Native American Soldiers and the 6th CT Regiment
By: Daniel L. Bosques
Sleeping in the shadows of history are the Native participants of the conflict which fueled the colonies to fight for independence from Great Britain. What many have learned about the participation of Native Americans during the Revolutionary War is sometimes vague, and misrepresented. These forgotten details do not void their existence, but it is in the record of service, pension, letters, and personal accounts that we rediscover these gems and bring them to light. This fascinating aspect of our past will hopefully be better understood with a little background information that helps paint the picture of the assemblage of soldiers to which the Indians belonged. In turn, within this column lies the opportunity for a perspective of imagining the era of the Revolutionary War with much more diversity than the scenes we have been nurtured to rely upon. Understanding that there exist societal differences between Native scouts, warriors, militiamen, and enlisted Indian soldiers is where we begin; it is as important as knowing of the unique distinctions amongst the units and their command, such as grenadiers, infantrymen, mounted dragoons, artillerymen, and so on. The intent herein is to acquire a fresh view on the Native American participation during the Revolutionary War while revealing details of the Indian participants allied to the Americans, and particularly, how this all relates to the 6th Connecticut Regiment.
In an attempt to look at historical events, the time-traveler perspective could help us understand the era with more depth. If we are to pair the understanding of the period in history with an emic cultural angle, we have the recipe for a relative comprehension of the past. The issue one may encounter when digging into the chronicles of history is that many authors of old reserve the representation of the Indian to be that of a distant and ghostly personage. However, other versions with which we may not be as familiar come from prominent individuals in American history. Regarding his personal experiences with Natives during the Revolutionary War, General Washington writes to the Massachusetts General Court on September 28, 1775:
“… the Oneida Chief … his tribe has been very friendly to the United Colonies and his report to his Nation at his return has important consequences to the public interest. I have studiously endeavored to make his visit agreeable. Having expressed an inclination to pay his respects to the General Court, I thought it proper to let them know who he was and upon what errand he came, not doubting, but your honorable board will join me in showing him all proper civilities. I have directed a present be prepared for him at his return.”
This is one of several letters concerning Joseph Louis Cook, who would become Lt. Colonel Cook, the highest-ranking commissioned Native officer during the War. It was not long after this visit that Cook was sent on intelligence missions on behalf of the Continental Army and friend, General Phillip Schuyler. By January of the next year, Washington refers to the Oneida Chief as Colonel Louis who had honored him with his visit.
Washburn (1975) fantastically points out a moment in time when the Native participation had its blunt beginning in the expulsion of the historical record when he makes note of the “Preliminary Articles of Peace of 1782 [when] no mention was made of the Indians, [and] despite their important role and visible presence, they had receded into the shadows of European diplomacy. Recognition of their existence and status was easier to ignore or deny”. What he is essentially stating is that despite the Indian participation in the War, which was crucial to the British defeat, this history slipped through the cracks of what we now hold as common knowledge. Washburn (1975) states that the “shadowy Indian [who] operated physically from the interior forests of North America made his presence felt suddenly and violently on the seaboard settlements, [was] also in the subconscious mind of the colonists as a central ingredient in the conflict with the Mother Country”. Even his view on the image of the Native American was affected by the tradition of the spectral Indian. Indeed, military records of the involvement of Natives go beyond the forest and into the uniformed ranks of the regiments.
At this point in history, acculturation of the indigenous Americans and settlers had several generations of influence from cultural exchange, and except for the Native people who moved further into the interiors and away from the settlements, assimilation was a reality for many Native American people. Evidenced in this culturally intricate time are a variety of things that led people to commit to circumstantially different decisions in life. Places like Schaghticoke in Kent, Connecticut would hold a population of Native American people who wanted to move further away from European settlements (DeForest, 1852). Moravian missions were safe places to convene with loved ones and live in settlements, and the way of the world evolved for the Natives.
Further north, the Stockbridge Mission would not only be home to many of the Mattabesic Algonquin stock of Native Americans that lived there by way of Kent but some of those Natives, whose forebears’ existence was in the southern parts of Connecticut hundreds of years prior, would choose to take up arms against Britain. The establishment of the Indian Corps famously known as the Stockbridge Mohicans was comprised of men who served in New England and New York companies (Walling, 2008). In the fall of 1777, Abraham Nimham made an application to Congress to be reported to Major General Gates for service (DeVoe, 1880). Captain Nimham was the son of Daniel Nimham, the last sachem of the Wappinger Indians in Fishkill, New York (Musso, 2017). After the assignment and the winter of 1777-78, in a letter to General Gates, Captain Nimham (1778) requests that all of the Stockbridge men serve together:
“Brothers - I come [to] ask you a question [and] hope you will help us. Now I mention that with which I have been concerned. I had some brothers enlisted into the Continental service in several Regiments. Now, Brothers, I should be very glad if you will discharge them from your Regiments. We always want to be in one body… when we are in service… do not think that I want to get these Indians away from their soldierings… but we want to be together always & we will be always ready to go anywhere you want us to go long as this war stands &tc.
