Article 2: ‘Country Lands,’ Paugussett Dispersal by the English

The story of the land acquisition by the English settlers in what is now Easton and the surrounding areas is traced through its peoples and their contested lands, among them the Paugusett and their kin, the English settlers of “North Fairfield,” a hybrid mix of displaced indigenous peoples, and the Royal Crown. In this story, very real, and yet remarkable for its drama, names that feature prominently are Praske, Romanock, Wampas, Nathan Gold, John Read, Cikkans (known variously as Crescroe, Chickens, and Sam Warrup), and the King of England himself (Reeve, Silverglade, and von Jena 2009; Wojciechowski 1992). 

As a child, Praske was among those kidnapped and sold into enslavement following the Sasqua battle during the Pequot War (cf Article 1). After Praske’s kidnapping, she was enslaved in Boston and ultimately was freed and met and married a Christianized Nipmuck, Wampas (with the English name of John White). Praske’s father, Romanock, asserted the status of sachem of the Paugusett peoples living in the Aspetuck and Sasqua regions. As such, before Romanock’s death in 1660, he willed his claims to the lands of Aspetuck to his daughter, Praske.

In their desire to take the land for themselves, the English settlers would take extreme measures to prevent this inheritance from being realized. And so, a conflict of extralegal or illegal action on behalf of the English settlers and legal action by Wampas, Praske, and their friends to seek recompense would ultimately result in the English settlement of North Fairfield, in what is Easton and Weston today (2009). 

Based on Romanock’s professed rights as sachem, Wampas sought to reclaim Praske’s inheritance through legal action levied against the English settlers who denied Praske’s claims and insisted that they occupied the land legally despite never producing proof of land transfer. To contest the  actions of Nathan Gold and other Fairfield townsmen, Wampas traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to England to petition the King. There, he secured a letter from King Charles II to the Massachusetts governor requiring that supposed deeds to the lands be produced by the English settlers.

However, when Wampas returned to the nascent Connecticut lands with letter in hand in 1678, Nathan Gold and the town clerk not only refused to produce any deeds of the sort but when Wampas insisted and urged the townsmen to survey the lands, they jailed him. Wampas escaped and, undeterred, yet again returned to England, petitioning. This time, the Privy Council  wrote to the, by then, Connecticut governor of the “evil deeds” of the Fairfield settlers, ordering their compliance. The buccaneering spirit of the early settlers so often celebrated in national lore, from the perspective of Wampas and the rule of colonial law, was to be condemned (2009)

When the English settlers failed to respond, in 1680, the Privy Council sent a second letter, demanding that land deeds be produced; the insistence on rule of law seemingly spurred the settlers to dubious action. They insisted that Praske’s father Romanock was not the sachem and therefore unable to pass the lands to his daughter, and they elicited witnesses among indigenous people living inland.

Sometime in the middle of the 17th century, Cikkans (or “Cresoce” or “Sam Warrup”), a Haudenosaunee (Mohawk), had moved to the lands of Fairfield and intermarried with the Paugusett peoples and by the end of the century resided in what is now Redding (Todd 1906). Cikkans would be one of the signatories testifying that Romanock was not the sachem. That Cikkans came to the area in the latter half of the 17th century, not the first half when Romanock lived and potentially governed, raises doubts about Cikkans’ ability to comment about Romanock’s status.

Further raising suspicion, among the new land deeds the English established, Cikkans was among the signatories concerning “whatsoever of Aspetuck lands is within ye sd towne of Fairfield.” The purported earliest deeds were never produced (2009). 

Instead, though the inheritors and friends of Wampas would pick up Praske and Wampas’ fight after Wampas’ death, on technicalities involving time and residence, the courts would rule in 1683 in favor of the Fairfield settlers (2009). The contested records would never be found and in fact, the entirety of earliest documentation of deeds and votes would not reappear until the middle of the 19th century, conveniently with the first several pages ripped out of both the records of deeds and votes (Wojichowski 1992; 2009).

The naval officer, ambassador, historian, and longtime Connecticut resident Gerald Thomas used to call the injustices and extent to which those in power colluded to obscure them from memory as “The things that make you go, hmm” (2000).  Hmm, indeed. 

Basket with Cover. Attributed to Paugussetts. Woodsplits. National Museum of the American Indian.

Despite these dealings, well into the 18th century, the surviving native peoples, a mixed group of Paugussett and Haundeonsaunee and others, remained in the lands of the Aspetuck valley and northward, referred by the English who claimed them, despite not wishing yet to inhabit them, as “country lands.”

The lands of what is now Easton and Weston were first apportioned by the English into Long Lots in the late 17th century, yet it was only decades later in the 1720s when the lands were divided further that settlement would begin in earnest. John Read (who had sought to pastor a congregational church until the discovery of his Anglicanism drove him to a legal career) aimed to secure the lands even further northward.

Map of Fairfield Settlement, Fairfield Museum (2017)

With Cikkans and others including Paugussett, Mohawk and Potatuck peoples, a series of deeds were signed. Though these granted the English the titles to the land northward (in what is now Redding), they also assured the right of use and residence for indigenous peoples, though the latter would be egregiously violated, too (2009).

The deed with Cikkans in 1723, assured (in what is now Redding), “liberty for myself and my heirs to hunt, fish, and fowl upon the land and in the waters and further reserving for myself, my children, and grandchildren and their posterity the use of so much land by my present dwelling house or… [that] necessary for my or their personal improvement, that is to say my children, children’s children, and posterity.” (1906)

Concerning violations of these rights, Chickens petitioned the General Court of Connecticut three times — 1738, 1745, and 1749 — and found himself either coerced or resigned to agree to removal to Scattacock (in northwest Connecticut) by the middle of the century in exchange for his claims. Reports, however, document him returning to the lands of Fairfield until his death (1906; 2009).

If Christ Church’s origin story develops with the Paugussett peoples as they farmed the land, created, worshiped, lived and resisted there and continues today both among the lands and living descendants, its founding must also be understood by the land theft and practice of enslavement employed by English settlers.

With the acquisition of lands and displacement of indigenous persons through war, disease, enslavement, and illegal action, English settlement could and did increase. This growth would mean the founding of our Episcopal parish in 1762 at the height of economic flourishing that also brought the independence movement, yet neither our parish’s founding nor that of this nation can be understood apart from enslavement and the slave trade of the 18th century. This history will be uncovered next.

A word on citations: Our historical investigation draws widely from over 50 secondary and primary sources (see here for a full bibliography). We are especially indebted to Stuart Reeve, David Silverglade, and Kathleen von Jena’s 2009 Historical Archeological Assessment and the Vincent J. Rosivach Register of Slaves in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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