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What Mystic Means

Quiripi, Lenape, and other local languages—Connecticut is covered with landmark names that came from the Algonquin language group.

East Haven's hosted the ACQTC for a summer social.

We arrived for part of a round-table discussion where members of the tribe answered questions by local community members. Because for so long it was socially better to blend than to be Indian, some of the Quinnipiac members didn't grow up knowing much at all about their heritage, and much of the language has been lost.

Luckily, the Civil Rights movement happened, and people who had been cut off from their heritage (or taught in school that their people had died out - which is still what some books say about the Quinnipiac people) had the chance to rediscover their cultural heritage.

Iron Thunderhorse, the Grand Sachem of the ACQTC, grew up with access to relatives who had never been cut off from their heritage, and he has done his best to make sure that the Wampano-Quiripi R-dialect, which was native to this are of Connecitcut, does not die out. The ACQTC offers an e-book language guide, complete with vocabulary, grammar, and poetry - which, of course, it will take me some time to wade through!

Luckily, tracking down the meanings behind the 10 names I posted last week - places along the Shoreline that come from Connecticut's native languages - was not as challenging. Here are the meanings behind those, and a few reader suggestions!

Connecticut

Connecticut might have been more appropriately spelled Quinnehtukqut (looks similar to Quinnipiac that way, doesn't it?). It literally means "on the long tidal-river." So literally, the Connecticut River ends up being "on the long tidal-river river."

Quinnipiac

Probably initially spelled quinni-pe-auke, this word translates to "long-water land." It's essentially the same word as "Kennebec," just from a different dialect.

Montowese

Montowese Street, and the businesses that have Montowese in their names, bear the name of Montowese -- traditionally spelled Mantowese -- who was one the leader, or sachem, who, in the 1630s, conducted negotiations with the English settlers.

Owenego

I assumed that the name Owenego came from Quiripi, but I didn't know until looking it up for this article that Oweneco was the sachem of the Mohegan tribe in 1684, following after his father, Uncas. He worked to secure land for his tribe early on, but, according to John William De Forest's History of the Indians of Connecticut, his efforts were anything but uncontested, and Oweneco ended up in court several times, and by the 1740s, their disputed lands were largely handed over to the settlers by the justice system.

Totoket

The original name for the Branford area may come from k'te-tuk-et. According to Indian Names in Connecticut by James Hammond Trumbull, that means the meadows on the tidal river, but Iron Thunderhorse suggests it might be from toh-tuk-ut, which translates to "at the cold waves" or "at the cold tides." People swimming at Branford Point in the late spring or early fall could certainly identify with that idea!

Pawson Park

Pawson Park was named after a local Totoket man named Pawson, who had owned the land before selling it to the Congregational Church's First Society.

Sagamore Cove

The word sagamore is the title for a sort of second-in-command role. The sagamore was the sub-leader to the sachem. The particular sagamore the cove is named after was a man named Robbin.

Sachem's Head (Guilford)

I've used sachem a few times above; the word means the leader of a sachemdom. (The word "tribe" isn't always the best word when describing the politics of this area pre-colonization; sachemdom is probably more accurate, but far less frequently used!)

Tuxis Island (Madison)

I've heard a story that says Tuxis was the name of a giant, and that the island was the result of a dirt flying off of his shoe during a grand chase. That's oral tradition, and I can't trace it back beyond the story I've been told! Iron Thunderhorse's guide suggests that it comes from Tuckshis, indicating a point of land jutting out into the Sound, or a natural breakwater.

Mystic

I had always just assumed that Mystic came from the English word, but this one's from the Mohegan "missi-tuk," which means that it, too, is a great tidal river.

Reader reminded me of Momauguin, the namesake of many locations in East Haven, who was the sachem of the New Haven sachemdom in 1638. pointed out Hammonasset, which Thunderhorse translates as "at the fishing place," and the somewhat farther away Housatonic, whoch translates to "over the mountain." 

Keep looking for and wondering about place names - sometimes history is living all around us!

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