PEQUOT WAR (1636–1637). Tensions between English settlers and Pequot Indians, who inhabited southeastern New England and had made enemies among many other Indian tribes, developed by the early 1630s. These tensions escalated when Pequots killed English colonists and traders in 1633 and 1636. After the murder of an English captain on Block Island in 1636, both sides began to prepare for further hostilities. While English troops arrived to strengthen Saybrook Fort, located at the mouth of the Connecticut River, some Pequot Indians attacked Wethersfield further north, killing nine. This event led the general court of the recently settled river towns—Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield—to declare war on the Pequot Indians in May 1637.
Under English and Mohegan command, white and Indian troops allied against the Pequot and courted support from the Narragansett Indians. After a two-day march, the party surprised and burned the Pequot fort near present-day Mystic. Only seven Indians escaped the slaughter. English forces attacked a second Pequot stronghold two miles away the same night.
In response, hundreds of Pequot Indians decided to flee the area rather than stay and fight. The English and their allies pursued them and caught up with the group in Sasqua Swamp, near present-day Southport, Conn. The ensuing battle resulted in the capture of about 180 Pequots. The Pequots' Indian enemies adopted many of the captives into their own tribes and killed many of those who initially escaped. The war decimated the Pequot tribe as a formal political unit until the twentieth century, when Pequot descendants reorganized in southern New England.
Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000.
Nobles, Gregory H. American Frontiers: Cultural Encounters and Continental Conquest. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997.
George MatthewDuther/s. b.
"Pequot War." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pequot-war
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Pequot (pē´kwŏt), Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). The Pequot are of the Eastern Woodlands cultural area (see under Natives, North American). Originally they were united with the Mohegan, but when Uncas revolted, the Pequot moved southward to invade and drive off the Niantic. The warlike Pequot, under their chief, Sassacus, had by 1630 extended their territory west to the Connecticut River. Numerous quarrels between settlers in the Connecticut valley and the Pequot led to the Pequot War (1637). The precipitating cause was the Pequot's murder of John Oldham, an English trader. The English under John Mason and John Underhill attacked their stronghold on the Pequot River and killed some 500 Pequot.
The remaining Pequot fled in small groups. One party went to Long Island, and a second escaped into the interior. A third, led by Sassacus, was intercepted near Fairfield, Conn., where almost the entire party was killed or captured. The captives were forced into slavery, mainly in New England and the West Indies. A few Pequot, including Sassacus, who managed to escape were put to death by the Mohawk. A remnant of the Pequot was scattered among the southern New England tribes; the colonial government later settled them in Connecticut. Today they live on two reservations in SE Connecticut. At Ledyard the Mashantucket Pequot established (1992) a casino, which has proved to be one of the largest and most profitable gambling establishments in the world; they also sponsor an elaborate tribal museum. In 1990 there were 679 Pequot in the United States.
See J. W. De Forest, History of the Indians of Connecticut (1851, repr. 1988); K. I. Eisler, Revenge of the Pequots: How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World's Most Profitable Casino (2001).
"Pequot." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequot
"Pequot." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequot
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PEQUOTS, an Eastern Algonquian-speaking people, were located in what is now southeastern Connecticut when the Dutch began trading with them in the early 1600s. When the English replaced the Dutch after 1630, they sought control of trade and land and came into conflict with the Pequots in 1636. In 1637 the English and Indian allies attacked a Pequot village and killed some 600 Pequots. The war ended in 1638 when captured Pequots were sold as slaves or given to the English allies, the Mohegans and Narragansetts. The tribe's lands and name were taken away.
But the Pequots did not disappear. Instead, two tribes emerged, one at Noank and later Mashantucket, and the other at Paucatuck and later in Stonington. The two tribes continue to occupy their colonial-state reservations, although in the nineteenth century Connecticut passed laws reducing their acreage. The tribes have continuously governed their affairs, maintained their independence, and supported their members. In 1976, the Mashantucket Pequots filed a lawsuit to recover the land lost by state
action, and in 1983 they were federally recognized and their land claim settled. The other Pequot community also filed a land suit, then split into two groups, each petitioning for federal recognition.
Campisi, Jack. "The Emergence of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, 1637–1975." In The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation. Edited by Laurence M. Hauptman and James D. Wherry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
Conkey, Laura E., Ethel Boissevain, and Ives Goddard. "Indians of Southern New England and Long Island: Late Period." In Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by William C. Sturtevant et al. Vol. 15: Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.
See alsoTribes: Northeastern ; Wars with Indian Nations .
