Customs and Habits of Indians Recalled

Footnotes to Long Island History

Customs and habits of Indians recalled
December 14, 1967


Thomas R. Bayles

       Little has been preserved of the habits with language of the Long Island Indians. They lived by hunting game and using the fish, claims and oysters from the waters, to which they added some products of a crude agriculture. Their knives hatchets and other primitive implements were made from sharp stones shells etc. which were abandoned when the white men brought them metal instruments. These were eagerly sought by the Indians in exchange for skins wampum and even for their land.

       These early hatchets made of stone were not of much use in felling trees and this was done by piling branches around the trunk of the tree and setting them on fire. This was kept up until the trunk was burned off water being applied during the process to prevent burning more of the tree trunk than was necessary.

       In forming their canoes dry branches were laid along the surface of a log and set on fire which burned and charred the wood beneath it. The sides were kept wet to preserve them and the charred surface was frequently scraped out and this slow process the log was sufficiently hollowed out to form the inside, and the outside received the same treatment to make the desired form. Scrapers made of pieces of flint or shells were used to polish off the work and give it the final finish.

       These canoes were usually from 30 to 60 feet long. Hatchets were used to girdle tress which would then soon die in order to clear the ground for planting corn. Large trees were left as their stumps drew no fertility from the ground and their cultivation was done with sharp sticks. For knives they used sharp pieces odd flint or pieces of bone. Narrow pieces of stone were fastened to the end of their arrows to form sharpened points these arrows heads have been found by the thousands through the years.

       For pounding maize or corn which was a common article of food the Indians used stone pestles which were about a foot long and thick as a man's arm their mortars were made of the stumps or butts of tress which were astonished when they first saw the mills used by the white men and when the first wind mills were set up they came in numbers from long distances to observe the mills at work. For a long time they believed the mills was driven by the spirits who lived with in it. 

       The old kettles of the Indians were made of a clay composition consisting of dark clay mixed with white sand or quartz and burnt in fire many of these crude kettles had two holes near the upper edge on opposite sides through which a stick could be passed and the kettle was hung over the fire in this way.

       The old tobacco pipes were also made of clay or pot stone the first were shaped like our common pipes and the stem was thick and short often not more than an inch long another kind of pipe was made of a very fine red pot stone in a very skilled manner and were very scarce. These were only used by the sachems or chiefs and were valued by the Indians higher than silver. The celebrated "pipe of peace" was made of this material. 

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