Skip to Main Content

New Haven County Court Records: Blog

Tracing Indigenous Presence in the New Haven County Court Records

by Sarah Morin on 2023-11-21T08:30:00-05:00 in Archives, Connecticut, Courts: Connecticut Courts, History, Native Americans | 0 Comments

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we examine the cases we have discovered in the New Haven County Court records involving Indigenous persons, groups, and lands.

When quoting from documents, we will use the actual spelling, including transcriptions of individual words as necessary. (For more information about colonial spelling practices, see The Standardization of American English at In certain circumstances, we will add missing letters to abbreviated words or substitute modern spelling in brackets to enhance reader comprehension.

An Elusive Presence in Colonial Records

As the following census data demonstrates, European colonists often under-documented or failed to document Indigenous presence in New Haven County:

census table “An Account of the Number of Inhabitants as return’d in 1756, viz. In Hartford County. In New-Haven County.”

1756 census data from The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, from May, 1751, to February, 1757, Inclusive by Charles J. Hoadley, State Librarian, p. 617. The “Indians” column in New Haven County is inexplicably empty.

census table “Table 1. A List of the Number of Inhabitants in each Town in the Colony of Connecticut Taken in the Year 1762.”

1762 census data from “The Lost Connecticut Census of 1762 Found” by Christopher P. Bickford, published in the Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 44, no. 2, p. 37 [CSL call number F 91 .C67]. Unfortunately, this data is not listed by county, but the “Indians” column for towns that were located in New Haven County continues to be empty.

census table “Account of the Number of Inhabitants in the County of New-Haven, on the First of January, 1774.”

1774 census data from The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, from October, 1772, to April, 1775, Inclusive by Charles J. Hoadley, State Librarian, p. 486. Indigenous inhabitants are finally listed in the New Haven County census—though these numbers may not be accurate, given that many Indigenous men, women, and families traveled or changed residency for economic and other reasons.

It is highly probable that some who were designated as African-descended in the censuses and the court records were Indigenous persons, or had both African and Indigenous ancestry. Strother E. Roberts, a historian of the environment and economy of early modern North America and Associate Professor of History at Bowdoin College, offered an explanation for why it can be challenging to find documentation of Indigenous persons, groups, and lands in colonial records:

Although Indians never disappeared from the [Connecticut] valley, most did slowly “vanish” from the historical record. As they integrated themselves into the English economy and society, or traveled between Native communities both within in the valley and without, they were either ignored by the official gaze of English and town colonial governments whose greatest interests lay in the more sedentary and more prosperous white population or else were recategorized as poor whites or blacks when they intermarried with the region’s more recent immigrants and the small, but still significant, number of slaves they brought with them. While many Indian communities and individuals chose to leave the valley in search of better circumstances elsewhere, especially in the wake of King Philip’s War, hundreds (if not thousands) remained in the lands of the Connecticut watershed largely hidden from historical view (Colonial Ecology, Atlantic Economy: Transforming Nature in Early New England, pp. 69-70).

Dr. Jason R. Mancini, Executive Director of Connecticut Humanities, co-founder of Akomawt Educational Initiative, and former Executive Director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, also observed in his study of Indigenous existence and community structure in New England:

At a time when the Indian population was perceived by Europeans to be vanishing, these individuals and groups were adapting and redefining themselves in ways not recognized or documented in contemporary historical accounts. The nature and extent of these connections are only realized by considering Indian reservation populations as part of a larger regional network of Indians and people of color... Indian presence on the landscape has been obscured by our inability to recognize individuals as “Indians.” By considering various biases, including those of race, identity, and mobility, and framing them in a study of population and community, the rich and detailed histories of Indian individuals emerge” (“Beyond Reservation: Indians, Maritime Labor, and Communities of Color from Eastern Long Island Sound, 1713-1861,” Connecticut History Review 54, no. 1, p. 162).

Because it can be challenging to trace Indigenous presence in colonial records, it is our goal to make relevant New Haven County and Superior Court cases more accessible to the public, in order to assist researchers and investigators who are studying Indigenous persons, groups, and lands in New England.

