Natives at war: The Pequots
Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro
You may recognize the Pequot tribe as the owners and operators of Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. True to their owners, Foxwoods features The Grand Pequot Casino and the Grand Pequot Hotel, housed in The Grand Pequot Tower, all of which only bring recognition to a name that is slowly slipping away in history. Look around, though, and you will find that just about all of the casino names and decor showcase Indigenous heritage and symbolism. Before all this however, the Pequot people were known to be fierce warriors and led the initial charge against the English colonies.
The Pequot people lived in what is now known as Southeastern Connecticut and Southwest Rhode Island. Of the tribes occupying these areas, the Pequots were the most defiant against the colonies. Their defiance and war-like attitude contributed to their near extinction as well as turning other neighboring tribes, such as the Narragansetts and the Mohegans, against them.
One of the first interactions between the Pequot and the colonists was around 1630, when Pequot warriors killed a pair of English merchants, one being John Oldham, sailing the Connecticut River seeking trade. There are some conflicts regarding the year of contact, with some historians saying that it occurred in 1634, as well as which tribe claims the murder, as the Niantics, who were allied with the Pequots at the time, also claim responsibility. The finer details do not matter as much as the fact that these murders segwayed into what is now known as the Pequot War.
In 1636, the third governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Sir Henry Vane, asked explorer John Endicott to journey to the coast of Block Island, where Oldham was killed, to ask that those responsible for the murders be handed over for appropriate punishement. The Pequots, however, did not comply and in response, murdered Endicott following his invasion of their villages. This led to further invasion of Native settlements by the English. Even though their settlements were burned to the ground, the Pequots continued to attack the settlers, even murdering a number of the Wethersfield families. Unfortunately, the Pequots were unsuccessful in their attempt to create war pacts with the Narragansetts.
Conflict escalated in May of 1637, where a group of roughly 130 militia from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Connecticut Colony and about 70 members of the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes attacked the Pequot in modern day Mystic. The group believed that the best way to attack was to sail through what is now Narragansett Bay and head west. The Pequots were settled near what is now Norwich Connecticut. The attacking forces, led by Englishman John Mason, struck the Pequot at dawn, devastating the Pequot people.
There were roughly 700 Pequots killed when the village was set ablaze. Survivors were led north to New Netherlands, in modern New York state, by Chief Sassacus, where they sought asylum with the Iroquois Confederacy. In response, Chief Sassacus was executed and his head sent to the English.
The Pequots would have been able to put up a resistance, and perhaps even defeat the Colonies, if the neighboring tribes had come to their aid. It is because of the Great Pequot War that almost an entire Nation was destroyed, languages and cultures almost lost, the very word “Pequot” becoming a sin to say and a crime to identify as. The ending of this war, however, did lead to some peace between the Natives and the Colonies, until a few decades later, when King Philip’s War began.