"Pequots." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pequots
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Pe·quot / ˈpēˌkwät/ • n. (pl. same or -quots) 1. a member of an American Indian people of southern New England. 2. the Algonquian language of this people, closely related to Mohegan. • adj. of or relating to this people or their language.
"Pequot." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pequot
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"Pequot War." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequot-war
"Pequot War." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequot-war
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The name Pequot (pronounced PEE-kwot ) comes from an Algonquin word meaning “destroyers,” referring to the warlike nature of the group in early times. The Pequot call themselves “fox people.” In the early twenty-first century there were two Pequot tribes: the Mashantucket (Western Pequot) and Paucatuck (Eastern Pequot).
Before Europeans arrived, Pequot lands covered all of southeastern Connecticut from the Nehantic River to the Rhode Island border. Today about one-half of U.S. Pequot live on or near two reservations in Connecticut: the Eastern Paucatuck Pequot Reservation in New London and the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket. The other half live mainly in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
In 1620 there were about six thousand Pequot, including those who later became the Mohegan. Before the Pequot War of 1637, there were about three thousand. After the Pequot War, there were fewer than 1,500, and by 1762 the population was down to 140. In 1974 there were fewer than 55 Pequot, but according to the 1990 U.S. Census, 679 people identified themselves as Pequot. In 2000 that number had risen to 1,334; of those, 590 were Mashantucket Pequot.
Origins and group affiliations
Historians have different opinions about Pequot origins. Some say they moved from upper New York to eastern Connecticut in about 1500, while others say they have lived in Connecticut for a much longer time. In 1633 a group of Pequot, later called Mohegan, split off from the Pequot and became their enemies. Several years later the Pequot lost the Pequot War of 1637. Many Pequot survivors were sold or given into slavery; others took refuge with the Algonquin, Narragansett (see entry), Eastern Niantic, and Metoac tribes. They were soon absorbed into those tribes, and the Pequot tribe was called “perished.” The British colonists forced the few Pequot survivors of the war to join the Mohegan; those Pequot became the ancestors of the two current Pequot tribes: the Mashantucket and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation.
Before Europeans came, the Pequot controlled Connecticut, fiercely guarding their hunting grounds against other tribes. After Europeans started the fur trade, the Pequot tried to control it, which led to the bloody conflict and near-destruction of the tribe in the Pequot War of 1637. After that, the tribe was rarely heard from over the next three hundred years. The story of how they went from power to poverty and triumphed to become owners of one of the world’s richest casinos is truly astonishing.
Pequot expand control beyond own territory
Before their land was invaded by British settlers in the early 1600s, the Pequot farmed, hunted, fished, waged war, and dominated Connecticut. Before they even saw any white men, the tribe benefited by the presence of the French and British. This is because these newcomers diminished the powers of many Pequot rivals. Tribes to the north, who liked the European goods they received in exchange for furs, waged wars for control of the fur trade in what is now Canada. British slave ships traveled along the Atlantic Coast, kidnapping Native Americans and leaving behind diseases like smallpox that killed many Natives. While other tribes were occupied with trade wars and sickness, the Pequot and Narragansett (see entry) became the two most powerful tribes in the Connecticut-New York region.
1600: The first Dutch trading post opens in Pequot territory.
1637: Massacre at Mystic ends Pequot War and nearly destroys the tribe.
1972: Pequot land claim filed.
1983: Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act provides federal recognition.
1992: Foxwoods Casino opens.
2005: Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation loses federal recognition status gained in 2002.
Relations with Dutch
The first Pequot encounter with Europeans was with the Dutch, who built a trading post in Connecticut in 1622. The Dutch planned to trade with all tribes in the region, but the Pequot had other plans—they wanted total control. Their attacks on other tribes to gain this control upset both the other tribes and the Dutch, who in 1622 took Pequot Sachem (Chief) Tatobem prisoner. The Dutch threatened to kill Tatobem if the Pequot did not change their ways; they also demanded a ransom for his release.
The Dutch expected the Pequot to bring beaver skins as ransom, but the Pequot brought wampum instead. The Dutch had no idea what value the Native American tribes placed on wampum, the small white or dark purple beads made from shells. The furious Dutch leader ordered Tatobem killed. When the Pequot heard of this outrage, they burned down the trading post.
The Dutch leader was replaced by a new one, who apologized to the Pequot and built a new trading post. Trade began again, with the Pequot firmly in charge. Soon, the Dutch were trading for both furs and wampum, and the Pequot resumed their attacks on neighboring tribes. Now they fought not only for control of other tribes’ hunting grounds but also for control of the seashell beds along Long Island Sound.These beds were the best source of wampum.
