PEQUOT WAR: THE HISTORY
(Revised 2 November 2003)
©2003 Mystic Voices, LLC
It is a moonlit pre-dawn in May 1637. English Puritans from
Massachusetts Bay Colony and Connecticut Colony, with Mohegan and
Narragansett allies, surround a fortified Pequot village at a place
called Missituck (Mystic). In the village, the Pequots sleep.
Suddenly, a dog barks. The awakened Pequots shout Owanux! Owanux!
(Englishmen! Englishmen!) and mount a valiant defense. But within an
hour, the village is burned and 400-700 men, women, and children are
Captain John Underhill, one of the English commanders, documents the
event in his journal, Newes from America :
Down fell men, women, and children. Those that 'scaped us, fell into
the hands of the Indians that were in the rear of us. Not above five
of them 'scaped out of our hands. Our Indians came us and greatly
admired the manner of Englishmen's fight, but cried "Mach it, mach
it!" - that is, "It is naught, it is naught, because it is too
furious, and slays too many men." Great and doleful was the bloody
sight to the view of young soldiers that never had been in war, to see
so many souls lie gasping on the ground, so thick, in some places,
that you could hardly pass along.
The battle cuts the heart from the Pequot people and scatters them
across what is now southern New England, Long Island, and Upstate New
York. Over the next few months, remaining resistors are either tracked
down and killed or enslaved. The name "Pequot" is outlawed by the
English. The Puritan justification for the action is simply stated by
It may be demanded, Why should you be so furious? Should not
Christians have more mercy and compassion? Sometimes the Scripture
declareth women and children must perish with their parents. Sometimes
the case alters, but we will not dispute it now. We had sufficient
light from the word of God for our proceedings.
New England, Early Seventeenth century: Strong cultural and religious
differences exist between Native Americans and European settlers. In
1619, diseases carried by Europeans cause a massive epidemic, killing
about 90% of of the Native population along the coast of New England.
The epidemic does not reach the Pequots or their Narragansett and
Niantic neighbors. Early Dutch settlers maintain a virtual trade
monopoly with the Native Tribes for beaver furs used to make stylish
hats in Europe. The arrival of the English in Massachusetts offers a
trading alternative for the Natives. The Europeans view the Natives as
heathens and agents of Satan. They also fear for survival in what they
see as "the howling wilderness." These perceptions further fuel
misunderstandings and miscommunications that will lead to bloodshed.
1633: A second epidemic does not
spare any of the tribes. The epidemic, caused by smallpox, reduces the
Pequot population from about 8,000 to about 4,000 and seriously
affects other tribes in the region. The catastrophic loss of
population upsets all aspects of Native life, creates uncertainty
about the Natives' policy toward the Europeans, and increases
competition for trade. These events, along with increasing
Native-European trade conflicts, set the stage for disagreements
resulting in violence and blood vengeance. Conflicts within and among
the Native Tribes contribute to the confusion. Hostilities are
mounting. Cousin and clan brother are pitted against one another.
Early 1634: Pequot strength is
concentrated along the Pequot (now Thames) and Mystic Rivers in what
is now southeastern Connecticut. In a desperate attempt by the Pequots
to regain their trade monopoly lost to other tribes, they attack and
kill some Narragansetts attempting to trade at a Dutch trading outpost
called the House of Hope. The Dutch retaliate. In one of the
skirmishes that follow, the Dutch kidnap the Pequot Grand Sachem
Tatobem. Despite the Pequots' payment of a ransom, the Dutch execute
him. With the death of Tatobem, his son Sassacus becomes Grand Sachem
of the Pequots.
Spring 1634: A scurrilous
Englishman and pirate named John Stone sails up the Connecticut River
and kidnaps several Indians for ransom. Stone and his crew fail to
keep a careful watch, and unidentified Indians board the vessel and
kill all nine Englishmen aboard. The English blame the Pequots, and
for two years, they demand that the Pequots deliver the heads of those
who had killed Stone and his crew. The Pequots counter that if the
killer of Stone was a Pequot, the Pequot must have killed him in
retribution for the Dutch murder of Tatobem. The Pequots also assert
that they would not know the difference between a Dutchman and an
Englishman. The mystery of who killed Stone is never totally solved.
The Pequots invite the English to settle in Connecticut as a token of
friendship and do not interfere with new settlements. In 1633, the
English Puritan settlements at Plimoth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies
begin expanding into the rich Connecticut River Valley to accommodate
the steady stream of new emigrants from England.
