Pequot Tribe of New Jersey

Published on September 16, 2010 by Alice

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Pequot War

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The Pequot War became a model of European-Native American interactions

For early Indians southern New England was choice ter-for growing corn, beans, and squash. The soil of the ritory. First, this part of North America has good topsoil lower Connecticut River valley and along Narragansett Bay is especially fertile. Second, the forests, with all kinds of hardwood and evergreen trees, are a good envi­ronment for all sorts of game. And third, unlike the east shore in northern New England that faces the Atlantic, the south shore is sheltered from the elements. Long Island, which extends eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, protects much of the coast from the heavy winds and large waves of the open ocean. Block Island, Fishers Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket also break the path of storms, as do numerous smaller islands. As a result, in the southern part of all three states touching the south shore—Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Mass­achusetts—there are many quiet bays and inlets, with fish and shellfish for the taking.

Various groups of ALGONQUIANS competed for this rich territory (see NORTHEAST INDIANS). One of the most powerful and warlike tribes was the Pequot, or Pequod. Their ancestors supposedly had migrated from the Hudson River valley in present-day New York State, perhaps breaking off from the MAHICAN. They fought with other Algonquians, both the NARRAGANSETT and NIANTIC, for land. At the time of contact with the Puri­tans and other English colonists in the early 1600s, the Pequot controlled most of the coastal area from the Con­necticut River to Rhode Island. They had even attacked and defeated many of the MONTAUK bands on Long Island. No wonder they were known as the Pequot, pro­nounced PEE-kwot, meaning “destroyers.”

At the time of Pequot dominance, Sassacus was the grand sachem, or great chief. His village was situated on the Thames River. He had 26 subordinate chiefs, each with his own palisaded village of wigwams. One of these lesser chiefs, Uncas, was dissatisfied with Sassacus’s rule and broke off to form his own tribe, who came to be known as the MOHEGAN. The Mohegan became allies of the colonists. But Sassacus and his followers resented the growing presence of the British settlers, leading to dis­putes over land and trade goods.

The Pequot War

War broke out in 1636, the first major Indian-white conflict in New England. The death of a coastal trader, John Oldham, in July of that year caused the outbreak of violence. Another coastal trader, John Gallup, discovered Oldham’s hijacked boat off Block Island, skirmished with the Pequot on board, then reported the incident to colonial officials.

Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered out an expedition under John Endecott. His force attacked Indians on Block Island and burned their villages. But many of those killed were Narragansett, not Pequot. The soldiers did not bother to distinguish among the various Algo­nquian peoples.

Endecott’s army then sailed to the Connecticut main­land in search of Pequot. The settlers at Fort Saybrook tried to talk Endecott out of further attacks because they feared Indian reprisals. But Endecott was intent on revenge and burned several Pequot villages, killing one man.

Sassacus now sought revenge. During the winter of 1636–37, his warriors laid siege to Fort Saybrook and raided isolated settlements. In the spring, they killed nine colonists at Wethersfield, up the Connecticut River.

The colonies mounted a large army under Captains John Mason and John Underhill. The force sailed west­ward along the Connecticut coast, then circled back, overland, from Narragansett Bay. Despite the attack on their people on Block Island, Narragansett joined the colonial force against their enemies the Pequot, as did Mohegan and Niantic.

At dawn on May 25, 1637, the invading army attacked Sassacus’s village. Fighting from behind their palisades, the Pequot repelled the first attack. But the colonists managed to set the wigwams on fire. Those who fled the flames were cut down in the surrounding countryside. Those who stayed behind, mostly women and children, burned to death. From 600 to 1,000 Pequot died that morning. Sassacus and others escaped. His group was attacked in a swamp west of New Haven the following July, but he managed to escape again, seek­ing refuge in MOHAWK territory. To prove that they had no part in the Pequot uprising, the Mohawk beheaded the Pequot grand sachem.

Pequot captives were sold into slavery in the Caribbean or given as slaves to the Mohegan, Narra­gansett, and Niantic as payment for their help in the war. The colonists no longer permitted the use of the Pequot tribal name or the use of Pequot place-names. Some Pequot escaped to Long Island and Massachusetts, where they settled with other Algonquians. In 1655, the colonists freed Pequot slaves in New England and reset­tled them on the Mystic River.

The Pequot Bands

In 1651, the Mashantucket (Mushantuxet), also known as the Western Pequot, received a land grant of 500 acres at Noank (New London). In 1666, they received an additional parcel on the northwest side of Long Pond at present-day Ledyard. By 1720, they had relocated to the more productive Long Pond piece. In 1683, the Paucatuck, or Eastern Pequot, also were given land, their parcel along the eastern shore of Long Pond in North Stonington, Connecticut. For a time, the Mashantucket were known as the Groton band, and the Paucatuck as the Stonington band. Over the next years, with ongoing pressures from non-Indian settlers around them, both bands lost much of their acreage. Some tribal members also resettled elsewhere, some at Schaghticoke (Scati­cook), founded by the Pequot Mahwee in the early 18th century, becoming known as the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe. Others settled among a community of Mohegan at Trumbull, Connecticut, becoming known as the Golden Hill Pequot and Mohegan Tribes.

By the late 1800s, the Mashantucket and Paucatuck each held less than 250 acres. In the 1970s, the Mashan­tucket began seeking federal recognition and made land claims against the state of Connecticut. In 1983, the Mashantucket became federally recognized and won a cash settlement for their land losses. The Paucatuck have been unsuccessful in their attempts for recognition, largely due to the unwillingness of factions within the band to work together.

Indian Gaming

Games of chance have been played for centuries by Native Americans. In guessing games such as hidden-ball game, stick game, moccasin game, and handgame, par­ticipants tried to guess the location of hidden objects, often betting prized possessions. Moreover, there were many different varieties of dice among Indian peoples. Pieces of wood, stone, bone, shell, reed, or fruit seeds were marked or numbered. Guessing games and dice games were often a part of harvest and renewal cere­monies. Indians also bet on footraces and horse races.

Modern Indian gaming for profit, because of laws promoting Indian sovereignty on reservations, has become one of the major areas of tribal economic development. The earliest form of public gaming on many reservations was bingo. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states have criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indian tribes but do not have regulatory powers over them. In 1987, the Supreme Court upheld a Florida ruling regarding the SEMI­NOLE, holding that because states lack regulatory authority on Indian lands, state laws against gambling cannot be enforced against tribes. Then in 1988, Con­gress passed the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act, granting tribes the right to pursue compacts with states for high-stakes gaming if the activity is not pro­hibited by federal or state laws. The National Indian Gaming Commission was established to ensure that the tribes and not individuals would profit from the gambling. Indian tribes thus had the right to purchase additional lands and start businesses on them that also become exempt from federal taxes. Many tribes have pursued the new potential for revenue. In some instances, tribal traditionalists have opposed the build­ing of casinos on Indian lands because of the resulting cultural and environmental impact. They make the case that Native Americans are stewards of the land and should not develop it for the leisure industry.

After having reached a compact with the state of Con­necticut—which included a provision that slot machines would be permitted if $1 million a year was donated from gambling profits to a state fund for helping trou­bled communities—the Mashantucket Pequot, with funds from international investors, constructed the Fox-woods Resort and Casino. It opened in 1992 and soon became more profitable than any one casino in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. The tribe has managed its revenues well, providing solid income for individual tribal members and reinvesting in a cultural center, museum, and other projects furthering the Pequot identity.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes by CARL WALDMAN Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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