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Paper presentation

While students had to write to a target date and present to classmates during Finals, I had my own deadline, albeit one that fell a few weeks later when I was scheduled to present at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s annual meeting June 4-6 in Washington D.C. I landed on a panel on Indigenous New York, which turned out to be a fantastic combination of four scholars that we broke down further into pairs. Two were tackling land issues and sovereignty in the 18th century, but the other two–myself, and John Strong (whose name you’ll recognize if you’ve been reading any of these materials)–were working on individuals with personal ties. I had written on Nangenutch, and found myself on a panel with the other scholar who had written on Nangenutch, back in the 1990s, and who is now working on Montauketts of the following generation, when Nangenutch’s case had further contributed to their eroding land base and social and economic status, and many had made their way into Long Island’s whaling industry. One of his key figures is the son of the Montaukett sachem who received English orders about a fine and keeping Nangenutch away from East Hampton after he had escaped.

Meeting Dr. Strong was great–he was excited someone is writing about this case in a way different than how he approached it, and we had great conversations over email (we shared our papers and he sent me a few helpful comments), and again at the conference where I joined he and his wife for dinner, and then of course chatted when we ran into each other over the next few days. I’ve come away with more to think about, more to address, and a colleague who is willing to give a fuller version a read later on as I keep writing. In other words, this was one of my more productive conferences, which was fun–and also, student readers, how public presentations are supposed to work, right?

Updated outline and notes

Turns out that–not surprisingly for anyone who knows me–I was a bit ambitious with my initial plans, and that whole outline won’t work because I don’t have the space. I’ve cut pieces of that initial outline, as you can see below–which is just as well, because I’ve come up with additional pieces I’d like to address.

This is particularly interesting to me because part of my thought process in approaching this paper in the first place was that I would be working with a limited and very manageable source base, a very specific historical event, and several historiographies that were familiar and clearly intersected. Thus I expected the paper to be fairly short and to the point, which hasn’t turned out to be the case as I’ve worked on it–a reminder that writing is a process and a way to think through analysis and argument, not something that emerges fully formed. It also doesn’t help that the evidence I tracked down later–Nangenutch’s escape, subsequent orders regarding him and the Montauketts generally–have percolated and prompted more substantive comments that fit a slightly tweaked larger argument that I’ll have to develop in a later version of this paper.


Updated outline:

I. Summary of Nangenutch’s assault on Mary

II. Comment on sources

III. Historiography–mainly Block (sexual power) and Strong (Montauketts and Nangenutch), but also Fischer/Morgan (personal agency and individual desire)

IV. Preview/argument

V. Montaukett background/status in 1668

VI. Nangenutch status–dual/duel identity

VII. Elements of sexual power exercised in the assault, creating/defining consent

VII. Earlier offenses (theft, assault) and challenge to English patriarchy

VIII. Conclusion–Nangenutch>Will, Indian>English


CUT sections:

VIII. Indigenous pieces–justice, responsibility, rationale

IX. Escape/warning out/ban

X. Reverberations on Montaukett community, larger significance, racial implications


Additional pieces:

-opportunistic rather than planned

-second Mary Miller testimony

-commentaries from local histories (one says it was tried in Hartford, CT)

-apologizes to Mary


Brainstorming and outlining

[Ignore the date on this post, but the sequence is accurate–I’m posting this retroactively as a comment on the writing process, rather than as I actually worked.]

I’ve been reading over my photocopies and marking them up as I get ready to write. Pencil marks on the actual text, trying to color-code marginalia (red for things that strike me but I’m not sure how to use, blue for obvious things I still need to point out, green for interesting pieces I think I can put in an argument I’ve outlined below), and listing the big categories/ideas those notes go into (and keeping a pristine copy to one side in case I want/need to start over or take a different approach–that way I don’t have to wait for ILL to process a request). Then I tried to organize those categories into a logical order, which appears in the outline below. I also kept up a Google Doc with random thoughts that occurred to me, so I could keep track of them even when I was away from my materials and computer. Writing won’t ever be “quick,” I suppose, but I am pretty sure this direction will work and that I’ve thought through this enough that I won’t have major delays in writing.


