While the Connecticut settlers were busy in clearing fields for tillage, building rude but substantial houses of logs and stones, and opening roads, trouble with the Indians commenced.
A band of roving Narragansetts had killed a trader named Oldham, at Block Island. Oldham belonged to Watertown, Mass., and that colony took steps to punish the murderers. Some of them were killed; and others fled to the Pequot country, as their own friends, the Narragansetts, would have nothing to do with them. Governor Vane and his council decided to send a party of soldiers to Block Island, with orders to put to death all the men, but to spare the women and children.
In command of one hundred men, Captain Endicott sailed for the island in August, 1636. When the English attempted to land, the Indians did all they could to drive them back. They did not succeed in this, and finally took to flight after fourteen of their number were killed. Having set fire to the cornfields and wigwams, the expedition sailed to Pequot River. 1)Pequot River. Thames River. Meeting a party of Pequots, Endicott talked with them; but, finding them defiant and hostile, he told them to prepare to fight. In a skirmish that followed, two Indians were killed. Having burned a few wigwams, Endicott sailed for Boston. This action only enraged the Pequots. “You raise these wasps around us, and then flee away,” said the Connecticut men to their friends in Massachusetts.
Within a few days, parties of Pequot warriors began to harass and murder the settlers. The arrow from some ambush struck down the farmer toiling in his fields, and helpless women and innocent children were killed with fiendish cruelty. While a party of men were working outside the Saybrook fort, they were surprised by the Pequots, and four of their number killed. Lieutenant Gardiner was slightly wounded at the same time. The Indians, encouraged by their success, gathered in large numbers, and challenged those within the fort to fight, mocking them by imitating the dying groans and prayers of the poor prisoners whom they had tortured. A few charges of grape-shot scattered them.
The work of pillage and death still continued, until the settlers scarcely dared to stir outside their homes. The Pequots tried to get their old enemies, the Narragansetts, to unite with them in a league against the English. This plan was broken up by the influence of Roger Williams 2)Roger Williams. The founder of Rhode Island. His influence over the Narragansetts was remarkable, and his efforts in behalf of peace were unremitting. and the strength of the old enmity. The Mohegans were on bad terms with the Pequots, and formed an alliance with the English. The Niantics, although friendly to the Pequots, were unwilling to fight.
The colonists saw that it was a matter of life and death, and determined to make a desperate effort to break the power of the Pequots. A General Court was held in Hartford, May 1, 1637; and this resolution was unanimously adopted. “It is ordered that there shall be an offensive war against the Pequots, and there shall be ninety men levied out of the three plantations of Hartford. Wethersfield, and Windsor.” This number represented nearly one-third of the freemen of this little republic.
Within ten days from the opening of the court, this company of men sailed from Hartford under the command of Captain John Mason. 3)John Mason had won reputation as a brave soldier in the Low Countries. He was a member of the company that removed from Dorchester to Windsor. Oliver Cromwell offered him the position of major-general if he would return to England. For many years he held the highest position of military authority in the colony. With them was a band of seventy friendly Mohegan Indians 4)The Mohegans appear to have been tributary to the Pequots, but at this time they were on bad terms with each other. They dwelt on the west side of the Thames River., and Uncas 5)Uncas was a Pequot by birth; and his wife was a daughter of Sassacus, a Pequot sachem. At one time he was a petty chief under Sassacus, the great prince of the nation. They had quarreled; and at the time the English first came to Connecticut, his influence among the Indians was small. He had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, through the friendship of the English. their chief. When they reached the fort at Saybrook, Captain John Underhill, a brave and capable soldier, with the consent of Lieutenant Gardiner, commanding the fort, offered his services to Mason with nineteen men.
For some days the wind was contrary, and the little fleet was detained at the mouth of the river. Pequot spies, swift of foot, were watching its movements from the opposite shore, and apprised Sassacus of his danger. Mason’s orders were to sail directly to Pequot (New London) Harbor, and attack the enemy in their stronghold. Now that the wily Indians were informed of this purpose, he saw that it would be dangerous and perhaps futile to undertake it. He suggested that it would be best to sail as far as Narragansett Bay, and, if possible, secure the aid of Miantonomo, the chief sachem of the Narragansetts, in surprising and destroying their mutual enemy.
A council of war was held; and, while they all recognized the force of their leader’s arguments, they hesitated to assume the responsibility of changing the plan of the campaign. They were under orders, and it was their habit to obey without thought of personal consequences. It was finally suggested that they seek divine guidance; and the matter was referred to their chaplain, Mr. Stone, the beloved and revered assistant pastor of the church in Hartford. Having spent the night in prayer, Mr. Stone the next morning said to Captain Mason, that “he was fully satisfied to sail for Narragansett.”
