John Mason (c. 1600–1672)
|Died||1672, age 72
|Occupation||Major in Colonial Militia|
|Known for||Led colonial militia in Mystic Massacre of Pequot Indians; Deputy Governor Connecticut|
John Mason (c. 1600–1672) was an English Army Major who migrated to New England in 1632. Within five years he had moved west from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to settlements along the Connecticut River that would become the Connecticut Colony. Tensions there arose between the settlers and the Pequots, leading to bloodshed after the Manissean Indians on Block Island killed John Oldham in 1636.
Because the Manisseans were tributaries of the Pequot Nation, Massachusetts Bay sent an expedition, which included John Mason, to Block Island to kill the Manisseans. They were then to proceed to the Connecticut River to demand that the Pequot turn over Oldham's murderers. When the Pequot refused, the English expedition burnt wigwams and corn, initiating the Pequot War, which ended in the Mystic Massacre, which virtually destroyed the Pequot tribe.
Mason recounted his experiences in the Pequot War in his narrative Major Mason's Brief History of the Pequot War, which wasn't published until 1736. After the war, Mason became Deputy Governor of Connecticut. He and a number of others were instrumental in the founding of Norwich, Connecticut, where he died in 1672.
In 1632 Mason immigrated to America and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where he represented that village in the General Court. He was elected freeman March 4, 1634/5 (as "Captain John Mason") and is shown in the October 9, 1681 list of Connecticut freemen in Norwich.
In his few years in Massachusetts John Mason was found very useful by town and colony. On July 2, 1633, an order is "given to the Treasurer to deliver to Lieutenant Mason £10 for his voyage to the eastward, when he went about the taking of Bull". On November 5, 1633, "Sergeant Stoughton is chosen ensign to Captain Mason". On September 3, 1634, "Captain Mason" was appointed to a committee to "find out the convenient places for situation, as also to lay out the several works for fortification at Castle Island, Charelton, and Dorchester". A rate was gathered for the support of Captain Mason on December 29, 1634.
In 1635 he moved to what would become Windsor, Connecticut, in company with the Reverend John Warham, Henry Wolcott, and others, prominent settlers of the town. He was elected an assistant or magistrate of the Connecticut Colony from Windsor in 1642. On September 3, 1635, "Captain Mason is authorized by the Court to press men and carts to help towards the finishing of the fort at Castle Island, and to return the same into the Court".
He married in July 1640, at Hingham, Massachusetts, Anne Peck. She was born on November 16, 1619 in Hingham, England and died on January 30, 1671/72 in Norwich, New London County, Connecticut. She was the daughter of Rev. Robert Peck, who was born at Beccles, Suffolk, England, in 1580. He was graduated at Magdalene College, Cambridge; the degree of A. B. was conferred upon him in 1599, and that of A. M., in 1603. He was a talented and influential clergyman and Puritan who had fled his Hingham, Norfolk, England, church after the crackdown by Archbishop Laud. She died shortly before her husband.
His prose is vigorous and direct in his regular correspondence with the Winthrops and in his history of the Pequot War. His activities from the earliest days in New England give evidence of training as a military engineer.
On May 1, 1637, the Connecticut General Court raised a force of 90 men to be under the command of Captain John Mason for an offensive war against the Pequot. Mason commanded the successful expedition against the Pequot Indians, when he and his men immortalized themselves in overthrowing and destroying the prestige and power of the Pequots and their fort near Mystic River, on the Groton side. During the attack, they killed virtually all of the inhabitants, about 600 men, women, and children. This event became known as the Mystic massacre. The event is commemorated by a boulder monument that formerly was on Mystic Hill upon the pedestal of which is a life-size statue of Major Mason drawing his sword, representing the moment when he heard the war-whoop of "Owanux."
On 8 March 1637/8, in the aftermath of the Pequot War, the Connecticut General Court "ordered that Captain Mason shall be a public military officer of the plantations of Connecticut, and shall train the military men thereof in each plantation".
John Mason fought alongside two Native American tribes, namely the Mohegan and Narrangansetts.
John Mason was one of the most trusted men in Connecticut during his three and a half decades of residence there, in both civil and military matters. In his latter years the formal colony records referred to him simply as "the Major," without forename or surname. Only a sampling of his activities can be presented here.
John removed his family to Old Saybrook, Middlesex County, Connecticut in 1647. He was awarded land by the state of Connecticut where Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut was founded and in 1660 united with a number of distinguished families in the settlement of Norwich, New London County, Connecticut where he was Deputy/Lieutenant Governor (1660–1669), and Major General of the forces of Connecticut.
