Let us acknowledge our debt to the indigenous people who were living along the coast of Long Island Sound when the first European settlers arrived. During the 1660s, they peacefully transferred their ancestral lands, which extended from Hell Gate in the East River, to Norwalk, Connecticut, and as far west as White Plains, to our forebears.
Most historians identify the area’s first people by the name Siwanoy, but some argue that the correct name was Wichquaeskeck. All agree, however, that they were members of the Lenape tribe and spoke Munsee, an Algonquin language, some of whose words describe places and people that are still familiar.
Rev. Charles Baird, in his 1871 history of Rye, described what was then known as Peningo (aka Poningo) Neck, as comprising “the lower part of the present town of Rye, on the east side of Blind Brook.” In June of 1660, Peter Disbrow, together with John Coe and Thomas Studwell, purchased Manussing (Manursing) Island where they and others established the first settlement, called Hastings, that summer. The following May, the northern part of Peningo Neck was also acquired from the Siwanoys, giving the settlers ownership of all the territory bounded by Blind Brook, the Byram River, and Long Island Sound.
Later that year, John Budd led the settlers in additional negotiations with the Siwanoys, which resulted in the purchase of a large tract of land on the west side of Blind Brook (Mockquams). Extending across the Mamaroneck River to White Plains (Quaroppus), this land was called Apawamis by the Indians but became known as Budd’s Neck and was later renamed Rye Neck. Pockcotessewake, the name for Beaver Swamp Brook that flowed through this land, is mentioned in the 1661 Apawamis deed.
Baird provides a great deal of information in his history about each of the original settlers, who signed the treaties and deeds. Yet all that is known about most of the more than twenty Native Americans identified in the documents are their names that were written phonetically where they placed their marks.
Scholars have concluded that one person signed several of the deeds, although his name appears with different spellings. He is described in Baird’s history, as a sachem, a title given to a chief or head of a tribe:
“Thereafter, on the eleventh month, fifth day, 1661, a ‘sachem’ referenced as ‘Shenerock’ and ‘Shanorock,’ executed a confirmation that he had ‘received full satisfaction’ for a purchase made of …Hen Island, Pine Island, and the Scotch Caps lying in the Sound off the shores of Rye.”
Blake Bell, who was the Town Historian of Pelham from 2005 through 2020, wrote in one of his many blogs about the signing of an “Indian Deed” on June 27, 1654, by which Thomas Pell acquired from local Native Americans the lands that became the Manor of Pelham. He also noted that the first to sign was “Shonoarock,” indicating that he was likely the most prominent of the leaders who transferred the land to Pell.
Bell and others believe that Shonoarock also signed the “Rye” deeds and that his prominence continued at least until 1663. In that year, his name again appeared first among signers of a deed transferring land to two settlers in West Farms, which is now part of the Bronx.
Among the many spellings of his name, this Native American leader is best remembered by the name of Shenorock in Westchester County. The hamlet of Shenorock within Somers in northern Westchester was named after him, as was the Shenorock Shore Club in Rye. According to the club’s history: “In January of 1945, the buildings and grounds of a defunct club on Milton Point were bought at auction by Ralph P. Manny, a Rye resident, who was then Commodore of American Yacht Club. He named his Club Shenorock after the Siwanoy Indian chieftain from the 17th century.”
Approximate extent of Siwanoy territory, circa 1640 .Source: Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico by Frederick Webb Hodge, 1912.