all their land," Wilcox said.

By the mid -1800s the tribe had resettled in Wisconsin.

The recently passed legislation was initially focused on giving the town permission to transfer one document, but it became broader than that, Pignatelli said.

"If other documents were unearthed, so to speak, the town would have the ability to do that without having to file legislation again," he said.

The town of Stockbridge would like to hold a ceremony to transfer the documents to the tribe.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.