1635: Pequot Uncas has plans
that clash with Grand Sachem Sassacus' strategy in dealing with the
Europeans. He is concerned that the only way for his people to survive
inevitable violence with the Europeans (and to prevent being swallowed
up by them) is to try to create a peaceful alliance with them. He
breaks clan ties with the Pequots. Assuming the ancient Wolf Clan name
of Mohegan, he forms his own tribe and chooses to align with the
English. Uncas and his followers settle at Shantok.
Block Island, July 1636: Another
death transforms the situation. Members of a Narragansett tributary
tribe kill Captain John Oldham. Soon thereafter, a punitive expedition
sets sail from Boston under the command of John Endicott to punish the
Block Islanders and to demand the killers of John Stone from the
Pequots in Connecticut. Captain Endicott believes he is working God's
will against the savages. After a brief Indian resistance on Block
Island, the Indians disappear. Endicott spends two days burning their
empty villages, shooting stray dogs, and destroying Indian food
supplies. Sailing on to Pequot territory, Endicott meets with Pequot
envoys. He distrusts them and believes they are procrastinating. The
talks break down and violence erupts. The colonist troops proceed in
rampant destruction and looting.
The Pequots are furious. Directing their anger against the nearest
Englishmen, they besiege Fort Saybrook the following fall and winter
and attack the Wethersfield settlement. In response, the English
declare war on the Pequots.
In the last hours of moonlight, May 26, 1637, English Puritans, with
Mohegan and Narragansett allies, surround the fortified Pequot village
at Missituck (Mystic). Within an hour, 400-700 men, women, and
children are put to the sword or burned to death as the English torch
the village. Unfamiliar with war targeted at civilians, for the first
time Native Tribes experience the total devastating effects of warfare
practiced by Europeans. The battle turned the tide against the Pequots
and broke the tribe's resistance. Many Pequots in other villages
escape and hide among other tribes.
The English, supported by Uncas' Mohegans, pursue Sassacus and the
retreating Pequots down the New England coast until most are either
killed or captured and given to tribes friendly to the English. Some
are taken by the English as domestic servants, and a few are sold into
slavery. Sassacus and a few of his followers escape, but ultimately
are executed by the Mohawks as a token of their friendship toward the
1638: The Treaty of Hartford
dictates the terms of the English victory. The colonists outlaw the
name Pequot , forbid the Pequots from regrouping as a tribe, and
require that other tribes in the region submit all their inter-tribal
grievances to the English and abide by their decisions. Gradually,
with the help of sympathetic English leaders, the Pequots are able to
reestablish their identity, but as separate tribes in separate
communities: the Mashantucket (Western) Pequots and the Paucatuck
(Eastern) Pequots, the first Indian reservations in America.
THE EFFECTS OF WAR
Contact with European settlers and the resulting Pequot War had
a profound and indelible effect on Native Culture in Northeastern
America. In less than a generation, the world into which most
surviving Indians had been born, and for which they had been prepared,
Although a small conflict by today's standards, the Puritans'
religious rhetoric made their victory over the "heathens" in the
Pequot War a significant factor in the formulation of
Colonial/American Indian policy over the next three centuries. The
underlying causes of the War are complex and its consequences are
far-reaching. For the first time, northeastern tribes experienced the
total warfare of European military methods. For the first time, the
English Puritans realized they held the power to dominate the people
they saw as Godless savages.
Although the Pequot War was a small-scale conflict of short duration,
it cast a long shadow. The images of brutal and untrustworthy savages
plotting the extermination of those who would do the work of God in
the wilderness became a vital part of the mythology of the American
frontier. Celebration of victory over Indians as the triumph of light
over darkness, civilization over savagery, for many generations our
central historical myth, finds its earliest full expression in the
contemporary chronicles of this little war. (Alfred Cave, The Pequot
The story of the Pequot War is an American story, a key element in our
colonial history. As noted historian Alden T. Vaughan wrote in his
book New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians 1620-1675:
The effect of the Pequot War was profound. Overnight the balance of
power had shifted from the populous but unorganized natives to the
English colonies. Henceforth [until King Philip's War] there was no
combination of Indian tribes that could seriously threaten the
English. The destruction of the Pequots cleared away the only major
obstacle to Puritan expansion. And the thoroughness of that
destruction made a deep impression on the other tribes.