In 1640 an event took place that forever changed the political boundaries of the Connecticut River Valley. From its founding until that time, Springfield, Massachusetts (then called Agawam) had been administered by the Connecticut Colony along with Connecticut's three other settlements - at Wethersfield, Hartford, and Windsor. In the spring of 1640, grain was very scarce and cattle were dying of starvation. The nearby Connecticut River Valley settlements of Windsor (then called "Matianuck") and Hartford (then called "Newtown") gave power to William Pynchon, the founder of Springfield, to buy corn for all three English settlements. If the natives would not sell their corn at market prices, then Pynchon was authorized to offer more money. The natives refused to sell their corn at market prices, and then later refused to sell it at "reasonable" prices. Pynchon refused to buy it, believing it best not to broadcast the English colonists' weaknesses, and also wanting to keep market values steady.
Leading citizens of what would become Hartford were furious with Pynchon for not purchasing any grain. With Windsor's and Wethersfield's consent, the three southerly settlements commissioned John Mason to travel to Springfield with "money in one hand and a sword in the other."  On reaching what would become Springfield, Mason threatened the local natives with war if they did not sell their corn at a "reasonable price." The natives capitulated and ultimately sold the colonists corn; however, Mason's violent approach led to the natives' deepening distrust of the English colonists. Pynchon, an avowed "man of peace," believed in negotiation with the natives (and thus, quickly made a fortune), whereas Mason believed in subduing natives by force. This philosophical difference led to Mason using "hard words" against Pynchon. Pynchon's settlement, however, agreed with him and his philosophy, and that same year voted to separate from the Connecticut Colony and be annexed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As this local controversy was heating up the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided to reassert its jurisdiction over the land bordering the Connecticut River, realizing that it was its most valuable for farming.
From 1647 to 1657
On 2 June 1647 the court ordered
|“||that Captain Mason should for the peace, safety and good assurance of the Commonwealth, have the command of all soldiers and inhabitants of Seabrooke, and in case of alarum or danger by approach of an enemy, to draw forth or put the said soldiers & inhabitants in such posture for the defense of the place as to him shall seem best," and "whereas Captain Mason, at the special instance & request of the inhabitants of Seabrooke, together with the good liking of the Commonwealth, did leave his habitation in the River and repair thither, to exercise a place of trust. It is this day ordered, that his former salary of £ 40 per annum be continued.||”|
During the winter of 1647/8 Winthrop records that
|“||in the depth of winter, in a very tempestuous night, the fort at Saybrook was set on fire, and all the buildings within the Palisado, with all the goods, etc., were burnt down, Captain Mason, his wife, and children, hardly saved. The loss was estimated at one thousand pounds, and not known how the fire came.||”|
Prior to the sitting of the court on 6 October 1651, Captain Mason had sent a letter to the court,
|“||wherein he desires, among other things, the advice of this Court touching a motion propounded by some of New Haven interested in Dillaware design, for his assistance of them in that business, with some encouragements for his settling there." The Court did not like the idea, but admitted they could not prevent him, and gave the irreluctant permission to "attend the service for 3 months, provided he will engage himself to return within that time and continue his abode amongst them as formerly.||”|
New Haven was at this time attempting to establish a daughter colony on the Delaware River.
By the sitting of the Court on 18 May 1654 he had been advanced from Captain to Major, the rank that he would hold for the remainder of his life. On 13 June 1654 he and Captain John Cullick were sent to Boston as agents of Connecticut, to discuss Cromwell's plans for fighting the Dutch at New Amsterdam. In April 1657 he received from the General Court an extensive commission, requiring him to go to Southampton and investigate the complaints of the inhabitants of that town (then under Connecticut jurisdiction) regarding depredations made by the Montauk Indians.
From 1659 to 1670
On 15 June 1659 Mr. Willis was
|“||requested to go down to Sea Brook, to assist the Major in examining the suspicions about witchery, and to act the rein as may be requisite.||”|
In the summer of 1669 residents of Easthampton, Southampton and Stonington addressed letters to Mason, warning him of an impending attack by several groups of Indians. Mason passed these letters on to the colony authorities in Hartford, and added his own strongly worded advice.
In the summer of 1670 John Mason acted as an intermediary between Roger Williams and the Connecticut government regarding a boundary dispute between Rhode Island and Connecticut.
On 10 February 1634/5 "Captayne Mason" received a grant of 2 acres (8,100 m2) in Dorchester. He drew 6 acres (24,000 m2) of meadow beyond Naponset in lot #73.
