Wampanoag, Pequot and Narrangansett in St. David's Island. 2003
St. David's Indian Committee
St David's, Bermuda
By Jean Foggo Simon, descendant of the Minors/Fox/Foggo Family
Bermuda was uninhabited when it was discovered in 1609 due to a shipwreck of the "Sea Venture" commanded by British Admiral Sir George Somers, who was on his way to the colony of Virginia with settlers and supplies. Sir George Somers was caught in a hurricane and separated from the other 8 ships, wrecking on Bermuda's reefs. There were birds, an abundance of turtles and wild pigs found on the island.
The shipwreck led to British colonization in 1612. When the British
captured Native Americans during their period of attempted colonization up and down the coast of America, some were shipped to Bermuda as slaves. These captives were taunted with insults and name-calling because of their differences in language, customs, food and skin color.
Many Natives were placed on an island that was isolated from the Main
Island called St. David's Island. There was no means of escape. These
people lived in isolation for many decades. All of the inhabitants, no
matter what their tribal affiliation, were called "Mohawks". We grew up
thinking we were Mohawk, but we did know we were Native. Over the years and after settling into a pattern of a new lifestyle, our ancestors began to carve a life out of an island home they had inherited, many miles from their own families.
This was a strange land, screeching birds, grunting and squealing hogs
running wild. This was a strange atmosphere, strange food, and a bounty for sure, but what was it all about? Where were we? The island was so small that the ocean and the horizon could be seen north, south, east and west. I often wonder if our ancestors thought the sea, which bursts continually against the dark ragged rocks, would swallow them up? I try to imagine the fear they endured.
The centuries came and went and for nearly 350 years our families were
still there surviving. Why did it take so long for our own to recognize who they were? The families had intermingled with the Irish, Scottish, Carobs and West Indians, as well as the Dutch and Spanish. Early on there was no way to do any research. There was no way to get off that tiny island of 510 acres. There were no roads and no bridges to link the other islands that make up Bermuda until the 20th Century. Our families made do with what they had and besides continuing to serve as slaves or indentured servants; they learned the craft of boat building, rope making and net making. The men were most happy pursuing schools of whales. They became fishermen and eventually carved a place in Bermuda by making their living as sailors and sea pilots who learned the art of guiding great ocean liners and sailing ships safely through the same jagged reefs that formed an effective prison for our ancestors. Most were red-skinned, blue eyes, green eyes, dark eyes, and dark haired and fair haired. There were many mixtures in the races who were imprisoned on St. David's. History dictates that our ancestors tried to give the next generations a better life than they had experienced.
Education became a most important factor, so saved pennies turned into
shillings, and shillings turned into pounds, and pounds turned into books.
Books brought knowledge and knowledge brought curiosity. It was in the 1990's that we would finally venture to the archives for research. Most of us did not even know where the archives were houses. We learned that lots of records had been sealed.
Curiosity turned into research and research brought us to the point of
realization that we had to have come from somewhere other than St. David's Island. We did not rise from the ocean. We crossed it. We crossed it, but from where? It became a treasure hunt. A path that led from birth lives of our people doing wondrous things, marriages, and crossing over and then starting all over again.
Who were these people before us? Who were our ancestors? These are the questions that turned over and over in our minds. Their lives were just as important as ours. Their stories were interesting and just waiting to be discovered. That was the start of many years of research for the author of this piece. Words were found in the documents that were never heard of before. I could not even pronounce them. The words were Wampanoag, Pequot, Mohegan, Pokanokets and Narragansett. Who were these people? Where did they come from? How did they survive? Nowhere did I find the word "Mohawk"
associated with the St. David's Islanders in the documents. I began to
Many books had been written over the centuries about the capture of Native Americans from along the coast of Massachusetts and Connecticut. There were lists of Natives being sold and shipped into slavery, some to Bermuda and some to other parts of the world. It was the record about King Philip's War and after his death the Massachusetts authorities had dispatched to Bermuda some 40-50 of their most able-bodies young warriors. That shipment of slaves, some say, also included King Philip's wife and young son.
I then discovered that one of my ancestors was "a native Bermudian of
strongly marked Indian features; reputed to be of Indian descent, and
probably descending from one of the Pequot captives". He died in 1875 at the age of 84 years. His name was Jacob Minors. Jacob married Ruth Fox, a half Irish/half Native woman. A good many of their children were born before they married. They had more children after they married. There was also a girl child born before Jacob and Ruth married, whose mother was a Burchall. Their own children carried both the Fox and Minors surnames, but were blood brothers and sisters. These were the surnames of some of the families who lived on St. David's Island, including my own family.
For decades, the only family names in our St. David's native families were: Minors, Fox, Foggo, Pitcher, Lamb, Burchall and Millett. Descendants of families who arrived to colonize the island and whose names were listed on a 1716 list are still prevalent today: Cox, Higgs, Burchall, Fox, Hayward, Gibbons, Tucker, Watlington, Hall, Dill, Wingood, Packwood, Outerbridge, etc.
In New England, the Pequot Nation was a strong and powerful tribe residing in Connecticut during the invasion of the pilgrims who competed for territory. Conflict arose which split the nation into two opposing tribes. Those wishing to ally themselves with the British followed Uncas and became Mohegans. Those who resisted remained with Sassacus. In 1637, the Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies joined forces with their Indian allies to exterminate the Pequots. Unable to achieve their objectives fairly, they turned to other means. They set fire to a fort at Mystic killing about 700 Pequots in about one hour. The following year about 180 survivors were given as slaves to the area tribes, a few were given as slaves to the colonists, and a few more were sold as slaves to Bermuda to help finance the war. The Pequot nation was effectively erased forever. Or were they?
By 1655 the slaves of Connecticut were being treated so badly that they had to be removed from the tribes and settled into two villages of their own, where their descendants still reside today. The Pequot slaves that went to Bermuda not only survived, but they actually blossomed under the worst possible conditions. Today, nearly all the residents of St. David's Island descend from these New England Indian slaves and are held together by a strong sense of community. They also have an uncanny resemblance to the New England Indians.
Some of the named descendants as listed above visited New England in 2001 to be introduced to some of the Native Americans who were familiar with the story of the slave movements. The people of St. David's Island had not reached out to anyone beyond our shores until 2001 and in doing so were most happy and surprised to learn that the Native Americans we had been taken away from many centuries ago as slaves, also had survived. Family traditions and stories were passed down throughout the generations. Through research, we now know who we are and where we come from.
In June 2002 we celebrated the First Reconnection Ceremony on our beloved island and again in June 2003 with our cousins from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We also celebrated our first Grand Entry at the Mashantucket Pequot Schmetzun in August 2003. Most of us had never witnessed a powwow before and all were in awe at the dancing and the regalia worn by Native Americans. This is a true testament to the strength and courage of the Pequot Nations who survived in spite of adversity.
St. David's Islanders at Grand Entry at Mashantucket Pequot powwow - 2003 - Connecticut
Regalia (foreground), St. David's Islanders in background
Libation - walking wreath to Red Hole, St. David's Island to honor our ancestors.
Wreaths floating to the horizon from whence we came.