Sharecropping the Sea: Shinnecock Whalers
in the Seventeenth Century cont'd.

The role of the Indians in these operations prior to 1670 was not recorded. The agreements they made with the settlers were not written down in the Town minutes during the early decades. The decision to begin recording these transactions may have been made to give the labor contract greater authority. The Indians, who were always in great demand, may have treated these early contractual obligations rather casually. The concept of such long-range commitments was as alien to Indian culture as the European concept of property or large scale political systems. The registration of contracts in town minutes may well have been an attempt to intimidate the Indians by throwing the full weight of the town behind the private labor agreement. If that was the intent, the procedure was only moderately successful. For the Indians the whale hunt was an ancient tradition imbued with religious significance; they must have had some difficulty understanding the transformation of this into a commercial operation. Another reason, perhaps, for the whites to "go public" with their labor contracts was the hope of gaining protection from their competitors, who were constantly trying to interfere with the contracts binding the more successful whaling crews. Although we can never know for certain why this process began, it does seem clear that it was related to a relative scarcity of highly skilled labor willing to risk life and limb in a dangerous enterprise.

The early contracts indicate that in spite of a market situation heavily in favor of the Indians, they were given a very small share of the profits. In 1670, for example, Towsacum and Philip were paid coats, shoes, stockings, a small portion of powder and shot, and a bushel of corn for three years work. In addition to killing the whale, they were expected to help butcher and boil out the oil. In 1687 the fourteen companies hunting shore whales averaged about 150 barrels each for the season (Howell, 1887: 181). The barrels could bring as much as two pounds sterling on the open market; in 1700 David Miller of Apagqogue was able to buy a farm with the profits from the oil of one whale (Edwards and Rattray, 1956: 218). If an average adult whale produced 40 to 60 barrels, then the profits from an average season would be worth the price of three farms. Five of the fourteen companies (mentioned above) actually brought in over 200 barrels, and one Sagabonick (Sagaponack) company processed 300. Clearly the profits were high and the Indians who did all the work and took all the risks were seeing very little of it.

These exploitative terms had apparently been the pattern for the unrecorded agreements made prior to 1670 as well. Paquanaug signed an agreement in 1670 for terms similar to those of the "...three years past and in addition an iron pot for each such as John Cooper gives to his Indians". The contract does not list what was given in addition to the iron pot, but it was probably clothes and ammunition. We do know what some other companies were giving the Indians besides pots and clothes. An exemption from the prohibition against the sale or dispensation of alcohol to the Indians was granted to "...such persons who employ Indians in their whaling designe..."

The use of alcohol to manipulate and exploit Indians was evident and here we see another example of the practice. In this case, Indians were lured into a highly dangerous undertaking in which they risked their lives for trinkets and cloth. The Indians were prohibited from practicing their religious rituals? which were casually dismissed by Governor Lovelace as "devil worship.' Most anthropologists would agree that one of the factors related to the abuse of alcohol among aboriginal peoples is the repression of their culture by the Whites. The Governor's order unwittingly draws attention to this unfortunate interrelationship. The use of alcohol for the manipulation of Indian leaders is also hinted at in the closing lines of the resolution. He ordered that the Shinnecock and Montauk Sachem be given special permission to dispense "...small quantities of liquors to such Indians as they thinke deserve of them." This procedure may have been an attempt on the part of the English to help a puppet sachem maintain local support by distributing alcohol to selected members of the tribe.