Law and History Review

Articles

Claiming the New World: Empire, Law, and Indigenous Rights in the Mohegan Case, 1704–1743

Craig Bryan Yirush c1

In 1773, with the empire on the brink of revolt, the Privy Council gave the final ruling in the case of the Mohegan Indians versus the colony of Connecticut. Thus ended what one eighteenth-century lawyer called “the greatest cause that ever was heard at the Council Board.” After a decades-long battle for their rights, involving several appeals to the Crown, three royal commissions, and the highest court in the empire, the Mohegans' case against Connecticut was dismissed. The dispute centered on a large tract of land (~20,000 acres) in southeastern Connecticut, which, the Mohegans claimed, the colony had reserved for them in the late seventeenth century. Concerned that the colony had violated its agreements, the Mohegans, aided by powerful colonists with a pecuniary interest in this tract of land, appealed to the Crown for redress. As a result of this appeal, what had been a narrow dispute over land became part of a larger conflict between the Crown, the colony, and the tribe over property and autonomy in the empire.

(Online publication May 09 2011)

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