Selected Highlights

Population in Simsbury

Colonists did not necessarily keep clear records back in the mid-1660’s, and those records taken did not always survive to the present day. This issue, applies to the history of the Massaco Native Americans who lived in the general area of Simsbury for possibly thousands of years. Speculation about the size of the Massaco population, and even the Connecticut native population, came up in multiple sources. As for the population of natives in Connecticut at the time of settlement, estimates ranged anywhere from figures such as about two thousand by Cook, six thousand to seven thousand, then twelve thousand to fifteen thousand from Barber, with the highest being at twenty thousand, predicted by Trumbull.[1] The lowest estimate, made by Young, claimed that Connecticut bands had shy of two thousand individuals at the time of settlement.[2] What complicates these estimates further is the fact that disease played a huge role in births and deaths first around 1616, and then later in 1633-1634.[3] When the focus is narrowed down to individual tribes, it becomes even harder to determine the exact size of the population. The Massaco tribe, according to Cook, had about roughly two hundred.[4] As a comparison for size, DeForest states that the Tunxis natives apparently had anywhere from eighty to one hundred warriors, and possibly a total of four hundred individuals at time of contact.[5] Additionally, the Massaco did not escape disease, with reports that indicate smallpox spread that far to the west in Connecticut.[6] In general, multiple historians such as Guilette and Cook, reject the population estimates in the tens of thousands. Estimates made off of these lower numbers are used to indicate the size of the Tunxis and Massaco tribes. It is important to note that some of these sources definitely need to be considered imperfect, and not based on a true census. This is mainly because no census was taken of native populations in this area in the 1600’s. Most numbers are educated estimates.

Local Archaeological Sites

            This sections offers a short list of local archaeological sites that have been identified along with a short explanation of the site.

Glazier Blade Cache, Granby

Thirty blades uncovered in Granby by Dr. Kenneth Feder. The blades had been buried in one spot, with evidence of two separate burials. The blades range in length from roughly five to seven inches, and indicate great skill. The blades have been dated from AD 425 and AD 450.[7]

Lewis-Walpole Site, Farmington

A large, famous site located in Farmington along the Farmington River. Multiple hearths, lithics, animal bones, and other tools found, yet so far there is no record or evidence of permanent of semi-permanent homes. Over one thousand artifacts found at this site.[8]

Along the Farmington River

Several locations along the Farmington River exist as archaeological digs. Many excavations have been done by Dr. Kenneth Fader, who provides a canoe tour down the Farmington River once during the summer to talk about these sites and share his knowledge about native’s use of the river.

West Point Site, Granby

This site, mentioned in a letter in 1991 by the state archaeologist, Bellantoni, is located in Granby. Like the Mechanics Point Site, stone and flint tools were found.[9]

Mechanics Point Site, Granby

A site mentioned in a letter written by Bellantoni, the state archaeologist in 1991. At the Mechanics Point Site, stone and flint tools were apparently found.[10]

Lighthouse Settlement, Barkhamsted

This sight is located in Barkhamsted, and is a post-contact settlement inhabited beginning in the mid-1700’s until the 1900’s. Immense amounts of archaeological evidence has been found at this site, and is accessible to the public.[11]

Burnham-Shepherd Site, South Windsor

This site exists in South Windsor, where multiple artifacts have been unearthed from pre-contact time periods. Some artifacts include seeds and lithics.[12]

McLean Game Refuge, Simsbury/Granby

This refuge located on the Simsbury/Granby border contains multiple sites and artifacts. The sites chief excavators, Marc Banks and Kenneth Feder, found that the multiple sites identified within the refuge can be categorized as seasonal hunting and gathering sites.[13]

Dewey Farm, Simsbury

On private property once owned by Mr. Leslie Dewey on Terry’s Plain Road, multiple artifacts had been found. Mr. Dewey, who owned a 12 acre piece of land, found artifacts within a 150ft radius in his yard.[14]

Enduring Presence

One of the hardest aspects I faced in this research was to face texts and present day ideas that seemed to blot out the role of Native Indians in modern day Connecticut, and even in Simsbury.  Jean O’Brien’s argument in her book, Firsting and Lasting, Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England, is that through writing, commemorations, pageants, etc. Native Indians are portrayed as “vanishing”, and are denied a place in the modern world.[15] I feel so confident in O’Brien’s argument, I believe it is safe to bet that a large majority of schools never mention natives and their descendants in the present day. Before taking an advanced course at Trinity College, I too fell into this trap that years of engrained overlooking and generalization put in place. Thankfully, there is evidence found in my research that indicates natives and their descendants do still have a presence in Connecticut, and do play roles in small towns such as Simsbury.

