What was the Pequot War?

In 1636 the Pequot Indian tribe who resided in the Connecticut River Valley were feeling hemmed in. They had found themselves squeezed uncomfortably between the English of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the Dutch of New Amsterdam and the Hudson River. As a people the Pequots were not used to such encroachment on their lands. And now they didn’t like it.

What was to become known as the Pequot War was to start, however, on the water. A group of mischievious Pequots had taken a boat from a white man and were sailing it up the harbor when a white man by the name of John Gallup sailed by. He immediately fired on the Indians and then rammed the vessel with his own boat. Most of the Indians jumped overboard but a few of them were taken as captives.

News of the encounter soon spread. Governor Vane of Massachusets sent out a punitive force of 90 men to bring the Pequots back into line. But the whites struck an encampment of Narragansett Indians by mistake, killing all who they could find. The result of this blunder was that the Pequot and the more powerful Narragansett made moves to form an alliance to drive out the white man. Fortunately the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, was able to persuade the Narragansetts against such a move. However the Pequots decided to go it alone.

Families in isolated cabins were targeted and slaughtered. The Indians then waited to see what the response would be. When none was forthcoming they decided to put together a large force of warriors to take the warpath. The inhabitants of Connecticut now began to panic. An appeal was sent to Massachusetts for help.

A Captain John Mason was now sent in to try to put down the Pequot uprising. Mason was a hardened professional soldier. In May of 1637 he was at the head of a force of 80 white volunteers, reinforced by one hundred Mohicans at Saybrook Fort. His forces were further reinforced when he managed to convince a sizeable number of Narragansetts to join him in the hunt for the Pequots.

Mason’s command now set out to find the Pequots. They rowed down Narragansett Bay in small boats and, after a delay for bad weather, were soon deployed around the stockade of twelve foot posts that surrounded the Indian’s tipis that were laid out on an acre of ground in what is now Groton, Connecticut.

Mason’s forces were split in two. At dawn his men rushed the two gates to the stockade and crashed through them. The Pequots were caught totally off guard. Soon, however, the warriors had rallied and were making a defence. It seemed as if the Indians were about to take the upper hand when Mason began setting alight the tipi’s of the Pequots. The Indians now tried to get outside the gates. As they scrambled to get out of the stockade, the whites shot them down.

Those who were killed by the bullet were butchered by the Mohicans and the Narragansetts.

Mason had now smashed the Pequot resistance. Losing just two men killed and twenty wounded, he had managed to subjugate the rebellion by killing between six hundred and one thousand people. However, on the way back to their boats Mason’s men were surprised by a party of about three hundred Pequot warriors. The white men and their Indian allies had to fight a rear guard action to get out alive.

The attack on the Pequots at Groton had taken the fight out of them. Still Mason continued hunting them down. Many Indians were enslaved. Others were able to escape and live with other tribes.

One prominent Pequot chief, Sassacus chose to find refuge with the Mohawks. This was not a good choice. The Mohawks had the chief beheaded and sent his head to the whites as a show of their non –involvement in the Pequot uprising.

Copyright 2002 by PageWise, Inc.

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