Pequot War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Pequot War represented the first major conflict between Native Americans and New England settlers. The settlers allied with several other New England Indian tribes and utterly defeated the once-dominant New England indigenous nation, killing or enslaving many of its members. The war marked the beginning of a forty-year period of violence and conflict between Europeans and Native Americans in New England.

Summary of Event

As suggested by their name (from pekawatawog, “the destroyers”), the Pequots were once the most formidable tribe in New England. Part of the Eastern Algonquian language family, by the dawn of the seventeenth century they were well established in what is now Connecticut. Their powerful leader, or sachem, was the venerable Sassacus Sassacus , who was born near what is now Groton. Despite his many years of experience, Sassacus faced, in his seventies, the biggest crisis in his people’s history. Although the Pequots had a virtual hegemony over their adjacent nations—a leader among the Mohegans Mohegans , Uncas Uncas , was married to the daughter of the Pequot sachem—the Pequots had trouble coping with the impact of European colonists in the Connecticut Valley. The Pequots found themselves caught between the Dutch, who were moving eastward from New Netherland, and the English, moving westward from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Connecticut. European competition for control over trade on the Connecticut River proved to be a destabilizing factor in intertribal relationships, threatening the Pequot hegemony. [kw]Pequot War (July 20, 1636-July 28, 1637) [kw]War, Pequot (July 20, 1636-July 28, 1637) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 20, 1636-July 28, 1637: Pequot War[1230] Colonization;July 20, 1636-July 28, 1637: Pequot War[1230] American Colonies;July 20, 1636-July 28, 1637: Pequot War[1230] Pequot War (1636-1637)

An engraving representing the defeat of the Pequot Indians by Connecticut settlers in 1637, taken from John Underhill’s book Newes from America (1638).

(Library of Congress)

The political climate was therefore ripe for violence, which finally erupted after two English traders were killed in Connecticut. John Stone Stone, John was killed in 1633, and John Oldham Oldham, John died on July 20, 1636. It has never been firmly established that the Pequots were in fact the ones responsible for the traders’ deaths. John Gallup, Gallup, John an English merchant, found Native Americans in control of Oldham’s ship, anchored off Block Island, in July of 1636. Gallup fought with the Indians for control of the vessel. Native Americans;conflict with Europeans

Upon hearing of the skirmish for Oldham’s ship, Massachusetts governor John Endecott Endecott, John led ninety soldiers on a punitive raid on the Indians of Block Island. They killed every man on the island. Although most of the casualties were Narragansetts Narragansetts , not Pequots, Endecott pushed eastward along the Connecticut coast, indiscriminately demanding reparations from the Pequots as well. The tribe refused, resisted the Massachusetts troops, and suffered at least one death, as well as the destruction of several villages.

Sassacus, outraged, invited the Narragansetts to join him in war on the English, but the Narragansett sachem, Miantonomo Miantonomo , was favorably disposed toward the colonists and refused. He was probably influenced by Roger Williams, Williams, Roger the founder of Rhode Island, who had cultivated a close relationship with the Narragansett people. Even without Narragansett support, Sassacus acted, laying siege to Fort Saybrook, on the Connecticut River, during the winter of 1636-1637 and concurrently attacking several outlying English settlements, including Wethersfield, where at least nine settlers were killed.

Puritan retaliation was not long in coming. Captains John Mason Mason, John and John Underhill Underhill, John shared command. Born in England, Mason had served as an army officer in the Netherlands before his arrival in Massachusetts in 1632. From Hartford, he set forth with a band of eighty, supported by warriors of the Mohegan, Narragansett, and Niantic Niantics tribes. Uncas had allied with the English against his father-in-law, Sassacus. Like Mason, Underhill had been born in England, and he then was reared in the Netherlands, where his father had fought the Spanish. Since 1630, he had lived in Massachusetts. Mason and Underhill initially went eastward, by ship, along the Connecticut coast, making landfall at Narragansett Bay. Then, with their native allies, they moved westward by land. After crossing the Pawcatuck and Mystic Rivers, they were poised to attack the main Pequot village at sunrise on May 25, 1637.

