Hopkins School’s Complex Relationship with Native Peoples
In the September 2017 issue of The Razor, Eli Sabin ’18 wrote an article titled “Hopkins School’s Relationship with Slavery,” in which he assessed the implications of how we remember our namesake and original benefactor, Edward Hopkins.
As a result, a committee made up of Assistant Head of School John Roberts, History Teacher Thomas Peters, History Teacher Tisha Hooks, as well as Elena Brennan ’20 have worked to address the questions raised in Sabin’s article. However, what began as an investigation into Edward Hopkins’s relationship with slavery soon evolved to encompass his involvement with the Native tribes of Connecticut. As Roberts remarked, “The story of Edward Hopkins is the story of English settlement and expansion at the expense of Native people.”
This research has far reaching implications for the Hopkins community as we reflect on our anniversary. Roberts touched on the complexity of what this history means for Hopkins: “You have to do more than just satisfy your institutional conscience. I believe that, given our history, and given the complexity of the mid-1600s, we not only have an institutional obligation and responsibility, but also an awesome opportunity to teach how to do good history, and how to deal with complex moments of the past.” Brennan shared a similar motivation for joining the research committee: “My initial interest stemmed from my love for
local history. I was excited to gain more hands-on research experience in New Haven. Additionally, I needed to help hold Hopkins and myself accountable. While no one at Hopkins today played a role in the Pequot Genocide, each and every one of us has benefited from it. I find it imperative that, as a school, we confront this undeniable truth.”
While the committee has spent countless hours exploring local museums, archives, libraries, and historical societies in pursuit of the true story of Edward Hopkins’s connection with Native tribes in Connecticut, the search is far from complete. “We do not want to conclude this historical inquiry until we are really confident that we have found everything we can possibly find-- because one or two pieces of new information could completely change the story. That’s how fragmentary the evidence and primary sources of the 1600s are,” Roberts explained.
Although we do not have the full story yet, we know that before European colonization, Connecticut was the home of many Native tribes including the Pequot,
Mohegan, and Quinnipiac. We know that Edward Hopkins played a key role in the subjugation of Native people in Connecticut; as governor, deputy governor, and magistrate of Connecticut, Hopkins was instrumental in the affairs of the Connecticut colony. On September 21, 1638, Hopkins negotiated and signed the Treaty of Hartford, a tripartite treaty between England and their Native American allies in the Pequot War-- the Mohegan and Narragansett. This treaty eradicated the Pequot tribe. The treaty divided the two hundred surviving Pequots who were not taken captive by the British among the Mohegans and Narragansett tribes. The Pequots were forbidden to call themselves Pequots and unable to live in their former territory. The Pequot members taken by the British were sold into slavery in New England or sent to the West Indies. This treaty also empowered Hopkins and other Colonial leaders to become the arbiter of any disputes between the two tribes.
We also know that in 1641 and 1642, Hopkins served as one of two representatives from Connecticut in the newly formed New England Confederation which arranged for the division of spoils from Native American conflict “whether it be in lands, goods, or persons.” We know that when Hopkins was involved in the commission that warned the Nameoke people that if they refused Mohegan authority, the Mohegans would “have order and liberty by constraint to enforce them.” Later, Hopkins became the decider of where the Nameoke people would live. In addition to officiating these major treaties and disputes, during his years as governor and deputy governor, Hopkins acted as the arbitrator in many other minor conflicts between tribes as well as between tribes and settlers. We also know that Hopkins’s estate included an unnamed slave. What we do not know, and what the committee is in the process of investigating, is whether this slave was Native American or African.
In addition to Edward Hopkins’s role in the early history of the Connecticut colony, we know that our beloved hill was once home to the Quinnipiac tribe. Decimated by an epidemic that was introduced by Europeans in 1633, the English pressure the remaining Quinnipiac to sell their lands throughout the remainder of the 1600s with unjust policies and laws. In 1638, the Quinnipiac and English signed the Momauguin treaty that established the first Native American reservation in America, a 1200 acre plot of land to the East of the New Haven harbor that the Quinnipiac were confined to. By the outbreak of the American Revolution, after decades of Puritan encroachment and ethnic cleansing, the few Quinnipiac people left in New Haven sold the last thirty acres of Quinnipiac land to fund their emigration to Farmington where they joined the Tunxis tribe and ceased to exist autonomously.