Massachusetts colonists want Connecticut
In 1620 the Puritans, a Protestant group who opposed the Church of England, established a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Puritans competed with the Dutch for control of trade in Connecticut. The colonists called Connecticut “paradise.” They wanted Pequot territory, especially the Connecticut River valley, containing the only waterway in the area that ran from the Atlantic Ocean into the rich Canadian hunting grounds. The Pequot resisted British settlement; they were one of the first of the New England tribes to do so.
In 1633 with rivalry heating up in Connecticut between the Dutch and the Massachusetts colonists, a bitter fight broke out among the Pequot. Chief Sassacus (1560–1637) wished to maintain relations with the Dutch. His son-in-law, Uncas, favored the British. Uncas and his followers broke away from the Pequot and formed a new tribe they called Mohegan.
Uncas and the Mohegans
When the Pequot grand sachem died in 1631, the Pequot tribal council chose Sassacus as the new grand sachem. Uncas (c. 1588–c. 1682), who was married to the daughter of Sassacus, had expected to be chosen, and he was angry. The quarrel between the two men escalated until Uncas broke off relations completely.
Accompanied by fifty Pequot warriors and their families, Uncas established a new village on the Connecticut River. The group took the name Mohegan, which means wolf, and set up a long and profitable trading relationship with British colonists. Uncas supported the British against his former Pequot kin in the Pequot War of 1637 and, eventually under his leadership, the Mohegan became one of the most powerful tribes on the Atlantic Coast.
The Mohegan proved to be as fierce as the Pequot had been, and many small tribes in Connecticut were swallowed up by them. When Uncas died, his sons carried on his policies. Historians agree that the fighting among tribes hastened the settlers’ takeover of Native American lands in New England. The Mohegan tribe eventually lost most of its land to the settlers.
In 1994 the Mohegan reached an agreement with the state of Connecticut in which the state allowed the tribe to buy 700 acres of its former homeland—which had once included most of the state. The Mohegan Indian Reservation was established.
Uncas is probably most famous as a character in the book The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826 by James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851). Cooper seems to have been confused. He was probably writing about the Mahican (not Mohican) tribe of the Hudson River valley, but he took the name of the character Uncas from the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut.
Relations between the two Native American groups were very bad. They often attacked one another, disrupting trade throughout the region. When a Boston, Massachusetts, trader was murdered, the British blamed the Pequot. They demanded that Sassacus hand over the persons responsible; he refused. At about the same time, the Pequot were hit by a smallpox epidemic, and the British forced the Dutch to close their trading post and leave. Now very weak from disease, the Pequot had no Dutch allies. More Massachusetts colonists were welcomed into Connecticut by the pro-British Mohegan. Hostilities grew, with the Pequot on one side, and the Mohegans, the Massachusetts colonists, and all the rival tribes on the other side.
Pequot War of 1637
In 1636 a second Boston trader was killed, and again the British blamed the Pequot. Puritan preachers spoke out in church against the tribe, calling the Pequot an evil force that must be destroyed. In response a vengeful army of colonial soldiers destroyed a Pequot village. Early in 1637 Sassacus led a raid against several Connecticut settlements, beginning the Pequot War.
Because the Pequot had made so many enemies fighting for control of the fur trade, no other tribe came to their aid. One day, while three hundred Pequot warriors from the village of Mystic were away on a raid, their former kinsmen, the Mohegan, joined the British and the Narragansett tribe in a surprise attack on the undefended Pequot fort. Between three hundred and seven hundred Pequot, mostly women, children, and the elderly, were trapped inside as the fort was set ablaze. Back in Plymouth, when the governor heard the news, he called the massacre a “sweet sacrifice.”
When the Pequot warriors returned, they were heartsick to find their families dead and their village destroyed. Now broken in spirit and starving, they divided into small groups and fled. The colonists, not content with having won the war, determined to destroy the Pequot tribe. They hunted down and killed many, but Sassacus was their main target.
Aftermath of war
With nowhere to turn, Sassacus sought refuge with his tribe’s enemies, the Mohawk (see entry). They cut off his head and sent it to the British colonists. The remaining Pequot surrendered, and signed a peace treaty in 1638.
Under the terms of the peace treaty with the colonists, the Pequot tribe was dissolved. Pequot warriors were executed. Women and children were sold into slavery in the West Indies or given as slaves to the Mohegan, the Narragansett, the Metoac, and the Niantic tribes.
