Narragansett (American Indians Ready Reference)
The Narragansett were a powerful tribe of southern New England. They spoke an Algonquian language, and their territory encompassed much of present-day Rhode Island. Recent estimates suggest that there may have been as many as sixteen thousand Narragansetts in 1600. The name “Narragansett” is usually translated “at the narrow point of land.”
Narragansett culture and lifeways were similar to those of other tribes in the region. They were adept at agriculture, regularly planting corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. The diet was supplemented by hunting and trapping. The wigwam, a circular shelter of bent poles covered with bark, was the typical dwelling.
Sachems (chiefs) wielded authority in Narragansett society, aided by councilors, usually warriors of distinction. Powpows were also important, healers with great spiritual powers. First white contact came with Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, though permanent white settlement did not come until a century later.
In 1616-1617, a devastating plague (probably smallpox) decimated neighboring tribes, but the Narragansett were spared. The Narragansett warred with their neighbors and dominated such tribes as the Wampanoags. In 1633 the plague, long delayed, finally struck the Narragansett, killing at least seven hundred.
White-Narragansett relations were cordial at first; Rhode Island founder Roger Williams championed Indian land rights. Yet though the Narragansett helped the...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
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