The story of the War also is a human story, an important part of
American cultural history. Through this story, a larger issue is
illuminated: the clash of cultural values that ultimately led to the
domination of all Native American tribes by European settlers. On a
more personal level, the story is especially significant for the
descendants of the Native Americans and colonists who fought the War,
as well as for all Native peoples across America. For many Native
Americans, it sounds a theme that is not unique to seventeenth-century
New England: dominance through subjugation of indigenous peoples. It
later surfaced as the concept known as Manifest Destiny, and it echoed
again and again across North America for the next 250 years. Many
Native Americans believe it still echoes today.
At the time of their first contact with Europeans, southeastern
Connecticut from the Nehantic River eastward to the border of Rhode
Island. Both the Pequot and the Mohegan were originally a single tribe
which migrated to eastern Connecticut from the upper Hudson River Valley
in New York, probably the vicinity of Lake Champlain, sometime around
If the Mohegan are included, the Pequot probably numbered around 6,000
in 1620. After a major smallpox epidemic during the winter of 1633-34
and the separation of the Mohegan, there were still about 3,000 Pequot
in 1637. Less than half are believed to have survived the Pequot War of
that year. The terms of peace treaty afterwards systematically
dismembered them in a manner designed to insure that the Pequot would no
longer exist as a tribe. A few Pequot eluded capture and were given
refuge by other New England Algonquin, but this was the exception. Most
of the captured Pequot warriors were executed, and the English sold the
remainder as slaves to the West Indies.Some of the women and children
were distributed as "servants" to colonial households in New England.
The Narragansett and Eastern Niantic accepted some Pequot, and one band
of Pequot was exiled to Long Island and became subject to the Metoac.
For the most part, these Pequot were absorbed by their "hosts" within a
few years and disappeared.
The remainder were placed under the Mohegan, and it is from this group
that the two current Pequot tribes have evolved. The Mohegan treated
their Pequot so badly that by 1655 the English were forced to remove
them. Two reservations were established for the Pequot in 1666 and 1683.
By 1762 there were only 140 Pequot, and the decline continued until
reaching a low-point of 66 in the 1910 census. At present, the State of
Connecticut recognizes two Pequot tribes: Mashantucket and Paucatuck.
The 600 Paucatuck (Eastern Pequot) have retained the Lantern Hill
Reservation (226 acres) at North Stonington but are not federally
recognized. The Mashantucket (Western Pequot) received federal
recognition in 1983. Created from lands purchased from the profits of a
bingo operation and successful land claim settlement, their Ledyard
reservation has expanded to 1,800 acres. Dramatic changes occurred after
a gambling casino began to generate enormous profits in 1992, and with
320 members, the Mashantucket have suddenly discovered that they have
many "long-lost relatives."
From the Algonquin word "pekawatawog or pequttoog" meaning "destroyers."
Also called: Pekoath, Pequant, Pequatoo (Dutch), Pequod, Pequin
(Sequin), Pyquan, Sagimo, and Sickenames (Dutch).
Algonquin. Y-dialect, also spoken by the Mohegan, Narragansett, Niantic,
and the Montauk and Shinnecock from the Metoac on the eastern end of
Asupsuck, Aukumbumsk (Awcumbuck), Aushpook, Cosattuck, Cuppunauginnit,
Mangunckakuck, Mashantucket (Maushantuxet), Mystic, Monhunganuck,
Nameaug, Natchaug, Noank, Oneco, Paupattokshick, Pawcatuck (Paucatook,
Paweatuck), Pequot (Pequotauk), Poquonock, Sauquonckackock, Shenecosset,
Tatuppequauog, Weinshauks, Wequetequock, and Wunnashowatookoog.
ALLIED OR SUBJECT TRIBES
Eastern and Central Metoac, Manchaug (Nipmuc), Massomuck (Nipmuc),
Menunkatuc (Mattabesic), Monashackotoog (Nipmuc), Pequannock (Mattabesic),
Quinebaug (Nipmuc), Quinnipiac (Mattabesic), Siwanoy (Wappinger), and
Highly-organized, aggressive and warlike, the Pequot dominated
Connecticut before 1637, a pattern continued later by the closely
related Mohegan. As were their neighbors, the Pequot were an
agricultural people who raised corn, beans, squash, and tobacco.
