An ancient religious rite called the Pawwaw, was annually celebrated by the Indians and commonly lasted several hours every night for two or three weeks. About 1690, they convened to perform it on Stratford Point near the town. During the nocturnal ceremony the English saw or imagined they saw, devils rise out of the sea wrapped up in sheets of flame and flying round the Indian camp, while the Indians were screaming, cutting and prostrating themselves before their supposed fiery gods. In the midst of the tumult the devils darted in among them, seized several and mounted with them into the air; the cries and groans issuing from whom quieted the rest. In the morning the limbs of the Indians, all shriveled and covered with sulfur were found in different parts of the town. Astonished at these spectacles, the people of Stratford began to think the devils would take up their abode among them and called together all the ministers in the neighborhood to exorcise and lay them. The ministers began and carried on their warfare with prayer, hymns and adulation; but the Pawwaws continued and the devils would not obey. The inhabitants were about to quit the town when Mr. Nell spoke and said: I would to God that Mr. Visey the Episcopal minister at New York was here for he would expel these evil spirits. They laughed at his advice; but on his reminding them of the little maid who directed Naaman to a cure for his leprosy, they voted him their permission to bring Mr. Visey at the next Pawwaw. Mr. Visey attended accordingly and as the Pawwaw commenced with howlings and whoops. Mr. Visey read portions of the Holy Scripture, litany, etc. The sea was put into great motion, the Pawwaw stopped and the Indians dispersed and never more held a Pawwaw in Stratford. The inhabitants were struck with wonder at this event and held a conference to discover the reason why the devils and Pawwawers had obeyed the prayers of one minister and had paid no regard to those of fifty. Some thought that the reading of the Holy Scripture, others that the Litany and Lords Prayer; some again that the Episcopal power of the minister and others all united were the means of obtaining the heavenly blessing they had received. Those who believed that the holy scriptures and litany were effectual against the devil and his legions declared for the Church of England; while the majority ascribed their deliverance to a complot between the devil and the Episcopal minister with a view to overthrow Christs vine planted in New England. Each party acted with more zeal than prudence. This story of expelling the devils from Stratford has as much force against the Congregationalists as the story still told as to the cause of the mosquitoes in Stratford. That cause it is well known is the great slat meadow of 1,500 to 2,000 acres below Stratford on the Sound, yet a jocose story is told of another cause.


Powwow 1690


Stratford Point


Ancient Arrowhead

In the autumn of 1883, Mr. L.B. Beers and Mr. Robert Curtis of Stratford were hunting for Indian relics on the bank near the mouth of the Housatonic River, when coming to a place of clean loam ground Mr. Beers picked up a small piece of soapstone pot or dish and Mr. Curtis soon found another stone that had the appearance of being worked out, but on examination it was thrown away as of no value. The hunt continued Mr. Curtis found a broken piece of spear head and directly Mr. Beers picked up a poll or head of a stone axe and called for the piece that had been thrown away, which being secured fitted to the head of the axe perfectly. The idea then came to Mr. Curtis that Indians would be likely to bury in light loamy earth and that this place would be favorable in that respect and proposed to his fellow laborer to dig up the ground and thereupon went to work with his cane. Soon he struck something hard and dug it out with his hands and found it to be a large spearhead. After working a little longer Mr. Beers proposed to look elsewhere, but Mr. Curtis continued the work and soon found a small nest of implements, all broken apparently by fire heat. On further digging the articles found at this time were pieces of two axes, two chisels and a few pieces of other implements. The search has been continued with intervals to the present time and the result is the following, all the articles being in small pieces in consequence of fire heat: One axe 10 inches long, 6 wide, nicely worked; one axe 7 inches long and 4 wide, approaching round in form; one axe 8 inches long and 5 wide, nearly entire and nicely worked; one tomahawk 4 inches by 2; one pestle 13 inches long, nicely worked; one pestle 12 inches long, rough; one 9 inches long, rough; eighteen pieces of other pestles; nineteen chisels from 3 inches to 9 in length, some of them very fine grain stones, some of them coarse; one soapstone food dish 11 inches long, 8 inches wide, 4 in depth, nearly complete and ornamented with notches on the edge, the shape is triangular, oval; one soapstone food dish 12 inches long, 7 inches in width and 3 in depth; five rubbing stones; one drill 2 inches in length, very delicate; one coarse triangular, cone shaped stone about 4 pounds in weight, use not known; 75 pieces of different sizes, comprising knives, spear and arrow heads; 1,000 pieces of small implements broken beyond designation. The supposition is that these implements were from time to time thrown into sacrificial fires as offerings in worship and afterwards buried with quantities of hickory nuts which were found as charred ashes in great numbers. This subject may be further treated in a following part of this book in regard to Indian worship.

