Native Americans in the Hudson River Valley
This region was a river valley long before the river was named for Henry Hudson. At the time of contact with European explorers and colonists, the Mohicans who lived in the region referred to it as the Mahicannituk, often translated as “the river that flows both ways,” or “the waters that are never still.”
When researching the Native American history of a region, it is important to remember the context in which that history was recorded. Nearly all the first-hand accounts which have survived were written by Europeans who were, by definition, foreign to the lifeways of America’s original inhabitants. Even in the best circumstances with sympathetic explorers, missionaries, or colonists, whatever aspects of indigenous culture and history were captured had been seen through the lens of European culture by an individual who was participating to some extent in some phase of colonization. Many historians who interpreted that material also saw it through the cultural lens of an outsider, repeating or amplifying those historic inaccuracies. There is also a legacy of accurate observations and scholarship which continues to expand and improve upon previous generations. The Hudson River Valley Institute has attempted to avoid repeating the mistakes of the former and to identify and share the latter; readers are encouraged to continue educating themselves using the resources provided.
Many of the names by which indigenous bands, clans, and nations are known today were not the names by which they recognized themselves prior to the Contact Period with Europeans. For example, the “Delaware” called themselves the Lenni Lenape, or simply Lenape; today the Munsee Lenape remain in northern New Jersey and southern New York. In some cases, they were historically accurate names, but conflated to apply to any number of different groups who appeared together for the purpose of trading or negotiating. Surviving tribal organizations today represent bands and tribes that were unrelated prior to European contact. Finally, it is imperative to remember that history was no more static here than it was elsewhere in the world: groups were moving, alliances were evolving and fading, technology was developing that changed seasonal migrations. The image most of us have of Indigenous North America is a snapshot of a time (most often the early 1600s) taken by someone who didn’t understand what they were seeing.
Today the Hudson River Valley encompasses lands that, prior to colonization, were occupied by five groups: the Munsee Lenape, Wappinger, Schaghticoke, Mohican, and Hodenosaunee (Iroquois). Their boundaries overlapped and changed prior to and after the arrival of the colonists, but they maintain a connection to lands in the region. The following pages provide overviews of those five groups as well as bibliographies and online resources.