This was accepted as a final decision, and on Friday morning they set sail. They arrived in Narragansett Bay Saturday evening, but the wind blew so strongly off shore that they were unable to land before Tuesday afternoon. Mason at once informed Miantonomo of his plans, which met the cordial approval of the sachem. He thought, however, that the little band of English soldiers were insufficient for such an undertaking.
During the night an Indian runner brought a letter from Captain Patrick, who had been sent from Massachusetts with a few men to assist in the war against the Pequots. He wrote that he had reached Providence, and urged Mason to wait until he could join him. The Connecticut company had already met with vexatious delays, and they were impatient to return home; and they decided to push on to the Pequot country at once.
On Wednesday morning, May 24, the little army began their march, and before night reached the borders of the Pequot territory. Here was the seat of a Narragansett sachem; but he refused to meet with the English captain, and would not allow his men to encamp within the palisades of his fortress. In the morning another band of warriors, sent by Miantonomo, having appeared, the Narragansetts within the fort plucked up courage, and with much boasting desired to join the expedition. When Captain Mason began the march again on Thursday, he had about five hundred Indians with him. Most of them proved a cowardly lot, and those who had bragged the loudest were the first to desert. Uncas, with his band of Mohegans, showed the most courage; and Wequash, a petty chief who had revolted from Sassacus, proved a trustworthy guide.
Suffering from the lack of food and the oppressive heat, they finally reached the neighborhood of the Pequot fort about an hour after sunset. Here they encamped between two high rocks, still known as Porter’s Rocks. It was a beautiful moonlight night; and the sentinels could hear the distant cries of the enemy, who were having a carousal of savage joy over the flight, as they supposed, of Mason and his men, as they had seen the vessels sailing past their territory.
An hour or two before daybreak the men were awakened from sleep; and, after a fervent prayer by the chaplain, they started for the fort, following a path pointed out by the Indians. The distance proved greater than they expected; and they began to fear lest they were on the wrong trail, when they came to a cornfield at the foot of “a great hill.” Their terror-stricken allies had fallen back; and it was only in response to a messenger that Uncas and Wequash came up, and informed them that the fort was on the top of the hill.
Sending the Indians word not to fly, but to keep at as safe a distance as they pleased, and see whether Englishmen would fight or not, they marched on, and soon came in sight of the Pequot’s stronghold.
The men were divided, for the purpose of storming the two entrances at the same time. Captain Mason was within a step of the north-east entrance, when the bark of a dog gave the first alarm to the sleeping enemy. The cry of an Indian. “Owanux! Owanux!” (“The English! the English!”) startled the Pequots from the heavy slumber that had followed the debauch of the previous night. Completely surprised, and paralyzed with fear, most of them huddled in their wigwams, even after the English had entered the palisades. A few tried to escape; and after some hand-to-hand fighting, Captain Mason gave the order to burn the fort, and, seizing a firebrand, lighted the conflagration himself. The rest of the sad story is best told quickly. The flames spread rapidly, and in an hour six or seven hundred poor creatures perished within the belt of fire. Only a handful escaped to tell the proud chief, in the fort not far away, of the terrible calamity that had overtaken the tribe. Only two of the English were killed, and twenty wounded.
From the outlook of the hill they saw their vessels in the distance entering Pequot Harbor, and they at once took up their march in that direction. By this time the Indians from the neighboring 6)The Neighboring Fort. Besides the fort at Mystic, the principal and royal residence of Sassacus was situated on Fort Hill in Groton, about four miles north-east of New London. fort swarmed along the forest path, and in every possible way harassed the soldiers. Before the harbor was reached, however, the Pequots returned to their fort, and upbraided the proud Sassacus as the author of all their misfortunes. From that hour his power, and that of his tribe, was broken. Only the intercession of some of his chief counselors saved his life. Panic-stricken, they burned their wigwams, destroyed their fort, and then fled. Sassacus, with seventy or eighty of his faithful warriors, sought refuge in the wilderness bordering the Hudson River.
When the little army of Englishmen returned to tell the story of their victory, the colonists breathed more freely. 7)Captain Mason and the Narragansett Indians, after leaving Pequot Harbor, continued their march by land to the Connecticut River, where they arrived on Saturday, “being nobly entertained by Lieutenant Gardner with many great guns.” From Saybrook the English volunteers in this expedition returned to their homes, where they were received with great rejoicing. But they were still in fear lest the spirit of revenge kindled in the hearts of the survivors of the hated tribe might break out in fierce and treacherous attacks, and arrangements were made to continue the war. Without passing judgment as to the right or wrong of this action, it is evident that the colonists felt that their lives were in constant jeopardy while a Pequot remained in the vicinity of their settlements. Captain Mason was put in command of forty men, and in June united his force with that of Captain Stoughton, who had been sent to Pequot Harbor (New London) from Massachusetts. While the vessels sailed along the Sound, the troops hunted for the enemy along the shore. 8)Uncas with his Indians and some of the soldiers, at a point about eighteen miles west of Saybrook, discovered the Pequot sachem, Mononotto, with a few of his followers. They attempted to escape by swimming across the mouth of a narrow harbor, but they were way-laid and taken as they landed. Uncas shot the sachem, and, after beheading him, stuck the head in the crotch of a large oak-tree, where it remained for many years. Since then the place has been called Sachem’s Head.
