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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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Chapter II. — History of the Pequot Tribe, and of the Pequot War.


THE name of this tribe, which appears to mean an arrow — a wooden arrow, reveals its Algonquin origin. In a map, published at Amsterdam, in 1659, these Indians are called Pequatoas, on what account, or when the title was conferred upon them, is unknown. Most of the subdivisions of our aboriginal tribes have trivial names assigned them, on account of some event, important or otherwise, the history of which has not been transmitted to us by tradition. It is certain, both from their language and traditions, that the Lenapee-Algonquins, after crossing the Hudson towards the north-east, divided into a multiplicity of clans and tribes. In this ancient migration, the Wolf totem, or Mohicans, was the first to cross the Hudson, and they appear to have regarded its valley, from the sea to the present site of Albany, as their rightful domain. The Iroquois penetrated into it from the north, and, subsequently, continued their conquests down the river.

The Mohican language and blood still constituted a tie of affiliation, but each class and sept either adopted some distinctive appellation themselves, or received one from their neighbors. Thus, the tribe whose totem included the whirlpool of Hellgate, called themselves Manhattans; the Long Island Indians, whose shores abounded in the prized sea-shells of which wampum is made, denoted themselves, or were named by others, Metoacs; those living near the stone cliffs of Westchester, were called Singsings; and those residing on the wide expanse of the Hudson, below the Highlands, Tapanses. The early colonists, finding the tribes of this valley to be of one species and lineage, called them Mohikander, a compound, formed from the Mohican and Belgic languages. The clans located nearest to Albany retained the name of Mohicans; and when they were, eventually, driven over the Hoosic and Taconic ranges into the valley of the Housatonic, they carried with them their primitive appellation. That the Pequots, who once held possession of the territory along the East River, and on the Connecticut shores, also bore this name, is very probable, from the recurrence of Uncas to the parent term, when he became involved in a political feud with Sassacus. At what time this dissension commenced, is unknown; the first intimation of it dates from the era of the primary settlement of Connecticut, in 1633. The colonists were necessarily

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dispersed over a wide surface, unprotected, and exposed to the caprices, as well as to the incursions, of the Indians. The oldest settlement had been located but a few years, when the inhabitants found a contest was being waged for the Indian sovereignty, between Uncas and Sassacus.

Uncas held possession of a beautiful point of land, now called Norwich, at the source of the river Pequot (now the Thames), and, it is evident, had but recently segregated from the Pequots. His comprehensive mind immediately discerned the advantages that would result to his cause from an alliance with the Connecticut settlers, and it was as clearly the policy of the latter to form such an alliance. Their very safety depended on it, and wisdom was evinced in their choice. Uncas became the protector of the colonists; his scouts watched over the infant settlement, and not only reported the advance of hostile parties, but hastened to repel them. This alliance was never broken by either White or Red man, and affords one of the most complete and satisfactory evidences to be found in history, of the beneficial effects produced on Indian character by unwavering justice, and uniform kindness and good will. Half a century later, it was not in the power of Penn, with equally benevolent views, to maintain the Delawares in their position; yet, through every change in their affairs, the tribe of Uncas was protected and cherished, by the people, and by the authority of the state of Connecticut. Even after the venerated chief had passed from the stage of life, his successor and family were regarded with kind interest, and a monument has been erected to mark the resting place of the great aboriginal sage of Norwich.

At the time we have indicated, 1637, the Pequots had the prestige of being a powerful and warlike people. They had escaped the great pestilence which had desolated the Massachusetts coast, about the year 1617, could bring 600 fighting-men into the field, and might then have numbered a population of about 3000 souls. They were expert bowmen, and possessed sixteen guns, 105 purchased from the traders. The military strength of Connecticut was then estimated at 200 men. If the Pequots had obtained the ascendency, the question of the very existence of the colony would have been settled forever.

John Mason, the man selected to conduct this war, was a veteran soldier, who, with Miles Standish, and Underbill, had learned the art of war in the Lowlands, under that renowned military tactician, William, Prince of Orange. The infant colonies required men possessing his decision of character, and unflinching nerve, to baffle the wiles of their savage enemies. It was evident that the Pequots meant to annihilate the colonists. Recent and most shocking murders having been perpetrated in the settlements, energetic and prompt action was necessary to enable the colony to maintain its ground. To begin the war, Mason could muster but ninety men, which force is stated to have been half the militia of the colony. Uncas joined him with seventy Mohicans,

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who were chiefly useful as guides and scouts. The auxiliaries promised by the Plymouth colony, and from other quarters, were slow in making their appearance.

