Podunk (POH-dungk) A small, unimportant town.
Podunk is the name of a river and a native tribe in Connecticut. Over time the name came to be used for several small towns including a mythical small and insignificant town. Earliest documented use: 1657.
The word podunk is of Algonquian origin, and denoted both the Podunk people and marshy locations, particularly their winter village site on the border of East Hartford, Connecticut and South Windsor, Connecticut. However, Podunk was first defined in an American national dictionary in 1934, as an imaginary small town taken as typical of placid dullness and lack of contact with the progress of the world.
The Podunks were an indigenous people living in some of the southern parts of what came to be known as New England. The Europeans referred to these people as the Podunk, but they did not have a name for themselves, or a written language, and they spoke an Algonquian dialect. The word Podunk is of Algonquian origin and it means "where you sink in mire", a boggy place, in the Nipmuc dialect. The Podunk peoples called their homeplace Nowashe, "between" rivers.
The valley became known to Europeans around 1631; it was inhabited by what were known as the River Tribes — a number of small clans of Native Americans living along the Great River and its tributaries. Of these tribes the Podunks occupied territory near the mouth of the Little River, and the land that now makes up the towns of East Hartford, East Windsor, South Windsor, Manchester, part of Ellington, Vernon, Bolton, Marlborough and Glastonbury. The region north of the Hockanum river was generally called Podunk; that south of the river, Hockanum; but these were no certain designations, and by some all the meadow along the Great River was called Hockanum.
The Podunks built their summer lodges near the Great River, living upon the swarming shad and salmon, and lampreys in their season, hunting deer and bear in the meadows, and growing maize and beans in alluvium. For clothing they hunted the otter, the mink, and beaver, covering their wigwams, perchance, with coarser peltries of deer, wolf, and bear. The winter habitations of the Podunks were farther inland, along the warm valley brooks, in the deep recesses of the woods. To these they retired when autumn let loose his blasts down the broad river valley, threatening to lock their fisheries beneath the ice.
As part of their winter diet they ate dried venison and bear meat. There are also abundant traces of their former presence all along the meadow bank; while the highlands bordering the valley of the Hockanum have been found especially rich in their implements of flint and stone. In troublesome times the Podunk built their forts of stout posts, or palisades, and gathered into closer habitations, leaving a central space in the village for a camp fire, about which to celebrate their wild and varied ceremonies.
After the English began to settle in this area around 1630, much of this land was reserved to the Podunks by the General Court. During this time, the Podunks were governed by two sachems, Waginacut and Arramamet, and were connected in some way with the Indians who lived across the Great River, in Windsor.
The Podunk tribe consisted of three bands: the Namferoke (Podunk, "fishing place"), who lived near the village of Warehouse Point; the Hockanum (Podunk, "a hook", or "hook shaped"), led by Tantonimo, who lived near the village still known as Hockanum; and the Scanticook (Nipmuc, "at the river fork"), who lived on the north bank of the Scantic River near the section called Weymouth—their leader was called Foxen (or Poxen). Foxen, a.k.a. Poxen, witnessed land deeds in 1640. He became the great councilor of the Mohegan (Mohegan, "wolf people") and his name appears repeatedly in early records.
Prior to the English-Narragansett war, the relation of the Podunk to the early English settlers appears to have been for the most part peaceful, and until about 1675 they lived in close proximity. In the Winter of 1635, the ill-prepared settlers at Hartford were kept alive with gifts of "malt, and acorns, and grains."
However, the English restricted the Podunk in many ways. Smiths were not to work for the Podunk, and none but licensed traders were to buy their corn, beaver, venison, or timber. The English forbade any trade in arms, horses, dogs, or boats, or in "dangerous" supplies, such as cider or alcohol. The Podunk were forbidden to enter English houses or handle the arms of the settlers, nor were they to bring their own arms into the towns; and if found in the plantations at night they were to be arrested by the guard, or, resisting arrest, to be shot.
The Podunk were not allowed to harbor stragglers, or strange Indians in their villages; and in 1653 were required to give up their arms in token of their fidelity. In 1659, Thomas Burnham (1617–1688) purchased the tract of land now covered by the towns of South Windsor and East Hartford from Tantinomo. "Fort Hill" is probably the fort to which "one-eyed" Tantinomo withdrew at the time of his quarrel with Oncas and Sequassen in 1665, when the English unsuccessfully attempted arbitration between them.
