This Date in Native History: As the dubious founders of Indian policy, Connecticut claims the first massacre of Native people, the first forced removals, and the first reservations.
It all began with the Pequot War and the 1638 Treaty of Hartford, which was the consummation of the Puritans fear of the devil and the English desire for power. The treaty was only briefly enforced, and sought to eliminate the Pequots, a powerful tribe that dominated trade with the English and the Dutch.
In The Pequot War, author Alfred Cave wrote that Puritans believed God did everything to benefit them and Satan was the instigator of their troubles. Puritans thought Native ceremonies were devil worship, and if nothing bad resulted from those ceremonies, a Christian God had intervened and saved them.
Believing the Pequots were “in league” with Satan, it was the death of rogue John Stone that broke the camel’s back. In old documents, Stone was described as “a drunkard, a lecher, a braggart, a bully and blasphemer,” and according to Cave, “Puritan New England clearly had no intention of going to war over Capt. John Stone.” However, Stone’s death caused the Puritan’s fears to intensify over the following year.
Library of Congress
An image from the Pequot War.
The Bay Colony made Stone’s death the focus of their dealings with the Pequot, Cave wrote, and Puritan clergy advised authorities to end trade and other relations with the Pequots until they handed over Stone’s killers.
The hypocrisy of the Puritans angst is verified in many documents. They’d had Stone removed from Boston after he was caught in bed with another man’s wife. In Virginia, Stone had plied the captain of a ship with so much alcohol he could not speak, and then Stone attempted to pirate his ship.
Yet, the death of Stone is most often cited as the cause of the Pequot War, which began with the horrific burning of the Mystic fort in May of 1637. In only one hour, the fire killed hundreds of Pequot men, women and children in their sleep, and began the persistent, almost obsessive, hunt for Pequots along the coast. The attacks in New London, New Haven, and at various points along the coast, led to the final two day battle in a Fairfield swamp, where 100 English fought as many Pequots. The English entered the swamp firing muskets, killing many and leaving others to drown at the bottom of the swamp. Their leader, Sassacus, and many others were able to escape to Mohawk territories.
That fight ended the Pequot War in July of 1637. Pequot women and children, who had come out of the swamp before the fight, were given as slaves to the Narragansetts and the Mohegans. Others were sent as slaves to the West Indies, where today in Bermuda, many of their descendants remain connected to their history. On St. David’s Island in Bermuda, most of the residents claim Pequot heritage.
Over the next months, reports state that straggling and weary Pequots sought respite with Mohegans, whose numbers increased, causing tensions to grow between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts. A year later, on September 21, the 1638 Treaty of Hartford was to establish peace between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts, with any disputes to be decided by the English. It also put an end to the Pequots.
History of the Indians of Connecticut by John William De Forest notes that the Mohegans and Narragansetts were to kill and bring in the heads of any Pequots who had been guilty of “English Blood” and the name Pequot was never to be spoken again.
The book also stated that all living Pequots would henceforth be known as members of the tribes to which they were enslaved. “The two hundred Pequots were to be divided, eighty to Miantonomo, twenty to Ninigret and the remaining one hundred to Uncas.”
DeForest wrote, “The Pequots were not to live in their ancient country, not to be called by their ancient name, but to become Narragansetts and Mohegans. Lastly, the territory was not to be claimed by the sachems, but to be considered as the property of the English of Connecticut.”
He added, “And thus, for a time, was the national existence of that brave though savage people extinguished.”
Of course, the key phrase is “for a time.” Now, more than 350 years later, the Pequots maintain the largest and most profitable casino in the country, and became more powerful than ever.
Jason Mancini, historian for the Mashantucket Pequots, said, “The Pequot War really transformed the power structure in colonial New England and set the tone for all Indian policy in this nation. Nearly all of the earliest reservations originated in Connecticut as a direct outflow of the Pequot War. The Mashantucket remains the oldest continually occupied Indian reservation in the United States.”