Data shows that native descendants are prevalent in Hartford County, Connecticut. First, there is evidence in census records that show thousands of people in Hartford County identify as Native American of some sort. The United States Census Bureau states that in 2010, 2,387 individuals identified as Native American.[16] Although using a census does create problems, because it is self-reporting and the accuracy of it can be brought to question, I think it is significant that this many individuals choose this as their identity. Additionally, Connecticut has several reservations, such as the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, the Golden Hill Reservation, the Schaghticoke Reservation and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Reservation that continue on today. Although the United States Census Bureau reports fewer residents in some such as the Golden Hill Reservation and the Schaghticoke Reservation, these reservations remain significant as proof of an enduring Native Indian presence in Connecticut.[17]

Proof of enduring presence in Simsbury was harder to come by than for the state of Connecticut, but still evidence was found. In an article found in the Salmon Brook Historical Society in Granby, the author, Clavin Fisher, writes about the caretaker of McLean Game Refuge. This caretaker, Amos George, was an identified Pequot working in Simsbury.[18] An article by David Holdt for the McLean Game Refuge further explains George and his life. George took the job as caretaker of the McLean land in 1912, and remained living and working in Simsbury with his wife and children until his death in 1967. George’s two children, Amos A. George and Henry T. George both remained active on the refuge. Amos A. George passed away in the McLean home in 1978, while his brother Henry T. George helped to take care of the refuge until his death in 1992. The whole family, Holdt reflects, had a strong connection with nature.[19] Although the story behind these facts is much longer and richer, the main point still shines through: Native Americans and their descendants still have roles in modern day Connecticut, keep their ties to tradition and are far from “extinct”.




[1] Guilette, Mary E. American Indians in Connecticut: Past to Present. Aetna Life and Casualty, 1979

[2] Young, William R. Connecticut Valley Indian. Springfield, MA: Museum of Science, 1969.

[3] Cooper, Karen Coody. They Have Seized Upon Our Country: The Wangunk of Wethersfield. 1985.

[4]  Cook, S. F. The Indian Population of New England in the 17th Century. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1976

[5] DeForest, John W. History of the Indians of Connecticut. Hartford, CT: WM. Jas. Hamersley, 1852

[6] Winthrop, John. “Winthrop’s Journal”.  History of New England 1630-1649.NY NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908.

[7] Feder, Ken. “The Glazier Blade Cache: Thirty Remarkable Blades Found in Granby, Connecticut”. ASC 66 (2004): 101-113.

[8] Wilcox II, U. Vincent. “The Lewis-Walpole Site of Farmington, Connecticut: A Preliminary Report”. ASC 35 (1967): 5-48.

[9] Bellantoni, Nicholas F. Nicholas F. Bellantoni to Mark Williams, March 18, 1991. Salmon Brook Historical Society, Granby, CT.

[10] IBID

[11] Miller, Robert J. “Forest Lighthouse Archaeology Gives Form to Tale of a Marginal Community.” Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), August 16, 2003.

[12] Lavin, Lucianne. Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History, and Oral Traditions teach Us About Their Communities and Cultures. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

[13] Banks, Marc & Kenneth Feder. “Archaeological Survey of the McLean Game Refuge, Granby and Simsbury, Connecticut”.  ASC 59 (1996): 39-52.

[14] Colket, Kathleen. “Artifacts Leave Clues to Town’s Past,” January 15, 1987. Salmon Brook Historical Society, Granby, CT.

[15] O’Brien, Jean M. Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England. University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

[16] “2010 Census American Indian and Alaska Native Summary File”. United States Census Bureau. 2010.

[17] “1990 Census of Population and Housing Public Law 94-171 Data (Official) Age by Race and Hispanic Origin”. United States Census Bureau. 1990.

[18] Fisher, Clavin. “The Caretaker Mystery Still Shrouds the McLean Game Refuge.” Unpublished typescript, n.d.

[19] Holdt, David. “George McLean & the George Family: A Bond with the Land”. McLean Game Refuge. http://www.mcleangamerefuge.orgGeorgeMcLeanAndTheGeorgesPhotos.pdf

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