Before we launch into the fun part of the discussion about food, let's clear up those details I couldn't work out. John Kirby of the Branford Historical Society wrote "The Branford Area in the Decade Before English Settlement: 1635 – 1644," in which he discusses the heritage of Sachem Montowese. He explains that Montowese's mother was Quinnipiac, while his father was Mattabesec; Montowese inherited his leadership position on both sides. But while that does shed some light on the subject, it offers a perspective of the Connecticut Algonquin-speaking peoples based on the understanding of the settlers, which has only begun to be corrected in the scholarship of writers like John Menta and Iron Thunderhorse, the current Grand Sachem of the Algonquin Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council. Both the names Quinnipiac and Mattabesec refer not to a people, but to a region; according to Thunderhorse in "Setting the Record Straight": "'Quinnipiac' is the place-name of one location within a vast sachemdom."
The Algonquin-speaking peoples stretched across more than a third of North America, including what we now call New England and New York. The political divisions weren't easily defined in the tribal structure adopted by early anthropologists. There was a large network of sub-sachemships that belonged to larger sachedoms; the area that is now Branford was inhabited by the Totoket (as noted) and Oiocommock (Stony Creek) bands, in the Wampano/Wappinger branch of the larger Wappinger-Mattabesec Confederacy, which was, in turn, part of the still-larger group called, in English, the Dawnland Confederacy. In an e-mail, Thunderhorse gave me some more detailed information about the heritage of Montowese (or Mantowese, in the more traditional spelling), explaining that Mantowese's father was the Sachem of the sub-tribe the Wangunk, who resided at Mattabeseck, the local name for Middletown. His mother's brother was the Sachem of Pyquaag, then the name for Wethersfield, and since Mantowese was the first male heir on that side, he did inherit on both sides. Currently, the Wappinger Mattabesec Confederacy is represented by the Algonquin Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council, which incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1989 and submitted documentation to become federally recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2008.
It's clear in reading many of the early histories that the writers had an agenda in depicting the first residents of New England; even people who professed to have a love for the study of the "Indians of Connecticut," like John William de Forest, who wrote a long treaties, The History of the Indians of Connecticut in 1850, describe their subjects with such condescension that it's difficult, from a modern perspective, to take anything they say seriously. On the topic of food, for example, de Forest suggests that agriculture wasn't very important, and that hunting and fishing were more significant to Connecticut locals. His description of the planting done: "They confined themselves chiefly to the raising of beans, maize, and tobacco," he writes, following that immediately with the wonderful varieties of fruits and vegetables that Europeans brought to the Americas–seems intentionally designed to put the indigenous peoples of Connecticut in a primitive light.
Though de Forest heavily relied on other sources at the time, often referencing works by Roger Williams, the fact is that he just doesn't have an accurate picture of the farming that was done. According to the archaeological record that John Menta depicts in his The Quinnipiac: Cultural Conflict in Southern New England, the people of Connecticut were growing corn "intensively" as early as 1320 A.D. In fact, "The adoption of maize (corn) agriculture and other garden crops was a significant cultural development, one that altered the subsistence patterns of the New England Algonquin." Menta discusses theories that the Shoreline populations started farming more seriously a little bit later–say, the 1500s – because along the coast, shellfish were available year round. But this agricultural development was still early enough that fields and planting would have been well established by the time the English settlers started clearing their own farm plots. In fact, Menta suggests that part of the reason some of the Shoreline sites (including Madison and Guilford) were selected by settlers is that they'd already been cleared for agricultural use. Menta lists the same crops as de Forest, but adds squash, pumpkins, artichokes, and watermelons. Fish were often used to fertilize the fields. In an e-mail, Thunderhorse also added berries, nuts, and plums to the foods that were cultivated. Some of those foods were so important, in fact, that their harvest merited a festival: the strawberry (wotahomon, or heart-berry) harvest warranted one of the eight nickommo feast celebrations held every year.
Of course, hunting and fishing were also important: deer, bear, moose, rabbit, wild turkeys, and ducks all contributed to the Quinnipiac diet. According to Mike Michaels's "Thanksgiving Before the Puritans," hunting became increasingly more important dependent upon the weather: in the warmer seasons, farming and shellfish gathering and fishing provided the main portion of the diet. In winter, the bands typically migrated away from the shoreline and into the forested regions where hunting was more plentiful. So how about those shellfish I hinted at in my question from last week? Shellfish made up about eighty percent of the Quinnipiac diet during the summer and fall months. According to Thunderhorse and Gordon Fox-Running Brainerd in "Our Quinnipiac Heritage Legacy Shell-fish Traditions," clamming, crabbing, lobstering, and oystering are traditional back for thousands of years. Oysters were particularly plentiful, and made up a large portion of that shellfish diet, but mussels and clams were also harvested for both food and jewelry. Brainerd and Thuderhorse also describe traditional lobster pots as baskets:
"made from dried grapevines and ash splints woven together in a long funnel shape with inverted spikes at the open mouth. Lobsters can crawl in to eat the bait but cannot crawl back out. Lobsters were traditionally steamed (using white hot rocks with seaweed on top) or they were smoked and dried (as were clams and oysters) and preserved for lean times."
So, what modern foods and food celebrations echo the Quinnipiac traditions? Steamed lobster is still a favorite, even if now we slather on the butter. Milford holds their annual oyster festival every August, and here in Branford, we have our annual strawberry festival, sponsored by the Branford Historical Society, coming up on June 18 on Branford Green! So while the landscape and the way we use the land has certainly changed, some things remain the same for all of us residents of the "Long Water Land."