Native American prehistory in New England is divided into four major periods, beginning with the Paleo-Indian period in 10,000 B.C. and ending with the Woodland period in the1630s. More than 10,000 years of Indian culture have been documented in this region, but for a number of reasons, the origins of the historic Indians of New England, along with other aspects of Indian life, remain somewhat unknown.
Evidence of practices similar to those of our ancestors can be seen in some of the evidence from earlier periods, but what seems to be known most clearly is that from the beginning of the Woodland era (about 1000 B.C.), there is significant evidence of the seasonal migration and cultural practices of our ancestors. There is also evidence that our ancestors' agricultural practices crosses several centuries.
Southern New England had a much warmer and more agriculture-friendly climate than northern New England, and the longer growing season made the region attractive for settlement by whites. However, increased settlement by whites in the 1600s exposed more of our people to greater varieties of illnesses for which we had no natural immunity - smallpox, yellow fever, measles, and trichinosis were just some of these illnesses. By the 1700s, we had lost thousands of our ancestors to epidemics.
During the colonial period, we also lost countless numbers to war, most significantly during the Pequot War in 1634-38 and King Phillip's War in 1675-78. After King Phillip's War, New England tribes were increasingly moved onto lands reserved for them or into villages.
Our ancestors were probably not the first Christianized Indians in New England, but we increasingly converted to Christianity following the "Great Awakening" in the 1720s. We relied upon preachers from our own tribes, notably Samson Occom, his Fowler brothers-in-law, and later his son-in-law, Joseph Johnson.
By the late 1700s, Occom, Johnson, and others in our parent tribes recognized that staying in New England was becoming more precarious. Johnson acted as a diplomat to the Oneida and gained assistance and approval for the plan to migrate to New York from Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department of North America. (On our behalf, Sir William Johnson provided the Oneida with a silver calumet or pipe that is represented in one of the symbols of the Brothertown tribe.)
The Oneida granted the Brothertown a large tract of land, and a treaty was signed in October 1774. In March 1775, the first Indians from New England arrived in New York, a month before the Revolutionary War broke out. The Brothertown began the war as a neutral party, but soon took the side of the Americans. Joseph Johnson, who had made so many of the arrangements for the tribe to move west, served as a messenger to western tribes for General George Washington. Johnson died in unknown circumstances in 1776 or 1777; pro-British forces burnt out much of the Brothertown settlement in New York in 1777; most of the Brothertown then retreated east to live out the war with the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe. After the war, when the Brothertown returned to its land in Oneida country, members of the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe came also.