The Wangunk were a group of Native peoples who lived along the Connecticut River in a region they called Mattabesett located where the modern towns of Portland, Haddam, East Hampton, and Middletown now lie. They were part of the larger Algonquian language and culture family.
When Europeans entered the area, the Wangunk sachem Sowheag sold them some of his people’s land but kept two large patches on both sides of the river, including a large hill on the Western side. Sowheag had a walled fortification built here to protect his people from further European incursions and from conflict with other Native peoples.
The Wangunk engaged in some fur trading with the Europeans, though they quickly ran into conflict with the Pequot, who were trying to exert more control over trading in the region that would eventually become Connecticut.
Today the Wangunk are no longer a cohesive tribe, nor are they recognized by the federal or state government. However, several people still identify as Wangunk and are attempting to reclaim some of their history and culture. At Harbor Park in Middletown, Connecticut, a large stone sculpture of a stylized man’s head serves as a tribute and remembrance of the Wangunk’s history in the region.
Know Before You Go
The Wangunk statue is located in Harbor Park in Middletown, Connecticut along the bank of the Connecticut River. Parking is available at the southern end of the park and at the lot in Melelli Plaza. A tunnel from the plaza leads under the busy Route 9 to Harbor Park.