Overview of Indigenous Cases in the New Haven County Court Records

screencap of digital map rendered in color

Map of known Indigenous territories in southeastern New England from Please be advised the creators of this website state that these maps do not represent official or legal boundaries of Indigenous nations, and that people should contact specific nations with questions. Also, please note that most existing maps of Indigenous territories are problematic because they were created from the point of view of the dominant culture and contain inaccurate names and locations.

To date, we have discovered 56 cases (or portions of cases) in the County and Superior Court records pertaining to Indigenous persons, groups, and lands. Twenty-eight of these cases involved men, five involved women, one involved a minor girl, one involved a person whose demographic information was either lost or not adequately recorded, and twenty-one involved or mentioned Indigenous territories. Types of cases include, but are not limited to: debt, slavery, theft, trespass, petitions, covenants, conservatorships, inquests, partition, seisin and possession, claims against decedent’s estates, assault, breach of peace, vandalism, and wages.

Unfortunately, court clerks rarely noted an Indigenous person’s tribe or nation, instead designating them simply as “Indian.” However, this could also mean that said person was from the West Indies, which makes it even more difficult for researchers and investigators to pinpoint ancestral origin of those identified as Indigenous persons in the court records.

Here are the tribes and nations involved in New Haven County and Superior Court cases to date:

Paugussett – Turkey Hill 5
Hammonasset 1
Mohawk 1
Wawyachtonoc 1
Unidentified 48

It may be helpful to examine the towns listed as places of origin for various Indigenous persons, groups, and lands in the court records. For example, in 1729, an Indigenous woman named Hannah was prosecuted for stealing 14 pounds, 10 shillings in bills of credit from Joseph Smith of Derby. She was identified as the daughter of Robbin, an “Indian” of Milford. Given the location, it is possible that Robbin and Hannah may have been people of the Wepawaug or Paugussett Nation. According to the History of Milford, Connecticut, 1639-1939 by the Federal Writer’s Project for the State of Connecticut, the town was established when a group of English men journeyed to the Wepawaug in 1639 and purchased a tract of land from Ansantawae, a sachem of the Paugussett Nation. (pp. 3-4)

Here are the locations identified in cases involving Indigenous persons, groups, and land:

Milford 12
Branford 10
Derby 8
New Haven 6
Guilford 4
East Haven 2
Boston 1
Cheshire 1
Durham 1
Killingsworth 1
Middletown 1
Mohawk Village 1
New London 1
New Milford 1
Stratford 1
Wallingford 1
Unknown 4

Before we delve into the cases themselves, it is important to note that the New Haven County Court records are arranged in the following series: County Court Files, County Court Papers by Subject, Superior Court Files, and Superior Court Papers by Subject. When the State Library acquired these records from the Connecticut Judicial Branch in the early twentieth century, they were either received in a new order or subsequently reorganized. For further discussion of the idiosyncrasies and challenges of this arrangement, please see Loyalists in Connecticut? and More Loyalists in Connecticut?.

County Court Cases

several pages of paper with handwriting

General Assembly act, overseer accounts and reports, bills of costs, and bonds pertaining to the Turkey Hill tribe in Milford, 1791-1837.

As previously examined, the most common type of case involving Indigenous persons in the County Court was for debt. While there was ostensibly a Connecticut law enacted in May 1675 stating that “no judgment shall be rendered against any [I]ndian for any debt, or any contract, except for rents of lands hired and occupied by such [I]ndian,” (The Public Statute Laws of the State of Connecticut, Book 1, 1808, p. 389), Indigenous persons appear in several debt lawsuits. And as David J. Naumec noted, “Some Indians were able to defend themselves against such lawsuits, but many were unsuccessful” (“Connecticut Indians in the War of Independence,” Connecticut History Review, p. 189).