The Puritan forces divided, with each half attacking one of the village’s two main gates, located at opposite ends of the stockaded native settlement. The English did not profit as much as expected by their surprise attack; their opening forays were successfully repulsed. The Europeans then set fire to the wigwams, however, and as the village burned, the Pequots faced horrible alternatives. Some, mostly women and children, remained inside the fort, perishing in the flames. Those who fled, mostly the warriors, were cut down by the English and their Narragansett, Mohegan, and Niantic allies. Between six hundred and one thousand Pequots perished in this massacre. Only two colonists were lost, and a mere twenty were wounded. Underhill rejoiced in the “mighty victory,” comparing his annihilation of the Pequots to David’s destruction of his foes in biblical times.

A large group of Pequot refugees sought sanctuary in a swamp near New Haven, only to be discovered and destroyed on July 28, 1637. In the subsequent confusion, Sassacus and a handful of followers fled, seeking asylum in Mohawk territory. Desiring to prove their loyalty to the English, however, the Mohawks Mohawks beheaded Sassacus.

Significance

As a consequence of the Pequot War, Uncas, the son-in-law of Sassacus, seized control of the Mohegan tribe. With English support, Uncas began a career of conquest that made him the most powerful sachem in New England. Miantonomo, sachem of the Narragansetts, was killed by command of Uncas in 1643, perhaps at the request of his English allies. Although Uncas initially prospered as a prominent warrior and ruler, however, he ultimately discovered his English allies to be unpredictable. When he attacked Massasoit Massasoit in 1661, the Puritans forced him to give up prisoners and plunder; later, during Metacom’s War (King Philip’s War; 1675-1676) Metacom’s War (1675-1676)[Metacoms War (1675-1676)] , Uncas surrendered his sons as hostages to the colonists, who, defeating Metacom of the Wampanoags, effectively ended the New England Indians’ resistance to European settlement. New England;Native Americans and Europeans

The Pequot War began a period of almost constant conflict between the Puritan settlers and the Indians of New England that lasted until the time of Metacom’s War. The conflict was ultimately tragic for all the Native Americans. The Pequots, who (together with the Mohegans) had numbered perhaps four thousand men when the English arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620, steadily declined. An estimate made in 1643 suggested that there were twenty-five hundred men in their group. Following their defeat, many of the Pequots were massacred or enslaved. Pequot slaves were shared between the Europeans and other tribes, and some were deported as far from home as Boston or the island of Bermuda. Others were assimilated into other tribes, by being resettled among their former enemies. In 1655, the Pequots were moved to two reservations on the Mystic River. By 1674, there were only three hundred men in this once-proud nation. Pequot place names disappeared: The Pequot River, for example, became the Thomas River. Their power had been forfeited and their identity nearly eradicated. In 1990, there were between nine hundred and sixteen hundred Pequots.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cave, Alfred. The Pequot War. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996. Cave explains how the English Puritans transformed petty squabbles between themselves, the Pequots, other Native American nations, and the Dutch traders into a cosmic struggle of good and evil in the wilderness.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">De Forest, John W. History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850. Hartford, Conn.: W. J. Hammersley, 1851. Reprint. Hamden, Conn.: Shoestring Press, 1988. A classic study of the native peoples of Connecticut.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hauptman, Laurence M., and James D. Wherry. The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990. Collection of essays, including essays on the Pequots in the seventeenth century, the Pequot War and its legacies, and Indians and colonists in southern New England after the Pequot War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. Five Hundred Nations: An Illustrated History of the North American Indians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. This generously illustrated volume is sympathetic to the point of view of the Native Americans. References to the situation in New England revise earlier accounts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Orr, Charles, ed. History of the Pequot War: The Contemporary Accounts of Mason, Underhill, Vincent, and Gardener. Cleveland, Ohio: Helman-Taylor, 1897. A valuable anthology of eyewitness reporting on the Pequot War from the Puritan perspective, drawing on the recollections of major English participants.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Peale, Arthur L. Memorials and Pilgrimages in the Mohegan Country. Norwich, Conn.: Bulletin, 1930. Peale, author of a groundbreaking study of Uncas, was celebrated for his knowledge of the Mohegans and the Pequots. Eloquent.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Salisbury, Neal E. Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500-1643. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. A thorough, objective study of the contrasting attitudes and values of the Native Americans and the Europeans during a century and a half of contact and conflict.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vaughan, Alden T. New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675. Boston: Little, Brown, 1965. This helpful study of a half century of relationships between Native Americans and European settlers is a fine starting point for research.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Canonicus; Massasoit; Metacom; Roger Williams. Pequot War (1636-1637)

Categories: History Content