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Who are the Narragansett Indians?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

The Narragansett Indians were a tribe of Native Americans who lived in the area near and around modern-day Rhode Island. This tribe was a powerful military force, and culturally, they were fairly similar to other tribes in New England. Their population was devastated by war and disease in the 1700s, and at one point, they were actually down to only 10% of their original numbers. Many modern Narragansett Indians live on reservations set aside for them in various parts of New England, which they share with other tribes.

In terms of daily life, the Narragansett Indians combined farming with hunting. They grew different varieties of squash, along with beans and corn, which were the common crops that were grown by most East Coast Native Americans, and they hunted any kind of game they could capture. The Narragansett Indians were also very skilled when it came to making canoes, and they would do a fair amount of fishing, sometimes at sea, and sometimes in rivers.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The tribe was somewhat nomadic, which was a common trait among New England tribes because of the terrible winters. The only reliable food in the frigid months was meat, so they went inland away from the sea, where they could more easily find game. During each part of the year, they lived in different semi-permanent structures. When they were living inland, they used huts known as wigwams that were covered in bark, and in the warm months when they were living near the sea, they would often live in so-called long-houses, which were sort of like cabins, but shaped like trailers.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the Narragansett Indians had a fearsome reputation as warriors, and they were generally dominant in their region. They fought quite frequently with other nearby tribes, and they had an especially rocky relationship with the Pequot. When they first made contact with Europeans, they were fairly comfortable with the Dutch, but they immediately had problems with the English.

Not long after the arrival of the settlers, the Narragansett Indians started having some trouble with the Mohawks, and they had several battles with them, along with epidemics of European diseases like smallpox. Eventually, this weakened the tribe, but they were strong enough to get involved in the Native American rebellion called King Phillip's War, where they lost many more of their tribesmen. War reports from the time suggest that there were terrible massacres of Narragansett women and children during King Phillip's War. Eventually, the few remaining members of the tribe were forced onto reservations.

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