Rhode Island extract from
John Reed Swanton's

The Indian Tribes of North America

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(Rhode Island) Extract from

The Indian Tribes of North America

by John R. Swanton

Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 145—1953

[726 pages—Smithsonian Institution]

(pp. 27-29)

Rhode Island

Narraganset. Their name means "people of the small point."

Connections.The Narraganset belonged to the Algonquian linguistic family and spoke an n-dialect like the neighboring Massachuset, Wampanoag, and probably the Niantic (East and West) and the Nauset.

Location.The Narraganset occupied the greater part of Rhode Island west of Narragansett Bay, between Providence and Pawcatuck Rivers. At one time they dominated the Coweset (see Nipmuc) north of them and the Eastern Niantic, and they drove the Wampanoag from the island which gives its name to the State of Rhode Island and the Pequot from some territory they held in the west. (See also Massachusetts and Connecticut.)


There are said to have been eight chiefs over as many territorial divisions, all under one head chief.


Chaubatick, probably within a few miles of Providence.
Maushapogue, in Providence County.
Mittaubscut, on Pawtuxet River, 7 or 8 miles above its mouth.
Narraganset, above the site of Kingston.
Pawchauquet, in western Rhode Island.
Shawomet, near Warwick.

History.The Narraganset traced their origin to the Southwest. They escaped the great pestilence of 1617 and were in fact increased in numbers by bands of refugees. In 1633 the Narraganset lost 700 in n smallpox epidemic. In 1636 Roger Williams settled among them and through their favor was enabled to lay the foundations of the present State of Rhode Island. They remained on good terms with the Whites until King Philip's war (1675-76), into which they threw their whole strength. In the celebrated swamp fight at Kingston they lost nearly 1,000 killed and captured, and the remnants of the tribe were soon forced to abandon the country. Some probably joined the Mahican and Abnaki or even got as far as Canada and never returned to their own people, but others obtained permission to come back and were settled among the Eastern Niantic who had taken no part in the contest. From that time on the combined tribes were known as Narraganset. In 1788 many of these united with the Brotherhood Indians in New York, and a few have gone to live with the Mohegan in Connecticut. The remainder are near Charlestown, R.I.

Population.The Narraganset are estimated by Mooney (1928) to have numbered 4,000 in 1600, including the Eastern Niantic, and were perhaps as numerous in 1675. Along with the Eastern Niantic, they had a total population of about 140 in 1812, and 80 in 1832, while the census of 1910 returned 16. The same year, however, 284 Indians all told were returned from Rhode Island, and in 1930, 130.

Connection in which they have become noted.The Narraganset were famed as the most powerful tribe of southern New England and became noted also on account of Roger Williams' dealings with them and his report regarding them. Narragansett Bay, the Town of Narragansett in Washington County, and Narragansett Pier, the well-known summer resort, were named after them.

Niantic, Eastern. The word Niantic signifies, according to Trumbull (1818) "at a point of land on a (tidal) river or estuary."

Connections.The Eastern and the Western Niantic were parts of one original tribe split in two perhaps by the Pequot; the nearest relatives of both were probably the Narraganset.

Location.The western coast of Rhode Island and neighboring coast of Connecticut.


Wekapaug, on the great pond near Charlestown.

History.As has just been stated, the Eastern Niantic were closely connected with the Narraganset, but they refused to join them in King Philip's war and at its close the remnants of the Narraganset were settled among them. Their subsequent history has been given under Narraganset.

Population.(See Narraganset.)

Connection in which they have become noted.Niantic, in the town of Westerly, Washington County, R. I., perpetuates the name. (See Niantic, Western, under Connecticut.)

Nipmuc. The Coweset and some other bands of Nipmuc extended into the northwestern part of the State but most of these were under the domination of the Narraganset. (See Massachusetts.)

Pequot. The Pequot originally occupied some lands in the western part of Rhode Island of which the Narraganset dispossessed them. (See Connecticut.)

Wampanoag. The Wampanoag occupied the mainland sections of Rhode Island east of Narragansett Bay and Providence River. At one period they also held the island which gives this State its name but they were driven from it by the Narraganset. (See Massachusetts.)