History of the Shinnecock Nation



Shinnecock means ‘at the level land’—from the prophecy that ‘Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low…’ (Isaiah 40:4).


The Shinnecock is the longest self-governing tribe in New York State. It seems that most people believe that to discover who you are you must go back your “motherland”, the land of your heritage, to determine your identity. According to the divine order of things, mothers are incubators. She never provides seed; she nurtures. It is the father who gives us instruction and affirms our path for life. It is the father who determines your identity. We believe all humans have one Father!

God is the father of all beings! To understand who we are, we must know that God is! And we are because He is! We are Shinnecock men and women created in the image of the Creator! We are the original inhabitants of this particular geographical space, which we call Shinnecock. Hunting, gathering, fishing and planting was the work of survival that kept our ancestors connected to all life around them.

Much could be said of the rich history and traditions of the Christian ministry among the Shinnecock people. The list of dedicated clergymen and missionaries who brought the word of the gospel to these indigenous people is long and illustrious.

The first minister of the Presbyterian Church of South Hampton, the Rev. Abraham Pierson was the author of the first catechism for the Shinnecock people and ministered to them until his departure in 1647. As early as 1662, the bible had been translated into the native language, which was the common language among the Wampanoags, Shinnecock, Montauks and other tribes. This translation was the result of the collaboration between Rev. John Eliot and Cockenoe de Long Island.

Cockenoe de Long Island was married to a Shinnecock woman who was a Sachem. The strong roots of Christianity were laid as evidenced by the ordination of one of Shinnecock’s own, the Rev. Peter John Cuffee in 1744 and the ordination of his grandson, Rev. Paul Cuffee in 1790.

Peter John Cuffee was a great minister who established churches at Wading River, Poospatuck, Islip and Canoe Place which primarily served the Native American population and also white settlers. It is said that he originated the “June Meeting” which was our spring gathering, so named by the English to define and incorporate an event in our ceremonial calendar with the church.




June 1640

Great Sachem Nowendah of the Shinnecocks, meaning “The Seeker”, was the first to greet the English colonists from Massachusetts at Conscience Point (now South Hampton). The Indians taught the newcomers survival skills which sustained them.


Cokenoe-de-Long Island, a Montauk Indian, was interpreter for Reverend John Elliot, ministering to Wampanoags, Shinnecocks and Montauks.


Rev. Samuel Occum, a Mohegan Chieftan, contemporary of Rev. Peter John Cuffee, came out to Montauk in 1749 and taught school and held prayer meetings with Rev. Samuel Buel of the East Hampton Prebyterian Church. He was ordainged by the Presbytery of Long Island and ministered to the Montauls and Shinnecocks. With a contribution from Lord Dartmouth of England, he started Dartmouth College.



Peter John Cuffee was born at Hay Ground, near Bridgehampton in 1712. Peter Cuffee was radically converted during the “Great Revival of 1744” which spread from East Hampton through Bridgehampton and Southamption. He spent the next 56 years of his life establishing churches at Wading River, Poosepatuck and Canoe Place until his grandson, Rev. Paul Cuffee came into the ministry.



Azariah Horton, the first white missionary to work among the Shinnecocks, coming against alcoholism and bringing revival to Christ.


Rev. Paul Cuffee, maternal grandson of Rev. Peter John Cuffee was a prophet to his own people, the Shinnecocks, and is known as the greatest native preacher.




He was radically saved and consecrated his life to saving his own race. In 1798 he was employed by the New York Missionary Society to work among the Indians. He labored at this task with great fidelity and success until March 7, 1812.
“He died as he lived, under the smiles of his Savior.”
Reverend Paul Cuffee was a speaker of great power. Men and women came from Brooklyn by stagecoad to ear his anointed eloquence of the Word of God. He was even immortalized in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. She wrote “as grand as Cuffee…”
There is a mural in Yaphank Suffolk County’s purchasing office depicting Cuffee preaching to both native Americans and pilgrims. The inscription reads: “Paul Cuffee, Indian Preacher of the Shinnecock Tribe, humble, pious, and indefatigable testifying the Gospel of God, died 3/7/1812, aged 55.”

Mr. Wickham Cufee

Rev. Paul Cuffee’s son, Vincent Cuffee, had a son named Wickham Cuffee who was the first Shinnecock to be born in a house rather than a wigwam in 1826. He was a whaler known as Eagle Eye for his ability to spot whales at great distances.
Noah Cuffee, one of Rev. Paul’s sons, was a leader of the Shinnecocks for many years.
The Canoe Place Chapel, unquestionably the first place of worship in Good Ground, near the now Shinnecock canal, dates back to 1830 when it was an Indian Meeting house. The chapel was moved to its new site on Canoe Place Road. The other half of the chapel was slid across the ice on the frozen bay waters to the Shinnecock Reservation in 1849.


Ten Shinnecock men lost their lives in the Christmas storm on the beach at Bridgehampton, “the flower of the tribe’s manhood”. The English captain refused to allow them to leave until morning if they wanted to be paid for their work. The ship broke up and all were tragically lost.


The Shinnecock Tribe was granted First Nation status by the U.S. Government