Hunting, with an emphasis on fish and seafood because of their coastal
location, provided the remainder of their diet. Clothing and housing
were also similar - buckskin and semi-permanent villages of medium-sized
longhouses and wigwams. For this reason, it is difficult today to
distinguish between the site of a Pequot village and that of another
tribe. The main difference being that Pequot villages were almost always
heavily fortified. The Pequot were not that much larger than the tribes
surrounding them, but they differed from other Algonquin in their
political structure. Highly organized, the strong central authority
exercised by their tribal council and grand sachem gave the Pequot a
considerable military advantage over their neighbors. In this way, the
Pequot were more like the Narragansett of Rhode Island and the Mahican
of New York's Hudson Valley (with whom they are frequently confused).
Obviously a result of constant intertribal warfare over an extended
period, the central political power of the Pequot was an exception among
the eastern Algonquin tribes who usually lived in peace with each other
and therefore had little need of a tribal organization beyond a few
villages under a common sachem. Although the exact timing of their
migration is unclear, this distinctive characteristic indicates that the
Y-dialect tribes (Algonquin (Pequot, Mohegan, Niantic, Narragansett, and
the Montauk and Shinnecock of the Metoac) were fairly recent arrivals in
southern New England. Most of the older histories written about Native
Americans begin with a vague description of where a particular tribe
came from before the Europeans "discovered" them, the result of someone
asking a question enough until they finally get an answer they wanted.
Unfortunately, this has left most people with the impression that tribes
never stayed in one place for long, a conclusion which, for obvious
reasons, was attractive to Europeans, since it allowed them to ignore
native claims to the land.
Actually, migration was not that common until European settlement
started displacing the eastern tribes and began a chain reaction of
movement to the west. It appears that most of the New England Algonquin
occupied their homelands for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years
before the arrival of Europeans in North America. However, the
Pequot-Mohegan and the related Y-dialect tribes appear to have been an
exception to this general rule. By their own traditions, the Pequot
originally came from the upper Hudson Valley where they may well have
been a part of the mysterious Adirondack who dominated the individual
tribes of the Iroquois before the formation of the Iroquois League. Once
they had joined together, the Iroquois were able to defeat the
Adirondack whose departure from the New York mountains which bear their
name left a large area near Lake Champlain relatively unoccupied. Even
though they were physically separated during the historic period, the
persistent, mutual animosity which existed between the Pequot and Mohawk
after contact seems to confirm this possibility.
Situated behind Long Island, the Pequot and their neighbors had little
contact with Europeans before 1600. However, the effects from the
European presence in North American reached them soon afterwards.
Warfare precipitated by the start of the French fur trade in the
Canadian Maritimes swept south at the same time that a sickness left
among the Wampanoag and Massachuset by English sailors on a slave raid
depopulated New England spawned three separate epidemics between 1614
and 1617. The Pequot and Narragansett emerged from the chaos as rivals
for the honor of the most powerful tribe in the area. The first meeting
of the Pequot with Europeans occurred in 1614, when the Dutch traders
from the Hudson River Valley began expanding east along the northern
shore of Long Island Sound beyond the Connecticut River. Although the
Dutch also visited the Narragansett villages in Rhode Island, the
Pequot's location in eastern Connecticut gave them an advantage over
their rivals. They were not only closer to New Netherlands (New York),
but they controlled the lower Connecticut River, the traditional native
trade route to the beaver areas of the interior.
By 1622 the fur trade on the lower Connecticut River had grown enough
that the Dutch established a permanent trading post near Hartford. Their
intention was to trade with all of the tribes in the region, but,the
Pequot had other ambitions and were determined to dominate the
Connecticut trade. They first attacked the Narragansett, not so much to
seize a disputed hunting territory in southwest Rhode Island, but to
keep these powerful rivals away from the new Dutch post. The next step
was for the Pequot to use a combination of intimidation and war to
tighten their grip on the region's trade by subjugating the neighboring
Nipmuc and Mattabesic. However, some Mattabesic chose to ignore them and
tried to trade with the Dutch forcing the Pequot to attack several
groups of Mattabesic who had gathered near the Dutch trading post for
trade. The resident trader for the Dutch West India Company, Jacob
Elekens, had grown annoyed with the Pequot efforts to monopolize the fur
trade, and to retaliate, he seized Tatobem, a Pequot sachem, and
threatened to kill him unless the Pequot ended their harassment and paid
a ransom for his release.