Here are the debt cases we discovered:

  • In March 1711, Cubitt Freeman of Milford (also known as Cubitt Carrbee or Cubit Carribe) was sued in two separate lawsuits, one plaintiff being Barnabas Baldwin of Milford and the other Samuell Clark of Milford.
  • In December 1712, Joseph Tuttle of East Haven sued Ephraim Morgan, an “Indyan” of Guilford. His surname was also spelled Morgen and Morgin in the court records. However, this lawsuit proved unsuccessful; in March 1714, Tuttle sued Samuell Crittenden, the constable of Guilford, for failing to bring Ephraim Morgan to court.
  • In March 1713, John Guy of Branford sued Constable Jafery (aka Jeffree), a “[B]ranford Indian.” According to an additional document in the subject category Executions (meaning the record of when and how a writ was completed, not to be confused with capital punishment) dated June 1713, Guy recovered judgement against “Constable Jeffrey a Branford Indian.”
  • In April 1715, Joseph Whiting of New Haven sued Anthony (aka Antony), “An Indian of Newhaven now resident at Guilford.” In subject category Costs, a bill dated March 1715 may be a document that was separated from this case, as it mentions “Antony Indian.”
  • In August 1715, Nathaniell Johnson of Branford sued John Indian of Branford, who was also known as George, “son of George Indian, Sachem of New Haven.” According to a document in Executions dated November 1715, Johnson recovered judgment against “John alias George Indian of Branford.”
  • In October 1715, Nathaniell Johnson, administrator of the estate of William Hoadly “late of Branford,” sued another William Hoadly of Branford, and the case mentioned that Johnson had previously sued “One Will Toto An Indian” in 1710 for money due to the Hoadly estate.
  • In October 1733, Ebenezer Hickcox of Waterbury sued Timothy Wooster of Derby for 3 pounds, 6 shillings. Wooster was executor of the estate of Toby, “an Indian Late of Derby.”
  • In March 1739, Joseph Peck of Guilford sued Ben Uncas of New London. Uncas’ surname was also spelled Uncass and Unkis in the court records.
  • According to a document in Executions dated May 1744, John Bell of New Haven sued John Robin, “Late of [M]id[d]letown in the County of Hartford an Indian Now Residing in New [H]aven” for 12 pounds.
  • In June 1807, Joseph Quoniche/Quonichet of Boston (surname may indicate Indigenous origin), “now residing in said New Haven,” sued Melzer Joy of Boston for 70 dollars.

While awareness of enslaved Africans in New England is growing, what may not be as well known is that the English colonists also enslaved Native Americans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Margaret Ellen Newell wrote in her examination of Indigenous slavery:

New England governments constructed a legal system that effectively channeled a substantial portion of the region’s free Indians into labor for English households. Colonial courts increased the sentencing of Indians to terms of servitude and even slavery as punishment for crime and debt. This new technique of judicial enslavement added many hundreds of additional Indians to an already sizable – and reproducing – population of Indian slaves and servants in New England cities, towns, and households (Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery, p. 11).

Here are the cases involving enslaved Indigenous persons that we discovered:

  • In February 1715, Richard Hall sued Benjamin Smith for covenant broken. Hall’s wife Hannah had instructed Smith (captain of the sloop Elisabeth) to sell her husband’s personal effects at arrival in Carolina and purchase “two Indians male,” but this never occurred.
  • In November 1745, Samuel Tyler of Wallingford sued Mathew McCure of Killingworth over the disputed enslavement status of a girl named Nelle (age 8 or 9). Because she was “born of an Indian Free Woman... she was not a Servant and Slave for life.” Nelle’s mother was further identified as “A Native of Long [I]sland.”
  • On the back of an evidence summons for a trespass case between Israel Smith (plaintiff), Yale Bishop and Samuell Gilbert (defendants) in September 1750, there is an advertisement requesting the return of Sabina, “an Indian Girl about twenty years old” who escaped her captor, George Gorham of Stratford. Gorham offered 5 pounds for Sabina’s recapture.
  • In October 1750, Joshua Atwater of Wallingford sued John Hurlbutt of Middletown for failing to pay wages owed for Peter’s military service during “a then intended Expedition against Canada.” Peter was identified as an “Indian” and a “Slave for Life.”

