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Golden Hill Paugussetts Land Claims


Who Are The Golden Hill Indians Of The Paugussett Indian Nation?

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They are the descendants of a proud people, thousands of whom inhabited hundreds of square miles of land running from Orange/Woodbridge in New Haven County through Fairfield County to Greenwich, and extending North into Eastern Litchfield County up to the Massachusetts border. They farmed, fished and hunted, often moving the villages with the seasons.

    The first time that the Paugussett Indians formally complained about the theft of their lands was in the 1650's. In a 1659 hearing at which no Indians were allowed to testify, the General Court in Hartford decided that the settlers had the right to take the Paugussett lands in what is now the Bridgeport area. In return, the Indians were to receive an 80-acre tract of land known as "Golden Hill.' Golden Hill is the site of downtown Bridgeport. This transaction is how the Paugussett Indians came to be known as Golden Hill Indians. This name has been with the Tribe for over 300 years.

    The well documented history of this 80-acre Golden Hill Reservation is typical of how the lands of the Paugussett Indians were stolen. Immediately after thousands of acres were stolen from the Tribe and the Indians were granted the tiny 80-acre reservation "forever," settlers in Stratford and Fairfield started to encroach on the reservation.

    Throughout  the 1700's, reports of the General Court of Connecticut reflect a continuing series of complaints from the Indians regarding the incursions of settlers.  The General Court recognized the claims of the Golden Hill Indians, but nothing was done to help the Indians.

    By the 1750's,   Tom Sherman had begun to act as a tribal leader presiding over the affairs of the Golden Hill reservation, where he resided, as well as those of other Paugussett lands.  In 1763, Tom Sherman and other Tribal members brought a complaint against the settlers to the Connecticut General Court.   The General Court ruled in favor of the Tribe, but after the settlers complained, the Court reconsidered.

    The matter was resolved in 1765 when the Tribe gave up 68 of the 80 acres and the Tribe also received a useless 9-acre woodlot.  Thus, the settlement was that the Tribe gave 68 acres of prime land and received an 8-acre woodlot in return.  

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It is noteworthy that the guardian of the Golden Hill Indians in this matter was one of the same people who took the Indian lands. This was just one of the many times that the guardian or overseer of the Tribe stole land or money of the Indians.   In fact, by 1774, a complaint was filed by another English settler reporting that the new guardian for the Golden Hill Indians had cut all the wood off the woodlot, so the Indians did not have wood to build fires.  The same guardian also grew crops on the 12 acres and kept the crops so that the Indians were "almost naked, and poor."   In addition, Tom Sherman was imprisoned for no reason.

The General Assembly appointed another committee and, in 1775, they decided that the Indians were cheated, but nothing was done to see that they were compensated and the English settler who reported these disgraceful circumstances became the new guardian for the Golden Hill Indians. Of course, a few years later, the new guardian did virtually the same things to the Indians.

    In 1801, the settlers brought a petition seeking to take even the few remaining acres from the Tribe. Naturally, this was granted. The 1802 Public Records of Connecticut show that the testimony established that the Golden Hill Indians did not need the land since "the Indians earned a good living making baskets and brooms."

    The pattern of stealing the land and money of the Indians shown in those early days continued into the future. During the 1800's, all Indian tribes in Connecticut had "overseers." The records clearly show that the overseers for Golden Hill bought and sold Tribal lands on a regular basis, but the Indians rarely seemed to get the money.

    Despite all of the money which should have belonged to the Tribe, by 1841, there was only slightly over $ 1,000. In that year a 19 1/4 acre lot was purchased for the Tribe in Trumbull. By 1849, for reasons that are not clear, the overseer for the Tribe sold this property and, again, the Tribe was without a land base.

    This continued for another generation. After a number of years as a seaman, William Sherman returned to his ancient Tribal territory in the early 1850's and he became a day laborer in the Nichols section of Trumbull. From 1857 to 1877 he kept a daily diary showing the job which he performed. He literally saved his pennies for 25 years and in 1875 William Sherman purchased 1/4 acre in Trumbull, directly across the street from the 19 3/4 acre lot.

     In 1886, William Sherman gave the title to the 1/4 acre to the overseer for the Tribe to be, held in trust for the Tribe forever. That 1/4 acre is the site of the Golden Hill. Reservation, which is the smallest Indian reservation in the United States and one of the oldest. This tiny reservation has been the home of the chief and the center of tribal affairs for over one hundred years,

    In 1876, the year after William Sherman bought the 1/4 acre, the State of Connecticut passed a law specifically dealing with the lands and property of the Golden Hill Tribe of Indians. This Statutory provision was specifically reenacted in 1888, 1902, 1918 and 1930 and continued in effect until 1935, the year in which the State of Connecticut authorized the State Park and Forest Commission to act as overseer of all tribes of Indians living in the state, including the Golden Hill Tribe.

    For hundreds of years the leadership of the Golden Hill Tribe has been hereditary and passed from generation to generation.  Almost with the exception for over 350 years, each generation has been involved in a fight to hold onto Tribal lands.

    In 1933, George Sherman, son of William Sherman, named his daughter, Ethel Sherman, as Chieftess Rising Star.  That year a ceremony was held to rededicate the Golden Hill Reservation in Trumbull.

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In 1938, George Sherman died and in 1939 neighbors in Trumbull tried to terminate the reservation. The neighbors were stopped when the Attorney General of Connecticut wrote an opinion stating that the property was held as Tribal land for the Golden Hill Indians.

This opinion came about as a result of the efforts of his children, Chieftness Rising Star and her brother, Edward Sherman, Chief Black Hawk.

Chief Black Hawk moved onto the 1/4 acre reservation upon the death of his father and lived there until he died in 1974. At that time, Chief Big Eagle, Aurelius H. Piper, Sr., son of Ethel Sherman, grandson of George Sherman and great grandson of William Sherman, moved onto the 1/4 acre which had been purchased one hundred years earlier.

Of course, the attempts to take Tribal land continued. In 1975, the State wanted to demolish the house on the reservation and relocate the Chief, but Big Eagle refused to leave. If he had moved the reservation could have been terminated, but Chief Big Eagle said that he would never "sell his ancestors down the river."

In 1976 a neighbor claimed that he owned part of the 1/4 acre. After a lengthy and tense confrontation, which included a fire on the reservation started by an arsonist, Chief Big Eagle again protected the tiny piece of land.










This site is mirrored with permission. The Tribe lost it's application for Federal recognition and seemed to about 'dissolve'. They are still recognized by State Law in Connecticut.

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