The Pequot brought 140 fathoms of wampum to the post for Tatobem's
release, which Elekens accepted, but having expected beaver rather than
these strange little shell beads, he killed Tatobem, and all that the
Pequot got in exchange for their wampum was his dead body.
Understandably outraged, the Pequot attacked and burned the trading
post, but fur trade was far too important for the Pequot and Dutch to
permit a dead sachem and charred trading post stand in the way of mutual
prosperity. The Dutch replaced Elekens with Pieter Barentsen who spoke
Algonquin and was trusted by the Pequot, and after a suitable round of
apologies and gifts "to cover the dead," trade resumed. Two important
changes resulting from this brief confrontation which had lasting
impacts. The Dutch never again attempted to prevent the Pequot from
dominating the other tribes in area and in effect granted them a
monopoly in the Connecticut fur trade. Unchallenged, the Pequot
aggressively expanded their control over the Mattabesic tribes along the
Connecticut River, either by forcing them to sell their furs to Pequot
traders or exacting a heavy tribute for the privilege of trading
directly with the Dutch.
The incident had also made the Dutch aware of the value which the
natives placed on wampum, and they were quick to realize its potential
as a rudimentary currency in the fur trade. Living near the coast, the
Pequot did not really have that many beaver in their own homeland, and
there was only so much profit to be gained from their role as middlemen
in the fur trade. They did, however, have a great deal of wampum, either
of their own manufacture or from tribute received from subject tribes.
So they were pleased when the Dutch began to accept wampum as payment
for goods in lieu of fur. The problem was the Pequot did not have nearly
enough wampum to pay for everything they wanted, especially firearms.
They solved this by crossing Long Island Sound in their canoes and
conquering the Metoac. Since the Metoac were the source of the best
wampum in the Northeast, the tribute the Pequot received annually
afterwards from the Long Island tribes made them rich and powerful.
Meanwhile, a people which the Pequot would call the "Owanux" had made
their first appearance. For the first years after 1620, it appeared the
tiny English colony at Plymouth would fail. But somehow, against all
odds, it survived, and by 1627 the Dutch had become concerned enough
about the possibility of English competition in the fur trade that they
sent a representative to Plymouth to negotiate a trade treaty. The
resulting document guaranteed the Dutch a monopoly along the entire
southern coast of New England including the Connecticut Valley. At most,
the Dutch gained only a few years with this maneuver. After the Puritans
began arriving in Massachusetts after 1630, Plymouth's agreement with
the Dutch was generally ignored. By 1633 Boston traders had reached the
Connecticut River and built a trading post at Windsor. A violation of
their 1627 agreement, the English post intercepted furs from the
interior before they could reach the Dutch downstream. The Dutch
responded by purchasing land from the Pequot (actually the Pequot sold
land belonging to the Mattabesic) and built a fortified trading post
(House of Good Hope).
Native reaction to the English post was mixed. As a rule, the Mattabesic
and Nipmuc who were forced to pay tribute welcomed the English seeing,
not only an opportunity of better prices for their furs, but a chance to
escape the Pequot. This, of course, was not something Sassacus, the
Pequot grand sachem, favored. The Pequot were already annoyed by the
English manufacture of wampum. The Dutch acceptance of wampum as a
currency in their fur trade had not gone unnoticed in the English
colonies, and within a few years a cottage industry sprang up in
Massachusetts to manufacture wampum. Using steel drills, the English
were soon flooding the market which caused a drop in value. Since wampum
was the source of their wealth and power, the Pequot did not appreciate
this competition. But rather than uniting to destroy the new English
trading post on the Connecticut, the Pequot split into pro-Dutch and
The division had its roots in the personal rivalry between Sassacus and
his son-in-law Uncas. Both had been sub-sachems and expected to succeed
the grand sachem Wopigwooit when he died in 1631. However, the Pequot
council selected Sassacus, and Uncas never accepted this. Their rivalry
continued afterwards in bitter council debates over the fur trade. With
Sassacus favoring the Dutch, a pro-English faction gathered around Uncas.
The arguments grew increasingly heated which made trade along the
Connecticut River dangerous for both Dutch and English with the
different Pequot factions killing and robbing traders unfortunate enough
to cross paths with the wrong group of them. Uncas was eventually forced
to leave and form his own village. Other Pequot and Mattabesic soon
joined him, and taking their name of Uncas' wolf clan, the Mohegan
became a separate tribe hostile to the Pequot. Smallpox hit the
Connecticut tribes during the winter of 1633-34. The timing of these
events could not have been worse, because in 1634, the Pequot, or rather
their western Niantic allies, murdered John Stone, a Boston trader.