Mason, however, pushed forward with energy, as, in his opinion, their operations must be conducted with vigor; delay only furnishing Sassacus an opportunity to mature his plans. With the hope that the expected reinforcements would arrive in season to be of service, on the 10th of May he embarked his force at Hartford, in three small vessels, and, dropping down the Connecticut river to Port Saybrook, was there joined by Underbill, his second in command. After coasting along the shore to the entrance of the Narragansett Bay, he landed in the vicinity of the village ruled by Conanicut, whose permission he obtained to march across his territory, and attack the Pequots. The old chief thought his force too small for such a purpose, but, though he evidently did not expect much from the auxiliary Mohicans, he yet allowed 200 of his men, under his son, Miontonimo, to accompany them, without, however, engaging to take an active part. The Pequots had two forts, the principal of which, located on the Mystic river, was occupied by Sassacus in person. A march of eighteen or twenty miles, through the forest, brought Mason to a fort of the Nehantics, on the borders of the Pequot territory. These people were tributaries and covert allies of the Pequots. The chief treated Mason haughtily, and would not allow him to enter the fort. Fearing that intelligence of his arrival might be transmitted by runners, during the night, Mason encamped his men around the fort, giving them strict orders to intercept every person who attempted to leave it.

The following morning, several of Miontonimo's men tendered their services as auxiliaries, making many professions of their anxiety to aid in carrying on the war. The number of Indians who now accompanied Mason, being 500, made a great display; but not much dependence could be placed in their courage on the battle-field, notwithstanding their lavish professions. Although Mason placed but little, or no reliance on them, he was yet willing to avail himself of the effect their appearance would produce on the enemy. Uncas, when questioned as to how many of his Indian allies would run away when the battle commenced, answered, "Every one but myself;" and such proved to be the result.

After a tedious march of twelve miles from the Nehantic borders, the army arrived at Pawcatuk Ford (now Stonington), weary, hungry, and foot-sore. Resting themselves there for some time, they continued their march with Uncas and Wequa, a recreant Pequot, for their guides, sometimes passing through corn-fields. Warm weather having set in unusually early, these marches, conjoined with the scarcity of food, were very irksome to men unaccustomed to the toil. Yet they pressed onward energetically, and, one hour after midnight, encamped on the head waters of the Mystic river. They had now been two days on the march. Their guides informed them that the Pequots held two strong forts in the vicinity, but four or five miles asunder. Although Mason had resolved to make simultaneous attacks on both forts, yet the fatigues and sufferings

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endured by the men, while threading the mazes of the forest, without provisions or tents, and exposed to every inconvenience, induced him to concentrate his efforts on the nearest position, within the present bounds of Groton. They reposed but a short time, and then, taking up their line of march, arrived before the fort, which was distant two miles, about two hours before daybreak. The moon was shining brightly when they reached the foot of the eminence on which the fort was situated; and, by this time, their boastful red allies had fallen in the rear, quaking at the very name of Pequot.

The walls of the fortification enclosed one or two acres of ground, and consisted of trunks of trees, cut in lengths of twelve feet, sunk three feet deep in the ground, and embanked with earth. These palisades were placed so far apart that missiles could be discharged through the interstices, yet not so much so as to admit a man. Twelve small gates, or sally-ports, placed at opposite ends, were closed with trees and brush. The tops of the palisades were bound together with withes, and within, on a level esplanade, were about seventy lodges, constructed of thick matting, covering a light frame-work. These lodges, arranged in parallel rows, were surrounded by a ronda, or circular line of lodges next to the palisades. Mason had approached within a rod of the north-east sally-port, without arousing suspicion, when he heard a dog bark within the fort. Instantly an Indian cried out, Owanux! Owanux! Englishmen! Englishmen! which brought the Pequots to their feet, some of whom were thought to be laboring under the effects of previous revels. Mason, removing the obstacles, entered the fort, with sixteen followers, at one end, while Underhill did the same at the opposite sally-port, before the Pequots had time to oppose them. Surprised and confused, they ran about, foaming with rage. The fight became desperate, the superiority of fire arms and swords over arrows and clubs, being signally demonstrated. Many of the Indians took shelter in the wigwams, covering themselves with the thick mats, from which it was impossible to dislodge them. Wearied with pursuing them, Mason, at length, exclaimed, "We must burn them." Suiting the action to the word, he applied a brand to the windward side of the lodges, and Underhill immediately followed his example. The fire spread with great rapidity through the combustible materials, soon filling the whole area with roaring flames. The living and the dead together were roasted in heaps. The English, being themselves expelled by the furious flames, formed a circle outside the palisades, to prevent any of the enemy from effecting their escape. Their Indian auxiliaries, having recovered their courage, now came up, and completed the work. Forty of the Pequots, who attempted to scale the palisades, were shot as they emerged from their flaming prison. How many hundred men, women, and children were roasted on this gigantic funeral pyre, has never been estimated.

Though the Pequots had, with dreadful cruelty, massacred the unsuspecting Oldham, and Sleeping Stone and his companions, though they had invaded the sanctity of dearly-loved homes with the fury of the tiger and the hyena, yet this was a dreadful

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retribution, the severity of which could not have been premeditated, and for which we have not a word to offer in palliation. Having inflicted this terrible blow upon the Pequots, Mason deemed his position to be a perilous one. He anticipated the speedy vengeance of Sassacus, who was but a few miles distant, at the upper fort; and many of his men were wounded, although but two had been killed in the conflict. It was necessary to carry the wounded on biers, and the soldiers were unprovided with either food or ammunition. In this emergency, not a moment was lost in returning to the vessels, which had sailed round to the neighboring port of Pequot harbor; and all speed was made toward the Connecticut.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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