The Pequot War was the first war in the New England area between English colonists and Native American Indians. The English won, nearly exterminated the Pequot, and took control of the Connecticut River Valley.
Summary of the Pequot War
The Pequot War was the first war between the English colonists in the New England Colonies and the Native American Indian tribes in the region. In 1614, the Dutch started trading with the Pequot Indians in the Connecticut River Valley. Within a few years, the English — Pilgrims from Plymouth and Puritans from Massachusetts — moved into the area and started new settlements. When the English arrived, it disrupted the flow of trade between the Dutch, the Pequot, and other tribes in the valley. After some English traders were killed, Massachusetts Bay responded by attacking the Pequot — in Connecticut territory. Soon after, the Pequot launched attacks on Connecticut settlements at Fort Saybrook and Wethersfield. On May 1, 1673, Connecticut declared war on the Pequot and their allies. Later that month, hundreds of Pequot people were killed at the Massacre at Mystic. Over the next few months, soldiers from Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay, along with warriors from various tribes, including the Narragansett, virtually eliminated the Pequot. After the fighting ended, a treaty was signed that gave Connecticut control of the Connecticut River Valley and sold the surviving Pequot Indians into slavery.
Quick Facts About the Pequot War
- The Pequot War was the first time English colonists fought a war against Indian tribes in New England.
- The war started in 1634 when trader John Stone was killed by Western Niantic Indians.
- The war officially ended when the Treaty of Hartford was signed on September 21, 1638.
- The fighting nearly erased all members of the Pequot tribe. The survivors were sold to the other tribes and their language and heritage were outlawed by the Treaty of Hartford.
- The Indian tribes that fought with the English agreed to give control of the Connecticut River Valley to Connecticut.
Pequot War History and Overview
The Pequot Indians were a tribe that lived in the Connecticut River Valley, along the Thames River. The Pequot wanted to control trade with the Dutch, which primarily consisted of furs and wampum. Over time, the Pequot took control of the other tribes throughout southeastern Connecticut. As the Puritans from Massachusetts Bay spread out into southeastern Connecticut, it broke the control the Pequots had on trade in the region and led to the Pequot War.
In the summer of 1634, the members of a Puritan trading expedition, led by John Stone, were murdered by the Pequot. Two years later, on July 20, 1636, John Oldham was killed by the Manisses Indians of Block Island. The murders concerned the people of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the government decided to take action.
Massachusetts Raid on Block Island
Following Oldham’s death, Massachusetts organized an expedition under the command of Colonel John Endicott. Endicott’s orders were to attack the Mannises, kill the men, and take the women and children prisoner. Aftward, he was to move on the Pequot and capture the warriors who killed John Stone.
On August 24, 1636, Endicott and 90 men, including two Indians who served as guides, sailed from Boston and attacked the Manisses on Block Island, just south of the Rhode Island mainland.
The Manisses attacked the Puritans on the beach in what is the first recorded amphibious assault in the New World. However, the Manisses quickly fell back. Endicott and his men established a camp on present-day Crescent Beach. Over the next few days, the Puritans burned Mannises villages and cornfields.
Attack on Pequot Villages
Endicott and his men sailed from Block Island to Saybrook and met with the military leaders of the colony, including Lieutenant Lion Gardiner. Endicott told Gardiner he intended to attack the Pequot at their village on the Thames River.
At this point, the people of the Connecticut River towns and Saybrook were not aware Massachusetts was waging war on the Pequot — in Connecticut. Gardiner opposed the plan because he believed the Pequot would retaliate against the Connecticut towns. However, Gardiner agreed to send men with Endicott.
Endicott’s expedition arrived on August 29 and proceeded to attack and destroy the Pequot Villages on both sides of the river. During the attack, one of the Indian scouts with the Puritans killed a Pequot. The Pequot retaliated against the Puritans by sending an expedition against Saybrook Fort.
Siege and Battle of Fort Saybrook
In September 1636, the Pequot laid siege to Fort Saybrook, which is exactly what Gardiner was afraid of. During the siege, anyone who went too far from the fort was attacked, and the Pequot burned fields, warehouses, and cattle. The Pequot also tried to cut the fort off from all traffic on the river and contact with the other settlements up the river.
In October, the Pequot tried to form an alliance against the Puritans with the Narragansett. However, the Narragansett decided to ally with the Puritans — against the Pequot.
On March 11, 1637, the Connecticut River towns sent Captain John Mason and six men to reinforce Fort Saybrook.
Attack on Wethersfield — April 23, 1637
On April 23, 1637, a group of Puritan settlers from Wethersfield was traveling to their fields in the Great Meadow, along the Connecticut River when they were attacked by a force of around 200 Pequot warriors. Nine men and women were killed and two girls were taken prisoner.
Connecticut Declares War — May 1, 1637
On May 1, 1637, the General Court at Hartford declared war on the Pequot. The declaration of war authorized a force of 90 men to be raised from Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor. Captain John Mason of Windsor was put in command of the force and given orders to attack the Pequot villages at Mistick and Weinshauks.
