Middletown in Middlesex County, Connecticut — The American Northeast (New England)
The Wangunks and Indian Hill
From the peak of the grassy hill behind these gates, Sowheag, leader of the Wangunks, could see for miles, observing the round-topped wigwams of his people in small settlements on both sides of the Connecticut River. The Wangunks called this area Mattabeseck, and here they grew corn, beans and sunflowers, fished and hunted deer and smaller game.
About 1639, Sowheag and his people built a fortification on this hill, perhaps as a defense against other Native American peoples, perhaps also as a caution against English settlers who were moving steadily into Connecticut. Already, large numbers of Native Americans had died from diseases like smallpox, which the Europeans had brought.
But it seems that within a few years Sowheag agreed to sell much of his people's land to the colony of Connecticut. The Wangunks kept for themselves two large tracts of land; one piece that ran from this hill north into what is now the Newfield section of Middletown, and another parcel across the river (now Portland). English settlers began arriving in Mattabeseck by 1650, laying out their homelots on what is now Main Street. For two decades, the
Over the next century, many of the Wangunks left the area. As their numbers dwindled and their former way of life became impossible, many Wangunks sold to the colonists individual plots of their ancestral lands. By 1770, colonists had purchased all of the Wangunks’ reserved lands. A handful of Wangunks remained here, many of them marrying into local African-American families; today some of their descendants still live in the community.
“Mamoosan's Tree," a huge sycamore in the Newfield section of Middletown, was named after Mamoosan, a Wangunk who, like many of his contemporaries, sold his inherited land to the English and left Middletown in the 1740s. Every autumn, tradition held, Mamoosan sheltered inside this tree when he returned to visit the graves of his ancestors. The old sycamore stood until about 1850.
Courtesy the Middlesex County Historical Society
The cemetery's intriguing gravestones and striking views still attract locals and visitors who walk, jog, and picnic on Indian Hill's handsome grounds centuries after the Wangunks made it their home.
Above: The elaborate tombs of the wealthy Alsop, Chauncey, and Mutter families crown the peak of Indian Hill while a simple stone marker (Top left) for "Little Johnny" is all that's left to remember a child buried in the city plot in 1870.
Top right: Dinosaur footprints mark the 1882 brownstone monument of Dr. Joseph Barratt, a local scientist who claimed the footprints were those of a prehistoric four-toed man.
Erected by the Middlesex County Historical Society.
Topics. Cemeteries & Burial Sites. A significant historical year for this entry is 1639.
Location. 41° 33.493′ N, 72° 39.672′ W. Marker is in Middletown, Connecticut, in Middlesex County. Marker is at the intersection of Vine Street and Washington Street, on the right when traveling south on Vine Street. Located next to the entrance to Indian Hill Cemetery. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Middletown CT 06457, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. 24th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers Monument (approx. 0.2 miles away); Washington Green (approx. 0.2 miles away); Middletown Korea Vietnam Monument (approx. ¼ mile away); Middletown World War I Monument (approx. ¼ mile away); Middletown World War II Monument (approx. ¼ mile away); Russell House (approx. 0.3 miles away); Wesleyan University’s “College Row” (approx. 0.4 miles away); The Freedom Church (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Middletown.
More about this marker. Weather has affected the clarity of the text and pictures. The Middlesex County Historical Society generously aided in transcribing this marker.
Also see . . . The Wangunks and Indian Hill. Indian Hill Cemetery entry (Submitted on February 21, 2021, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York.)
Credits. This page was last revised on January 15, 2022. It was originally submitted on October 12, 2016, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut. This page has been viewed 261 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on October 12, 2016, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut.