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Definition: Narragansett from Rourke's Native American History & Culture Encyclopedia

(or Narraganset, meaning people of the small point) lived in today's Rhode Island. They hunted, gathered wild plants, fished, and farmed. They sheltered in wigwams. Narragansett tribes each had a chief, or sagamore. Sagamores reported to one grand sachem, the top leader. When they first met Europeans in 1620, the powerful Narragansett outnumbered all other area peoples. Disease and years of fighting reduced their numbers to just a few hundred. The Narragansett today occupy two reservations in Rhode Island.


Summary Article: NARRAGANSETT from Encyclopedia of Native Tribes of North America

The Algonkian people who once occupied the whole of the present state of Rhode Island west of Narragansett Bay are known by that name. They seem to have been closely related to the Niantic, with whom they ultimately merged. The smaller Coweset, Pawtuxet and Block Island Indians were all more or less the same people. Probably contacted by the explorer Verrazano in 1524, they were known to the Dutch and English from the early 1600s. They had a large population of several thousand that escaped the first pestilence and smallpox of 1617, but many died in 1633. They became friends of the English in 1636, after Roger Williams laid the foundations of the state of Rhode Island by settling among them. They remained on good terms with whites until King Philip's War (1675–76), when they joined the hostiles, and lost 1,000 men, women and children at the Great Swamp Fight near Kingston. Some fled the country, and others joined the Niantic, these together becoming known as Narragansett. Since that time they have continued to live in the same area, although many left and joined the Brotherton Indians in New York or the Mohegan in Connecticut during the 18th century. Their descendants, numbering about 2,620, according to the 2000 Census, are still found in the southern part of Rhode Island around Charlestown and Kingston, although greatly mixed with other races, and having lost all traces of their original Indian culture and language. They have, however, absorbed pan-Indian influences, hold an annual powwow and have revived festivals and church meetings, which gives their descendants a persistent identity.

Text copyright © Michael Johnson 2007

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