Indigenous Peoples in Portsmouth during the Colonial Period

Many people may be unaware of the influences and contributions of Indigenous peoples, such as the Narragansett and the Pokanoket, in the early history of Portsmouth. There is a general feeling and misconception that once Aquidneck Island was transferred to the English, Indigenous peoples were no longer a part of Portsmouth history. This 77-minute lecture by Stephen Luce on November 16, 2023 sheds light on  a few of the stories of Indigenous peoples in Portsmouth, along with how some of the English colonists interacted with them. [Above photo and video by Rich Talipsky]

The lecturer, Stephen Luce, a Portsmouth native, is on the Board of Directors for the Portsmouth Historical Society.  After working many years in state and town government, he obtained his M.A. History from the University of Rhode Island with an Archaeology focus. He has participated in several archaeological digs and most recently completed a survey of all the historic cemeteries in Portsmouth along with discovering and recording several new burial grounds and markers. He is also Chair of the Melville Park Committee

The lecture also covered the purchase of Prudence Island (Chibackuwesa), where Pulpit Rock is located, and some of the early accounts of Roger Williams’ influence on the settlement there.

Luce details some of the key events that led to King Philip’s War (click to enlarge) and pointed out that all references to Indigenous people on Aquidneck Island disappeared after the War. Numerous Indigenous people were indentured on the Island after that.