In the Windsor land inventory on 28 February 1640[/1] John Mason held seven parcels, six of which were granted to him: "a home lot with some additions to it", 10 acres (40,000 m2); "in the Palisado where his house stands and mead adjoining" 20.5 acres (83,000 m2); "in the first mead on the north side of the rivulet, for mead and addition in swamp" 8 acres (32,000 m2); "in the northwest field for upland" 8 acres (32,000 m2) "with some addition on the bank side"; "over the Great River in breadth by the river twenty-six rods more or less, and continues that breadth to the east side of the west marsh, and there it is but sixteen rods in breadth and so continues to the end of the three miles"; 9 acres (36,000 m2) "of land by Rocky Hill"; and "by a deed of exchange with Thomas Duy [Dewey] ... on the east side of the Great River in breadth eighteen rods more or less, in length three miles".
On 5 January 1641/2 Connecticut court ordered "that Captain Mason shall have 500 acres (2.0 km2) of ground, for him and his heirs, about Pequot Country, and the dispose of 500 more to such soldiers as joined with him in the service when they conquered the Indians there".
On 12 July 1644 John Mason of Windsor sold to William Hosford of Winds or 8 acres (32,000 m2) in a little meadow with addition of swamp. On 11 September 1651 "the island commonly called Chippachauge in Mistick Bay is given to Capt. John Mason, as also 100 acres (0.40 km2) of upland and 10 acres (40,000 m2) of meadow near Mistick, where he shall make choice".
On 14 March 1660/1 the "jurisdiction power over that land that Uncus and Wawequa have made over to Major Mason is by him surrendered to this Colony. Nevertheless for the laying out of those lands to farms or plantations the Court doth leave it in the hands of Major Mason. It is also ordered and provided with the consent of Major Mason, that Uncus & Wawequa and their Indians and successors shall be supplied with sufficient planting ground at all times as the Court sees cause out of that land. And the Major doth reserve for himself a competence of land sufficient to make a farm".
On 14 May 1663 the court granted "unto the Major, our worshipful Deputy Governor, 500 acres (2.0 km2) of land for a farm, where he shall choose it, if it may not be prejudicial to a plantation already set up or to set up, so there be not above 50 acres (200,000 m2) of meadow in it". On 13 October 1664, the "Major propounding to the Court to take up his former grant of a farm, at a place by the Indians called Pomakuck, near Norwich, the Court grants liberty to him to take up his former grant in that place, upon the same terms as it was granted to him by the Court".
On 20 May 1668 the "Major desiring this Court to grant him a farm" of about 300 acres (1.2 km2), for "one of his sons, his desire is hereby granted (provided there be not above 30 acres (120,000 m2) of meadow) and Lt. Griswold & Ensign Tracy are hereby desired to lay it out to him in some convenient place near that tract of land granted Jer[emiah] Adams, it being the place the Major hath pitched upon, the name of the place is Uncupsitt, provided it prejudice no plantation or former grant".
On 9 May 1672 "Ensign Tracy is appointed to join with Sergeant Tho[ma s] Leffingwell in laying out to the Major and Mr. Howkins their grants of land according to their grants".
- Deputy for Dorchester to Massachusetts Bay General Court, 4 March 1634/5, 2 September 1635.
- Captain by 1637.
- Deputy for Windsor to Connecticut Court, November 1637, March 1638, April 1638, September 1639, February 1641, April 1641, September 1641.
- Assistant, 1642–1659, 1669-71 [CT Civil List 35].
- War committee for Saybrook, May 1653, October 1654.
- Major, June 1654 (but he was called Major at the General Court of 18 May 1654).
- Connecticut Deputy Governor, May 1660, May 1661, May 1662, October 1662, May 1663, May 1664, May 1665, May 1666, May 1667, May 1668.
- Commissioner for United Colonies, June 1654, May 1655, May 1656, May 1657, May 1660, May 1661.
- Patentee, Royal Charter, 1662.
In his list of "some omitted in former records being gone yet had children born here", Matthew Grant included "Captain Masen" and credited him with four children born in Windsor, which are best accounted for as the daughter Ann who died in 1640, and Priscilla, Samuel and John.
The record of births of John Mason's children by his second wife was entered in Norwich vital records, even though none of the births had occurred there, with only the month and year of the birth given. The division of births between Windsor and Saybrook is based on the knowledge that Mason was in Saybrook by 1647, and on the accounting of Matthew Grant, discussed in the previous paragraph.
John Mason's descendants number in the thousands today. Some of his notable descendants include;
- David Brewster (journalist) is an American journalist.
- Diane Brewster, was an American television actress.