The Pequot who were given in slavery to their relatives, the Mohegan, had an especially hard time. They were forbidden to call themselves Pequot, and they were treated so cruelly that in 1655 the colonists took them away from the Mohegan and moved them to eastern Connecticut. In 1666, 2,000 acres became the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Reservation in Ledyard. About twenty years later, 200 acres called the Lantern Hill Reservation were set aside for the Paucatuck (Eastern) Pequot.
Most Pequot slowly drifted away from the reservations because they could not earn a living there. By 1910 there were only 66 Pequot people living in Connecticut, and the state of Connecticut had illegally sold most of their land.
By the 1970s only one tumbledown home remained on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation. It housed the families of two half-sisters, Elizabeth George Plouffe and Martha Langevin Ellal. The two feisty old women struggled to hold on against white overseers who refused to let them use tribal money for repairs. Sometimes they were forced to chase off trespassers at gunpoint. When they died in the 1970s, their relatives realized they must take over their elders’ dream—to hold onto their land—or watch it die. And so began a truly astounding American success story.
A lawsuit was filed in 1976 to recover Pequot land that had been illegally sold by the state. The case was settled in 1983. The settlement, called the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, gave the tribe more than $700,000 and granted federal recognition. Federally recognized tribes are those with which the U.S. government maintains official relations. With federal recognition came the right to open a gambling casino.
In 1992 they opened a grand casino. By 1998 Foxwoods was one of the world’s largest and most profitable casinos. The few hundred individuals who were able to prove that they had Pequot ancestry suddenly found themselves the richest Native Americans in the United States.
Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation
Matters have not gone as well for the Eastern Pequot. As of the mid-1990s, the state of Connecticut recognized the tribe, but it had not been granted federal recognition. Without federal recognition, the tribe does not exist as far as the federal government is concerned, and is not entitled to financial or other help.
In the early 1980s Eastern Pequots broke into two separate groups, Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and Eastern Pequots. They rejoined to become the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and to seek federal recognition. In 2002 the government granted them this recognition. However, that decision was overturned in 2005. Powerful interest groups in Connecticut are fighting the petition for tribal recognition because they do not want a casino in their area. That year another group, the Wiquapaug Eastern Pequot Tribe, originally part of the petition, claimed to be separate from the Eastern Pequots.
Little is known about the Pequot’s traditional religious beliefs and practices, because the tribe was nearly destroyed soon after contact with Europeans, only that their religion was based on a deep attachment to the land.
One Pequot achieved fame for his Methodist religious beliefs—nineteenth-century writer William Apess (1798–1839), the first widely published Native American author. His early books dealt with his own conversion to Christianity and the conversion of five Pequot women. Apess argued that Native Americans might be one of the “lost tribes of the Israelites,” Hebrews who fled after being conquered by the Assyrians in the eighth century. Apess skillfully made his case that Native Americans, as lost tribes, were the chosen people of God.
The version of the Algonquin language spoken by the Pequot was also spoken by the Mohegan, Narragansett (see entry), Niantic, Montauk, and Shinnecock tribes. For almost 350 years, no one spoke Pequot because the 1638 Treaty of Hartford forbade the tribe from speaking their language. In 2002 the tribe’s Historical and Cultural Preservation Committee held a conference on the importance of language and began the difficult process of reviving the Pequot language, much of which no longer survives.
Thirty-five Pequot words were recorded in 1762:
- uhpuckackip … “gull”
- neuyewgk … “my wife”
- muckachux … “boy”
- squas or quausses … “virgin girls”
- pouppous … “infant newborn”
- nehyashamag … “my husband”
- m‘ssugkheege … “bass”
- podumbaug … “whale”
- sucksawaug … “clam”
- muschundaug … “lobster”
- yewt … “fire”
- nupp … “water”
- souchpoun … “snow”
- sokghean … “rain”
- mattuck … “trees”
- wewautchemins … “Indian corn”
- mushquissedes … “beans”
- tommonque … “beaver”
- kuchyage … “nose”
- skeezucks … “eyes”
- cottoneege … “mouth”
- nahteah … “dog”
- muckasons … “shoes”
- cuzseet … “foot”
- wuttun … “wind”
- meeun … “Sun”
- weyhan … “Moon”
- tohcommock … “beach”
- wumbanute … “white”
- suggyo … “dark” or “black”
- keeguum … “arrow”
- teatum … “I think”
- moche … “I will”
- gynchen … “I kill”
- mundtu … “God”
- cheeby … “evil spirit” or “devil”
News From Indian Country. 8, 5 (March 1994):10; 9, 15 (September 1995): 5B.