That same day, Roger Williams of Rhode Island gave a map to Henry Vane, the Governor of Massachusetts. The map was of the Pequot territory, and Williams drew it up based on information he had been given from his allies, the Narragansett.
Preparations for the Mistick Fort Campaign
Mason’s Connecticut force marched to Fort Saybrook, where it was joined by more men from Massachusetts Bay under the command of Captain John Underhill. The Puritans were joined by an Indian force made up of Mohegan and Connecticut River warriors, under the command of the Mohegan sachem Uncas.
The Puritans and Indians sailed to Narragansett. They arrived there on May 18, 1637, and spent two days negotiating with the Narragansett sachems, who agreed to join the expedition against the Pequot. The entire force marched to present-day Mystic, Connecticut, where they decided to attack the Pequot at Mistick Fort.
Massacre at Mistick — May 26, 1637
Early in the morning of May 26, the Puritans and their Indian allies approached the fort and moved into position to attack. There were two entrances to the fort, one on the northeast and one on the southwest.
Mason and his men entered the fort through the northeast while Underhill and his men went through the southwest. They forced their way in and set fire to the buildings inside the walls of the fort.
There was a strong wind, which fanned the flames and quickly spread the fire. The Puritans ran back out to safety, and their Indian allies surrounded the fort. Any of the Pequots who tried to escape were killed. Within an hour, hundreds of Pequot men, women, and children were killed. It is estimated that anywhere from 400 to 700 Pequot Indians died in the massacre.
The Puritans suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of Mistick Fort and set up a camp south of the fort, near Pequot Hill, from where they could see out to Long Island Sound. They intended to wait there for ships that would carry them back to Fort Saybrook. They were joined by the Indian allies.
The Pequot launched an attack on the camp, which was pushed back by Underhill, some men from Massachusetts, and some Indian allies. When the Pequot fell back, Underhill ordered the Narragansetts and Mohegans to go after them, and then he took his Puritans back to the camp.
A group of Narragansetts decided to abandon the fight and head home. They went east and crossed the river where they were by another Pequot force. The Narragansetts sent for help and the Puritans responded by sending Underhill and some soldiers to their aid. The Narragansetts and the Puritans fought with the Pequot for about an hour.
Underhill was finally able to return to Pequot Hill. Soon after, the Puritan ships were sighted — but it was an eight-mile march from the camp to the shore — through the Pequot territory.
The Puritans moved west to meet the ships and were attacked at the base of Pequot Hill. The fight was intense until the Pequots decided to break off their attack. The Puritans and their allies stopped at the base of the hill to tend to their wounded and then started the march to meet the ships. Mason was at the head of the column and led the march. Underhill was at the rear of the column.
During the march, the Pequot attacked the Puritan column several times along the flanks and at the rear. The Puritans and their Indian allies fought them off, and when they marched by some wigwams, they stopped and gathered mats and poles to make stretchers for their wounded. Before they resumed their march, they burned the wigwams. They also took some men and women as prisoners along the way.
About two miles from the shore, the Pequots stopped the attack and the Puritan column was able to make its way to the ships. Underhill, the wounded, and most of the Indian allies boarded the ships and sailed for Fort Saybrook. Mason, along with the rest of the Puritans and Indians spent the night on the shore. The next morning, they started the march to Fort Saybrook and arrived there two days later.
Aftermath of Mistick Fort
The Pequot suffered heavy losses to their people at Mistick Fort, not only in the massacre but also in the fighting that followed. They knew they were vulnerable to another attack and many of them decided to leave their villages and homes. Some of them sought refuge in the villages of the Narragansetts and other tribes, joined those tribes, and never returned.
Battle of the Northeast
However, two sachems, Sassacus and Mononotto, wanted to continue the fight. They moved out of the Pequot territory and went in different directions, looking for support from other tribes to help them in their fight against the Puritans and their Indian allies.
Sassacus took a group of about 200 Pequots, including men, women, and children, and went west along the coast. He tried to raise support from allies in the villages near New Haven and Fairfield. Mononotto moved north, joined forces with the Wunnashowatuckoogs, and planned to attack the Narragansetts.
In June 1637, the Pequot allies, under the leadership of Mononotto, and the Narragansetts fought somewhere in east-central Connecticut. The Pequot allies were defeated and Mononotto retreated. He moved west along the coast to meet Sassacus near Fairfield.
Great Swamp Fight — July 13–14, 1637
The Puritans were determined to find Sassacus, so they organized another expedition to find him and the remaining Pequot. It was sometime in June or July when a force of Puritans and Indians left Fort Saybrook, searching for Sassacus.
The Puritan force went to Long Island, where the Montauk Indians told them Sassacus was near New Haven. When they arrived at New Haven, they found out Sassacus had taken refuge with the Sasqua Tribe near Fairfield. The Puritans continued on to New Haven.
While the Puritans marched to New Haven, Sassacus and a small group left the Sasqua village and went north to the territory of the Mohawks in the New York Colony, near Albany.
On July 13, the Puritans and their allies arrived — about 100 in total — they climbed to the top of a hill. From there, they could see the Sasqua village, which was still about two miles away. However, they were spotted from the village. The Sasquas and Pequots fled from the village and hid in Munnacommuck Swamp, most likely in the area of present-day Southport, Connecticut, just west of Fairfield.
