Native American History

Long Island holds a rich Native American history still reflected in many of the names and places that dot the landscape here.  There are several places on Long Island where visitors can explore the history of Long Island Native Americans.

The Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum, at the corner of Montauk Highway and West Gate Road in Southampton, serves as a museum and educational center and holds various events throughout the year. It includes permanent exhibits such as A Walk with the People, including murals painted by Shinnecock artist, David Bunn Martine and 20 bronze sculptures of Native American figures called, My Spirit Dances Forever. The center also features storytelling, bead workshops and has a gift shop.

Explore Long Island geology and an in-depth study of the archaeology of Long Island Native Americans at the Garvies Point Museum at 50 Barry Drive in Glen Cove. Reference collections of original archaeological artifacts and geological phenomena are maintained. These are used in exhibits and museum educational programs and are available for special research purposes.

The Southold Indian Museum is located on Main Bayview Rd. in Southold and features an extensive collection of Algonquin ceramic pottery and earlier pots and bowls carved out of soapstone. Also on display are knife blades, hoe blades, hammers, gouges, drills and other tools used by Long Island Native American tribes. One exhibit places a modern tool next to the stone or bone tool that was shaped and used for a similar task. Other displays include children’s games and toys, fishing methods, foods that were available to Long Island Native Americans, mortars and pestles, and clothing. Not too far away is Fort Corchaug on the main Road in Cutchogue, where the Corchaug, one of several Long Island Native American tribes, once had a log fort to protect them from other tribes. Find interpretive signage and archeological interest.

The Suffolk County Historical Society Museum on West Main St. in Riverhead contains an impressive collection of Native American artifacts. A permanent exhibit there entitled: The Indians of Eastern Long Island tells the story of Native Americans who inhabited Long Island for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The Indians of Eastern Long Island examines the social and cultural exchange between Native Americans and Europeans. The exhibit includes tools for everyday living, hunting and fishing.

Long Island’s Native American Names:

Did you know Long Island’s original Native American name was ‘Paumanok,’ which means ‘land that gives tribute.’ This may be interpreted in one of two ways. First, Long Island is shaped like a fish, and some believe the native tribes named the land such because its shape gave tribute to the sea. Or, some historical accounts suggest that Long Island Native American tribes were somehow forced to give tributes to surrounding more aggressive tribes to avoid invasion. Other early Native American names for Long Island may have included: Sewanhack (possibly meaning ‘wampum’) or Matanwake (possibly meaning ‘young warrior’).

Many other town and village names carry meanings that pre-date settlers, and include wonderful descriptions.

For example, Amagansett comes from the Native American word meaning ‘place of good water;’ Ronkonkoma means “boundary fishing place;’ Hauppauge means ‘land of high water;’ Commack means ‘pleasant land.’

Cutchogue means ‘principal place,’ a place where many Long Island Native Americans lived. Fort Corchaug Archeological Site, which can be visited today, was originally a log fort built by Native American Corchaugs, possibly to protect them from other tribes.

Coram means “valley between the hills;” Mastic comes from a description of a “great tidal river;” Setauket means “along the mouth of the creek.”

Other town names are derived from the tribes who lived here. In Suffolk County, these include: Nissequogue, Patchogue, Shinnecock, and Montauk.

Other town names on Long Island come from local tribes including: Canarsie, Rockaway, Matinecock, Merrick, Massapequa, and Manhasset.

Following Verrazano’s first recorded encounters with native tribes in western Long Island in 1524, settlers arrived in Suffolk County in 1640 and encountered members of various Long Island Native American tribes. Descendents of the Shinnecock Tribe remain in Southampton, along with descendents of the Unkechaug Indian Nation in what is now Mastic (formerly of Poospatuck, meaning ‘where the two waters meet’).