Pequot Indians (contr. of Paquatauog, ‘destroyers.’- Trumbull). An Algonquian tribe of Connecticut. Before their conquest by the English in 1637 they were the most dreaded of the southern New England tribes. They were originally but one people with the Mohegan, and it is possible that the term Pequot was unknown until applied by the eastern coast Indians to this body of Mohegan invaders, who came down from the interior shortly before the arrival of the English. The division into two distinct tribes seems to have been accomplished by the secession of Uncas, who, in consequence of a dispute with Sassacus, afterward known as the great chief of the Pequot, withdrew into the interior with a small body of followers. This body retained the name of Mohegan, and through the diplomatic management of Uncas acquired such prominence that on the close of the Pequot War their claim to the greater part of the territory formerly subject to Sassacus was recognized by the colonial government. The real territory of the Pequot was a narrow strip of coast in New London County, extending from Niantic River to the Rhode Island boundary, comprising the present towns of New London, Groton, and Stonington. They also extended a few miles into Rhode Island to Wecapaug River until driven out by the Narraganset about 1635. This country had been previously in possession of the Niantic, whom the Pequot invaded from the north and forced from their central position, splitting them into two bodies, thenceforth known as Eastern Niantic and Western Niantic. The Eastern Niantic put themselves under the protection of the Narraganset, while the western branch became subject to the Pequot and were settled on their west border. The conquerors rapidly extended their dominion over the neighboring tribes, so that just previous to the Pequot War Sassacus was the head over 26 subordinate chiefs and claimed control over all Connecticut east of Connecticut river and the coast westward to the vicinity of Guilford or New Haven, while all of Long Island except the extreme west part was also under his dominion. Nearly all of this territory, excepting Long Island, was claimed by Uncas, the Mohegan chief, after the conquest of the Pequot. At the period of their greatest strength the Pequot probably numbered at least 3,000 souls, but have been estimated much higher.
By the murder of a trader who had treated them harshly, followed by several other acts of hostility, the Pequot became involved in a war with the colonists in 1637. Through the influence of Roger Williams and of Uncas the English secured the assistance, or at least the neutrality, of the neighboring tribes, and then marched against the Pequot. Their principal fort, near Mystic River, was surprised and set on fire, and probably 600 Pequot men, women, and children perished in the flames or were shot down while trying to escape. This terrible slaughter so crippled the Pequot that after a few desperate but unsuccessful efforts at resistance they determined to separate into small parties and abandon their country. Some went to Long Island, others fled to the interior, while a large party headed by Sassacus attempted to reach the Mohawk, but were intercepted near Fairfield, Connecticut and almost the entire party were killed or captured. The prisoners became slaves to the colonists or were sold into the West Indies. The few who escaped to the Mohawk, including Sassacus, were put to death by that tribe. The scattered fugitives were shot down wherever found by the neighboring tribes, until the survivors at last came in and asked for mercy at the hands of the English. A party of 70 had previously made submission to the Narraganset and become a part of that tribe.
In 1638 the surrendered Pequot were distributed among the Mohegan, Narraganset, and Niantic, and forbidden to call themselves Pequot any longer. Although it has been customary to regard the Pequot as exterminated in this war, such was far from being the case. They numbered 3,000 or more at the beginning of the war, and only about 700 or 800 are known to have been killed. The rest joined other tribes or finally submitted to the English. Several years afterward a Pequot chief was found living on Delaware River, and there can be no question that many others had found refuge with the Mahican and other western tribes. In June 1637, after the dispersion of the tribe, those about New Haven and on Long Island were reported to number 350 warriors, or about 1,250 souls. Those portioned out among the friendly tribes in September 1638, numbered 200 warriors, with their families, or about 700 in all. Of these, one-half went to the Mohegan, 80 warriors to the Narraganset, and 20 warriors to the Niantic. They occupied six separate villages among these tribes, in addition to those villages which were occupied jointly. At the same time there were a large number on Long Island who remained there in subjection to the English; others were in the vicinity of New Haven and among the Nipmuc and neighboring tribes; many were scattered as slaves among the English settlements, and others had been sent to the West Indies.
The Pequot who had been given to the Indian allies of the colonists were treated so harshly by their masters that it was finally necessary, in 1655, to gather them into two villages near Mystic river, in their old country, and place them under the direct control of the colonial government. Here they numbered about 1,500 in 1674. They decreased rapidly, as did the other tribes, and in 1762 the remnant numbered 140 souls, living in Maushantuxet, at Ledyard, Connecticut. In 1832 these were reduced to about 40 mixed-bloods, who still occupied their reserve and cherished the old hatred of the Mohegan, who lived a few miles distant. It appears from an article by Prince and Speck 1 that there are still in Connecticut about 100 persons of Pequot-Mohegan blood. A colony of about 50 individuals of this group are employed chiefly as farm and factory workers a few miles south of Norwich; the others live in adjacent towns. About 25, according to Speck 2 , are still on the old Groton tract near Ledyard and keep themselves distinct from the Mohegan, but they retain practically nothing of their former culture.
Pequot Indian Towns and Villages
The following were Pequot villages:
- Prince and Speck in Am. Anthrop., Apr. 1903
- Speck, inf’n, 1907