Because they were so often at war with other tribes, the Pequot had to be well organized under a strong leader. Pequot chiefs called sachems (pronounced SAY-chums) ruled with the advice of tribal councils. After the Pequot’s removal to reservations in the 1600s, the tribe came under the control of the state of Connecticut, which often mismanaged reservation affairs. State officials allowed Pequot land to be leased and then lost to white colonists. By the 1940s, the Pequot people were forbidden to hold gatherings or spend the night on the reservation without state permission. By the 1970s there were scarcely any Pequot left on the reservation.
In the mid-1970s Pequot Richard “Skip” Hayward and several other members of the tribe returned to the Mashantucket Reservation to re-establish the community. They adopted a constitution and set up a seven-member elected council to oversee tribal affairs. In the 1990s the tribal council had to contend with huge numbers of non-Native American visitors to their casino. To deal with the situation, the tribe wrote and enforced laws; they also established a court and a police force. Visitors to the casino become subject to reservation law.
As of 2007 the tribe was governed by a tribal council, elected for three-year terms, and an Elders Council, made up of all tribe members over age fifty-five. The tribal council, under the leadership of a Council Chairman, made the laws and dealt with financial and environmental concerns. The Elders Council provided advice, decided on tribal membership, heard cases referred by the tribal council, and proposed constitutional amendments.
The Mashantucket Pequot tribe is skilled at dealing with the U.S. government. They pass this skill along to young people by funding an internship program, which pays college students a salary while they learn how to represent the interests of the Pequot and other Native American tribes before the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C.
The traditional Pequot economy was based mainly on farming; hunting and fishing were secondary. For the brief time between their first contact with the Dutch in 1600 and the near-destruction of the tribe in 1637, the Pequot carried on a lively trade in furs and wampum. At a time when metal money was rare even in the courts of European kings, the Pequot were largely responsible for making wampum an important trade item in the colonies.
The Importance of Wampum
To the Native Americans of the Northeast, wampum was not simply “Indian money.” Tribes used it for many different purposes. They believed that the exchange of wampum and other goods established a friendship, not just a profit-making relationship.
To make wampum, they ground and polished wampum shells into small, cylindrical shapes like beads. They used a stone drill to make a small hole in each bead, which were then strung on strings made from animal tendons or used loose.
Tribes used wampum as personal adornment; it often signified a person’s rank in society—the more wampum one wore, the higher one’s rank. Many people were buried with supplies of wampum; wealthier people were buried with more wampum than poor people.
Sometimes wampum was used to pay tribute to a more powerful tribe. After the Pequot War of 1637, because the British spared the lives of the Pequot who went to live with the Mohegan, the British forced the Mohegan tribe to pay an annual tribute in wampum. Tribal members also gave wampum to their sachems to support them and to show gratitude for their services.
Tribes also used wampum to pass down their history from generation to generation. They wove designs into belts as a way of recalling important events. The colors of the wampum beads had meaning: white was a symbol of peace, while black (purple) meant war or mourning. They also used wampum belts to communicate with other tribes. If the message communicated on a belt made the other tribe angry, members kicked the belt around to show their contempt for the contents.
Among many other uses, wampum served as ransom for captured prisoners, as prizes for winning at games or sports, as payments to healers for curing the sick, and as tokens of a young man’s affection or his marriage proposal. Warriors often wore necklaces made from wampum to remind them that they were fighting not only for their wives and children, but also for material goods. A person accused of murder might offer a gift of wampum to the victim’s family; if the family accepted, the murderer’s life would be spared.
By the early 1800s two-thirds of the Pequot people lived on the reservation, earning money by crafts such as basketry. They continued at these occupations until early in the twentieth century, when most of those who knew the crafts had died. Other Pequot worked in the American economy, first as servants or on whaling ships, and later in a variety of fields.
Casino brings huge economic benefits
A dramatic turnaround in the Pequot economy occurred with the opening of the Foxwoods Casino in 1992. In 1995 Kevin Chappell described the personal effects of casino riches on tribal members in Ebony magazine: “The tribe’s good investments have resulted in a grand lifestyle for its members. Each person who proves … that he or she is at least one-sixteenth Pequot is given a new house, a managerial job or training paying a minimum of $50,000 per year, free education from private elementary school through graduate school (with a $30,000 annual [allowance] while in college), free health care and free day-care. And Pequot mothers are paid $30,000 annually with medical benefits for five years, even if they don’t work and choose to stay home to raise their children.”
The casino’s success has had a tremendous impact on the state of Connecticut as well. In the early 1990s the state was suffering from an economic downturn because defense-related industries were shutting down, and defense workers were out of work. Thousands of those workers found jobs at Foxwoods, which by the late 1990s was the largest employer in the state. The Pequots paid the state 25 percent, or at least $100 million, of the total money earned from slot machines each year.
