Thursday, January 17, 2008


[Forwarded by Norman Muller]
In 1882, Charles J. Taylor published his "History of Great Barrington," a generally well-researched account that still is the standard chronicle of the early days of that town.
As accurate as Taylor tried to be, some serious historical errors inevitably found their way into his book. On pages 60-62, he inserted the text of a letter that appears authentic but is actually a put-up job, if not an outright forgery. It contains information that has been accepted over the years, things like the word "Mahaiwe" and the size of the famous Indian stone heap that gives Monument Mountain its name, but recent research in primary manuscript sources tells a different story.
Taylor found the letter in a rather dubious source, The Berkshire Courier of November 15, 1866. It immediately becomes suspicious because neither the writer nor the recipient are identified. The dateline of "Indian Town" in November 1735 is anachronistic because there was no Indian town at that time, the Mohicans not receiving their grant at Stockbridge until the next year. In the letter's description of the Rev. John Sergeant's baptism of Chief Konkapot, it borrows word for word the profession of faith delivered by another Indian (Ebenezer) in 1734, the text of which is found in Rev. Sergeant's journal. In fact, there is little information in the letter that could not have been found in Sergeant's journal or other printed sources. The main exception is the name "Mahaiwe," which is not found elsewhere to my knowledge. Taylor said it is the Mohican word for "place down stream" but admitted it should be spelled "Neh-hai-we." While that may be true (the related Delaware tribe used the word "Nahiwi" for "down the river"), the confusion added to the suspicious nature of the letter.
Another anomaly in the letter is the statement that the "Great Wigwam" of Chief Umpachene was "at the ford a mile or two south [of Monument Mountain]." Presumably this is the spot now commemorated by a marker at the "Old Indian Fordway" on Bridge Street. The marker claims that there was a battle with the Indians there in 1676, but it is documented that the fight occurred further to the south, probably in Sheffield. The other error is in the location of the "Great Wigwam," which was on the Green River two miles to the south. Sergeant's journal clearly shows that two groups of Indians lived 8 to 10 miles apart, Konkapot in the meadow at Wnahktukook (Stockbridge) and Lieutenant Umpachene at Scatekook (Green River). When Sergeant first arrived at Great Barrington in 1734, he wrote that "I board at Mr. Ingersol's; and teach the Children at the Lieutnts. Wigwam." For the first six months of his mission Sergeant lived with David Ingersoll at his house near the present site of the Mason Library and taught the Indians two miles south at Scatekook.
The greatest fallacy in Taylor's letter relates to the stone heap at Monument Mountain. It is described as "a pile of stones some six or eight feet in diameter, circular at its base and raised in the form of an obtuse cone. It is raised over the grave of the first Sachem who died after they came into this region. Each Indian, as he goes by, adds a stone to the pile." This wording is so close to that in the 1829 "History of Berkshire County" that it suggests copying, but the text is different enough to indicate some alteration: "The pile was six or eight feet in diameter, circular at its base and raised in the form of an obtuse cone ... over the grave of one of the Aborigines. ... Every Indian who passed the place, threw a stone upon the tomb of his countryman." No source is given for the 1829 version, but it is possible that it was the creation of the Rev. David Dudley Field, who had collected the materials for the history. Curiously, it was his son, Jonathan Edwards Field, who had provided the Taylor letter to the Berkshire Courier in 1866.
Further evidence for the falsity of the Taylor letter is found in Timothy Dwight's "Travels in New England and New York" (published in 1821 but written in the 1790s), which states that the name of Monument Mountain "is derived from a pile of stones about six or eight feet in diameter, circular at its base, and raised in the form of an obtuse cone over the grave of one of the Aborigines," etc. Certainly this is the source of the quote in Taylor's book, a secondary account first written in 1798 and not an eyewitness report of 1735. Dwight did not see the stone pile himself and was relying on hearsay.
Until now, we have had only three published eyewitness accounts of the monument, none of which give specific details of its size and location. Sergeant wrote in his journal on November 3, 1734: "There is a LARGE Heap of Stones, I suppose TEN CART LOADS, in the Way to Wnahktukook, which the Indians have thrown together, as they pass'd by the Place; for it us'd to be their Custom, every Time any one pass'd by to throw a Stone to it; But what was the End of it they cannot tell" (Emphasis is mine). The Rev. Gideon Hawley wrote an account of a journey he made in 1753. Upon observing an Indian stone heap in New York State, he wrote: "The LARGEST heap I ever observed is that LARGE collection of small stones on the mountain between Stockbridge and Great Barrington." In 1761 David Ingersoll stated that "he saw a LARGE heap of stones on the east side of Westenhook or Housatonic River so-called on the southerly end of the Mountain called Monument Mountain."
