The Pequot War
The Pequot War was fought between the Pequot Indians and English colonists of Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and Plymouth colonies. Fighting along with the English colonists were their Indian allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes. Battles in the war began in 1636 and continued until the Treaty of Hartford was signed in 1638. Major battles occurred along the Mystic River in southeastern Connecticut. Although the colonists claimed the war started in retaliation for the deaths of fellow colonists, the causes of the conflict were rooted in more complex issues, namely disputes between colonists and Native tribes over land and domination of trade.
Although the colonists claimed the war started in retaliation for the deaths of fellow colonists, the causes of the conflict were rooted in more complex issues, namely disputes between colonists and Native tribes over land and domination of trade.
The Pequot Indians made their home between the Pequot (Thames) and Mystic Rivers in Connecticut and were the most dominant tribe in the region. As the Pequots expanded their power and land holdings, they made enemies of other tribes. In the 1630s, the Pequots tried to expand their land but in doing so, encroached on Algonquians and Mohegans in the area. As conflicts over land increased, so did conflicts over the fur trade. The Dutch who settled in New England before the English, had established profitable trade in the New World. The Pequots and Dutch had established a complex trade system. The Pequots produced wampum which were shell carved beads used as a medium of exchange and in ceremonies. In order to produce more wampum, the Pequots subjugated nearby tribes and demanded tribute in the form of wampum. In exchange for wampum, the Pequots received metal goods such as axes, kettles and jewelry from the Dutch. The Dutch in turn used the wampum to purchase beaver pelts from other native tribes with the Pequots facilitating the trade. The control of this trade made the Pequot tribe the most powerful in New England.
The control of the wampum trade made the Pequot tribe the most powerful in New England.
A Great Migration of Protestants
At the same time the Pequots were looking to expand their land, the Great Migration of Protestants was taking place from 1630 to 1640 when over 20,000 Puritans moved to New England from England. With the influx of English immigrants, Native American tribes were pushed out of their land. The English established a settlement in Connecticut in 1633 and wanted the fertile lands of the Pequots for more settlements. Not only were natives losing land to the English colonists, but their lives as well because of deadly diseases. Some native tribes lost as many as 90% of their members because of disease. European diseases such as measles, chickenpox and smallpox were most deadly to natives. Before the Pequot War, there were about 8000 Pequot living in about 15 to 20 villages. After a smallpox epidemic in 1633, there were about 4000 Pequots remaining. The Narragansett tribe fared about the same as the Pequots and became the second most powerful tribe in the New England region. The effects of diseases led to instability in tribal relations with the Pequots emerging even more powerful than before. More colonists in the area, conflicts over land, and deadly diseases all made tensions between Natives and the English colonists grow.
Not only were natives losing land to the English colonists, but their lives as well because of deadly diseases.
The English Want to Expand
As more English came to settle in the Massachusetts Bay colony, colonial leaders sought more land and ways to make money for their English investors. The only obstacle in those goals were the Pequots living in Connecticut and the Dutch who controlled the fur trade in the area. The English established a small fort in Connecticut at Saybrook. Native tribes traded both with the English and Dutch at the time of the Pequot War. To make matters more tense, the Pequots favored trade with the Dutch while the the Mohegans and Narragansetts favored trade with the English. On July 20, 1636, the Pequots killed an English trader John Oldham. The governor of Massachusetts sent a small group of men to avenge his death. A small party of colonists attacked two Pequot villages at Block Island killing 14 Indians. In retaliation for this attack, the Pequots repeatedly attacked the English colonial fort at Saybrook killing about 30 colonists. These minor battles only escalated the tense situation and made colonists more determined to rid the area of the Pequots. While the English colonists wanted revenge for the deaths of fellow colonists, the other purpose of war was land and control of trade.
The only obstacle in expanding the colony were the Pequots living in Connecticut and the Dutch who controlled the fur trade in the area.
Although there were minor skirmishes in the war and atrocities from both the colonists and the Pequots, the most famous battle of the war occurred at Mystic. The main attack happened the morning of May 26, 1637 known as the Mystic Massacre. The English were led by Captain John Mason and Captain John Underhill. The Mohegan and Narragansett tribes sided with the English. Before dawn, Captain John Mason and Captain John Underhill surrounded the Pequot village Mystic. It was Captain Mason who led his troops into the Pequot palisade and began hand to hand combat with the surprised Indians. Finding this battle was taking too long, Mason made the call to burn the whole village including women and children. As the village burned, the Pequots tried to escape the flames but were killed by the English who surrounded the village palisade. In under an hour, about 500 to 700 Pequots including women and children were burned alive. The colonists pointed to their victory over the Pequots as an act of God over the Indian “savages.” The remaining Pequots sought refuge among other tribes but eventually were captured and sold into slavery in other colonies and in Bermuda and the West Indies.
The Treaty of Hartford
Indians had never seen “total war” in which innocent women and children were killed and villages were destroyed.
The Treaty of Hartford officially ended the conflict and was signed on September 21, 1638 by the English, Mohegans and Narragansetts. All remaining land of the Pequots was dispersed to the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes and Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay colonies. The treaty officially declared the Pequot nation dissolved. Indian tribes were shocked at the brutality of the English in defeating the Pequots. Indians had never seen “total war” in which innocent women and children were killed and villages were destroyed. After the war there was peace between the English colonists and Indians for 40 years since no other Indian tribe was strong enough to defeat the English and the natives were horrified by English war tactics. The peace between native and colonists lasted until the eruption of King Philip’s War in 1675. The Pequot War was the sole determinant for total English domination of New England, the end of Dutch domination in the region, and subjugation of natives. Probably the most significant outcome of the Pequot War was that it established a pattern for English policy towards natives. The policy of total war and eliminating entire native tribes was repeated in battles like the Battle of Thames in 1813, the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and Wounded Knee in 1890 just to name a few.
The Pequot War was the sole determinant for total English domination of New England, the end of Dutch domination in the region, and subjugation of natives.