Thousands of years before Europeans arrived, Mansfield, like every town in northeastern Connecticut, was inhabited by Indigenous people. The oral traditions preserved by their descendants tell of their occupying the land from time immemorial, and evidence assembled by archaeological investigations confirms those traditions.
Scattered finds of stone tools and at least one possible camp site point to Indigenous people in Mansfield in what archeologists term the Late Archaic period (3,000 to 4,000 years ago), and one reported site, at the former Turnip Meadow (the confluence of the Fenton and Mount Hope rivers), could have been much older, possibly from the Paleo period (9,500 to 11,000 years ago).
The hardwood forests that covered the region years ago would have been conducive to game — white-tailed deer, foxes, cottontails, and turkeys, to name just a few — while the rivers that course through Mansfield were once good sources of shad, salmon, and many species of smaller fish. Wetlands would have sustained important plants like cattails and bulrushes and provided habitat for other game, including moose, beavers, muskrats, and migratory waterfowl. Indigenous people must have had a vast store of traditional knowledge to effectively exploit such a diverse array of resources. Even though we know them primarily from what they left behind — stone tools, flakes from manufacturing those tools, charcoal from their campfires, and remnants of their meals—we can imagine them hunting birds and animals, fishing, gathering and processing acorns and other nuts, picking berries, and digging for edible roots.
Artifacts relating to Indigenous People found in Mansfield:
Each image in the gallery below can be clicked on to view each artifact in greater detail.
Eventually the life of seasonal hunting and foraging by small bands of people was supplemented by agriculture based on corn, beans and squash. Settlements became larger and more permanent and the art of making pottery was added to an already formidable array of skills. Although Mansfield has no known sites of Woodland-Period villages, with their clusters of wigwams and attendant planting fields, neither can it be assumed that there never were any. As more earth is overturned, evidence of Mansfield’s early people continues to rise to the surface. And with each new find, we learn a little more about how they lived, long before Mansfield’s recorded history began.
Although this post has focused on the ancient past, we also need to recognize that the story of Indigenous people in Mansfield continues to this day. Some of the town’s “old-timers” were commonly thought to have some Native ancestry, and one long-term resident held an important office in the Mashantucket Pequot tribal government. At the University of Connecticut, the Native American Cultural Programs welcomes Native and Indigenous scholars, artists, students, graduate students, faculty, and youth community members. We can all look forward to an ever-greater appreciation of both the archaeological past and the living traditions that are carrying Indigenous people into the future.
The Mansfield Historical Society has a number of objects relating to Indigenous People in its collections, and the Society’s Library contains several resources that may be of interest.
The Mansfield Historical Society acknowledges that the land we call Connecticut is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples. We thank them for their many generations of stewardship.