Stonington's Native American Names

By John Hinshaw

When seventeenth-century English settlers referred to large land areas or their towns, they usually replaced native tribal names with more familiar Anglo-Saxon terms. For example, Nameock, meaning "a fishing place at the mouth of the Pequod" which was a "river of the Pequot tribe," in the territory of Quinnehtukqut, or "land on the long tidal river," became New London at the mouth of the Thames River in Connecticut.

But in colonial surveys, maps and deeds the land set aside by treaties with the native tribes was defined in terms both parties understood. Many Indian place names described a locality through its topography. These were streams and waterfalls, hills and swamps, points of land and other natural boundaries familiar to settlers and natives alike. Other names referred to the wild game or fish that could be hunted or caught there. Sometimes the site of an historic event such as a feast or a battle between two tribes was a good reference point.

The names in the Stonington area come from the Algonquin dialect spoken by the Pequot-Mohegans. In the Indian language many words were made up of two or more elements. For example, Pequot-sepos combines Pequot, which stood for both the tribe and the river we call Thames, and sepos meaning "little river." We translate this as "little river of the Pequots."

Sometimes these word-sentences were very long. Try saying:

Quoquinnakeesapassananagnog

which means "at the place of the long falls in many hills and meadows." That is no more of a mouthful than saying fast:

Abeautifulplaceformybackyard.

Now imagine trying to spell it after hearing it spoken!

In addition to grants or deeds parceling out the land among the white settlers, Indian terms were used in all sorts of letters, diaries, books, wills and other colonial documents. But each writer had his own phonetic way of spelling according to how he heard the spoken word, and thus the words have come down to us with many variations, both as to spelling and meaning.

Defining your property as extending from "a fork in the Mystic River" to "The Point where Lots of Fish are Caught," or, like William Chesebrough, receiving "all the land from Wadawanuck Point to Wequetequock Cove" was far from the precise boundary definitions we now use. Gradually the need for exact property descriptions replaced these terms with precise measurements and boundary markers. But the old words stuck with us as local place names.

Today we can "translate" their English meanings through records left by men such as Thomas Stanton who learned the Native language and became Interpreter General of the Colonies to Governor Winthrop before moving to Pawcatuck in 1650. But we will never be certain of the original significance or sound of these words. Some are badly mutilated versions of what they may have been.

 

For more information on the Algonquin dialect spoken by the Pequot-Mohegans, visit:
Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center at www.mashantucket.com/index1.html
The Mohegan Tribe at
www.mohegan.nsn.us/tribe/indexnew.html

Here are a few of the better known names used today in and around Stonington taken from Indian Names of Connecticut by J. Hammond Trumbull published in 1881.

Ashowughcummocke: "A woody Island against Captain Mason's Island" given to Rev. Mr. Blinman in 1654 by the Townsmen of New London. The name means "half-way place," or "the place between Masons Island and the mainland."

Chip'pachaug: "a place apart." The original name for Masons Island; used by Thomas Minor in his 1664 diary.

Cup'punnaug'unnit: A place mentioned by Roger Williams in 1637 as "midway between Pequatit and Nayantackick," or between the Mystic and Pawcatuck rivers in Stonington. Unknown today.

Gungywamps: Probably "high rocks." An area in North Groton with mysterious ancient stone structures.

Mashantuckset or Mashantuxet: "Small wooded area of land." A tract reserved for the Groton Pequots, now in the town of Ledyard.

Misquam'icuk or Squom'acuk: "A place for taking salmon." Southwestern part of Westerly, RI, on the mouth of the Pawcatuck River.

Mistick: From missi-tuk meaning "great tidal river."

Mistucksuck: "Mistick brook" or "At little Mistick." A brook about two miles east of Mystic River, running to the head of Quiambaug Cove.

Mooapaske: "Black, muddy or marshy land." The place where Thomas Minor's land was laid out to him in 1667.

Munnawtawkit and Manittuwond: Plum and Fisher's Islands where the Indians came to fish and plant corn.

Nayantaquit or Nianticut: Seaside tribe living near mouths of Pawcatuck and Niantic rivers.

Pawcatuck: "Clear, open or shallow tidal river." "Land at Paquatuck," (1648); Poquatocke (Thos. Minor, 1656). May also stand for Paquat-auke, "Pequot land."

Poquan'noc: "Cleared, open land." "Planting fields." Formerly open meadows in Groton; now name of river and cove.

Qui'ambog: "Place to take fish with draw nets." Quanabog or Quaiombog (Manasseh Minor, 1704). Name of cove on Rte 1.

Quanaduck: "Long tidal river, cove or estuary." Quanotock harbor (1677).

Taugwonk: Stone mortar for pounding corn. Tagwouncke (Thomas Minor, 1662).

Wadawanuck: Various meanings given. Woddo means "loon." In 1667 William Chesebrough left "ye neck of land called Wadawonnet" to his two sons. Usually refers to Stonington Borough, although a 1762 map shows Woddowonnuc as the south end of Waumphassuc Point.

Waumphas'suc or Wamphas'set: "Swamps, marsh, bog or wet meadows." Neck of land on the west side of Stonington Harbor.

Wequapaug: "At the end of the pond." The east bounds of Pequot territory was calledWeexcodowa in Colonial records.

Wequetequock or Wicketaquock: "Land at the end of tide waters." A cove between Stonington Borough and Pawcatuck; site of Chesebrough homestead and oldest graves.