The remaining cases involving Indigenous persons cover a variety of topics:

  • In September 1703, Louis Liron of Milford sued Cush and Hoso (aka Jack), “[I]ndians of Said Millford,” for stealing goods from his house.
  • In December 1710, Jean Hiolle sued Cush of Milford for stealing goods from his dwelling house.
  • In October 1717, Richard Wilford of Branford sued Jeffery (aka Jeffry), “an Indian Now sojo[u]rning in Branford,” claiming that he “Ran away with a Horse of mine.”
  • As discussed in the Overview section, Hannah of Milford, “daughter of Robbin [or Robben] a Milford Indian,” was prosecuted for stealing bills of credit from Joseph Smith of Derby in June 1729. That same month, she was also prosecuted in a separate case alongside John Towner of Derby for being his accomplice in said theft.
  • In February 1766, several men, including David Indian of New Haven, were prosecuted by Connecticut (under Rex) for making effigies of Tilley Blakeslee and John Wise, “two of the Grandjury men” of New Haven, and hanging them on a gallows.
  • In November 1798, John Harris, “an [I]ndian and a transient of said Cheshire,” was prosecuted by the State of Connecticut for assaulting Samuel Tallmadge of Cheshire.
  • In November 1799, Jonah Newton of Milford, overseer of the “Turkey Hill Indians so called in said Milford which Lands contain about 100 acres, lying at said Turkey Hill in said Milford,” demanded an account from Peter Merrick of Milford concerning his activities as a bailiff of the group’s land, goods, and other merchandise.

We also found portions of cases that were either removed from their original order or lost:

  • In Files, we found only the account and court costs from a January 1730 case regarding “the affair of James Indian.”
  • In Papers by Subject category Costs, Dr. Josiah Dudley’s bill dated November 1810 references a transaction with a person identified as “Indian.”

In addition to identifying cases involving Indigenous persons and groups, we are also tracking cases that reveal Indigenous inhabitancy and territories. Property disputes, especially in the early 1700s, sometimes mentioned that an English colonist’s land claims contained or bordered places with names like “Indian River” or “Indian Meadow.”

Here are the cases we identified in the County Court Files pertaining to Indigenous land:

  • In July 1706, the town of New Milford sued Zachariah Ferriss of Stratford for trespass. Witnesses stated that he was seen plowing lands near Wawyachtonoc wigwams and planting fields.
  • In March 1731, Joseph Tuttle of East Haven sued Peter Woodward of New Haven for “Demolish[ing] and Destroy[ing] three certain heaps of Stones Lawfully Landmarks Erected in three Several places which were part of ye bound or Land Marks of a tract of Land belonging to him s[ai]d Tuttle Lying at a place Called ye old [I]ndian field in East Haven.”
  • In August 1733, John Woodward, John Trowbridge, and Daniel Trowbridge of New Haven sued Joseph Tuttle Sr. of New Haven for trespass, and the court records mention “town & proprietors Right to s[ai]d Lands which were called [I]ndian lands.”
  • In December 1752, Edward Allen of Milford sued Peter and David Prudden of Milford for debt related to land purchase at “a place called the Indian Side in s[ai]d Milford.”
  • In November 1753, John Rose of Branford sued Barnabas Milford of Branford for trespassing “with force & arms” in a meadow “Containing about One hundred Acres being Called the Great Cove at Indian Neck.”
  • In October 1759, Thomas Gould of Branford sued Micah and Samuel Palmer of Branford for taking grass from land owned by Gould in Branford “at a Place Called Indian neck.”
  • In December 1770, Benjamin Spees of Milford sued Samuel Sanford Jr. of Milford for seisin and possession of land in Milford “bound... Eastwardly by Indian River so called.”
  • In November 1791, William Durand of Milford sued Edward Carrington of Milford for debt, and the property attached to the writ included “a certain piece of Land lying in Milford” and “one half of a Grist Mill Lying at the Gulf at the mouth of Indian River.”
  • In November 1791, Pierpont Edwards of New Haven sued William and Rebeckah Nott of Milford for partition land in Milford that was bordered “easterly on [I]ndian river or mill pond.”
  • In November 1798, there was a great land case involving a place called Mohawk Village. Reuben Fowler of Durham sued Philip Stedman of Little Niagara, New York for covenant broken, claiming that Stedman had agreed to sell him 30,000 acres of land “lying & being on Grand River in Upper Canada, being part of a tract of Land which the Government of Great Britain, Deeded to the Indians & part of a Township of twelve Miles Square which said Indians deeded to said Stedman lying next above the Mohawk Village extending Six Miles each side of said Grand River & known by the name of Stedmans Manor,” but refused “to perform his Covenants as aforesaid.”
  • In November 1798, Moses Riggs of Derby sued Lewis and George Hepburn of New Haven for entering his “well Seised & possessed” property in Derby that bordered on “Indian Lands northerly” and evicting him “with force & arms.”
  • In November 1810, David Buel Jr. of Killingworth sued Joseph Wilcox 2nd of Killingworth for “a certain piece or tract of land lying & being in Guilford in s[ai]d New Haven County at a place called Hammonasset quarter.”

