There were other problems as well. The settlers in Huntington had purchased
their land from local sachems and refused to acknowledge the authority of
the Montauk over these Indians. In a letter Thomas Topping, Huntington
resident Robert Seelye supported Topping's struggle to establish the
legitimacy of his purchase from the Shinnecock. Seelye, in his letter to
Topping, pointed out that "...all the sachems on the Island westward
together with their Indians do affurme that Monawcut sachem hath no
prerogative over their land..." The controversy over the lands in Quogue
represented an early stage in the attempt of governmental bodies to squeeze
the "rugged individuals" out of the deed game entirely. The situation was
becoming very confusing. |
The towns were pressing for a monopoly on all land transactions in order to prevent individuals such as Topping and Scott from turning the whole process of land alienation into chaos. This attempt to bring some order to a tangle of conflicting claims by local governments foreshadowed the policy established by the United States government in 1790 requiring Federal approval of all land transactions with Indians. From the very beginning of colonial history governments at several levels sought to keep the deed game under their control. Individual entrepreneurs and later private land companies aggressively pressured Indians into signing deeds and then sought to defend the purchase in the courts. The seventeenth century on Long Island, for example, has been called the "golden age of lawyers" because everyone was in court suing their neighbors. Generally one sued for trespass in order to get a solid boundary determination which would have an official court record. This anarchistic process often provoked bloodshed between settlers, as well as an occasional Indian war.
After the defeat of the Dutch in 1664 and the creation of the colony of New York, there was more pressure to centralize the deed game. Charles II gave the colony to his brother James, the Duke of York, who appointed William Nicoll to serve as the first governor of the new colony. Nicoll immediately set about the task of imposing a uniform legal and administrative system for the whole colony. The "Duke's Laws," as they were known, were more authoritarian than the colonists had expected, but they did provide a stable institutional base for the development of trade and commerce. Connecticut was forced to relinquish her claim to the towns on Eastern Long Island and local people reluctantly became "New Yorkers." The Duke's Laws required that no purchase of Indian land:
... shall be Esteemed a good title without leave first had and obtained From the Governor and after leaves so obtained, the Purchaser shall bring the Sachem and right owner of such Lands before the Governoure to acknowledge satisfaction and payment for the said lands where upon they shall receive a grant from the Governoure and the Purchase so made and prosecuted is to be entered upon record in the Office and from that time to be valid to be all intens and purposes.The laws also prohibited the sale or gift of alcohol to any Indian directly or indirectly.
The new laws sparked a rush to strengthen land titles before the governor reviewed them. The new governor moved immediately to set a precedent. He approved the sale of Hog Neck by the Shelter Island Indians to the Town of Southampton, and resolved a dispute between Southampton and the Shinnecock over the title to some meadow land in 1665. The Town of Southampton bought out Topping's deed and then called in twenty-seven Shinnecock Indians to confirm the April 1662 deed, reassert their right to sell the land, and approve the transfer of title from Topping to the Town of Southampton. The following September a group of thirteen Shinnecock, including four who had signed it, protested in a signed statement that those particular Shinnecock did not have the right to sell the land to Topping. This group asked that Governor Nicoll rule on the matter and pay them for the land. Five Shinnecock actually signed both documents. The widow of Mandush, who was now the wife of Cobish (Goatees), signed both statements, but her husband signed only the first one. Mandush's son, his daughter, Apunch (Punch), Samwason (Somwesesen), and Quaquashaw appear to have shared Cobish's wife's change of heart between February and September. The reasons for these shifts are not clear. All we can conclude with certainty is that the squabbles among the whites over the land had disrupted the Indian community to a point where the tribe was divided against itself.