1886 - In the present town of Stratford there are but few relics of the natives to be seen, except quantities of oyster and clam shells in three localities. At the edge of the marsh west of the Lordship farm and a hundred rods north of the dwelling on that farm, is still a quantity of clam shells probably left there by the Indians, but it is not extensive. At a small fresh water pond on the northern part of the Lordship farm on the north side of the pound the oyster shells, many of large size are in considerable quantities. They are largely covered by the soil but are in some places nearly two feet deep. On the east side of the Great Neck in several places are beds of oyster shells left by the Indians, which indicate a long occupation of the region to make the accumulations.

December 27, 1889 - INDIAN GRAVES A-PLENTY: Places in Connecticut Where Diggers Find No End of Bones and Relics: The whole of this section of Connecticut seems to have once been a vast burying ground, either of Indians or some extinct savage race. Many skeletons have been dug up in Bridgeport and vicinity during the past few years and now specimens of wonderfully well preserved bones and bodies are constantly being disclosed. The town of Stratford comes in for a large share of renown on account of the many strange graves which have been opened. Curious pieces of pottery, bearing rude ornamentation, are frequently taken from Stratford graves and gorgeous trinkets which are different from those found in other places, show that the tribes in the several districts were, quite unlike in their habits and modes of ornamentation. Bordering on the Sound, in Lower Stratford and near the "Spiritualists' Hole," so called because a company of Spiritualists forty years ago dug for many days and nights in search of Captain Kidd's buried gold, there remains the distinct evidence of an Indian village and numerous graves of dead savages have been thrown open by men who have more care for the study of extinct people than for the sacred preservation of their last resting places. The village of the braves was situated on the edge of a great marsh near the present Lordship farm. In some places the clam and oyster shells are nearly two feet deep. These beds indicate a long occupancy of the region.

March 6, 1928 - The "sand sucker" dredge at the mouth of the Housatonic River in Stratford, which is digging a channel and filling the approach to the Bridgeport Airport at Lordship has turned up hundreds of arrowheads and other Indian relics from the river's bed. Here is direct proof that the mouth of the Housatonic was once indeed a happy hunting ground for the now vanished red man. If we are not mistaken, the first time that the white man really had a good look at those pleasant scenes around the mouth of the Housatonic, the Indians were not hunting but were being hunted. The Pequot war had broken out at New London in 1637 and the Pequots were being harried down the coast pursued on land by a force under Captains Mason and Stoughton and threatened from the water by ships which put in at favorable opportunities. It was on this warlike excursion that the beauties of Quinnipiac (New Haven) forcibly struck the white soldiers and it was later at Southport that the Pequot Warriors were surrounded in the swamp (now marked with a monument just off the Post Road) and either killed or captured. It would be interesting to visualize the terrain in and around the mouth of the Housatonic In the days when the Indians lost their arrows shooting at water fowl in the river, or perhaps shooting at fish, which they sometimes captured in that manner. Both shores of the river, down to the salt marshes, were undoubtedly densely wooded. Near the Sound the woods tapered into pleasant salt meadows with waving rushes. Game of all kinds abounded. The river teemed with fish. Every year vast swarms of salmon and shad came up the river to spawn. Wild birds of all kinds were present in great profusion. The surface of the water was always dotted with geese, duck and other water fowl. Deer roamed everywhere. The water of the river itself was fresh, clear and sparkling. It was free alike of mud or of any taint of animal refuse. Shellfish lined the shores in great quantities and formed a staple and welcome food for the Indians. No wonder the "first white people who came exclaimed that it was a natural paradise with food in abundance for the mere taking. The white man cut down the trees without replacing them and scarified the soil so that the river no longer ran clear, but was polluted with mud. Then he poured in worse things than mud so that the fish could no longer spawn there. Then he cleaned out the shellfish from the mouth of the river and killed most of the game. Today after nearly 300 years he is just waking up to the extent of his depredations and really beginning to be ashamed.

