Princess Naomi – Uptown’s Indian Princess | My Inwood

By Cole Thompson

Marie-Noemie-Boulerease-Constantine-Kennedy-In-Indian-Dress

Marie Noemie Boulerease Constantine Kennedy Photographed in Inwood Hill Park.

Author’s note: Published reports and records vary about the spelling of Kennedy’s first name. According to descendants her name was spelled Naomie.

Since moving to Inwood I’d heard stories of an almost mythical figure known only as Princess Naomie, who, in the 1930’s, took up residence near the old tulip tree in Inwood Hill Park. The site of the tree, which was felled by a hurricane in 1938, is now marked by a boulder with a plaque claiming to be the spot where Native Americans sold the entire island of Manhattan for a handful of trinkets. But for years, or so I’d been told, the shady spot along the Spuyten Duyvil, belonged to Naomie.

The story of Naomie fascinated me and I decided to make a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian to make an inquiry. What I received was an earful and an education on the public’s romantic notion of Indian life as presented in both history books and popular culture. “First of all,” I was told, “there is no such thing as an Indian Princess.”

“Have you ever heard of an Indian King or Queen or Duke?” the woman asked in an unabashedly mocking tone.

“No,” I apologized, not meaning to offend.

Soon a rational discussion began, but the helpful staff of librarians and historians could find no mention of Naomi, sometimes spelled Naomie, in their records.

So the hunt continued—but gradually I began to stumble on bits and pieces of Naomi’s life and times in Inwood Hill.

Her real name was Naomie Kennedy. She hailed from New Orleans. And, if the stories are to be believed, she was of Cherokee descent. (The original inhabitants of the area had been the Lenape.)

Read more: Princess Naomi | My Inwood

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