The Road to Kingsbridge

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

At this most famous of colonial New England’s praying towns, American Indians converted to Christianity and slowly adapted to the “white man’s ways.” Nevertheless, they remained Native, racially set apart by their white neighbors. They also retained many of their beliefs and customs and lingering memories of their homelands. Since the Stockbridge mission was close to the eastern New York homeland of the Munsees and Mahicans, some of these Indians continued to return and renew their cultural and spiritual ties to their lands. These same American Indians led by Daniel Nimham fought with determination to retain their homeland well after their re-settlement at Stockbridge.

The Wappinger Land Claim

The final dispossession of the Wappingers began in the late 17th century. Two Dutch settlers, Jan Sebering and Lambert Dorlandt, “purchased” a tract of land on the east bank of the Hudson from the Wappinger. But these two never obtained a formal patent from the royal governor, one that was required before land could be purchased from American Indians. Nonetheless, in the 1690s they sold the land to Adolph Philipse, a wealthy Dutch New York City merchant with roots in the colonial aristocracy. On June 17, 1697, the governor retroactively granted Philipse the Highland Patent for 205,000 acres in southern Dutchess County, part of which extends into Putnam County today. The Patent included the lands illegally obtained by Sebering and Dortlandt. In 1702, in a “purchase” from a small group of American Indians, Philipse extended his landholdings in what is called the Robinson Indian deed, all without the governor’s approval and without the required patent. By the 1760s, Adolphe Philipse’s grandnephew Philip Philipse and three grandnieces – Susanna Robinson, Mary Morris and Margaret Philipse – inherited the lands. They began leveling rents on those who had settled within the Highland Patent.

By this time, numerous Yankee colonists from the Connecticut Valley had migrated to the eastern bank of Hudson and had settled on the same lands claimed by the Philipse’s heirs. These non-Indian colonists refused to pay rents, bypassing the so-called landlords. Instead, they negotiated more reasonable deals directly with the Wappingers. Local sheriffs were sent out to evict these anti-rent protesters. Confrontations resulted.

Angry with the Philipses, the Wappingers supported this anti-rent movement. In return, anti-rent leaders supported the Wappingers when they formally filed a land-claims suit before New York’s Council. The case specifically dealt with the 205,000 acres stretching from the Hudson eastward to the Connecticut border. On March 6, 1765, Daniel Nimham was given a hearing before the New York Colonial Council in New York City. Unable to secure the services of an attorney, he and several anti-renters presented evidence questioning the Philipse’s right to Wappinger lands. Attorneys for the Philipse heirs produced a deed dated August 13, 1702, that had never been formally filed. The deed was fraudulent. However, the council, composed of major colonial landowners, found for the Philipse heirs.

Nimham refused to accept the verdict as final and decided to appeal directly to royal authorities in London. Financed by the anti-renters, he journeyed to Great Britain and presented the Wappinger petition before the Board of Trade, which saw merit in the Wappinger argument. The Board then remanded the case back to the New York Council for a final determination. In two days of hearings, Nimham once again brought the case before the New York Council. Hindered by having no support from Sir William Johnson, the powerful British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department, the Wappingers’ petition was once again dismissed. Soon after, the Philipse heirs had the local sheriffs eject the anti-renters from the disputed lands. Many of the dispossessed Wappingers, now without any non-Indian allies or legal protections, then made their way back to Stockbridge. Once loyal warriors of the British in the colonial wars, they had now been abandoned by their allies. American Indian bitterness toward British authorities intensified every year right up to the outbreak of the hostilities at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.

Serving the Continental Army

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