I emphasize the use of the adjective LARGE to describe the monument. It seems unlikely that a stone pile of only six or eight feet in diameter would be sufficient to fill the ten cart loads mentioned by Sergeant. The truth is that the stone heap was quite large and obvious. In the fall of 1761, Colonel John Van Rensselaer of Claverack, N.Y., employed a surveying party to establish the boundary line between the Van Rensselaer and Livingston Manors of Columbia County. He claimed ownership to the Housatonic River and charged his surveyors to run the line 24 miles east of the Hudson River, bringing it into the present bounds of Great Barrington. On November 25, 1761, Jacob Philip, one of his chain men, deposed in Albany County court and declared: "they Run about half a Mile west of a Heap of Stones Standing on the Southerly End of a Mountain near the Road from Sheffield to Stockbridge -- that he and the Rest of the Chainbearers by the Surveyors Directions Measured the said Heap and found it Eighty two Links about the Bottom and seventeen Links high along the Slant of the Said Heap." A link of the chain equaled 7.92 inches so the monument in Great Barrington measured slightly more than 54 feet at the base and stood over 11 feet high, the size of a small house.
Other residents of Berkshire and Albany Counties testified to having seen the large pile and that the bottom stones were sunk deep into the ground, suggesting great antiquity. There was no evidence of a burial beneath the monument although the results of the survey did show two heaps of stones along the line in Columbia County "Erected by the Indians in Memory of two of their Sachems buried in that place." The English settlers at this time were dismantling the numerous stone heaps to obtain building materials, especially for chimneys, and the Great Barrington heap suffered the same fate. It was "all removed" by August 1762 and there has been no trace of it since, despite the many later efforts to find it.
Most contemporary accounts state that the monument was "near" the road (not "on" it) at the southern end of Monument Mountain, and none indicates that it was visible from the road. The earliest map of Stockbridge is a surveyor's plat dated October 15, 1736. On it at the northwest corner of Sheffield (now Great Barrington) is written the bearing of east nine degrees south, 932 perch (rods), "to the monument of stones," and another notation that the monument was north of Moses King's property, 60 perch. This stone heap was located on top of the mountain at the midpoint of the boundary between Great Barrington and Stockbridge and served as a marker between the two towns. It was not the large monument erected by the Indians.
The best evidence for the location of the Indian stone heap comes from the court depositions of those settlers who actually saw it before it was removed. Captain Johannis Hogeboom of Claverack testified in 1762 that it stood "some rod[s] over the Westenhook [Housatonic] River under a Mountain." The half-blood Indian, Joseph Van Gelder, testified in 1768 that it was "on the East side of Westenhook River has been close to it often it is about a Mile from the River." Timothy Woodbridge of Stockbridge deposed that it was "in the Monument Mountain Made of Wood and Stones ... It lies in Great [Barrington] 3 Miles south of Stockbridge." John Philip, the chain man, ran his survey line along the Housatonic "about half a Mile west" of the heap. These distances give us an approximate location of the monument somewhere east of the river at the foot of the mountain and south of Risingdale, far from the traditionally-accepted spot but close to the site of the Indian hunting camp excavated in 1991.
By all accounts, the stone heap bore the Mohican name "Wawanaquasick," a lovely word that might have graced the new schools at Monument Mountain instead of the unimaginative names selected last year. It meant "offering place" and was applied to other Indian stone heaps in our area. Jehoiakim Van Valkenburgh, a Dutch settler who spoke the Mohican language, declared in 1768 that the Indians "added Stones to it and when they did so they said Grand father I recover you." The monument had a practical function as well. Chief Yocum explained in 1754 that there were two such heaps in Great Barrington, the one we are discussing here and the other where the Green River meets the Housatonic. They served as boundary markers between Stockbridge Indian chieftaincies and the Weatogue Indians of Salisbury, Conn.
Taylor wrote an essential history of Great Barrington, but the inclusion of a doctored letter has contributed to a number of misconceptions. The name "Mahaiwe" is possibly a made-up word, the location of the "Great Wigwam" is off by at least two miles and the great Indian stone heap at Monument Mountain was not only quite large but located "under the mountain" near Risingdale instead of on the mountain itself. Though it has been gone for 244 years, it remains in our imaginations as an enduring symbol of Berkshire County's first inhabitants.


Anonymous said...

The surveyors stated that Monument Mountain cairn was "Eighty two Links about the Bottom and seventeen Links high along the Slant of the Said Heap" The phrase "around the bottom" refers to the circumference not the diameter of the pile. The term "slant" refers to the slope not the height. The diameter would be 17.2 feet (Diameter = Circumference / PI). The radius would be 8.6 feet. Using the Phyagorean Theorem the height of the cairn can be calculated. The height comes out to 6.86 feet.

In 1762 Rev. Erza Stiles measured and drew a sketch of this cairn. He measured the diameter to be 18 feet and the height to be 6 feet. The drawing is reproduced at

Stiles drawing shows a significant depression in the center of the cairn. If the surveyors measured the slope ("slant") to the edge of the depression rather than the center of the cairn it would explain the 1.86 foot different in height measurements.

James Gage

stonepilewhisper said...

Fascinating read. It points out how clueless the fool that wrote "The Last Word" in Terra Firma is.