In truth, neither "murdered," "Boston," or "trader" does true justice to
the memory of this man. Stone was from the West Indies, an occasional
trader but full-time pirate, and the Puritans had just banished him from
Boston for lewd and immoral conduct. Contemplating his mistreatment by
the Puritans, Stone stopped at the mouth of the Connecticut River on the
way to Virginia to compensate himself by capturing Western Niantic women
and children to sell as slaves in Jamestown. Unfortunately, he got
himself killed in the process. Rather than concluding that perhaps Stone
was a man who had reaped as he had sown, Boston's Puritan clergy
suddenly forgot his many past transgressions and mounted their pulpits
to condemn the Pequot as "demons from hell." As tension mounted,
Sassacus put aside his personal distaste for the English and dutifully
travelled to Massachusetts to keep the peace. The English, however,
demanded that he surrender Stone's killers for execution, which Sassacus
refused to do. The talks collapsed at this point, Sassacus went home
with both sides still angry, and the matter simmered for another year.
In 1635 John Winthrop's Massachusetts Bay Company built Fort Saybrook at
the mouth of the Connecticut River. Although isolated in the midst of
hostile Pequot and Western Niantic, it effectively blocked Dutch access
to the river and forced them to close the House of Good Hope at
Hartford. The separation of the Mohegan and smallpox had cost the Pequot
almost half of their people, and afterwards they could no longer count
on the support of the Dutch. Taking advantage of their weakened
condition, the Narragansett struck and reclaimed the lands in southeast
Rhode Island they had surrendered in 1622. The following year Thomas
Hooker and the first English settlers arrived in Connecticut and settled
at Hartford. The Pequot saw themselves being overrun, and while the
Mohegan and Mattabesic were welcoming the newcomers, there were numerous
confrontations between the English and Pequot which stopped just short
of open warfare. For the Pequot, the land being taken was not nearly as
important as the loss of their control over subject tribes. After a
great deal of harassment, the English in Connecticut learned to hate the
The Pequot War (1637) actually began during the summer of 1636 when
another Boston trader, John Oldham, was killed as the western Niantic
captured his boat near Block Island. Richard Mather, in a sermon
delivered in Boston, denounced the Pequot as the "accursed seeds of
Canaan," in effect turning the confrontation in Connecticut into a "holy
war" of the Puritans against the forces of darkness. With these fiery
words urging them to action, Massachusetts, without bothering to consult
the colonists in Connecticut, sent a punitive expedition of 90 men under
the command of John Endecott (Endicott) to Block Island in August with
orders to kill every man and take the women and children prisoners. The
English soldiers managed to kill 14 Niantic and an undetermined number
of dogs before they escaped into the woods and then burned the village
and crops. Endicott then loaded his men back into the boats and sailed
over to Fort Saybrook to add some additional soldiers for the second
part of his mission - a visit to the Pequot village at the mouth of the
Thames river to demand 1,000 fathoms of wampum for the death of Oldham
and several Pequot children as hostages.
His arrival at Saybrook was the first indication the Connecticut
colonists had of what had happened and since they would bear the brunt
of the Pequot and Niantic retaliation, they were very upset. However,
the situation was already beyond repair, so they reluctantly provided
Endicott with the few men they could spare. Endicott then sailed up the
coast to the Pequot village and came ashore to make his demands. The
Pequot were just as stunned to learn what had happened as the English
had been at Saybrook but managed to stall while everyone escaped into
the woods leaving Endicott with an empty village to destroy. Satisfied
he had "chastised" enough heathen for one day, Endicott loaded his men
into the boats and returned to Boston. The Pequot, however, had
recognized some of the Saybrook soldiers, who expecting a siege
afterwards, had stolen their corn. Their fears were soon realized.
Saybrook was surrounded by Pequot and Niantic warriors who killed anyone
trying to leave.
Rather than feeling chastised, the Pequot were furious. During the
winter they plotted revenge and sent war belts to the Narragansett and
Mohegan asking their help in a war against the English. However, because
of their past actions, the Pequot had few friends, and the English found
it fairly easy to isolate them. In Rhode Island, Roger Williams used his
influence with the Narragansett to convince them not only to refuse the
Pequot belt but to ally with the English. Uncas and the Mohegan also
declined and chose instead to fight their former tribesmen. Despite
this, the Pequot were still formidable and claimed the nominal
allegiance of 26 subordinate sachems from other tribes. However, the
loyalty of many of their allies was suspect, and when the war began,
many of them remained neutral to see "which way the wind blew" before
Early in 1637, Sassacus ordered a series of raids against the
Connecticut settlements to retaliate for Endecott's raid of the previous
summer. Two hundred warriors attacked Wethersfield on April 12th and
killed nine colonists (six men and three women). Other victims were
twenty cows and a horse. Taking two teenage girls hostage, the war party
loaded their loot into canoes and went home via the Connecticut River.
Passing the fort at Saybrook, they taunted the garrison by waving the
bloody clothes of their victims. In all, the colonists lost 30 people in
these raids, and in May the General Court at Hartford formally declared
war. Despite doubts about the loyalty of the Mohegan, a joint expedition
of 90 English and 70 Mohegan warriors under Uncas assembled near
Hartford to attack the main Pequot fort at Mystic. Commanded by Captain
John Mason, an experienced soldier, this tiny army departed on what
seemed a suicide mission. Passing down the Connecticut River, it stopped
at Fort Saybrook to add a few soldiers and then proceeded up the coast
only to discover the Pequot waiting for them at Mystic.
Seeing he was badly outnumbered, Mason prudently decided not to land and
continued east to Rhode Island. The Pequot watched his departure and
became convinced the English had abandoned the attack and were
retreating to Boston. As it turned out, this was a terrible mistake.
When Mason reached the Narragansett villages, 200 warriors joined his
ranks, and he received their permission to travel overland through
Narragansett territory for a surprise attack on Mystic from the rear.
With his force now numbering more than 400 men, Mason left the
Narragansett villages and moved west across the hills of western Rhode
Island. They had barely left before the Narragansett became alarmed by
the clumsy manner in which the English soldiers moved through the forest
and were certain their entire party would be discovered and ambushed.
Only a fiery speech by Uncas challenging their courage kept the
Narragansett from leaving the expedition. Despite becoming lost several
times, the Mohegan finally located the Pequot fort on May 26th and
guided Mason's army to it.
They had not only arrived undiscovered, but the Pequot warriors who
normally would have defended Mystic were absent. Lulled into a sense of
false security by the sight of the English retreat to the east, the
Pequot had formed a war party and gone to raid the settlements near
Hartford. Trapping 700 Pequot inside the fort (mostly women, children,
and old people), Mason and his men set it afire. Those Pequot not burned
to death were killed when they tried to escape. Following Mason's
orders, the Narragansett and Mohegan finished any Pequot the English
missed but were aghast when the English indiscriminately slaughtered
Pequot women and children. Their grim work completed, Mason made a hasty
retreat (actually, a headlong rush) to his boats waiting at a rendezvous
on the Thames. Sassacus' village was only five miles away, and his
warriors were in hot pursuit. During the race for the river, Mason
almost stumbled into a returning 300-man war party, but the Pequot were
distracted by the smoke from their burning village. The English reached
their boats after suffering only two killed and 20 wounded and promptly
left. Their native allies were not so fortunate. Abandoned to find their
own way home, half of them never made it.
The massacre at Mystic broke the Pequot. Despite the obvious loss of
life, the Pequot still had most of their warriors, but the attack
demonstrated their fortified villages were vulnerable and deprived the
Pequot of the support they needed from their allies. Starving and unable
to plant their crops, the Pequot abandoned their villages, separated
into small bands, and fled for their lives. As small groups, they were
easy prey, and few escaped. After an abortive attempt to find refuge
among the Metoac on Long Island, Sassacus in June led 400 of his people
west paralleling the coast and its seafood because they were short of
food. Slowed by their women and children, the Pequot crossed the
Connecticut but killed three Englishmen they encountered near Saybrook.
Unfortunate, because it told the English exactly where they were.
Hartford declared June 15th as a day of prayer and thanksgiving for the
"victory" at Mystic. The English, however, were not satisfied with
merely winning the war and had decided to destroy the Pequot.
More than anything else, the English wanted Sassacus. At the end of
June, Thomas Staughton landed at Pequot Harbor with 120 men. Finding the
Pequot forts abandoned, he started west in pursuit. Mason joined him at
Saybrook with 40 men plus Uncas and his Mohegan scouts. With the Mohegan
pointing the way, they followed the slow-moving band of Sassacus west.
Intent on capturing Sassacus, any Pequot encountered enroute were
automatically smashed if they offered the slightest resistance or
refused to cooperate - one Pequot sachem near Guilford Harbor was
beheaded and his head placed in a tree as a warning (the location is
still known as Sachem Head). The English finally caught up with him at
Sasqua, a Pequannock (Mattabesic) village near Fairfield, Connecticut.
The Pequot retreated to a hidden fort in a nearby a swamp but were
surrounded. After negotiations, 200 Pequannock (mostly women and
children) were allowed to leave, but the Pequot were well-aware of the
fate awaiting them and refused to surrender. During the battle which
followed, Sassacus gathered 80 warriors and managed to break free, but
180 Pequot were captured. The others were killed.
Sassacus and his escort fled west to New York. His logical choice for
refuge should have been the Mahican (Dutch allies and close relatives),
but the Mahican were subject to the Mohawk at the time, so Sassacus was
forced to turn to his old enemies for help. The Mohawk, however, had
never forgotten who the Pequot were, and they never stood a chance. The
Pequot had no sooner reached the Mohawk village, than, without being
allowed to speak in council, he and most of his warriors were killed.
The few who escaped joined the Mahican at Schaghticoke. The Mohawk cut
off Sassacus' head and sent it to Hartford as a gesture of their
friendship with the English. Since the General Court in Hartford levied
a heavy fine on any tribe providing refuge to the Pequot, there was no
place for them to go. The remaining Pequot were hunted down by the
English, Mohegan, and Narragansett, and the war ended in a series of
small but deadly skirmishes. The remaining Pequot sachems asked for
peace and surrendered. With the Pequot defeat, English settlement filled
in Connecticut Valley and by 1641 had extended down the coast of western
Connecticut as far as Stamford.
Less than half of the 3,000 Pequot alive in 1637 survived the war. Under
the peace signed at Hartford in September, 1638, the Pequot were
dismembered. The 180 Pequot captured near Fairfield were distributed as
slaves: 80 to the Mohegan; 80 to the Narragansett; and 20 to the Eastern
Niantic. Of the 80 Pequot which the English captured in other
engagements, the 30 warriors were executed, and the women and children
were sold as slaves to Bermuda and the West Indies. One Pequot band
which surrendered was exiled to Long Island and made subject to the
Metoac who by 1653 had become subject to the Narragansett. Other Pequot
were distributed as "servants" to New England households where they
remained until their deaths. The largest group of Pequot (perhaps as
many as 1,000) were placed under the control of Uncas and the Mohegan.
The additional manpower provided by the Pequot made the Mohegan the most
powerful tribe in southern New England after they defeated the
Narragansett in 1644.
Under the Mohegan, the lives of the Pequot were harsh. They were
separated into small groups and forbidden to call themselves Pequot.
This was bad enough, but the English demand of annual payments of wampum
for sparing their lives made the Pequot a burden for the Mohegan who
worked them like dogs. By 1655 the Pequot among the Mohegan were treated
so badly that the English, who usually overlooked these things, were
forced to remove them to separate locations in eastern Connecticut.
These eventually became the Mashantucket (Western Pequot) reserve at
Ledyard (1666) and the Pawcatuck (Eastern Pequot) reservation at Lantern
Hill (1683). Separation from the Mohegan helped, but it did not change
the obligation of the Pequot to support the Mohegan in times of war.
Pequot warriors joined Mohegan war parties, one of which captured the
Narragansett sachem Canonchet during the King Philip's War (1675-76).
Many of the Pequot gradually drifted away from the confines of their
small reservations, and their numbers in Connecticut continued to
decline until there were only 66 by the time of the 1910 census.
Currently, there are almost 1,000 Pequot, but things have changed
dramatically for the Mashantucket in recent years. Connecticut sold off
600 acres of their reservation without permission in 1856, and a lawsuit
filed in 1976 to recover this land resulted in a $700,000 settlement.
Federal recognition was received in 1983, and after a successful bingo
operation, an incredibly profitable gambling casino was opened in 1992
which has made the Mashantucket Pequot the wealthiest group of Native
Americans in the United States. After a 350 year truce, the Mashantucket
may actually have won the Pequot War.