1637 Massacre at Mystic

May 26, 1637

On the moonlit night of May 26, 1637, Puritans from Massachusetts Bay Colony attacked a large Pequot village at a place called Missituck, located near the Mystic River in Connecticut. The assault began on May 25 with an all-day march though the solidly held Pequot territory. As dusk approached, the seventy English, seventy Mohegans, and five hundred Narragansetts warriors led by Major John Mason and Captain John Underhill reached the outskirts of the Mystic settlement, where they decided to rest for a few hours. By 2 A.M. on the morning of the twentysixth, the English were poised to put an end to the war that had been raging between them and the Pequot for more than a year. Steven M. Gillon, 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006, p.7.

Massacre

What followed was a near annihilation of the entire tribe. The English set squadrons at both entrances of the Pequot village. When the Pequot men did not come out to be slaughtered, the English set fire to all the Pequot homes. Men, women, and children who tried to escape the killing flames were killed by the waiting army.

The roots of the war with the Pequots lay in the initial contact of the Pilgrims with the local people from the time they arrived in 1620. John Jewell, the Anglican bishop, preached that the Indians were “a wild and naked people” who lived “without any civil government, offering up men’s bodies in sacrifice, drinking men’s blood . . . sacrificing boys and girls to certain familiar devils.” Over the next several years they stole native crops and swindled the natives of their land. In 1622, a militia captain killed eight friendly Indians, impaling the head of the sachem on top of the fort to show Plymouth’s power. The Indians gave the settlers a new name which meant stabbers or cutthroats.

A decade later, in 1630, Jonathan Winthrop arrived with six hundred Puritans, putting a greater burden on the colony to acquire more land. The Puritans came to America prepared to use force to make a place for themselves. The Massachusetts Charter instructed settlers “to encounter, expulse, repel, and resist by force of arms” any effort to destroy the settlement. Within three years there were as many as three thousand English in the colony. By 1638, the population had swelled to eleven thousand. Governor Winthrop created a legal concept called vacuum domicilium, which proposed that Indians could only defend rights to land that was cultivated.

While the settlements of the English were growing, diseases carried in the bodies of the newcomers wreaked havoc on native populations. Whole tribes were destroyed by small pox. Other tribes suffered about ninety percent destruction. The natives were under attack on many fronts. Wampum had been their money for generations upon generations. The English, using steel drills, created their own wampum, flooding the market and bringing economic ruin upon the natives. While they native sachems were seeking allies, they became divided among themselves. One sub-sachem, Uncas, who was the son-in-law of Sassacus, felt it was useless to fight the English. Uncas left the tribe and established his own tribe. Uncas’ tribe was the Mohegans, and he is the model for the fictional hero in James Fennimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.

Conclusion

The conflict officially ended in 1638 with the treaty of Hartford. The remaining tribal leaders signed the document with revoked legal recognition of the tribe. It even went so far as to forbid the use of the Pequod tribal name. The New Englanders sold many of their Pequod captives into slavery to spend the rest of their days working the sugar plantations of Barbados.

The victory of the settlers over the Pequods marked a shift in the balance of power. From that time on the English used force whenever any of the Indians were imprudent enough to stand up for right.

The Rest of the Story

Both sides in the Pequot war tried to win over the Narragansetts tribe. The Puritans sent Roger Williams, a dissident preacher who had been banished to Rhode Island, to negotiate with the Narragansetts. The tribe stood by the English. William went on to be president of the Rhode Island colony. He also founded the Baptist Church in America. His writings are worth investigating. See Roger Williams (theologian) on wikipedia.

John Hodges (1600-1654) was a friend of Governor Winthrop, and carried cargo and mail between Boston and Connecticut. He also brought passengers from England to New England and Barbados.

Humphrey Hodges (1623-1680), son of John Hodges, moved to Boston after the massacre in 1637. He later died in Barbados delivering medicine at the request of the governor of Barbados. I had wondered why my ancestor left America. Perhaps he had enough of the Indian wars and thought it better to preserve a few lives. Actually, after more research it has been discovered that John Hodges sold his land near the destroyed Indian village. Being a merchant the loss of approximately 800 natives destroyed the value of his location for trade. Humphrey Hodges made his home in the Boston area next to Pastor Cotton Mather. About forty years after the massacre, the governor of Barbados, where the survivors of the massacre were taken as slaves, requested medicine for Barbados, saying don’t ship it, just leave it with Cotton Mather who would get it to his neighbor Humphrey Hodges. So Humphrey carried the medicine to save residents of Barbados, but died there himself. Perhaps the medicine saved the lives of some of his former neighbors.

Afterword

It was the treaty with the Puritans that recognized the Pequod Nation as a sovereign people that allowed the remnant of the tribe to claim sovereignty in the twentieth century. On July 5, 1986, the Pequot opened their first bingo operation. By 2004, the income of the tribe had risen to $1.6 billion annually. The casino is acknowledged as the world’s most successful gambling operation.

Online Resources:

    • Rowe 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America Ep. 1 Chapter 1. Published on Aug 13, 2012

    • Massacre at Mystic (May 26, 1637)

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