I. Summary of Nangenutch’s assault on Mary

II. Comment on sources

III. Historiography–mainly Block (sexual power) and Strong (Montauketts and Nangenutch), but also Fischer/Morgan (personal agency and individual desire)

IV. Preview/argument

V. Montaukett background/status in 1668

VI. Nangenutch status–dual/duel identity

VII. Elements of sexual power exercised in the assault, creating/defining consent

VII. Earlier offenses (theft, assault) and challenge to English patriarchy

VIII. Indigenous pieces–justice, responsibility, rationale

IX. Escape/warning out/ban

X. Reverberations on Montaukett community, larger significance, racial implications


Proposal and Bibliography

I’m pasting below the original 250-word proposal I submitted to Native American and Indigenous Study Association conference organizers. I expanded on this somewhat to fit the requirements for 298’s Proposal and Bibliography assignment, which students can find in the Files section of Canvas or access via the Resources page on this website.


Title: A Montauk on trial: Race and the limits of sexual power in 17th-century New York


In March of 1668, New York’s Court of Assizes indicted “Nangenutch alias Will an Indyan for a Rape upon the body of Mary the wife of Jno [sic] Miller.” On finding him guilty of attempted rape, it ordered him publicly whipped and sold into the Leeward Islands “that all Indyans may bee deterred to attempt the like.” John A. Strong has pointed out that the trial reinforced emerging patterns of dependence that subjected the Montauk to English legal jurisdiction, political influence, economic dominance, and cultural pressures.[1] But Nangentuch also acted in a context in which English hegemony impeded traditional means of performing native gender and status identities, even as cultural exchange reshaped those identities.


This paper uses court records to analyze the racial and gender implications of Nangenutch’s trial. It argues that Nangenutch’s actions in the assault, and the explanations he provided for his behavior, constituted an attempt to exercise sexual power. Sharon Block has demonstrated that social and economic relations allowed some men to imbue sexual force with the appearance of consent, and that legal processes delineated those who could claim such power from those who could not.[2] The trial’s outcome denied Nangenutch’s claim to the power inherent in the status of America’s white English patriarchs, defining him instead as a “bawdy” Indian unable to complete “any masculine Ejection.” “Will” might have lived and worked in an English household and found himself in colonial courts, but his trial affirmed his limited participation in colonial New York’s English community.


[1] John A. Strong, “The Imposition of Colonial Jurisdiction over the Montauk Indians of Long Island,” Ethnohistory 41, no. 4 (Fall 1994): 561-590.

[2] Sharon Block, Rape and Sexual Power in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

Primary Source Analysis assignment

Jason Sellers

Hist. 298: Research Practicum

UMW Spring 2015

Sample Primary Analysis Assignment

[*a PDF of this sample is also posted as “Sample primary source analysis” in the Files section of Canvas]


Trial of Nangenutch, in Administrative Papers of Governors Richard Nicolls and Francis Lovelace, 1664-1673, ed. Peter R. Christoph (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980), 62-72.


On 19 March 1667/8, in the town of Easthampton on the southeastern tip of Long Island, Mary Miller escorted Nangenutch, a Montauk Indian also known to the English as Will, to her home. Sent by her husband, the miller John Miller, to open the door so the Indian laborer could deposit a bag of corn for later grinding, she apparently instead was assaulted and raped. Fleeing her home, she encountered a neighbor to whom she related the assault, and by the following day local magistrates had indicted Nangenutch and deposed Mary and another witness, and the case soon proceeded to trial. A rare instance of documented Indian sexual assault on an English woman, the episode produced a set of primary sources–which I will refer to as the Trial of Nangenutch–that offer a unique opportunity to consider how individual natives grappled with a shifting matrix of racial and gender hierarchies as a succession of colonial regimes undermined Native American economic independence, political and legal sovereignty, and cultural autonomy.

Nangenutch and Mary’s story is preserved in a series of documents, including Nangenutch’s indictment, colonial officials’ instructions for his trial, four depositions, the court’s examination of Mary and Nangenutch, court minutes of the proceedings, and finally a verdict. The originals are held at the New York Library and State Archives, but were published in 1980 as part of the New York Historical Manuscripts series edited by Peter Christoph. They appear in The Administrative Papers of Governors Richard Nicolls and Francis Lovelace, 1664-1673, the English governors of New York in the years immediately following the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664. The case draws brief comment in several other documents, though little elaboration; the most significant addition to our records is a 1669 order from Lovelace preventing Nangenutch/Will–who had been sentenced to a public whipping and sale to the West Indies, but had escaped from jail–from entering East Hampton.

