The Road to Kingsbridge

The Road to Kingsbridge: Daniel Nimham and the Stockbridge Indian Company in the American Revolution

The Redcoats took their revenge in a well-planned bloody ambush. Their targets were soldiers of the Stockbridge Mohican community, British allies in previous wars but now effective raiders for George Washington’s Continental Army, in a standoff just north of New York City. By the end of the intense fighting on Aug. 31, 1778, the Stockbridge Indian Company had taken heavy casualties. Its leaders, the sachem Daniel Nimham and his son Abraham, were dead. The Indian refugees in the praying town of Stockbridge, Mass., were so weakened that within a generation they were forced on their long trek west. What became known as the Battle of Kingsbridge was more than an episode in the American Revolution; it was a turning point in the struggle of the Hudson River Indians to preserve their rights amidst a flood of European settlement.

Daniel Nimham

The road to this turning point tracks the career of Daniel Nimham (1724?–1778), the most prominent American Indian associated with New York’s Hudson Valley in the second half of the 18th century. Nimham was a sachem, the leader of several hundred Munsees from the Hudson Highlands, whom historical documents variously refer to as Wappins, Wappingers, Opings, Pomptons, River Indians or Stockbridge Indians. He and his illustrious family served as diplomats, participated as warriors in colonial wars and fought to save their Hudson Valley homeland. As an aged officer in George Washington’s Continental Army, Daniel served alongside his son Abraham who commanded the Stockbridge Indian Company.

This 60-man regiment had previously seen service in the Continental Army at Barren Hill, Bunker Hill, Monmouth Courthouse and Saratoga. Tragically, most of the members of the “Indian Company,” as they were known, were slaughtered by British forces, including Hessians and Loyalists in and around what is now Van Cortlandt Park in the northern Bronx.

The Stockbridge Indians had been British allies throughout the colonial wars, including the French and Indian War. They had served the British in the much-publicized Rogers’ Rangers, ironically a detachment of the Queen’s Rangers who later annihilated the Stockbridge Indian Company at Kingsbridge in 1778! By that time, the Stockbridge Indians had wholeheartedly joined the Revolutionary cause. After the war, General Washington wrote that they had “remained firmly attached to us and have fought and bled by our side; that we consider them as friends and brothers.” The path that led to this change of allegiance and ultimately to the carnage in the Bronx is the focus of this article. The road to this turning point tracks the career of Daniel Nimham (1724?–1778), the most prominent American Indian associated with New York’s Hudson Valley in the second half of the 18th century. Nimham was a sachem, the leader of several hundred Munsees from the Hudson Highlands, whom historical documents variously refer to as Wappins, Wappingers, Opings, Pomptons, River Indians or Stockbridge Indians. He and his illustrious family served as diplomats, participated as warriors in colonial wars and fought to save their Hudson Valley homeland. As an aged officer in George Washington’s Continental Army, Daniel served alongside his son Abraham who commanded the Stockbridge Indian Company.

The Stockbridge Mission

Wars, epidemic diseases and land pressures from European colonists forced many American Indians living in the Hudson Valley – such as the Mahicans (Mohicans) and Munsees – to migrate out of their homeland. Some went to Pennsylvania, to Iroquoia or to French Canada. The establishment of John Sargent’s Stockbridge mission in the mid-1730s offered protection to Mahicans whose villages were located north of present-day Poughkeepsie to Saratoga, and the Munsees of the lower Hudson, tribes then known as the “River Indians.” Over time those Indians who migrated to Sargent’s mission, mostly Munsee and Mahican, became known as Stockbridge Indians. By 1763, 75 percent of the region around present Stockbridge, Mass., was held in common by these Indians. In 1774, members of other American Indian communities, namely the Brothertowns, from Long Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, joined the mission.

Laurence M. Hauptman, a frequent contributor to American Indian magazine, is SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History.