The Puritans and their Indian allies marched to the swamp, encircled it, and fierce fighting broke out. After a few hours, the Pequot and Sasqua women and children were allowed to leave the swamp, however, they were all taken prisoner. Over the next 24 hours, the Puritan force slowly closed in on the Pequot and Sasqua warriors. The fight was brutal as men tried to escape the swamp and engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
On July 14, a thick fog hung over the swamp in the morning. A group of Pequot and Sasqua warriors were able to break through the Puritan lines and escape.
Capture of Sassacus
Sassacus and his small group were spotted by Indians allied with the Puritans near present-day Dover Plains, New York. Sassacus and his group were able to fight off an attack and escaped. By late July, they were west of Danbury, Connecticut. They were camped there when they were attacked by a group of Mohegans and Mohawks. Sassacus was killed, ending the fighting for the Pequot Tribe.
Block Island — August 1, 1637
A force led by Israel Stoughton pursued was in pursuit of some remaining Pequots. He believed they were on Block Island, so he sailed there, looking for them. The Manisses on the island did not know where they were. Stoughton and his men responded by killing some of the Manisses and burning some wigwams before sailing away from Block Island.
Treaty of Hartford — September 21, 1638
On September 21, 1638, the Puritans, Mohegans, and Narragansetts agreed to a treaty that officially ended the Pequot War. The Tripartite Treaty — or Treaty of Hartford — established peace between the Mohegans and Narragansetts. Any issues between the two tribes had to be taken to the Puritans to be resolved peacefully, instead of through violence. The two tribes also agreed they would not aid any enemies of the Puritans — mostly the few Pequots that were still alive. As for the Pequots that were being held prisoner, around 200, they were divided up and sold to the two tribes for wampum.
The war itself had devastated the Pequots, to the point they no longer existed as a tribe, but the treaty took things further. It stipulated the Pequots could not refer to themselves by that name but had to take on the name of the tribe they were sold to. The treaty also outlawed their language.
The Puritans also took the land of the Pequots, and forbid them to return. The Mohegans and Narragansetts also agreed they would not move into the territory, which opened up southeastern Connecticut for more English settlers.
Ultimately, the treaty eliminated the Pequot from Connecticut and established the English as the dominant authority, superseding all Indian tribes.
Important Facts About the Pequot War
- In 1633, nearly 75% of the Pequot died due to a smallpox epidemic.
- Trader John Stone was actually killed by Western Niantics, not Pequots.
- After Stone was killed, the Pequots decided to expand their trading partners and negotiated an agreement with Massachusetts Bay.
- In 1636, the Mohegan chief, Uncas, informed Massachusetts Bay that the Pequots were preparing for war with the English.
- Soon after, John Oldham was killed by Indians on Block Island
- Massachusetts Bay responded by attacking the Indians on Block Island and then attacking the Pequot village on the Thames River.
- The Pequot responded by laying siege to Fort Saybrook for nearly a year.
- During that time, the Pequot tried to negotiate a treaty with the Narragansett. However, Roger Williams of Rhode Island convinced the Narragansett to remain allied to Rhode Island.
- The Pequot attacked Wethersfield on April 23, 1637.
- Connecticut responded by declaring war on May 1, 1637.
- The Mohegans, Narragansetts, and Niantics joined Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay against the Pequot.
- The English and their allies attacked the Pequot village at Mystic, which was lightly defended. Most of the Pequot warriors, led by their chief, Sassacus, were at another village, near present-day Groton, Connecticut.
- The Mystic Massacre took place on May 26, 1637. Hundreds of Pequot men, women, and children were killed and the village was destroyed.
- The English and their allies eventually tracked Sassacus to a swamp near present-day New Haven. From July 13–14, 1637, the English and their allies trapped the Pequots in a swamp and slowly moved in on them. A small number of Pequots were able to escape the Great Swamp Fight. The rest were killed or taken captive.
- Sassacus, who had fled before the Great Swamp Fight took place, was eventually found in New York and killed by Mohegans and Mohawks.
- Colonists attacked the Indians on Block Island again on August 1, 1637.
- The war officially ended on September 1, 1638, when the Treaty of Hartford was agreed to.
Significance of the Pequot War
The Pequot War is important to the history of the United States because it led to English control of the Connecticut River Valley. The outcome also allowed the English colonists to expand west, toward the Dutch colony of New Netherland, and further into Indian territory. Sadly, the war also nearly destroyed the Pequot tribe and culture. The survivors were forced to become slaves to the tribes that allied with the English in the war.
Pequot War for the AP US History Exam
Pequot War Definition for APUSH
The Pequot War was an armed conflict between the Pequot Indians and English colonists that took place from 1634–1638, in the Connecticut River Vally. The English won and nearly exterminated the Pequot. After the war, the English took control of the valley, allowing more settlers to move into the area.
Pequot War Video
This video from Uncivil History provides a high-level overview of the Pequot War for students studying for the AP US History Exam.