The Mystic massacre – also known as the Pequot massacre and the Battle of Mystic Fort – took place on May 26, 1637 during the Pequot War, when Connecticut colonists under Captain John Mason and their Narragansett and Mohegan allies set fire to the Pequot Fort near the Mystic River. They shot anyone who tried to escape the wooden palisade fortress and killed most of the village in retaliation for previous Pequot attacks. There were between 400 and 700 Pequot civilians killed during the massacre, and the only Pequot survivors were warriors who were away in a raiding party with their sachem Sassacus.
The Pequots were the dominant Native American tribe in the southeastern portion of Connecticut Colony, and they had long competed with the neighboring Mohegan and Narragansett tribes.: 167 The European colonists established trade with all three tribes, exchanging European goods for wampum and furs. The Pequots eventually allied with the Dutch colonists, while the Mohegans and others allied with the New England colonists.
A trader named John Oldham was murdered and his trading ship looted by Pequots,: 177 and retaliation raids ensued by Colonists and their Native American allies. On April 23, 1637, 200 Pequot warriors attacked the colonial village of Wethersfield killing 6 men and 3 women, all noncombatants. This was a major turning point in the Pequot war as it enraged the settlers that the warriors would kill civilians and led to increased support for the Pequot War among colonists. According to Katherine Grandjean, the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 damaged the corn and other crop harvests of that year, making food supplies scarce and creating competition for winter food supplies. This in turn increased the tensions between the Pequots and Colonists who were ill-prepared to face periods of famine.
The Connecticut towns raised a militia commanded by Captain John Mason consisting of 90 men, plus 70 Mohegans under sachems Uncas and Wequash. Twenty more men under Captain John Underhill joined him from Fort Saybrook. 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 force. On the night of May 26, 1637, the Colonial and Indian forces arrived outside the Pequot village near the Mystic River. The palisade surrounding the village had only two exits. The Colonial forces attempted a surprise attack but met stiff Pequot resistance. Mason gave the order to set the village on fire and block off the two exits, trapping the Pequots inside. Many who tried climbing over the palisade were shot; most who succeeded in getting over were killed by the Narragansett fighters.: 190–93 The colonists reported that only five Pequots had successfully escaped the massacre and seven were taken prisoner. When a Pequot fell, the Mohegans would cry out, run and fetch his head. Many scalps were taken and sent back as trophies. This was the first example of total war by the colonists in the new world.
Pequot warriors who had been with their sachem Sassacus, upon seeing the aftermath of the massacre, advanced towards the Puritan forces. The Puritans were lost for a brief period when returning home and narrowly escaped the Pequot counterattack in their retreat.
Account by John Underhill
John Underhill described the scene and his participation:
"Captaine Mason entring into a Wigwam, brought out a fire-brand, after he had wounded many in the house, then he 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."
Stephen Katz and Michael Freeman argued in The New England Quarterly during the emergence of the modern Pequot tribe in the 1990s as to whether or not the incident constituted genocide, with Katz arguing that it did not and Freeman arguing that it did. The book Genocide and International Justice by Rebecca Joyce Frey lists the incident as genocide, 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, 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."
Estimates of Pequot deaths range from 400 to 700, including women, children, and the elderly. The colonists suffered between 22 and 26 casualties with two confirmed dead. Approximately 40 Narragansett warriors were wounded as the colonists mistook many of them for Pequots. The massacre effectively broke the Pequots, and Sassacus and many of his followers were surrounded in a swamp near a Mattabesset village called Sasqua. The battle which followed is known as the "Fairfield Swamp Fight", in which nearly 180 warriors were killed, wounded, or captured. Sassacus escaped with about 80 of his men, but he was killed by the Mohawks, who sent his scalp to the colonists as a symbol of friendship.: 196
The Pequot numbers were so diminished that they ceased to be a tribe in most senses. The treaty mandated that the remaining Pequots were to be absorbed into the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes, nor were they allowed to refer to themselves as Pequots.: 196 In the later 20th century, Pequot descendants revived the tribe, achieving federal recognition and settlement of some land claims.
Some 500–1000 (scholars differ) women and children were shipped into slavery in Bermuda and Barbados. Some 500 were taken to Barbados on the Sea Flower slave ship captained by John Gallop that mostly plied the African slave trade.
The statue of John Mason located at Palisado Green in Windsor, Connecticut is set to be removed in the wake of national civil rights protests along with a statue of Christopher Columbus in the same area. The statue was erected at the site of the Mystic Massacre in 1889, but was moved to its current location in 1996 as Windsor was believed to be the location of his home. There is another statue of John Mason at the Connecticut state capital building which has had calls for removal.
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