It was on this march that the beauty of the location and surroundings of Quinnipiac (New Haven) was first discovered by English eyes. As they approached the place, they saw the smoke of what they supposed was a Pequot encampment; but they found that the fire had been kindled by a party of friendly Indians. The vessels having entered the harbor, they went on board, and waited for several days, until the return of a Pequot spy, who reported that Sassacus and his party were concealed in a swamp a few miles to the westward. This hiding-place proved to be in a bog-thicket a short distance from the present village of Fairfield.
It was not an easy matter to dislodge the Pequots from this natural fortress. The soldiers found it very difficult to penetrate the tangled underbrush without sinking in the treacherous mire; and in the attempt to advance, many of them were wounded by the sharp arrows, that flew in showers about them. The Fairfield Indians, who were in the swamp, sent one of their number to beg for quarter, which was granted; and they came out with their women and children.
The plan was then adopted of surrounding the band of desperate Pequots, who still clung to their hiding-place. During the night, which proved dark and heavy with mist, they attempted to break through this line; but the watchful soldiers were prepared for a hand-to-hand fight, which ended in the death and capture of a large proportion of the Pequot warriors. The one hundred and eighty prisoners, with a large amount of booty consisting of wampum, bows, arrows, and other implements, were divided between Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Sassacus probably was not present at this fight. Fleeing in the direction of the Hudson, he sought refuge among his old enemies, the Mohawks; but the old feeling of hate continued, and, having beheaded him, they sent his scalp as a trophy to Connecticut.
On the 21st of September, Uncas and Miantonomo, with the surviving Pequots numbering about two hundred, met the magistrates of Connecticut at Hartford. A treaty was arranged between the colony and the Mohegans and Narragansetts, by the terms of which the tribes entered into a compact of peace, and agreed, that, in any case of wrong, justice should be meted out by the English. With considerable ceremony the remnant of the Pequots was divided among the chiefs who had given their aid in the war against the tribe now humbled and powerless.
- Quarrels between the Narragansetts and Mohegan
- The Narragansett and Pequots Indians
- The Pequot War at Chronicles of America
Source: Sanford, Elias B.; A History of Connecticut; Pub. The S. S. Scrantom Company, Hartford, 1922.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Pequot River. Thames River.|
|2.||↑||Roger Williams. The founder of Rhode Island. His influence over the Narragansetts was remarkable, and his efforts in behalf of peace were unremitting.|
|3.||↑||John Mason had won reputation as a brave soldier in the Low Countries. He was a member of the company that removed from Dorchester to Windsor. Oliver Cromwell offered him the position of major-general if he would return to England. For many years he held the highest position of military authority in the colony.|
|4.||↑||The Mohegans appear to have been tributary to the Pequots, but at this time they were on bad terms with each other. They dwelt on the west side of the Thames River.|
|5.||↑||Uncas was a Pequot by birth; and his wife was a daughter of Sassacus, a Pequot sachem. At one time he was a petty chief under Sassacus, the great prince of the nation. They had quarreled; and at the time the English first came to Connecticut, his influence among the Indians was small. He had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, through the friendship of the English.|
|6.||↑||The Neighboring Fort. Besides the fort at Mystic, the principal and royal residence of Sassacus was situated on Fort Hill in Groton, about four miles north-east of New London.|
|7.||↑||Captain Mason and the Narragansett Indians, after leaving Pequot Harbor, continued their march by land to the Connecticut River, where they arrived on Saturday, “being nobly entertained by Lieutenant Gardner with many great guns.” From Saybrook the English volunteers in this expedition returned to their homes, where they were received with great rejoicing.|
|8.||↑||Uncas with his Indians and some of the soldiers, at a point about eighteen miles west of Saybrook, discovered the Pequot sachem, Mononotto, with a few of his followers. They attempted to escape by swimming across the mouth of a narrow harbor, but they were way-laid and taken as they landed. Uncas shot the sachem, and, after beheading him, stuck the head in the crotch of a large oak-tree, where it remained for many years. Since then the place has been called Sachem’s Head.|