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Indigenous Histories & Cultures of North America

A guide to sources for studies of Indigenous histories and cultures of North America.

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Library of Congress Subject Headings and Names

Library of Congress - Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America-- New York (State) -- Long Island
  • Indians of North America--New York (State)
  • Algonquian Indians
  • Indians of North America--Middle Atlantic States.
  • Algonquian Indians
  • Massapequa Indians
  • Montauk Indians
  • Shinnecock Indians
  • Unkechaug Indians
    • Onecchechaug Indians
    • Patchague Indians
    • Patchoag Indians
    • Patchogue Indians
    • Poospatuck Indians
    • Unachog Indians
    • Uncachage Indians
    • Unchachaug Indians
    • Unquachock Indians
    • Unquachog Indians
  • Manhattan Indians

Library of Congress - Name Authorities

  • Shinnecock Indian Nation

Long Island, New York: Historical and Indigenous Contexts

Excerpt from Nyitray, Kristen J. & Reijerkerk, D. (2021). “Searching for Paumanok: A Study of Library of Congress Authorities and Classifications for Indigenous Long Island, New York,” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 59 (5), 409-441. 
DOI: 10.1080/01639374.2021.1929627

Comprising more than 100 miles of land and shorelines, Long Island’s history is intertwined with its geography and shaped by its location along the Mid-Atlantic coast. For an estimated 10,000 years, Native peoples have inhabited geographic Long Island spanning from present day Brooklyn and Queens (New York City) to the furthest points east of the island. Giovanni da Verrazano’s sighting of Long Island in 1524 was a signal event in history. His accounts of circumnavigating and discovering this mid-Atlantic “new world” were catalysts for exploration by cartographers, surveyors, traders, and land speculators. They also laid a foundation for land dispossession of Long Island’s original settlers.

Names of Indigenous peoples are linked to geography and land territories including variant spellings of Canarsies, Manhansets, Massapequas, Matinecocks, Merricks, Montauketts, Nissequogues, and Rockaways. Dutch, English, and corrupted forms of Algonquian words are primarily found on early printed materials of the region. One of the most influential maps of the environs is Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova. Place names appearing on it of Indigenous origins include “Matouwac” (a possible corruption of Metoac, the Munsee Lenape geographic name for Long Island); “Gebrokeland” (a corruption of an Algonquian geographic name for western Long Island); and “Manatthans” (derived from the Munsee Lenape language term manaháhtaan). This map also depicts Indigenous people in mishoons (dugout canoes) off south shore waters and iconography of beavers, otters, and unfortified Indigenous villages to imply the economic potential of the “saltwater frontier.”

By the mid-18th century, the “trios of economic, ecological, and epidemiological forces” devastated and profoundly impacted Indigenous peoples as they contended with incompatible and encroaching imperial forces. On Long Island, the population was reduced to approximately 400–500 within the three core groups of Shinnecocks, Unkechaugs, and Montauketts. Attempts were made to retain aspects of Algonquian and Munsee Lenape word origins in maps, books, and travelogues, but they were oversimplified, lost context, or flawed with conflations of geography and people. Works produced by ethnohistorian William Wallace Tooker (1848–1917) more than 100 years ago remain among the most cited sources for the linguistic history of coastal Algonquian peoples. While Tooker’s research warrants respect, his studies of language and structure are speculative, and require careful review and examination. In recent years, an excellent, albeit modest, amount of scholarship has been produced about Indigenous Long Island.

With nearly eight million residents, today Long Island is one of the most densely populated islands in the world. The Indigenous origins of the region are well represented in names of villages, bodies of waters, schools, streets, and mascots. Toponyms, eponyms, place names, and English-language exonyms relating to Indigenous peoples and places are pervasive. Forces contributing to the loss of original meanings are abbreviations, conflation of multiple places, evolution of parent language, and replacement of parent language.