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How England Tried to Erase the Pequot Tribe in 1636

Dec 01, 2022 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian

The English and Pequot tribe of present-day Connecticut fought the Pequot War (1636-1638) in New England, and the Pequot Massacre was the defining moment of the conflict. The Pequots were ultimately vanquished in this fight. An estimated 700 Pequots were either slain or taken captive at the end; hundreds were sold into slavery to European colonists in Bermuda and the West Indies. The rest of the survivors were scattered as captives among the winning tribes. Because of this, colonial officials considered the Pequot tribe defunct, and they were no longer recognized as a sovereign entity in Southern New England. Those that stayed behind were eventually integrated into neighboring communities. 

During the Age of Exploration, European nations actively sought out new regions to exploit for the glory of wealth, metals, and the grandeur of conquest. Explorers set sail in the 17th century in search of new lands, supplies, and trade routes—the European powers France, Spain, the Netherlands, and England all created colonies in North America. The Puritans, who had come from England to North America in 1620 in quest of religious freedom, landed at Plymouth Rock in what is now Massachusetts. An increase in the number of English settlers led to the founding of new towns, and European colonists eventually settled in what is now known as Connecticut. 

The Pequot Nation called around 250 square miles of present-day southeastern Connecticut home for thousands of years. During the 17th century, the Pequots strengthened their position by forging a confederacy of tribes and bringing more people under their authority to dominate the fur and wampum trade. As early as 1635, the Pequots had successfully extended their sphere of influence through military might, diplomatic savvy, and intertribal marriage. With a combined population of around 6,000 in the early 17th century, the Pequots were formerly part of a single tribe with the Mohegan. Two significant events, the independence movement of the Mohegan people and the smallpox outbreak of 1633, almost halved their population.

 Engraving depicting John Endecott's landing on Block Island at the start of the Pequot War (1636-38). Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Niantics, a subgroup of the Pequots, was blamed by the English for the deaths of English merchants, sparking hostilities between the two groups. Pequot leader Sassacus's apology for the killings and the wampum given to atone for them were accepted by governors Sir Henry Vane and John Winthrop. However, in August 1636, Vane ordered John Endicott to demand more Pequots.

Endicott wanted additional wampum, Pequot children as hostages to guarantee good conduct, and the killers caught or executed. Endicott assaulted the Indians, murdering and burning down many homes at Niantic, a Pequot settlement on Block Island in the Connecticut River. The Pequots carried out raids on English settlements in retaliation throughout the fall of 1636 and the spring of 1637. However, on the morning of 26 May 1637, the Mohegans and the Narragansetts led the English to the Pequot stronghold, where they burned down the fort and slaughtered nearly all of the Pequots inside. The number of people who died in the fire or while fleeing is estimated to be between 500 and 700, with most experts admitting that the accurate figure is probably more significant. Most Pequots slaughtered that morning were women and children, while the menfolk were away with Sassacus at the fort. The colonists were heading home when Sassacus ordered an assault on them, but he didn't have enough soldiers to succeed. After losing most of his group, he and the rest of the survivors fled to New Netherlands (present-day New York), hoping to receive aid from the Iroquois Confederacy. However, he was killed by the Mohawks, who then sent his severed head and hands back to the English. Only around 200 of the 3,000 Pequots who lived in Connecticut before the slaughter were alive.

Pequot War's lasting impact on southern New England's politics and society, as well as on colonial and American attitudes toward Native Americans, would be felt for generations to come. Everyone in southern New England and beyond saw that the English could and would wage total war against their Indian enemies after the massacre at Mistick.

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 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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