Several major strains of sociopolitical development intersected in the incident and ensuing trial. The Montauk Indians had been tributaries of the powerful Pequots until New England and a number of native allies resentful of Pequot power had decimated the latter’s population in the 1630s. Having escaped one oppressive relationship, the Montauk subsequently found themselves caught between Narragansetts seeking to fill the void left in native New England by subjecting smaller groups to their own power, Dutch efforts to secure their hold on Long Island, and the aspirations of New Englanders hoping to overtake the Dutch colony. When Montauks granted Englishmen from Connecticut the land on which they would eventually establish Easthampton, it seemed to be an attempt to counter both Dutch and Narragansett efforts to subject the Montauks by installing an English trade partner and military ally nearby.

By the time the Dutch regime had been replaced by an English government in the 1660s, ongoing attacks and dwindling numbers had forced the Montauks to largely abandon their own lands to assume positions as laborers in English towns. Thus Nangenutch found himself, in 1667/8, in a moment at which English jurisdiction was solidifying over the whole of Long Island, reinforcing the economic dominance and cultural pressures English settlers had exerted on the Montauks over the previous two decades. Nangenutch himself experienced firsthand these increasingly unbalanced power relations, living as a bound laborer in the home of Richard Shaw, and being renamed “Will” by his English masters and neighbors. His experience was not unique on Long Island, nor would it have been unusual in other areas of New England or the Chesapeake, where recent wars between colonial and native populations had left Native Americans diminished in numbers and resources and power, displaced from their lands, and confined to small reserves or isolated and absorbed into colonial settlements.

Part of an effort to extend legal jurisdiction over the Montauk community to confirm their political subjugation, the court transcripts of the Trial of Nangenutch suggest proceedings followed standard legal procedure for the English colony. Nangenutch and Mary both testified in a case brought by John Miller, Mary’s husband; Remember Shaw, the neighbor to whom Mary first reported the assault, testified as well. During the first trial, the local magistrate John Mulford conducted the proceedings and endorsed each official document, which was presumably recorded by an official scribe, while a special court oversaw the second trial a month later.

Several less visible characters contributed to proceedings as well. Annah Chatfield served as a sort of character witness, testifying that Nangenutch had assaulted her a year earlier in a similar encounter. Depositions are rendered simply as the deponents’ words, absent Mulford’s questions or prompts that may have influenced the deponents. Perhaps more significantly, Nangenutch’s master, Richard Shaw, who had already twice accused his servant of theft and once had him publicly whipped, served as the interpreter in the case. His own preferences and predilections could well have shaped what he conveyed to the court, and ultimately the outcome of the case.

Those considerations aside, the documents still provide considerable challenge to the historian. Two fires and storage issues damaged Dutch and English records from the 17th century, resulting in a number of elisions in the transcripts. We can sometimes extrapolate the missing information, but not always. Moreover, there is a particular challenge in reconciling the specificity of a single case involving a unique individual with larger considerations about the experiences of native peoples in colonial New York. Without additional examples to corroborate broader conclusions, many interpretive assertions will necessarily be tentative; however, the work of other historians who have identified and examined rape cases more broadly, though rarely involving Indian men or drawn from the 17th century, may offer some basis for comparison.

Despite the speculative nature of some interpretations, however, this episode remains compelling. Nangenutch’s actions seem to recreate circumstances through which white male patriarchs were able to create the appearance of consent in instances of coerced sex. Mary’s reaction, however, suggested that she immediately rejected his claims to sexual power over her, even while the eventual verdict–the court found Nangenutch guilty of attempted rape–charted a middle course that rejected his claims to sexual power while also defining rape as narrowly as possible. How did Nangenutch’s racial status factor in his behavior, in Mary’s response, and in the outcome of his trial? Was his behavior purely individual, or the product of a creeping English hegemony that constrained the economic, political, and cultural expressions of Montauk Indians on Long Island? How did his people’s changing circumstances alter as well the expressions of gender identity available to Montauk men? Even if it cannot provide definitive answers, this singular record does provide material for considering such questions in relation to the experiences of at least one individual who may not have been so unique as the records in which his history is preserved.


