Narragansett Tribe

Variant name:

Indians at Naraganset; Naraganset Indians; the Council of the Narragansett Tribe of Indians

Address:

Charlestown, RI

Description:

The Narragansetts are an Algonquian tribe based in Southern Rhode Island. Narragansett students (including the Simons, the Shattocks, and the Secutors) attended Eleazar Wheelock’s Moor’s Indian Charity School, and Charlestown, RI, was also one of the seven communities that participated in the Brothertown movement (the pan-Algonquian coalition organized by former Moor’s students). The Narragansetts were recognized in the 18th-century for their indigenous Christian Separatism, and a Separatist congregation under the leadership of Samuel Niles commanded much of the Tribe’s spiritual life from the 1740s onward. While Separatism is an imprecise word, it generally denotes congregations that formally separated from Congregationalist churches and were characterized by an increased emphasis on charismatic Christianity. Samuel Niles was an illiterate preacher who had himself been ordained by lay persons (thus breaking with the formal laying on of hands by an ordained person that created a theoretical chain from the Apostles to contemporary clergy). The congregation’s practices and theology diverged from the Anglo-American norm in meaningful ways, which shocked many Anglo-American observers but also gave the Narragansetts the autonomy needed to expel Rev. Joseph Fish, a New England Company (NEC) sponsored minister, and Edmund Deake, the schoolmaster who accompanied him, in 1776. Like other New England tribes, the Narragansetts struggled with land dispossession. In this case, the sachem and colony cooperated with one another to the Tribe’s disadvantage: the sachem family, the Ninigrets, had tied themselves closely to the colony of Rhode Island when they converted to the Anglican Church in 1727. They adopted a lavish English lifestyle and funded it by selling off tribal land. By the 1760s, land sales were a massive problem, and the anti-sachem party began trying to put a halt to them. Narragansetts with powerful connections, including former Moor’s students, appealed to Eleazar Wheelock and Sir William Johnson and, in 1767, secured a temporary halt to land sales through the intervention of NEC treasurer Andrew Oliver. The next year, Tobias and John Shattock traveled to London to appeal to the privy council for a permanent solution; however, Tobias died of smallpox, and John failed. Sachem Thomas Ninigret died in 1769, and the Tribe solved the land sales problem by abolishing the office of sachem in the 1770s. The Narragansetts continued to struggle with the state of Rhode Island after the Revolution. Rhode Island unilaterally (and illegally) dissolved the Narragansett’s tribal standing in 1880, but the Narragansetts maintained tribal structures and, as much as possible, residence on their territory. They were officially re-recognized in 1983.

All related documents: retrieve them
Sources:

Fish, Joseph. Old Light on Separate Ways: The Narragansett Diary of Joseph Fish, 1765-1776. Ed. Simmons and Simmons. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1982. Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press 2012. McClure, David. Diary of David McClure, Doctor of Divinity, 1748-1820. Dexter, Franklin B, ed. New York: The Knickerbocker Press 1899. Narragansett Indian Tribe. http://www.narragansett-tribe.org/index.html Accessed 5/14. Silverman, David J. Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010.