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Uncas (c.1588—c.1683) was a sachem of the Mohegans who made the Mohegans the leading regional Indian tribe in lower Connecticut, through his alliance with the English colonists in New England against other Indian tribes.
Early life and family
Uncas was born near the Thames River in present-day Connecticut, the son of the Mohegan sachem Owaneco. Uncas is a variant of the Mohegan term Wonkus, meaning "Fox". He was a descendant of the principal sachems of the Mohegans, Pequots, and Narragansetts. Owaneco presided over the village known as Montonesuck. Uncas was bilingual, learning Mohegan and some English, and possibly some Dutch.
In 1626, Owaneco arranged for Uncas to marry the daughter of the principal Pequot sachem Tatobem to secure an alliance with them. Owaneco died shortly after this marriage, and Uncas had to submit to Tatobem's authority. Tatobem was captured and killed by the Dutch in 1633; Sassacus became his successor, but Uncas felt that he deserved to be sachem.
Owaneco's alliance with Tatobem was based upon a balance of power between the Mohegans and Pequots. After the death of Owaneco, the balance changed in favour of the Pequots. Uncas was unwilling to challenge the power of Tatobem; however, Uncas did begin contesting Pequot authority over the Mohegans. In 1634 with Narragansett support, Uncas rebelled against Sassacus and Pequot authority. Uncas was defeated and became an exile among the Narragansetts. He soon returned from exile after ritually humiliating himself before Sassacus. His failed challenges resulted in Uncas having little land and few followers, but Uncas saw that the English Puritan new arrivals, though few in number, had better weapons and much courage, so he started to develop a new strategy and alliance to work towards his ultimate goal of Grand Sachem.
About 1635, Uncas developed relationships with important Englishmen in Connecticut. He was a trusted ally of Captain John Mason, a partnership which lasted three and a half decades and several family generations beyond. Uncas sent word to Jonathan Brewster that Sassacus was planning to attack the English on the Connecticut river. Brewster described Uncas as being "faithful to the English".
In 1637, during the Pequot War, Uncas was allied with the English and against the Pequots. He led his Mohegans in a joint attack with the English against the Pequots near Saybrook and against their fort at Mystic River. The Pequots were defeated and the Mohegans incorporated much of the remaining Pequot people and their land. In the 1638 Treaty of Hartford, Uncas made the Mohegans a tributary of the Connecticut River Colony. The treaty dictated that Uncas could pursue his interests in the Pequot country only with the explicit approval of the Connecticut English. The Mohegans had become a regional power.
In 1640, Uncas added Sebequanash of the Hammonassets to his several wives. This marriage gave Uncas some type of control over their land which he promptly sold to the English. The Hammonassets moved and became Mohegans.
War with the Narragansett
The Mohegans were in continuous conflict with the Narragansetts over control of the former Pequot land. In the summer of 1643, this conflict turned into war.
The Mohegans defeated a Narragansett invasion force of around 1,000 men and captured their sachem Miantonomo. Uncas executed several of Miantonomo's fellow warriors in front of him, trying to solicit a response from Miantonomo. Consistent with the 1638 treaty, he turned Miantonomo over to the English.
The English put him on trial where he was found guilty. Uncas requested and was given authority to put Miantonomo to death, provided that the killing was done by Indian hands in Indian territory to prevent difficulties between the Narragansetts and the English. Miantonomo subsequently escaped from the Mohegan village where he was being held and jumped Yantic Falls in escape of the pursuing Mohegans. This site is also known as Indian Leap. Uncas' brother Wawequa, leading the pursuit, caught up to Miantonomo and struck him a fatal blow to the back of his head with a tomahawk. A monument stands near the site of Miantonomo's death. The exact location is unknown, since stones marking the original location of Miantonomo's grave were allegedly used by early settlers to construct a barn.
Author James Fenimore Cooper portrayed a fictional Uncas as having made the leap over the falls in his 1826 book "The Last of the Mohicans".
Narragansett sachem Pessachus proposed to go to war to avenge the death of Miantonomo, but the English pledged to support the Mohegans. The English colonies in the New England Confederation formed an alliance with the Mohegans for their defense. The Narragansett attacks started in June 1644. With each success, the number of Narragansett allies grew. In 1645, Uncas and the Mohegans were under siege in Fort Shantok at Shattuck's Point and on the verge of a complete defeat when the English relieved them with supplies, led by Thomas Tracy and Thomas Leffingwell, and lifted the siege. The New England Confederation pledged any offensive action required to preserve Uncas in "his liberty and estate". The English sent troops to defend the Mohegan fort at Shantok. When the English threatened to invade Narragansett territory, the Narragansett signed a peace treaty.
In 1646, the tributary tribe at Nameag, consisting of former Pequots, allied with the English and tried to become more independent. In response, Uncas attacked and plundered their village. The Bay Colony governor responded by threatening to allow the Narragansetts to attack the Mohegans. For the next several years, the English both asserted the Nameag's tributary status while supporting the Nameags in their independence. In 1655, the English removed the tribe from Uncas' authority.
King Philip's War
King Philip's War started in June 1675. In the summer, the Mohegans entered the war on the side of the English. Uncas led his forces in joint attacks with the English against the Wampanoags. In December, the Mohegans with the English attacked the Narragansetts. The Mohegans ended their active support of the English in this war in July 1676.
Uncas died sometime between June 1683 and June 1684 in Norwich, New London County, Connecticut.
- President Jackson laid the foundation stone of a monument to Uncas in Norwich, Connecticut.
- Uncas Pond in Franklin, MA
- In 1907, William F. Cody laid a wreath on Uncas' monument as a commemoration to Uncas as the "Last of the Mohegans".
- James Fenimore Cooper's book The Last of the Mohicans had Chingachgook's son named Uncas.
- The two-masted wooden schooner Diosa del Mar was originally christened Uncas by the owning Vanderbilt family.
- Four United States Navy ships have been named USS Uncas.
- Uncasville in Eastern Connecticut is named after him.
- Uncas Lake in Nahantic State Forest, Lyme, CT is also named after the sachem.
- In the ceremonies of the Boy Scouts of America honor society the Order of the Arrow, a young man named Uncas is depicted as the son of a fictional Lenni Lenape chieftain named Chief Chingachgook, who is sent on a diplomatic mission by Chingachgook to unite the tribes of the Delaware Valley into a powerful alliance.
- In the DC comic book Superman #276 (June 1974), one of the super-hero Captain Thunder's is "the bravery of Uncas."