Topic choice worksheet

A. Briefly describe the library research that you did towards choosing a topic. Include at least two reference books that you used and three library search-engine subject headings that you found useful.


Two reference books I looked at included The Encyclopedia of New York City, which was really constructed to tell about modern NYC (though with some explanations rooted in the colonial era) and the Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15 Northeast, which has lots of anthropological and historical information on specific groups of Native Americans. Three useful subject headings for the UMW catalog were “Crime–New York (State)–History,” “Law Enforcement–New York (State)–History,” and “New York (State)–History–Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.” I also browsed shelves near where books I found were located, and found additional materials on Indians and crime and punishment in other colonies, like New Jersey and Massachusetts.


B. Briefly describe the internet research that you did. Name at least one useful website for online archives that you surveyed (do not include simple library catalogs).

I ran Google searches for “Nangenutch” to see if references to this case appeared. I also searched for particular collections of documents that I knew covered these years in early New York, and found some of those collections (edited and published in the 19th century) scanned and sometimes digitized on and Google Books. The New Netherland Institute website also has some sources available, mostly from the Dutch period (not English New York–this case was in 1667, after the English conquest of New Netherland).


C. You should talk to at least one member of this history department about your topic and at least one of the primary sources you have identified for it. Arrive at that meeting with some initial research completed so you have something to discuss. Name that professor and provide a summary of their advice. Please have the professor sign here at you meeting:

I discussed this topic via email with Dr. Sharon Block of the University of California, Irvine. She suggested some secondary literature, including a very recent article in a journal to which UMW doesn’t subscribe, but which she saw before it was published. We discussed a few of the interesting features of the case–the names by which the accused was identified, the patterns in his behavior that seem reminiscent of what she’s discussed in her book, etc. We also talked a bit about how sources get recorded, the level of detail provided in this instance, but also the fact that the published transcription contains lots of holes because the original document was damaged while in storage (this is true of lots of the 17th-century New Netherland/New York records). In talking with Dr. Jeff McClurken of UMW earlier this year, we were focused on the performative aspects of gender, how this instance might assert a new type of masculinity for Nangenutch/Will, and the intersection of his gender status with his race.


D. You must have a primary source for this paper. Provide any pertinent information on that primary source including website and/or call number–in other words, how you’re going to access it.

My primary source is the transcript of the 1667 rape trial of a Montauk Indian named Nangenutch alias Will, in New York. The original source resides in the Archives of the State of New York, but has been transcribed by Charles Gehring for publication; it can be found on pages __-__ of The Administrative Papers of Governors Richard Nicholls and Francis Lovelace, 1664-1673. Simpson Library does not have this book, nor is the document available online. I used ILL to borrow the book from elsewhere, and copied/scanned the relevant pages. Additionally, references to the case appear in Vol. 1 of the Minutes of the Executive Council of the Province of New York, which is available on and Google Books.


E. Are enough secondary sources available on this topic? Briefly discuss the most recent secondary sources you have found that were published by a university press and/or academic journal.

Yes. John A. Strong has written a book about the Montauk Indians, and their experiences with Dutch and English colonization in the 17th century; he also has an article that considers Nangenutch’s case in terms of the extension of legal jurisdiction over Indians. Sharon Block has written extensively about rape in 18th-century America; Cornelia Hughes Dayton has considered women’s legal actions in colonial Connecticut, and considers rape/sexual assault; Kirsten Fischer’s book Suspect Relations addresses sex and race in colonial North Carolina; Merril Smith’s edited volume, Sex Without Consent has essays addressing coerced sex, including one on New Netherland. D. Baker has an article about historical Indian executions, and it mentions this case; HB Weiss has a basic introduction to crime and punishment in New Jersey, and D. Greenberg a similar volume for New York; Yaside Kawashima has written about Indians interacting with colonial Massachusetts’s legal system. Oh yeah, and Susannah Shaw Romney’s book on “intimate relations” in New Netherland just came out last year. So there is some discussion of this case, lots of discussion of rape and sexual power in general, and a fair amount considering Indians and colonial legal systems.


F. Finally, describe your conversations with me about your topic and how your topic has evolved as a result.

Let’s just pretend I don’t have conversations with myself.