Giving New York Munsees their Proper Names: Tantaque and Tackapousha
By Susan Ingalls Lewis
Recently, I was preparing for my History of New York City course by reading Anne-Marie Cantwell and Diana DiZerega Wall’s Unearthing Gotham, a book on New York’s archeology recommended by my colleague Joe Diamond, Chair of Anthropology at New Paltz. The book includes a story about Tantaque, a Munsee Indian, and his meeting with two Labadists in Manhattan on October 16, 1679. The Labadists, Jaspar Danckaerts and Peter Sluyter, were scouting New Amsterdam as a possible location for their small religious sect to relocate in North America. Like the Quakers, the Labadists believed in a radical interpretation of the gospels and split from established churches to form their own community, moving from place to place in search of a welcoming environment.
Interesting as the Labadists were, I was more intrigued by the fact that the authors of Unearthing Gotham named an individual Munsee—Tantaque—and were able to fill in some of his biography. They described him as “an eighty-year-old man originally from Long Island” and “a well-known figure in early New York, for he was a generous man and, in his younger days, had often given fish to starving Europeans.” This anecdote immediately reminded me of Squanto (also called Tisquantum), the famous Pawtuxet Indian who assisted the Pilgrims in their early days and is associated with the first Thanksgiving. Yet I realized that I had never heard a Munsee Indian from this period named or personalized in any way. In most of my readings, the Munsee people were characterized as a group. Often defined in contrast to the Iroquois Confederacy, the Munsees (also called Delawares) were Algonquian peoples who lived in the Hudson River Valley, on Long Island, and along the Delaware River. Within the Munsee were smaller communities, such as the Esopus (in what is now Ulster County), the Wappinger (across the river), the Minsink (along the Delaware), the Tappans (along the Palisades), the Raritans (in present-day New Jersey), the Massapequas, Rockaways, Merricks, Matiecocks, and Secatogues (all on Long Island), and others. The Munsees were the Native Americans whom we remember as selling Manhattan to the Dutch in a bad land deal, a group that was greatly reduced by disease, then quickly removed in a series of wars—Kieft’s War (1640-45), the Peach War (1655-56), and the Esopus Wars (1659-63). None of them, in my memory, had individual names or lives that one could trace.