Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Long Island Devil's Heaps And Hill-Altars

by JimP
Forgive me if I'm rehashing old information. The search function on the blog isn't working at all for me. But I don't remember reading about these excerpts before so here goes . . .

The following excerpts come from Antiquities of Long Island by Gabriel Furman and were written in the mid-1800's, making these so-called, "grandfather stories." The first excerpt is in the form of a myth handed down as folklore about the, "devil," who attempted to dispossess the Indians of all the land in Connecticut. The Indians forced the, "devil," to retreat to Long Island.

"After having seated himself in the middle of the island at Coram and brooding over his defeat in a sullen humor, he suddenly roused himself, and collecting together all the rocks he could conveniently get at on the island, he deposited them in heaps at Cold Spring, where he amused himself with hurling them across the sound on the fertile plains of Connecticut."

The next excerpt is about a hill 30-miles from Brooklyn and midway between the north and south sides of the island called Manetta or Manet Hill, which Furman says is a corruption of Manitou Hill. He relates another tale, this one about Indians searching for water and finding it on this hill after guidance from the Great Spirit, who directs the chief to shoot his arrow and dig for water where the arrow lands.

"This hill was undoubtedly used in ancient times as the place of general offering to the Great Spirit in the name and behalf of all surrounding people; and was of the character of the hill-altars so common among the early nations. It is from this circumstance that the name was most probably derived."

Hill-altars are mostly associated with the mound-builder culture and found in abundance in the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. But with stories such as Furman's, a picture begins to develop of a culture much more widespread than commonly believed. As we know from studies of extant mounds, stone heaps (rock piles) were often found in conjunction with, "hill-altars."

Furman explains why he relates these stories. I think it's quite poignant almost two centuries later:

"This is another of our Long Island Indian traditions, all of which are now fast fading from the recollections of our oldest inhabitants, and which, most generally, are not deemed of sufficient importance by the younger portion of the community to be preserved in memory. This is the reason why we have sought to preserve those of which we have heard, in our plain and homely language."

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