Here are the cases we identified in the County Court Papers by Subject pertaining to Indigenous land (and in one case, food):

  • In Miscellaneous – Common Fields, Branford, there is a 1754 case where Noah Rogers, Abigail Barker, and Isaac Harrison petition for a common field in Branford “at a place caled Indian Neck.”
  • In Miscellaneous – Common Fields, Branford, there is a March 1776 case where Abel Page and others petitioned for common field in Branford next to “the lower End of Indian Neck (so called).”
  • In Miscellaneous – Common Fields, New Haven, there is an April 1774 case where Thomas Willmot and others asked for permission to put up gates “for Planting Indian Corn this approaching Summer.”
  • In Partition Land, there is a March 1779 case where Enoch and Sarah Clark Milford sued Samuel Prudden of Milford for land in the town that included “one other Peece Laying at a Place Called the Indian Side Meadow near the Great Bridge being Salt Meadow.”
  • In Partition Land, there is an August 1825 case where East Haven sued Willett Heminway and others for “a certain parcel of land situated in said East Haven containing about twenty rods.” Evidence included a journal from a 1640 General Court session stating that the land contained “planting grounds... betwixt the pastors farm and the Indian [wigwams].”

In subject category Conservators and Guardians, there is an entire folder of documents, dated 1791-1837, involving members of the Turkey Hill tribe who resided in Milford (see photo at the beginning of this section). The earliest document is an act of the General Assembly:

At a General Assembly of the State of Connecticut holden at Hartford on the second Thursday of May AD 1791

Whereas it is represented to this Assembly, that there are living in Milford in the County of New Haven a small number of Indians upon a tract of Land containing about One hundred Acres, lying upon the Northwestwardly part of said Town at a place called Turkey Hills, which Land was anciently reserved for the Use of the Indians; and that Trespasses are frequently Committed upon the same by cutting, and carrying away the Wood and Timber and that said Indians have made complaint thereof.

Whereupon it is Resolved by this Assembly that the County Court, within and for the County of New Haven, [illegible] and they are hereby Authorized and impowered to appoint an Overseer to said Indians, to order, and direct them in the management of their Affairs, with powers to prosecute all Trespasses in his own Name as Overseer as aforesaid, that shall be committed on said Land to final Judgment and the arrable Lands to lease out, or otherwise to improve to the best advantage for said Indians, and render his Account thereof from Time to Time when required by said Court

A true Copy of Record Examined By Samuel Wyllys Secretary

The next document, dated 1811, is an account from overseer Jonah Newton. The remaining documents include various bills of costs, bonds, and overseer accounts/reports.

Superior Court Cases

two piles of paper with typed text

Papers from Roswell Moses; et al. vs. Turkey Hill Indians, 1871 and McClellan Mathewson vs. Eunice A. Wakelee; et al., 1909.

We have not yet begun processing the Superior Court Files, but we have found cases involving Indigenous persons, groups, and lands in the Superior Court Papers by Subject.

