The trial of “an Indyan called Nangenutch or Will”

Although I haven’t posted about it here, I have been working on an essay that I think is about ready for some additional readers (one is already checking it out, another two are lined up and will see it probably early next week). A brief description of the specific event at the essay’s center:

On 19 March 1667/8, in the town of East Hampton on the southeastern tip of Long Island, Mary Miller escorted Nangenutch, a Montauk Indian[1] also known to the English as Will, to her home. Sent by her husband to open the door so the bound native laborer could deposit a bag of corn for later grinding, she apparently instead was assaulted and raped. Fleeing her home, she encountered a neighbor to whom she related the assault, and by the following day local magistrates had indicted Nangenutch and deposed Mary and two other witnesses. They referred the case to a higher court, which examined the Indian on 28 March, and proceeded to trial the following month. Despite concluding unanimously that the defendant had not committed the capital crime of rape, the court found him guilty of attempted rape, ordering him publicly whipped and sold into slavery in the Leeward Islands “that all Indyans may bee deterred to attempt the like.”[2]

[2] Peter R. Christoph, ed., Administrative Papers of Governors Richard Nicolls and Francis Lovelace, 1664-1673 (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980), 71.

I actually ran across this case–the legal documents include an indictment, several depositions, minutes of the court’s examinations, and a verdict–while researching for the article that came out earlier this summer, and so I made copies and set it aside for later. It was interesting enough to use a bit for my Colonial America class, and during the fall semester I also submitted a conference proposal for it. When that was accepted, I realized I had a great opportunity to pursue a research project in parallel with students in my History 298: History Practicum section, since they were doing primary-source based papers–I wrote about this briefly a few months ago. Working with the documents from this case was really helpful for me in terms of figuring out what I wanted those students to achieve in the various stages of their projects, from conception to proposal to historiography to a final research paper, and to build those assignment requirements accordingly. I also wrote the same assignments they did, which compelled me to think more deeply about what I had as well as writing pieces well in advance of my conference.

If you’re interested, the pre-work and source materials, and some thoughts about the whole process, are available on my 298 course blog, and students looking ahead to 298 can check out the assignments on that website’s Resources page, though they’ll have to track me down if they want to read the conference paper.

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