The Mast-Head: Where Wyandanch Rests

Wyandance, or Wyandanch, was a younger brother of Yoco Unkenchie

   Last week, when I was writing about the poignant story of Yoco Unkenchie’s final journey from Shelter Island to his Montauk burying ground, and the spot between Sag Harbor and East Hampton where his funeral bier was briefly laid, I thought how sad it was that knowledge of where his body was finally placed had been long lost.
    It is said that Gravesend Avenue in Montauk is so called because of the number of Native American burials encountered there by workmen in the 1920s. That may well be apocryphal; when the Montauk Development Company laid out roads in the hamlet, they grouped them by letter of the alphabet without much ado about local references. Then there also is a question of whether the burial ground of the time is really on the east side of Lake Montauk in the place known as Indian Field.
    The poet Walt Whitman, writing in an 1861 edition of the Brooklyn Standard, had this to say about Montauk: “It was the sacred burial place of the east Long Island Indians — their Mecca . . . Wyandance lived there. The remains of the rude citadel occupied by this chieftain are yet to be seen, surrounded by the innumerable Indian grave hollows. It was called Duan-no-to-wouk.”
    Wyandance, or Wyandanch, was a younger brother of Yoco Unkenchie, also known as Poggatacut, whom he succeeded as leader of the eastern Long Island tribes in 1653. Wyandanch was allied with Lion Gardiner, of the island that bears his name, and he granted Gardiner what is today Smithtown at a time of conflict between the Montauketts and Naragansetts. Wyandanch’s dealings with the settlers and other native tribes is described in detail by John A. Strong in the collection “Northeastern Indian Lives.”
    My grandmother Jeannette Edwards Rattray in her book “Montauk: Three Centuries of Romance, Sport, and Adventure” wrote: “Most graves in Indian Field cemetery are marked only by rough field stones, set in circles deep in the tangled grass. . . .”
    Between Fort Hill, where the Montauketts built a palisade redoubt 180 feet square, and Signal Hill, the site of the Montauk Manor, is Council Rock, where, the story goes, the tribe met for meetings. Wyandanch died in 1659, the victim of poison, Gardiner said.
    Wyandanch had lived his last years in North Neck, on the high ground on the west side of the lake, overlooking Fort Pond, according to a 1651 reference. This observation from the time leads me to imagine that both he and his brother were buried there, and not in Indian Field.
    The precise location of Wyandanch’s “citadel,” as Whitman put it, and his resting place are gone to time, as is his brother’s. Little remains to remember these men, who tried to navigate two worlds: their own and the Europeans’.