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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 IV. — The Narragansetts. War Between Uncas and Miontonimo.


DURING the greater part of the seventeenth century, the three most potent tribes of southern and western New England, were the Pokanokets, or Wainpanoags, the Pequots, and the Narragansetts. The bands who claimed the name of Massachusetts Indians, may be deemed to have been represented at that period by the Natics. These were the bands to whom the gospel was especially preached, and over whom all the elements of civilization had obtained more or less influence, and the natural result of their progress in civilization was, non-interference in the Indian wars. The Pennacooks and Abenakies, powerful tribes on its northern borders, did not come into collision with the colony, and their history more properly belongs to that of New Hampshire and Maine.

By the displacement of the Pequots, the Mohicans, a minor branch of that tribe, under the government of Uncas, were placed in antagonism to the Narragansetts. After the death of their first chief, Canonicus, the power devolved on his son, Miontonimo, a more talented, energetic, intrepid, and wily individual. Uncas, having sustained the English with all his power in their contest with the Pequots, under Sassacus, against whose domination he had rebelled, was henceforth regarded as the guardian spirit of Connecticut. His bravery in war, his decision of character, his wisdom, and his amenity of manners, won praises from every lip. But in the field, as well as in the council, he found a rival in Miontonimo, who ruled the more numerous and powerful nation of the Narragansetts. At that period, this tribe possessed, probably, a greater numerical strength than any other of the New England tribes. They were located on the large islands in and along the fertile shores of Narragansett Bay, having, a few years earlier, sold Aquidneck, now Rhode Island, to Roger Williams. Their principal position was on the large island of Canonicus, which afforded all the requisites for a people, who, being most expert in the use of the canoe, levied contribution alike upon the game of the neighboring forests, and the fish in the surrounding waters.

The Narragansetts had never been hearty friends of the English, and, although they seemed to be amicably inclined, they pursued a devious line of policy, holding an apparently neutral position between the colonists, the Pequots, the Mohicans, and the Pokanokets. The pacific influence exercised by Williams, who had located himself at

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an Indian village on the head waters of the west fork of the bay, called by him Providence, kept them in check. But no sooner were the Pequots defeated, and the power of Sassacus destroyed, than a secret enmity against the Mohicans, under Uncas, developed itself. The details of this feud are too unimportant to be stated at length. A few years passed over, characterized only by a surly and suspicious intercourse between the two rival chiefs. The sympathies of the English inhabiting the three central positions of Hartford, Boston, and Plymouth, were undoubtedly with Uncas and the Mohicans. They negotiated treaties with the Narragansetts, with the expectation that this powerful Indian tribe would execute their agreements, with the precision, and under the operation of the same moral principles which govern civilized nations. The compact entered into with the English, bound the Narragansetts not to engage in hostilities against Uncas, without apprizing the then united colonies.

In 1644, after some six or seven years of mutual distrust had elapsed, the Narragansetts, eluding even the sleepless vigilance of Roger Williams, suddenly marched a body of nine hundred warriors into the Mohican territories, with the design of attacking Uncas at a disadvantage; but it happened that some of the Mohican hunters discovered them, and, with all speed, conveyed the intelligence to their chief. The tribal seat of Uncas was then located, as it had been from time immemorial, at the head of the Pequot River, now the Thames, on the site of the present city of Norwich.

Collecting a force of five or six hundred warriors, Uncas determined not to await the onset of his adversary, but to advance and attack him. After marching five or six miles, he encountered Miontonimo and his army on a plain, stretching along the banks of the Shetucket, whereupon he halted his force. There appeared to be no choice of position on either side, the plain being level and spacious. Uncas, who had become somewhat versed in English strategy, and understood the advantage to be gained by prompt movements, perceived, at once, that, if he could, by a sudden attack, produce confusion, and drive Miontonimo down the banks of the Shetucket, he would be able to overcome his foe's superior numbers. This is the only explanation that can be given of the course he adopted. No sooner had he halted within speaking distance, than he stepped forward, and tendered his adversary the choice of deciding the fate of the day by personal combat. Miontonimo replied, that his men had come to fight, and fight they should. Oh the instant, Uncas, who was a very tall man, threw himself on the ground, that being a concerted signal for his troops to advance, which they did with such ardor and fury, that they drove the enemy down the escarpment of the river, and pursued them so vigorously that some of the swift Mohican runners, knowing Uncas to be near at hand, caught Miontonomi by some portion of his dress, temporarily impeding his flight, which enabled the former to make the capture himself. Uncas then sounded the whoop of victory, to recall his men, and to signify that Miontonimo was a prisoner, as if his capture had been alone the object of the Mohicans.

Not a look of the Narragansett sachem, far less a word, evinced any dread of his

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enemies. He bore himself before his captor with unflinching dignity and pride. "Had you taken me," said Uncas, with some of that suavity of manner derived from his English associations, "I should have asked you to spare me." Not a word, however, was deigned in reply. Notwithstanding, Uncas spared his life, the usual privilege of an Indian victor; but he carried him with him to Norwich, as a trophy of his victory, whence he conducted him to Hartford. The question of his fate was submitted to the English for their advice, as being one requiring grave deliberation. It had been felt, ever since the close of the Pequot war, that the Narragansetts exercised an influence adverse to the growth and prosperity of the settlements. The very war in which they had just been engaged, was in violation of a solemn agreement made with commissioners formally appointed, and was waged against the worthiest and most trusty sachem who had befriended the colonies. Yet, they considered the case to be beyond their jurisdiction; the territory being Indian, they decided that aboriginal customs and laws must be allowed to take their course.

Miontonimo was, therefore, conducted back to the battle-field, on the banks of the Shetucket, escorted by two Englishmen, to shield him from any attempt at cruelty. The retinue traversed the plain of the late conflict with all the impressive dignity of an official cortege. Uncas, who knew the chief personally, determined to have no hand in the execution, and, therefore, deputed the duty to one of his war captains, enjoining him to leave the Narragansett in entire ignorance of his fate. He only knew that he was remanded to the spot of his capture. Ere reaching this point, the warrior entrusted with the task, and who walked immediately behind him, suddenly drew a tomahawk, and, with one blow, laid him dead at his feet. The scene of this tragedy has since been called SACHEM'S PLAIN. 110

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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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