To the Most Honorable
Major Genl Gates” (Horatio Gates Papers, 1778).
Now, to envision an army which already has enlisted soldiers in uniform would mean to imagine soldiers dressed in a uniformly mannered fashion. Yes, men who were Native dressed in their cultural attire, especially when taking part in specialized Indian Ranger units, or on scouting missions, but likewise, Indian men, such as those that Captain Nimham refers to in his letter, would be dressed in proper uniform when in the service of their Regiment. As evidenced in this letter, we find that several Regiments Nimham refers to have Native enlisted men. It must have been a marvelous sight to see a company made up of Native men, all fighting for the same cause, as well as those men being uniformed and part of their mixed regimental unit. Surviving military index cards help pull together the formation of the Indian Company of the Stockbridge Mohicans.
At times, evidence of an individual’s service may appear as a probate record, a death record, a pension or tribal list. This consideration supports the “claim that more Indians served with the armed forces than appear in official state and Continental records” (Naumec, 2008, p. 58). However, even so, the number of official Native American enlistments as uniformed soldiers numbers to 213 who served from 1775 - 1783. This conservative estimate continues to grow, and bears witness to the tradition of Connecticut soldiers and Indian warriors serving in integrated forces from the time of the Pequot War to the point of the Revolutionary War. In year one of conflict alone, 14 Native American men enlisted with the 7th Company of the 6th Connecticut Regiment “under Captain Edward Mottt of Preston… which comprised nearly 20% of the men in this unit… and five other men of color enlisted in th[is] same company” (Mancini, 2008, p. 26).
Pvt. Joseph Hannabal was one of those Native men who enlisted with the 6th CR, was detached to serve in Nimham’s Corps of Indian Rangers (also known as the Stockbridge Mohicans/Stockbridge Militia). After surviving the Fight at King’s Bridge in August of 1778 where the brutal ambush of the Stockbridge Mohican’s took place, he returned to finish his service in Connecticut with the 6th CR. At least 19 Connecticut troops were a part of this elite fighting unit. In that same year of 1778, at least 93 Indian men served in “Connecticut forces; 87 in infantry regiments and seven in sailing vessels” (Walling, 2005).
The fact remains that time will pass, and these histories will continue to be revealed. The suggestion would be not to rely on movies like The Patriot as an accurate portrayal of sympathy for people of color or for an accurate lens on the reality of Indian participation… or the lack thereof if one is to rely on the portrayal set forth by Hollywood. When history becomes pop-culture, even if incorrect, it is challenging to reverse the erroneous perception to understand things more accurately. Indeed, our work is to teach the histories which permit us to share the content we learn along the way, and, alas, it is that past we seek to correctly interpret. This herein is not the entire story of the Indian’s participation during the Revolutionary War, but indeed, we have revealed details of the Indian participants allied to the Americans, and how this information relates and ties into the 6th Connecticut Regiment.
For further reading and a list of African American and Native American participants during the Revolutionary War, please download the two PDFs available from the Daughters of the American Revolution titled Forgotten Patriots - African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources, and Studies. This can be found at https://www.dar.org/library/forgotten-patriots/forgotten-patriots-book
DeForest, J. W. (1852). History of the Indians of Conn. from the earliest known period. Hartford: William James Hamersley.
DeVoe, Thomas F. (1880). The massacre of the Stockbridge Indians, 1778. Magazine of American History 5: 187-94
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Gates Papers (1778). David Library of the American Revolution, Washington Crossing, PA.
Mancini, J. R., & Naumec, D. J. (2005). Connecticut’s African & Native American
Revolutionary War enlistments, 1775-1783. Mashantucket, CT: Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
Mancini, J.R. in Naumec, D. J. (2008). “In contempt and oblivion:” The transformation of Connecticut’s Indian population in the era of the American Revolution. Proceedings of the Northeastern native peoples & the American revolutionary era, 1760-1810 symposium.
Mashantucket, CT: Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
Musso, A. P. (2017, November 07). Fishkill monument pays tribute to the chief who fought in Revolution: Dateline. Retrieved March 24, 2018, from https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com
Naumec, D. J. (2008). Connecticut’s Native troops. Proceedings of the Northeastern native peoples & the American revolutionary era, 1760-1810 symposium. Mashantucket, CT: Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
Naumec, D. J. (2008). Proceedings of the Northeastern native peoples & the American revolutionary era, 1760-1810 symposium. Mashantucket, CT: Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
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