The Mashantucket Pequot have been generous with casino profits. They donated millions of dollars to the Special Olympics; other money has gone to finance playground equipment. A 1995 gift to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)—$10 million—was the largest donation in Smithsonian history. “I guess you could call us wealthy people,” tribal chairman Skip Hayward told a news conference following the donation. “We were wealthy before we had money, because we had a love of the land … our ancestors and our culture.”
Although many people acknowledge the financial benefits the casino has brought to the state and the tribe, local citizens complain about the traffic and the changes to their lifestyle. Some worry that because the reservation is a sovereign nation, the tribe can continue to build and expand without consulting the surrounding communities. They also believe the casino has a negative financial impact on businesses in the area.
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, opened in 1998, presents the story of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. It is the only American Indian-owned and operated institution of its kind. The complex promotes Native American heritage, scholarship, and preservation of the culture through a public museum and a research facility.
Big Eater’s Wife
According to this Pequot tale, Big Eater married a beautiful woman. Soon she decided she wanted a different husband, so one day while Big Eater was fishing, she paddled off a canoe with food and her mortar and pestle (a stone bowl and grinding tool). Big Eater saw her and chased her.
“Now I’ll catch her,” he thought. Then the woman threw her mortar out of the canoe over the stern. At once all the water around him turned into mortars, and Big Eater was stuck. He couldn’t paddle until at last he lifted his canoe and carried it over the mortars. By the time he gained clear water again, his wife was a long way off.
Again he paddled furiously. Again he gained on her. Again he almost caught her. Then she threw her pestle over the stern, and at once the water turned into pestles. Again Big Eater was stuck, trying to paddle through this sea of pestles but unable to. He had to carry his canoe over them, and when he hit open water again, his wife was far distant. Again Big Eater drove through the water with all his strength. Again he gained on her; again he almost caught her. Then from the stern of her canoe the woman threw the eggs out. At once the water turned into eggs, and once more Big Eater was stuck. The eggs were worse than the mortar and pestle, because Big Eater couldn’t carry his canoe over them. Then he hit the eggs, smashing them one by one and cleaving a path through the gooey mess. He hit clear water, and his wife’s canoe was only a dot on the horizon. Again he paddled mightily.
Slowly he gained on her again. It took a long time, but finally he was almost even with her. “This time I’ll catch you!” he shouted. You have nothing left to throw out.” But his wife just laughed. She pulled out a long hair from her head, and at once it was transformed into a lance. She stood up and hurled this magic lance at Big Eater. It hit him square in the chest, piercing him through and through. Big Eater screamed loudly and fell down dead. That’s what can happen to a man if he marries a ghost-witch.
“Native American Legends: Big Eater’s Wife.” First People. (accessed on July 16, 2007).
For winter use, the Pequot built longhouses like those of the Iroquois (see entry). In summer, they lived in portable wigwams near their hunting and fishing grounds. Because they were so often at war, their villages were usually built on hilltops and were surrounded by sharpened sticks to keep out intruders.
By 1720 Pequot lived in fewer, larger, and more permanent communities. Most were combinations of frame structures and wigwams. Outbuildings included sweat lodges, animal pens, storage facilities, wells, stone walls, and small stone piles scattered over one or two acres.
The Pequot grew beans and corn (the beans were allowed to twine up the cornstalks), squash, and tobacco. The land was stony and good soil was scarce, so women planted corn in scattered plots both near and away from their villages. The plots were heavily fertilized with dead fish. By 1732 the lands of the 250 or so Pequot who lived at Mashantucket Reservation had been reduced to only 14 acres. There they cultivated apple trees and raised sheep and pigs.
This chicken and rice casserole is a traditional Lumbee dish called a bog. It comes from the kitchen of Marty Grant, who lives in Kinston, North Carolina.
- 2 cups rice
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 2 cans chicken
- beef sausage
- any spices you like
Cut up sausage into small slices. Add rice to large pot, add broth, water, chicken, sausage, pepper and paprika. Stir. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir, reduce heat to low and put on lid. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes it should be moist, but not soupy.
“Chicken Bog.” Carolina Country. (accessed on July 4, 2007).
Clothing and adornment
The Pequot dressed in buckskin clothing suitable to the colder climate of Connecticut. A favorite decoration was wampum beads. Whereas in other Northeastern tribes only important people adorned themselves with wampum, it was common for nearly everyone in the Pequot tribe to wear wampum ornaments. After trade began with Europeans, the Pequot added exotic feathers to their clothing.