- Martha Wadsworth Brewster, (1710 - c.1757) a poet and writer and one of the earliest American female literary figures.
- Catherine Drew Gilpin Faust (born September 18, 1947), is an American historian, college administrator, and the president of Harvard University.
- James Rudolph Garfield, (October 17, 1865 – March 24, 1950) was a U.S. politician, lawyer and son of President James Abram Garfield and First Lady Lucretia Garfield.
- Harry Augustus Garfield, (October 11, 1863 – December 12, 1942) was an American lawyer and academic. He was the eighth president of his alma mater, Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
- James Butler Hickok (May 27, 1837 – August 2, 1876), better known as Wild Bill Hickok, was a figure in the American Old West.
- John Mason Kemper, was the 11th headmaster at Phillips Academy
- John Forbes Kerry, (born December 11, 1943) is the 68th Secretary of State of the United States and former senior United States Senator from Massachusetts (served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee).
- George Trumbull Ladd, was an American philosopher and psychologist.
- Brice Lalonde, is a former socialist and green party leader in France, who ran for President of France in the Presidential elections, 1981. In 1988 he was named Minister of the Environment, and in 1990 founded the Green Party Génération Ecologie.
- W. Patrick Lang. US Army officer, US Intelligence Executive, and author.
- Jeremiah Mason, was a United States Senator from New Hampshire.
- John Sanford Mason, (August 21, 1824 – November 29, 1897) was a career officer in the United States Army who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
- Robert Noyce, nicknamed "the Mayor of Silicon Valley", was the inventor of the integrated circuit or microchip.
- Robert Charles Winthrop, was an American lawyer and philanthropist and one time Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
- Patricia Dutcher-Walls, Presbyterian scholar and author, Professor at University of Toronto and University of British Columbia.
A statue of Major John Mason is on the Palisado Green in Windsor, Connecticut, at The John Mason statue was originally placed at the intersection of Pequot Avenue and Clift Street in Mystic, Connecticut, near what was thought to be one of the original Pequot forts. The statue remained there for 103 years. After studying the sensitivity and appropriateness of the statue's location near the historic massacre of Pequot people, a commission chartered by Groton, Connecticut voted to have it relocated. The State in 1993 relocated the statue to its current setting.
- John, Mason. A Brief History of the Pequot War: especially of the memorable taking of their fort at Mistick in Connecticut in 1637 (Boston: S. Kneeland and T. Green 1736).
- "Peck, Robert". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Rev. Peck was eventually forced to flee and emigrated to the then colony of Massachusetts, where he founded the town of Hingham, Massachusetts. He was joined in settling the town with other members of his parish from Hingham, England. He resided in Hingham, Massachusetts for several years, until King Charles I had been executed and Oliver Cromwell had taken the reins of government. Robert Peck then elected to return to Hingham, Norfolk, and resumed as rector of St Andrews Church. He died in Hingham but left descendants in America, including his brother Joseph Peck, who settled in Rehoboth, Massachusetts and whose descendants continued to live in the area through the twentieth century. Today's Pecks Corner in Rehoboth is named for this early family.
- The Will of Rev. Robert Peck, father of Ann Peck, Hingham, Norfolk, England, A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Joseph Peck Who Emigrated with His Family to This Country in 1638, Ira Ballou Peck, 1868
- Mason, John. A Brief History of the Pequot War (1736) (annotated online electronic text edition [pdf]).
- Pequot War Accessed January 25, 2009.
- Connecticut State Register, 1924 Government & Military records, p. 645.
- Barrows, Charles Henry (1911). The history of Springfield in Massachusetts for the young: being also in some part the history of other towns and cities in the county of Hampden. The Connecticut Valley Historical Society. pp. 46–48. ISBN US 13459.5.7 Check
- Barrows, 1911
- Isabel MacBeath Calder, The New Haven Colony (New Haven 1934), p. 192.
- Grant 93
- Allyn, James H. "Major John Mason's GREAT ISLAND" (1976)
- Bradstreet, Howard. The Story of the War with the Pequots Re-Told (1933)
- Cave, Alfred A. The Pequot War (University of Massachusetts Press, 1996)
- Haynes, William. "Connecticut's own Major" (1955)
- Mason, John. A Brief History of the Pequot War (1736) (reprinted by J. Sabin & sons, 1869)
- Mason, John. A Brief History of the Pequot War (1736) (annotated online electronic text edition [pdf])
- Mason, L. B. The life and times of Major John Mason of Connecticut, 1600-1672 (Putnam, 1935).
- Dictionary of American Biography
|Deputy Governor of Connecticut