Site of the Mohican-Van Schaack Sawmill
(West Stockbridge, Massachusetts)
Main attributes of this Native American place: Tribal history; Native persons; In historic documents.
A 1763 land transaction including much of the present business district of West Stockbridge is described as “beginning at a Hemlock tree marked with the Letters (EW) starting Eighteen Perch East of the Brook on which Elias Vanschaack and some Indians once began to erect a sawmill, and about forty perch southeast of said Mill Spot….”
Van Schaack the Dutch fur trader and the Stockbridge Indians tried to build a sawmill, aware of the concept but likely lacking the ability to make ironware and gearing necessary to cut wood. It was some time in the 1740s or early ’50s, given Van Schaack’s death date of 1754.
While he was helpful to the Indians, Van Schaack, it needs to be said, had his own ways of weaseling land from the Native people and his son Cuffee carried on in the same manner. Cuffee, for example, offered money to Stockbridge Indians who had been jailed on alcoholism charges in Albany, in exchange for land.
Mohicans certainly became aware of the added value of running water for power for saw, grist and fulling mills. Hannah Nepaulum, for example, sold land east of Mill Brook “where the saw Mill stood,” to Moses Barnum for £3 in 1778 “with the Privileges of the Stream for building a fulling Mill.”
Joseph Shawquethquot and two others, to offer another example, in 1780 conveyed to Timothy Edwards for £30 silver eight on the Housatonic River just south of the village “including and together with all the Privileges which have or might have to all the water of said river from the south end of said Twenty Rods to said Bridge for the use of Mills or otherwise.”
Ledgers from the Forbes and Adams ironworks in East Canaan include entries for “Jacob Cunckapot (Indian)” for hauling charcoal to the forge in 1792 and 1793 and for “Negro Robin,” also for hauling coal, in 1791 and 1797.
The Van Schaack/Mohican site was on the outlet of the present millpond in West Stockbridge, Mass. The Nepaulum property may be on Yale Hill Road, where the first mills in town appeared in the 1730s. The Shawquethquot land is south of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. (Forbes and Adams forge, iron furnaces and other industries were on Lower Road in East Canaan, Connecticut. Friends of Beckley Furnace provide tours of the surviving stack on weekends in summer.)
Contributor: Bernard A. Drew
Acknowledgments to Richard Wilcox and Richard Paddock