Teaching Native American Studies

Golden Hill Paugussett Tribal Nation History and Culture


The Paugussett (where the narrows open out) tribe has a long history, living and occupying the southwestern corner of the State of Connecticut. The tribe spanned what is now 3 counties: Fairfield, Litchfield, and New Haven County. The Paugussett tribe was made up of a total of 5 sister tribes: Paugussett Proper, Paugussett minor, Pequannock, Pootatuck and Weantinock. The Tribe was mainly a farming and fishing community, they cleared land using stone axes and controlled burning.

The tribe functioned much like towns, they all contributed to the wellbeing of its tribal people throughout the land they governed. The Paugussetts were in the wampum trade. Wampum, a purple and white polished core that is found in hard shell clams here on the north Atlantic coast, was a form of currency used by tribes with a more advanced social and political system. Tribes including the Mohegan, Pequot, and Narragansett are among others who used this form of currency.

The Paugussett people spoke an Iroquoian dialect very similar to Natick. They lived and governed in the Algonquian way. This is very common in the northeast region. The Algonquin way is a framework and practice among tribal people that includes how a tribe is governed, its marriages, social structure, and even spiritual beliefs.

The Paugussetts first documented contact with European settlers was in 1637, during the war in the swamp. This was an everchanging event for the Paugussett tribe. These events followed the massacre at the Pequot fort with Capitan John Mason working with the Mohegan leader Uncas, to defeat the Pequots after years of waring. After the massacre, Chief Sassacus and surviving Pequots fled the region to take refuge in Paugussett territory. Upon arrival, the Pequots were taken in as refugees and given shelter. As news spread of the surviving Pequot leader and his band, military forces came down the coast and raided Paugussett villages. This is known as the war in the swamp in 1637.

After the battle, the tribe was dispossessed of 90% of its land, many died, and, according to records between 200 and 400 men and women were sold into slavery in the Caribbean. By 1639, the tribe was forced to seek other ways of survival, much different than what they had known. Pequonnock, the place they knew, was changing into the beginnings of an urban center. The tribe was granted a 100 acre parcel of land just outside Bridgeport. Things improved for the tribe over time, but as the bustling town grew and the municipalities sought to expand their reach, land disputes were very common.

The State then Issued overseers and agents under the department of welfare to help the tribe manage its remaining land. In that time period into the mid 1700s records were poorly kept and accounts that had been set up in the tribes name in an effort to compensate tribal people for the sale of land were being drained. By the early 1800s, very little was left of the tribes vast lands. Funds set aside for the tribe had dwindled. As Tribal people struggled to survive, many went further west in search of neighboring tribes to live a traditional life, others went into what is now a city.

City life was very difficult for native people, confined to tight living quarters. Working factory jobs or other forms of labor was much different than the life they once knew. Approximately 100 years after the war in the swamp, many tribal people felt the old ways were in the distant past. Only few passed the old ways down and practiced our traditions in secret. Many laws were passed that prohibited, and even outlawed the practice of native culture and identity. By the midd-1800s, there was only about one acre parcel of land in the town of Nichols left for the tribe. William Sherman and his family lived on this land in a home he constructed with the last of the tribal funds. Upon his death in 1886, Sherman left his land and property in trust as tribal land, so his family and tribe would have a remnant of what was once a great tribal nation.

In the Algonquian way, the political, social, and spiritual structure stem from the belief life originates from the mother, feminine spirit, or great spirit. This is evident in the belief and respect for mother earth as a spiritual being and giver of life. The tribe is structured around the clan mother who is the actual leader of the tribe. She is responsible for appointing and removing a chief and has veto power over the majority of decisions made by the tribal councils.

In this system, a Chief can be appointed for life and work very closely with the Clan Mother. Both powerful leaders, the chief is very similar to a CEO. He is responsible for all operations and managerial duties. He is the face of the tribe, in close alignment with the Clan Mother and tribal council. The power is passed down from the current leader to their successor in legal and ceremonial terms, typically in the same bloodline. The tribe is governed and operates with the guidance of its leadership to ensure health, prosperity, and longevity.

Marriages are handled in a similar manner. The blood line is traced through the mother’s lineage, in most cases this includes tribal identity and affiliation. For example, if a couple is married, the new family will move to her people’s village and affiliate with her tribe. The children will identify with the mother’s people. In bloodline inheritances of power, land or social standing are also passed from the mother. In modern times, lineage is passed from either side, mother or father. Tribal affiliation is a choice. When this decision is made in cases where there are two different tribes, some tribes only allow benefits to come from one tribe. Some tribes allow dual memberships, that’s typically in cases were the tribe is not providing monetary benefits. In terms of culture tribes generally welcome one another as brothers and sisters, many families intermarry within clans or families forming tight bonds with neighboring tribes.

Tribes in this region were responsible for their own social and political structures. Some tribes blended different methods of governing through the use of clans, sachems, chieftains, clan mothers, shaman and councils or confederacies. The Paugussett people used a combination of these methods adopting beliefs of both their Algonquin and Iroquoian neighbors.

Important dates and events

  • 1637: The War in the Swamp involving Paugussett’s, Pequot’s and Capitan Mason
  • 1659: the start of the Paugussett’s oldest continuing reservation.
  • 1886: Upon his passing William Sherman leaves his property in trust with state appointed overseers, re-establishing the Paugussett reservation in Trumbull
  • 1933: Ethel Sherman Piper Baldwin was made Chieftess of the GHP
  • 1959: Aurelius H. Piper Sr. is appointed Chief, now known as Chief Big Eagle
  • 1974: Aurelius H. Piper Sr. (Chief Big Eagle) is elevated to full Chief of the tribe
  • 1976: Chief Big Eagle fights for the tribes Quarter acre reservation in Trumbull, CT. Garnering national attention and Civil rights activist. The

    American Indian Movement leaders Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt travelled to CT to support the Chief. William Kunstler famous civil rights attorney also supported the tribe.

  • 1978: Chief Big Eagle secures grants, working with Governor Ella Grasso, to purchase land for the tribe.
  • 1981: a 106 parcel of land purchased in Colchester, CT is put in State trust and made a reservation for the tribe to rebuild its traditional community.
  • 1991: Chief Big Eagle takes the role as traditional Chief and appoints Quiet Hawk, as Active Chief filling the role of daily operations, tribal business and working on federal recognition.
  • 1993: War Chief Moon face Bear leads a standoff with the State regarding selling untaxed cigarettes. After the state refused to enter into a compact agreement with the tribe in a government to government relationship.
  • 2008: Upon Chief Big Eagles passing Shoran Waupatukuay Piper (White Fawn) is made Clan Mother the Tribal head leader.
  • 2011: Clan Mother White Fawn appoints Kicking Bear Piper son of Moon Face Bear, to War Chief of the tribe.
  • 2014: War Chief Kicking Bear Piper takes residence on the Colchester reservation in a house he built with private funds.
  • 2021: State Senator Cathy Osten passes a series of Bills addressing many native issues. The Appropriations Committee passes an historical bill that grants 3 of Connecticut’s state tribes funds for much needed improvements and infrastructure on their lands.
  • 2022: Working with Sen. Osten and DEEP the tribe begins planning a community center to be built on the Colchester reservation.
  • 2023: The tribe approves plans and are in the process of preparing to construct the community center.