Subject category Indians contains two cases relating to land that the Turkey Hill tribe owned in Derby:

  • In May 1871, Roswell Moses, Eliza Franklin, Lavinia Breckenridge, Elizabeth Moses, and Georgiana Moses of Derby, who were “descendants and members of the tribe of Indians formerly located in the town of Derby, and known as the Turkey Hill Indians,” petitioned for seven acres of land in Derby to be sold “to the individual advantage and gain of the several members thereof and not injurious to the interest of said tribe.” In addition to the typed case, there is a photocopy of several handwritten papers. We are currently attempting to locate the original documents.
  • In October 1909, McClellan Mathewson, overseer of the Turkey Hill tribe, sued Eunice A. Wakelee and the other heirs of deceased former overseer Watrous C. Wakelee, who had “sold certain real estate belonging to said tribe under the authority of the Superior Court of New Haven County, for the sum of $1,000” in May 1871. However, Wakelee “did not deposit any money in the Derby Savings Bank in the name of said tribe, or in his own name as overseer of said tribe, or in any other manner for the benefit of said tribe.” When Wakelee passed away in 1878, his estate was distributed to his heirs. Inexplicably, the Superior Court did not appoint a new overseer for the tribe until 1909—who was now suing Wakelee’s heirs for the proceeds of the land sale on the tribe’s behalf. The defendants argued that Wakelee’s estate “was settled and distributed more than thirty years ago... and therefore any claim against the estate... is barred by limitation of time.” Sadly, the Court sided with the defendants, ruling that the plaintiffs’ complaint was insufficient. The tribe appealed, but we do not have any records of the outcome at this time.

We identified one case involving an Indigenous place name in Partition Land:

  • In March 1779, Enoch and Sarah Clark of Milford sued Samuel Prudden of Milford regarding disputed land in Milford that included “one other Piece Laying at a Place Called the Indian Side Meadow near the Great Bridge, being Salt Meadow.” This was likely a continuation of the trial listed in the County Court Papers by Subject section.

Finally, we found five cases of deceased Indigenous persons in Inquests (judicial inquiries into accidental, unusual, or suspicious deaths):

  • In June 1719, Mary, “an Indian Woman ye Servant of mr. Hez[ekiah] Tallcott,” of Durham was “shott of a Gun loaden with Lead” by “Coffe a negro man, the servant of mr. Hez. Tallcott.”
  • In September 1722, Cush, “an Indian” of unknown place, was “found dead in Gershom Browns well,” died “by falling accidentally into said well.”
  • In May 1735, Peter Sunk, “alias Hoase an Indian fellow” of Derby, was “shot thro[ugh] ye Body by a larg[e] bullet” by Noah Durand of Derby who claimed he mistook Peter as “the white of a dears tail” but the Court judged he “did willfully wickedly cruely malisiously & feloniously murder the s[ai]d Peter.”
  • In February 1763, Mary Will, “otherwise called Mary Cam an Indian Squaw” of Derby, died “a natirel Dea[th].”
  • In April 1771, Joseph Simon, “an Indian Man” of Guilford, died by “Drinking of Strong Drink became Intoxicated thereby by means whereof he was Exposed to the Inclemency of the Weather on the Evening preceeding and in a Cold Storm of Rain on the Day Following by which Means he became Chill[e]d.”

As we discover more cases involving Indigenous persons, groups, and lands in the New Haven County and Superior Court records, we will continue to share our findings.

As noted in a previous post, the records for these cases, as well as several of the cases previously profiled in this blog, are currently in the process of being digitized. They will eventually be available for public viewing at the Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA).

This project is made possible through funding from the Historic Documents Preservation fund of the Office of the Public Records Administrator. We also recognize the past support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

logo of stylized book and color splashes representing each department with text: CT State Library Preserving the Past. Informing the Future. logo of eagle with text: National Archives National Historical Publications ampersand Records Commission

 Add a Comment



Enter your e-mail address to receive notifications of new posts by e-mail.


  Follow Us

  Return to Blog
This post is closed for further discussion.

Connecticut State Library | 231 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106 | 860-757-6500 * Toll-free 866-886-4478
Disclaimers & Permissions | Privacy Policy | State of Connecticut Home Page

The State of Connecticut is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and strongly encourages the applications of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities.