The Pequot War
The Pequot War
The Pequot War
Beginnings. Between 1634 and 1638 the population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony rose from about four thousand to more than eleven thousand all as a result of migration from England. As new arrivals began to crowd the coastal areas, Puritan colonists began to look to their west, into territory controlled by the Pequots and their allies, for additional lands. In 1635 colonists led by the former Baptist minister Thomas Hooker left present-day Cambridge, Massachusetts, and established the colony of Hartford. Simultaneously, a group of squatters—settlers with little or no legal claim to the land—from Watertown moved near the Pequot town of Pyquag and renamed it Wethersfield. At the same time, a group of English investors called the Saybrook Company built Fort Saybrook near the mouth of the Connecticut River, near the Pequot village of Mystic.
Native Allegiances. The Pequots were the dominant native people in the region, allied with the Niantics and others. They were frequently at war with the Narragansetts, who were friends with the English colonists. As Puritan colonists began their westward expansion, tensions with the Pequots peaked. Despite an earlier treaty English authorities sought to humiliate and provoke the Pequots, seeking a pretext for a war that would sweep the Connecticut Valley of native peoples. The desired provocation came when some Indians, whose tribal identities are still uncertain, killed two English colonists, John Stone and John Oldham. English raiders attacked Pequots and their allies on Block Island, in Long Island Sound, in September 1636. The Pequots responded by laying siege to Fort Saybrook. The conflict remained low-key for some time, as the eastern colonists were caught up in a major religious dispute, with implications for gender roles and commerce, known as the Antinomian controversy. As a result the colonists temporarily ignored Indian affairs in Connecticut, as the breakaway settlements were becoming known. But impassioned pleas from the westerners claimed that the “roaring lions” would soon exterminate all English colonists if they were not stopped at Fort Saybrook, and reinforcements soon arrived.
Dawn Attack. The war ended at Mystic, where between three hundred and seven hundred women, children, and old men were left on their own. The English encircled the village at dawn to prevent escape and burned every structure. Only seven Pequots escaped the fire, which Puritan authors described as divine retribution. The remainder of the Pequots were hunted down and exterminated in the following months. In 1638 the Treaty of Hartford declared the Pequot nation to be dissolved.
On 26 May 1637 the Puritans and some Native American allies attacked a Pequot village at the mouth of the Mystic River in Connecticut. One of the leaders of the expedition, Capt. John Mason, believed that the Pequots, like the Philistines of the Old Testament, had been justly put to the sword:
Thus were they now at their wits end, who not many hours before exalted themselves in their great pride, threatening and resolving the utter ruin of all the English, exulting and rejoicing with songs and dances. But God was above them, who laughed his enemies and the enemies of his people to scorn, making them as a fiery oven. Thus were the stout-hearted spoiled, having slept their last sleep.... Thus did the Lord judge among the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.
And here we may see the just judgment of God, in sending (even the very night before this assault) 150 men from their other fort, to join with them of that place; who were designed—as some of themselves reported—to go forth against the English at that very instant when this heavy stroke came upon them, where they perished with their fellows. So that the mischief they intended to us came upon their own pate. They were taken in their own snare, and we through mercy escaped. And thus in little more than one hour’s space was their impregnable fort with themselves utterly destroyed, to the number of six or seven hundred, as some of themselves confessed. There were only seven taken captive and about seven escaped.
Thus the Lord was pleased to smite our enemies in the hinder parts and to give us their land for an inheritance; who remembered us in our low estate, and redeemed us out of our enemies’ hands. Let us therefore praise the Lord for his goodness and his wonderful works to the Children of men!
Source: John Mason, A Brief History of the Pequot War (Boston: S. Kneeland &T. Green, 1736), pp. 9–10, 21.
Alfred A. Cave, The Pequot War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996);
Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Colonists, Culture, and the Cant of Conquest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976).