|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
A force of English and Amerindian warriors surrounds a palisaded village of Pequot Indians on the Mystic River. During the ensuing battle, the English massacred most of the inhabitants, breaking the power of the Pequot tribe.
The Pequot tribe in the 1600's occupied an area of about 250 square miles in southeastern Connecticut. The tribe at it greatest extent had about 8000 people scattered over several villages. Before the Europeans arrived tensions between the Pequot and neighboring tribes had been increasing. The Pequot wanted to increase their territory and influence at the expense of the other tribes. The arrival of the English in Massachusetts and the Dutch at New Amsterdam increased these tensions. Conflicts arose, as the tribes both feared the new arrivals and simultaneously became dependent on trading with them for the items that they offered in trade. As the English demands for more land grew, the tribes felt the pressure and in many instances fought back.
The Fur Trade
The Europeans wanted furs for clothing and fashion. The native tribes found that the things the Europeans offered in trade were irresistible. Iron axes, pots, pans and other tools made life easier, as before the natives had only flint and stone tools. The natives coveted the blankets, pot, pans and other goods that the Europeans offered for furs and wampum. As the fur trade increased in importance, the tribes jockeyed for position to take advantage of these new products. Previous conflicts and rivalries between the tribes amplified. The colonists brought new diseases that the natives had no resistance raged through the villages. Smallpox had decimated the Pequot, reducing their numbers to around 4000.
During the 1630’s, minor conflicts occurred with increasing frequency. The colonist’s livestock damaged the native’s crops. The two groups competed for the same hunting grounds. The colonists and the natives disputed over tracts of land. And always the European settlements expanded, taking more land. Many of the traders were dishonest and cheated the Amerindians. Many sold them alcohol. The situation came to a head when some Pequot killed a dishonest trader named John Oldham in 1636. The colonists demanded retribution. Massachusetts Governor John Endicott responded by raising a militia. The conflicts had birthed a war.
The Pequot War
The militia formed by Endicott attacked a Pequot village on Block Island (in modern Rhode Island). They destroyed the village and crops. For several months, the war consisted of several minor skirmishes. By spring, the Pequot increased the numbers and ferocity of the raids. Alarmed, the colonists raised another militia consisting of ninety men under Captain John Mason. This militia marched to the Pequot stronghold at Fort Mystic. Arriving on May 25, 1636 with some Narragansett and Niantic allies, they awaited dawn with a combined force of about 400 men. On the 26th, they attacked at daybreak. The Pequot sachem Sassacus had thought that the militia had returned to Boston. He had taken about 150 warriors to conduct a raid at Hartford, so most of the inhabitants of the fort were women and children. The combined force of natives and English surrounded the fort and set it afire. They shot any that tried to escape. The Narragansett, disgusted at the carnage, abandoned the battle. But this did not affect the outcome. Over five hundred died in the massacre. The English captured seven and others did manage to escape.
The battle broke the power of the Pequot. Their native allies deserted them and many of their villages were in ruin. Many of the survivors gave themselves up to serve as slaves. Others were forced onto reservations. Many left the area. The war ended with the Treaty of Hartford. The English, Mohegan and Narragansett signed it on September 21, 1638. The terms officially disbursed the Pequot among the other tribes. It forbade them from living in their former territory. The English banned the name Pequot. They had attempted to erase them from history.
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016