The following story is about the Native Americans who inhabited Lordship and Stratford before the English settled the area in 1639. Eagles Nest is the tank farm across from Pleasure Beach. Before the late 1880's, Long Beach was the entire beach including Pleasure Beach. It was part of Lordship and just across Lewis Gut from Eagles Nest and Muskrat Hill. Pleasure Beach was ceded to Bridgeport when West Stratford became part of Bridgeport in the 1880's.

December 11, 1977: INDIANS AND THE MARSH by Susan Parker: For two years I drove through the Great Meadows Marsh daily and watched the changes that each season brought to the beauty of the marsh. When I learned from my friend Marcia Stewart of the Protect Your Environment (PYE) a 500 member conservation organization that the existence of the marsh was in jeopardy, I volunteered to help fight that destruction. Marcia explained that she had submitted an article to the State Historic Preservation Officer which pointed out the historical significance of the marsh for colonial times. However the state officer replied that more archeological evidence was needed to prove that the marsh was actually the site of Indian camps. I was aided in my research by people who responded to a PYE request for information on Great Meadows Indian sites published in the Bridgeport Post. These sources including Franz Goldbach, an officer at the Stratford Historical Society and Bruce Schow, provided me with published information about Indian life at Muskrat Hill and other nearby Indian camps. As fact began to emerge from legend, I derived the following conclusions concerning the Great Meadows March of Lordship. From the earliest colonial records the name Great Meadows was applied to the marsh which then stretched from the mouth of Johnsons Creek all the way to the Pootatuck (Housatonic) River and inland to the settlers Old Field, Great Swamp and the New Field which are all shown on a map in Howard Wilcoxsins interesting History of Stratford 1639-1939. In 1614 when the first ship sailed into Stratfords Housatonic River Channel, Captain Block noted in his log that Indians were clamming and musseling along the harbor mouth. Looking at the industrialized area where AVCO, Sikorsky Field and numerous other industries are located today, how can we imagine this area as it once existed a natural fish hatchery, a bird migration funnel for thousands of wild birds and a bountiful home for wild game? Strange as it seems, such were the prevailing conditions which made the Great Meadows Marsh a favorite planting and hunting ground for the Cupheag Indians, as well as tribes from all over the northeast coast. Another vision this researcher now conjures with difficulty is the inlet from the Sound which flows beside the Shell Oil tanks (called Johnsons Creek). Excavations at this site of Indian Habitation, known as Muskrat Hill, were conducted in the 1930s and findings were reported in the Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Connecticut. The article describes the village site as located on the southwestern corner of the township of Stratford bounded on the west by Johnsons Creek to the south by the Great Salt Marshes to the east by Surf Avenue and to the north by St. Michaels Cemetery. Indian remains were found in shell heaps which formed at the village site. These yielded arrowheads, a beautiful Iroquois bowl and Indian jewelry as well as the remains of corn cake. Before traffic snarls and pollution, in the days of the Indians, Muskrat Hill was an ideal spot for a camp. The Great Salt Marshes extended for miles like a prairie and contained water fowl by the thousands. There was also an unlimited quantity of fish and shell foods. Because of the camps position on the south side of the hill, the Indians were protected from cold winds to the north and west. When workmen began to dig into a sand pit in this area, preparing for cemetery expansion, they found a large fire pit about three feet across and circular. The archeologist at the site, Claude Coffin described what he found. In the bank where the workmen had dug, about three feet from the top, I found a large fire pit. It was about three feet across and circular. Part of the pit had been dug away by the workmen, but in what remained I found two thirds of a large, beautiful Iroquois bowl with square neck and with the facing on the four sides profusely decorated. It had a round bottom and was about twelve inches high. There Mr. Coffin also discovered a fine bone awl; a shell necklace made from pierces jingol shells and a corn cake. In another pit at Muskrat Hill, oyster shells, escallop shells and some pieces of pottery were found among a mass of charcoal and stones which were badly cracked from heat. I thought the most interesting finding Mr. Coffin located was a ceremonial animal burial pit on high ground overlooking the flats just east of where Indian burial sites had been