Mystic massacre

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Engraving depicting the attack on the Pequot fort, published in 1638

The Mystic massacre took place on May 26, 1637, during the Pequot War, when English settlers under Captain John Mason, and Narragansett and Mohegan allies set fire to a fortified Pequot village near the Mystic River. They shot any people who tried to escape the wooden palisade fortress and killed the entire village, consisting mostly of women and children, in retaliation for previous Pequot attacks.[1] The only Pequot survivors were warriors who had been with their sachem Sassacus in a raiding party outside the village.


The Pequot were the dominant Native American tribe in northern to eastern Connecticut and had long competed with the neighboring Mohegan and Narragansett.[2]:167 When the English and Dutch arrived, they established trade policies, trading such things as wampum for European goods.

The Pequot eventually allied with the Dutch, while the Mohegan and others allied with the British. European population growth led to greater encroachment, leading to eventual conflict with indigenous populations. A series of Eurasian infectious diseases, such as smallpox, to which the Native Americans had no immunity, drastically reduced the Pequot population, tipping the population balance in high favor of the settlers.[2]:174

When a trader named John Oldham was killed and his trading ship looted by natives suspected to be Pequot,[2]:177 retaliation raids by settlers and their native allies ensued, and Pequots responded in kind, erupting into the Pequot War.

The massacre[edit]

The Connecticut towns raised a militia commanded by Captain John Mason consisting of 90 men, plus 70 Mohegan under sachems Uncas and Wequash. Twenty more men under Captain John Underhill joined him at Fort Saybrook.

The Pequot sachem Sassacus, meanwhile, gathered a few hundred warriors and set out to make another raid on Hartford, Connecticut.

At the same time, Captain Mason recruited more than 200 Narragansett and Niantic warriors to join his attack force. On the night of May 26, 1637,[citation needed] the forces of English and Native American attackers arrived outside the palisade-surrounded Pequot village near the Mystic River, which had only two entrances/exits. The English attempted to attack the villagers by surprise, yet met with stiff Pequot resistance. Mason gave the order to set the village on fire and block off the exits. The Pequot were trapped inside. Those who tried climbing over the palisade were shot; anyone who succeeded in getting over was killed by the Narragansett forces.[2]:190–93

Account by John Underhill[edit]

John Underhill described the scene and his participation: "Captaine Mason entring into a Wigwam, brought out a fire-brand, after hee had wounded many in the house, then hee set fire on the West-side where he entred, my selfe set fire on the South end with a traine of Powder, the fires of both meeting in the center of the Fort blazed most terribly, and burnt all in the space of halfe an houre;many couragious fellowes were unwilling to come out, and fought most desperately through the Palisadoes, so as they were scorched and burnt with the very flame, and were deprived of their armes, in regard the fire burnt their very bowstrings, and so perished valiantly : mercy they did deserve for their valour, could we have had opportunitie to have bestowed it; many were burnt in the Fort, both men, women, and children, others forced out, and came in troopes to the Indians, twentie, and thirtie at a time, which our souldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword; downe fell men, women, and children, those that scaped us, fell into the hands of the Indians, that were in the reere of us; it is reported by themselves, that there were about foure hundred soules in this Fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands."[3]

As Genocide[edit]

During the reemergence of the modern Pequot nation in the 1990s, Stephen Katz and Michael Freeman argued in the New England Quarterly as to whether or not the incident constituted a genocide, with Katz arguing that it did not and Freeman arguing that it did.[4] The book Genocide and International Justice by Rebecca Joyce Frey lists the incident as genocide,[5] as does the book An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery, and Dominion on the Banks of the Cape, by Steven M. Wise. Wise notes that Captain John Underhill justified the killing of the elderly, women, and children, and the infirm by stating that "...sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents...We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings."[6]


Estimates of dead Pequot range from 400 to 700, mostly women, children and old men, as the warriors were out on a raiding party. On top of their being weakened from disease, the massacre practically broke the Pequots, who fled and were hunted down. Sassacus and many of his followers were surrounded in a swamp near a Mattabesic village called Sasqua. In the following battle, known as the "Fairfield Swamp Fight", Sassacus and about 80 others managed to escape. Nearly 180 warriors were killed, wounded, or captured. Sassacus was eventually killed by the Mohawk, who sent his scalp to the English as a symbol of friendship.[2]:196

The English sold captured Pequot as slaves or servants and took their lands. The Pequot numbers were so diminished that they ceased to be a tribe in most senses. The treaty even mandated that the remaining Pequot were to be absorbed into the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes, nor were they even allowed to refer to themselves as Pequot.[2]:196 In the later 20th century, Pequot descendants revived the tribe, achieving federal recognition and settlement of some land claims.[citation needed]

The massacre was featured in the History Channel series 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Society of Colonial Wars: 1637 – The Pequot War.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Vowell, Sarah (2008). The Wordy Shipmates. Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-59448-999-0. 
  3. ^ The Manshantucket (western) Pequot Tribal Nation, accessed April 21, 2014
  4. ^ The Question of Genocide in the Pequot War joshua Erspamer Mr., William Mitchell College of Law, page 3
  5. ^ Genocide and International Justice by Rebecca Joyce Frey. p.338
  6. ^ An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery, and Dominion on the Banks of the Cape By Steven M. Wise p.33

Further reading[edit]

  • Cave, Alfred A. "Who Killed John Stone? A Note on the Origins of the Pequot War", The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol.49, No.3 (Jul. 1992), pp. 509–521

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°21′46″N 71°58′41″W / 41.3627°N 71.9780°W / 41.3627; -71.9780