The Mashantucket Pequot tribe hosts an annual powwow. A powwow is a celebration at which the main activities are traditional singing and dancing. In modern times, the singers and dancers at powwows come from many different tribes.
The Pequot buried their dead with bows and arrows and great quantities of wampum beads. After their defeat in the Pequot War of 1637, the graves of Pequot dead were often ransacked by grave robbers, who stole the wampum. Learning of these crimes, many tribes gave up the custom of marking the graves of their dead.
Current tribal issues
In 2007 the Eastern Pequot still sought federal recognition and struggled over land ownership and other rights issues.
Meanwhile, the Mashantucket Pequot continue their efforts to add land to their reservation. Reservation lands are free from property taxes and other state and federal laws. This freedom causes hostility among non-Native residents of Connecticut, especially business owners, who say it is unfair. Many neighbors also object to the constant traffic and commotion at the casino.
For their part, the Pequot say much of the anger is due to racism, because about half of the members of the tribe are African Americans. In the late 1990s tribal council member Gary Carter, who is black, put it this way: “Most of it is racial. There are people who believe that dark-skinned people shouldn’t be making money, and they’ll do anything they can to try to stop us. But what they don’t realize is, to protect ourselves, we know how to play their games.” The Pequot believe that their present-day financial success offsets some of the losses they suffered after Europeans arrived on the continent.
Chief Sassacus (1560–1637) became Pequot grand sachem in 1632. Under his leadership, Pequot territory grew to include most of present-day Connecticut and Long Island. He bravely led his people through the Pequot War (1637), but was killed trying to hide from the British.
Other notable Pequot include: Sachem Robin Cassasinamon, who led the Mashantucket Reservation from its founding in 1667 until his death in 1693; minister and writer William Apess (1798–1839); and Elizabeth George Plouffe and Martha Langevin Ellal (d. 1970s), who fought to retain tribal land.
Barron, Donna Gentle Spirit. The Long Island Indians and their New England Ancestors: Narragansett, Mohegan, Pequot & Wampanoag Tribes. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006.
Lassieur, Allison. The Pequot Tribe. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2002.
Miller, Jay. “Blending Worlds.” The Native Americans: An Illustrated History. Eds. Betty Ballantine and Ian Ballantine. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1993.
Chappell, Kevin. “Black Indians Hit Jackpot in Casino Bonanza.” Ebony, 50, 8 (June 1995): 46.
Mashantucket Museum and Research Center. (accessed on July 15, 2007).
George Cornell, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, History and American Studies, Michigan State University; Director, Native American Institute
"Pequot." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequot
"Pequot." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequot
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
On May 26, 1637, an English military force, supported by Native allies, attacked a Pequot settlement on the Mystic River in Connecticut, and set it on fire. Almost all the Pequots who escaped the flames were killed by the troops surrounding the village. Six to seven hundred Pequots died. Many Pequots who were not in the village at the time were killed later, and others were enslaved. In 1638 the Pequots were forced to sign a treaty officially dissolving their nation. The English forbade the use of the Pequot name.
Whether this incident was a case of genocide has been the subject of much dispute. Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn include it in their history of genocide. Steven Katz has argued that it was not genocide. Michael Freeman has challenged his argument. The dispute turns mainly on the question of whether the English intent was genocidal. This is difficult to determine, but most of the facts of what is usually called the Pequot War are uncontroversial.
Early contacts between Europeans and Native Americans were sometimes friendly and at other times hostile. The origins of their conflicts are often obscure, but probably include cultural misunderstandings and the escalation of minor offenses. Europeans despised Natives as heathens, and feared them as savages and agents of Satan. European attitudes were not uniformly hostile, however, and some thought that the Natives could become good Christians and trading partners. Puritan attitudes were not very different from those of other English settlers, but their conception of themselves as God's elect only intensified their distrust of Native Americans. Native-American attitudes toward Europeans were generally friendly, unless provoked. The English immigrated to America to settle, trade, and/or bring their religion to the heathen. These motives were not inherently genocidal, but they did contain the potential for violence, because many English believed that Natives who obstructed these goals should justly be punished. Some saw English colonists as new Israelites entering the promised land of Canaan, given to them by God, and inhabited by devil-worshippers. This belief had genocidal potential.
The first Puritan colony in New England was established at Plymouth in 1620. In 1630 a new colony was established in Boston Harbor; it rapidly grew during the 1630s. The local Natives welcomed the Boston settlers. Puritan attitudes toward the Natives were ambivalent. On the one hand, they were motivated by both Christian goodwill and the desire to trade. On the other hand, they feared the Natives as wild and untrustworthy savages.