found. In the pit below layers of shells eight inches thick and ashes and sand lay the skeletons of three Indian pets placed in a triangle formation. They were all lying on their stomachs, feet folded under them and all had their heads pointing to the east. Near them were two very nice conch shell cups. Since this sort of animal burial, according to Dr. MacCurdy, were found in the caves of France and Spain, it is interesting to imagine the Cupheag Indians acquired this ritual. Further proof that Indians occupied the Muskrat Hill Indian Camp were found in an archeological dig made by Mr. Coffin on the south side of Muskrat Hill at the base of the eastern end of the hill where the principal Indian village may have been located. These fire pits were more shallow and filled with some quahog shells and oyster shells about four to six inches thick. Along with them were discovered a number of small pottery fragments and some very fine arrowheads. North of Muskrat Hill and west along the high bluffs of Johnsons Creek there was another Indian camping site where several fire pits were found. In these Mr. Coffin unearthed a small black pottery bowl, a piece of a turtle shell cup, escallop shells and a common Iroquois bowl among other fragments. Evidently a John Dawson also did some digging at Muskrat Hill in 1939. He discovered a large fire pit on the south side of the hill, circular five feet wide and four feet deep. Among the shell fragments was a large unique and rare clay bowl which could have held eleven quarts of liquid! Today nothing remains to remind us of the Indians at Muskrat Hill. The St. Michaels Cemetery covers most of the area where they once camped. Even their dead were to have little peace. In 1848 for instance, as the railroad bed was being built through Stratford, the burial grounds of the Cupheags of the Johnson Creek tribe were discovered standing in the way of progress. Many European workers quit their jobs rather than disturb the dead, but graves and artifacts were cast aside to make way for the railway lines. Another Indian settlement existed beside that body of water near Access Road, adjacent to Sikorsky Airport, known as Frash Pond. Franz Goldbach, a lifetime resident of Stratford, described what Frash Pond looked like fifty years ago when it had open channels to Long Island Sound. In those days many herring came into the pond. We used to hide in the reeds and as the schools of fish circled the pond we would rush out and rake them in with garden rakes. The fish we caught in the pond included bluefish, flatfish, blackfish, white perch, striped bass, eels, mackerel, blue shell crabs, soft shell clams, quahogs and oysters. There were even salt water turtles and occasionally shark fins would be seen. When Route 113 was built across the Great Meadows, flood gates were installed which kept tidal water from flowing into the pond, but did allow some seepage to flow in and out. These gates destroyed the natural fish hatchery which the Great Meadows once housed. Indians from as far away as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New Hampshire would summer in the Great Meadows each year in order to fish at Frash Pond, collect salt and gather shellfish along Lordships shore. In the 1800s most of the area had become farmland and each spring farmers plows turned up thousands of arrowheads. Hunting must have been profitable for the Indians who were camping in the Great Meadows. Apparently a stopover in the bird migration funnel, geese, ducks, passenger pigeons and other birds blackened the skies as flocks passed through each fall and spring. One bifurcate spear head carbon dated at some 5,000 years old was found by a resident where AVCO now stands. Water comes into the Great Marsh through Lewis Gut and spreads out through creeks which stretched like fingers into the high grasses. One can imagine Indians traveling over the marsh in canoes. Proof of the use of Indian canoes was found at the Johnson Creek site in the form of steels, the stone used to cut out dugout canoes from the stumps of trees. At the same Indian dump site an arrowhead called the Neville, was found and carbon dated as being 5,700 years old. There really is no visual evidence of Indians in the Great Marsh area today. Even in 1940 Mr. Coffin commented: This Indian site will soon be covered by a large cemetery and will pass on and be no more. The ridge known as Muskrat Hill has been nearly all dug away. All that does remain is what is left of the Great Meadows Marsh itself. The preservation of the remaining marshland is the primary concern of PYE. It is estimated that 50 to 70 percent of the marsh has already been destroyed by development. The remaining 600 acres still supports considerable amounts of wildlife. Indians in the Great Meadows Marsh? There certainly is evidence to support the fact that they were there. Now the Great Meadows alone survives to tell the story.