The Pequot War of 1636-1637 is historically important because it marked a significant decline in the Pequot nation’s political, economic and social dominance in southern New England. In addition, this war was one of the first in southern New England (Connecticut) to transfer the power of domination and control from Indians to the Europeans. After the Pequot War, the Pequots’ formal identity had been stripped, whereupon the remaining Pequots were absorbed into neighbouring Indian nations or sold into slavery.
Before the arrival of the Europeans into Connecticut, southern New England, the Pequots began to dominate the region and surrounding Indian nations through military aggression and subsequently turning smaller nations into tributaries. This meant that weaker nations paid tribute to the Pequot and were influenced politically, economically and socially by the Pequot. According to Ronald Dale Karr, surviving early seventeenth century epidemics that hat decimated many Indians around Massachusetts Bay gave the Pequot the upper hand in economic and political control (Karr, 894).
Upon the arrival of the Dutch in the early seventeenth century, the Pequot stiffened control over the tributary tribes in an effort to monopolize trade with the Europeans. Alfred A. Cave states that establishing strategically located tributary networks allowed the Pequots to control fur trade and wampum production along the Connecticut seacoast. (Cave, 512). Two of the tributary tribes were the Niantic and the Mohegan. The Narragansetts on the other hand were not tributaries, but rivals to the Pequots. As a result of their tributary status, the Mohegan and Niantic grew resentful of the Pequots as their political and economic decision-making freedom was limited. Therefore, these three nations resentful of Pequots would later join the English in a military raid against the Pequots.
According to the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, Puritan inhabitants did not settle in Connecticut because of the “3: or 4000: warlicke Indians”
(Winthrop, 92). The war-like Indians refer to the Pequots. Therefore, the Pequot traded with the Dutch. However, the Pequot destroyed their trading relations with the Dutch then they violated the terms of the Dutch-Pequot Agreement of 1633.
According to this agreement, the Pequot had agreed to permit all Indians, tributary in status or not, unmolested access to the Dutch trading post to trade feely (De Frost, 72). However, as stated by Michael L. Oberg and Alfred A. Cave, band of Pequots killed a group of Narragansett traders in an effort to monopolize the fur trade (Cave, 58 & Oberg 42). This lead to conflict between the Dutch and the Pequot as the Dutch responded to the murders by murdering a Pequot Sachem. A Sachem is a key chief in Indian nations.
In response to this killing, the Pequot sought to take revenge by mistakenly killing and Englishman, Captain John Stone of Virginia. Since both Dutch and Europeans are white, the Indians were unable to distinguish between them. This is where strained relations with the English and the Pequots began. As noted by Alden T. Vaughan, the Pequot sough peace with the English quickly because they did not want to establish hostile relations with them, considering the Pequots had the Narragansetts, Mohegan, Niantic, and Dutch as accumulating enemies.
Although the English drafted a treaty insisting that Stone’s murderers be surrendered along with substantial payments of wampum and fur, Cave states that the Pequot saw not reason to make these payments to Boston (Bay Colony) (Cave, 517). This is so because they sought protection under the English since their economic and political relations with neighbours were deteriorating. Protection is something the English were not willing to give the Pequots.
Anthropologist William A. Starna notes that the Pequot’s population declined significantly as a result of European disease proliferation. The effects of the diseases reduced their population to three thousand, which is equivalent to a mortality rate of 77 percent (Starna, 46).
After a succession of expeditions and raids between the Pequot and the English, the final raid, known as the Mystic Massacre, took place at Mystic Fort. This war was commanded by Captain John Mason in “revenge of the innocent blood of the English wh[i]ch the s[ai]d Pequins haue barbarously shed, and refuse to giue satisfaction for.” (Karr, 76). Seizing the opportunity to take revenge on the Pequot, the Narragansett, Mohegan and Niantic willingly joined arms with the English. This English-Indians alliance determined the outcome of the Pequot War.
The Pequot were caught off guard as their fighting soldiers were away at another fort. Therefore, “many were burnt in the Fort, both men, women and children, others forced out and come in troopes to the Indians, twentie, and thirtie at a time, which our souldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword” (Underhill, 35). By the end of the war, the Pequot population numbered approximately twenty-five hundred in total, losing approximately fifteen hundred during the war.
The Treaty of Hartford established in 1638, after the war, states that Pequot males were to be divided between the Mohegan and Narragansett nations (Vaughan, 341). The Pequot were also stripped of their name, taking on the identity of the nations they had merged into. Finally, the country became “the Englishes by conquest…”(Vaughan, 341)
Thus, with an unexpected attack, few Pequot soldiers to protect the village inhabitants, and an overwhelming oppositional force of Europeans and Indians, the Pequot nation’s political, economic, social and militaristic power came to an abrupt end. The Pequot nation’s power, identity and autonomy had come to an end.
Cave, Alfred A. The Pequot War. US: University Of Massachusetts Press, 1996. http://books.google.ca/books?id=8cOnpXt9XTsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+pequot+war&source=bl&ots=MXX4O00yiz&sig=oBFG1oCZ_SvBckb6WC7G1xO8Jiw&hl=en&ei=JR_zTOqJOYW3ngeJuaiXCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false
—. “Who Killed John Stone? A Note in the Origins of the Pequot War.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 49, no.3 (Jul., 1992) 509-521.
De Forst, John W. History of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850. Hartford: WM. Jas. Hamersley, 1851. http://www.archive.org/stream/historyindiansc00darlgoog#page/n11/mode/1up
Karr, Ronald Dale. “‘Why Should You Be So Furious?’: The Violence of the Pequot War.” The Journal Of American History 85, no.3 (Dec., 1998) 876-909.
Oberg, Michael. Uncas: The First of the Mohegans. US: Cornell University, 2003. http://books.google.ca/books?id=f3abK1urVK4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=michael+oberg&source=bl&ots=2veXuKG1Zj&sig=ZEeTFm-5u2PzInNyFC9P69rQRLw&hl=en&ei=5PPvTJzoFcfungfPqvWBCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=15&ved=0CFMQ6AEwDg#v=onepage&q&f=false
Starna, William A. “The Pequots in the Early Seventeenth Century.” In The Pequots in Southern New England: the Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation, edited by Laurence M. Hauptman and James D. Wherry. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1990. http://books.google.ca/books?id=ucGpIEfnpNAC&printsec=copyright#v=onepage&q&f=false
Vaughan, Alden T. Eng England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675. U.S.A: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
—. “Pequots and Puritans: The Causes of the War of 1637.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 21, no.3 (1964). 256-259.
Underhill, John. “Newes from America; Or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; Containing, A Trve Relation of Their War-like Proceedings These Two Yeares Last Past, with a Figure of the Indian Fort, or Palizado.” Edited by Paul Royster in Electronic Texts in American Studies. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007.
Winthrop, John. “The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649. Edited by Richard S. Dunn, James Savage and Laetitia Yeandle. Belknap Press of Havard University Press, 1996.