The Pequot War
At the time of their first contact with Europeans, the Pequots occupied the coastal area between the Niantic River in Connecticut and the Wecapaug River in western Rhode Island. In 1622 the Dutch became the first Europeans to trade with them. This trade enabled the Pequots to dominate the other Natives of the Connecticut Valley. In 1633 the Dutch established a trading post on the Connecticut River. They concluded an agreement with the Pequots, according to which the Pequots would allow all Natives access to the trading post. Almost immediately the Pequots broke this agreement by killing some Natives bound for the post. When the Pequot principal sachem (chief), Tatobem, boarded a Dutch vessel to trade, he was held for ransom. The Pequots sent the Dutch the ransom. The Dutch sent the Pequots Tatobem's corpse. In response the Pequots killed the captain and crew of a European ship anchored in the Connecticut River.
The Pequots' victims were, however, not Dutch, but English. The captain was John Stone, a smuggler and privateer. In 1632 he had attempted to steal a ship of the Plymouth colony. He went to Boston, from which he was expelled for unbecoming conduct. When news of his death became known, neither Plymouth nor Boston showed any inclination to avenge him. In 1634 the Pequots sent an envoy to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, seeking the friendship of the English. Colony authorities made the surrender of Stone's killers a condition of friendship with the Pequots. The Pequot sachems did not accept these conditions, but instead made a payment to Boston for Stone's murder.
Shortage of good land in Massachusetts led to increasing English settlement in Connecticut. In June 1636 a Plymouth trader, Jonathan Brewster, reported that the Pequots were planning an attack. On July 4 the Massachusetts Bay Colony demanded that the Pequots honor the supposed agreement of 1634 that they surrender Stone's killers and pay compensation for his murder. Later that month Captain John Gallop found the ship of John Oldham abandoned near Block Island. Onboard he discovered Oldham's dead body. The probable killers were the Narragansetts and the Block Islanders, who were tributaries of the Narragansetts. The Narragansetts returned Oldham's two sons and his possessions to Massachusetts, and made a reprisal raid on Block Island. The Bay Colony nevertheless decided to seek revenge on the Block Islanders and the Pequots. On August 25 a punitive expedition set sail from Boston to take revenge on the Block Islanders and to demand from the Pequots the surrender of Captain Stone's killers and compensation for his death. The expedition found few Native men on Block Island, destroyed various Native possessions, and then set off in pursuit of the Pequots. They were, however, unable to engage them, and, after killing one Pequot, they returned to Boston. In revenge the Pequots attacked English settlers in Connecticut during the winter of 1636 and 1637. A dispute with settlers at Wethersfield led to a Pequot attack in April 1637 resulting in the deaths of nine settlers. A week later the General Court of Connecticut declared war against the Pequots.
Connecticut mobilized a troop of ninety Englishmen under Captain John Mason and about seventy Natives hostile to the Pequots. The troop marched to Narragansett Bay, and then with Narragansett guides headed toward the Pequot settlement on the Mystic River. Mason later wrote that his plan was to destroy the Pequots. The English attacked the settlement, and the systematic massacre of its inhabitants ensued. Pequots who were not in the settlement at the time were rounded up and killed or sent into slavery. The English officially annihilated the Pequot nation as such. English apologists employed Old Testament justifications for their actions, comparing the Pequots to the Amalekites, whose name was supposed to be eliminated from the world.
The Puritan destruction of the Pequots has been explained as a preemptive strike motivated by fear of Pequot attack. The Pequot threat was, however, exaggerated, and the Puritans' inconsistent attitude about Stone's murder suggests that they had another agenda. The basis of the conflict lay in the complex, competitive relations among various Native groups and Europeans generated by European colonization and trade. The tensions these produced were aggravated by religious and cultural differences. The increasing Puritan demand for land might have brought conflict in the absence of these factors.
The Puritans sought to punish the Pequots severely and succeeded in destroying them in the process. Whether their intent was genocidal is not clear.
Cave, Alfred A. (1996). The Pequot War. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Freeman, Michael (1995). "Puritans and Pequots: The Question of Genocide." New England Quarterly 68:278–293.
Katz, Steven T. (1991). "The Pequot War Reconsidered." New England Quarterly 64:206–224.
Katz, Steven T. (1995). "Pequots and the Question of Genocide: A Reply to Michael Freeman." New England Quarterly 68:641–649.
Vaughan, Alden T. (1979). New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620–1675, revised edition. New York: W. W. Norton.
"Pequots." Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequots
"Pequots." Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pequots