By 1736, the Podunk had amalgamated with others to form the Schaghticoke tribe.
Their lands are marked Nowass on Dutch maps of the early 17th century.
Their early chief of Podunk was Chief Foxen, or Poxen. Bog in Algonquian usually is reported as "paug", which comes from "bi", while "po" and "paut" often mean a projection, bulge, pock, or pout. Another Native American associated with Podunk was Adam Puit, whose name in Dutch means "Frog", the pouter, or the one with the large neck. In Chippewa/Ottawa "bagdanak" means the "bulge dwelling". Podunk, or Pautunk, was called a neck of land, which means a projection or bulge in the land. "Pautage" means a neck, where the land juts out and seems to connect with Podunk, which probably means where the land juts out and people dwell. The prefix "paut" means poddy, pouting, or bulging, while the suffix "age" [aki] means land. "Pautapaug" and "Potapaug" mean a bulging in the bay, cove, or pond where there is standing water. "Paug" means bay or bog. "Pautipaug" was said to mean where you sink in mire, but here it is the suffix "paug", which means mire or bog not "pod" or "paut". The name Podunk does not have a bog element in it and ends with a suffix that means dwelling place or "danak". Another example is Poodhumsk, which means projecting rock.
Exerpts from Quinnehtukqut Nipmuc News
The Nipmuc Indian Association of Connecticut's Quarterly Newsletter
Our Connecticut Native Americans are part of the great Algonquian family of tribes which extends from the Carolinas to Canada north of the Great Lakes and on into the western plains. It should be understood that New England Native Americans: (1) did not have a name for themselves (tribal names are European designations), (2) do not have 'proper' names in their languages (each word has a meaning), (3) do not have written languages and (4) spoke dialects of a common 'Algonquian' language. Native American words herein (which are italicized) are merely English spellings of our language sounds.
The first Europeans to record encounters with Native Americans in Connecticut were the Dutch. We will cover the 16 tribal groups known to exist when the Dutch arrived in the early 1600s, beginning with the Podunk -- the first Native American group to welcome these newcomers to our homelands when Dutch navigator Adrian Block sailed up the Quinnehtukqut River and landed at a Podunk village just north of Hartford.
The Podunk - Hartford County.
Podunk or Pautunke, means "where you sink in mire", a boggy place, in the Nipmuc dialect. But the Podunk called their homeplace Nowashe, "between" rivers. Their lands are marked Nowass (perhaps the Dutch equivalent of Nowashe on Dutch maps of hte early 1600s.
The Podunk tribe consisted of three bands: the Namferoke (Podunk, "fishing place"), who lived near the village of Warehouse Point; theHockanum (Podunk, "a hook", or "hook shaped"), led by Tantonimo, who lived near the village still known as Hockanum; and the Scanticook(Nipmuc, "at the river fork"), who lived on the north bank of the Scantic River near the section called Weymouth -- their leader was called Foxen(or Poxen). Foxen, a.k.a. Poxen, witnessed land deeds in 1640. He became the great councilor of the Mohegan (Mohegan, "wolf people") and his name appears repeatedly in early records.
Dutch accounts relate that the river tribes were beaten in three encounters with the Pequot (Pequot-Mohegan, "the destroyers"), who then claimed the entire country by right of conquest. After the Pequot sold land to the Dutch at Squkiog (Wangunk, "the ground is dark"), the Podunkconceived the idea of inviting the English to settle in Connecticut. The earliest written record regarding this tribe is in 1631 when a sachem, called Wahginacut, journeyed to Massachusetts and Plymough Colonies to try to convince3 their governors to encourage the English to emigrate to the Connecticut Valley. In 1632, "the year before the Dutch began in the River", sachem Natawanute, (a.k.a. Attawanyut) presented Governor Winslow of Plymouth, MA with a tract of land in South Windsor. The following year, Plymouth Trading Company rewarded Natawanute by restoring him as one of the great sachems of the river tribes.
Within traditional Podunk homelands in Connecticut today are the towns of East Hartford, East Windsor, South Windsor, Manchester, part of Ellington, Vernon, Bolton, Marlboro and Glastonbury.