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An 1874 illustration of Uncas killing Miantonomoh in 1643
Sachem of the Mohegans
Personal details
Diedc.1683 (aged 94-95)
New London, Connecticut Colony
OccupationTribal Chief, soldier
Military service
New England Confederation
RankWar Chief
Battles/warsWar with the Narragansett
Pequot War
King Phillip's War

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 New England colonists against other Indian tribes.

Early life and family[edit]

Document signed by Uncas and his wife

Uncas was born near the Thames River in present-day Connecticut, the son of the Mohegan sachem Owaneco.[1] Uncas is a variant of the Mohegan term Wonkus, meaning "Fox".[2] 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 newly arriving Puritan colonists, 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.

Pequot War[edit]

About 1635, Uncas developed relationships with important figures in the Connecticut Colony. 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 colonists on the Connecticut River. Brewster described Uncas as being "faithful" to the colonists.[3]

In 1637, during the Pequot War, Uncas was allied with the New England colonists and against the Pequots. He led his Mohegans in a joint attack with the colonists against the Pequots near Saybrook and against the Pequot 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 Colony. 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 New England colonists. The Hammonassets moved and became Mohegans.[citation needed]

War with the Narragansett[edit]

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 New England colonists.

The colonists 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 colonists. 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 colonists promised to support the Mohegans. Colonists from 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 colonists relieved them with supplies, led by Thomas Tracy and Thomas Leffingwell,[4] and lifted the siege. The New England Confederation pledged any offensive action required to preserve Uncas in "his liberty and estate". The New England administration sent troops to defend the Mohegan fort at Shantok. When the colonists 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 colonists 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 New England colonists both asserted the Nameag's tributary status while supporting the Nameags in their independence. In 1655, the New England government removed the tribe from Uncas' authority.

King Philip's War[edit]

King Philip's War started in June 1675. In the summer, the Mohegans entered the war on the side of the New England colonists. Uncas led his forces in joint attacks with the colonists against the Wampanoags. In December, a combined New England-Mohegan force attacked a group of Narragansetts. The Mohegans continued to maintain their alliance until the war's end in July 1676.

Uncas died sometime between June 1683 and June 1684 in Norwich, New London County, Connecticut.


A 1905 postcard featuring a photo of the Uncas monument in Norwich, Connecticut laid by U.S. President Andrew Jackson

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oberg, p. 38
  2. ^ De Pold, Hans (2008). Bolton: Historic Tales. The History Press. ISBN 9781596295636.
  3. ^ Oberg, p. 52
  4. ^ Mahan, Russell, Thomas Leffingwell: The Connecticut Pioneer Who Rescued Chief Uncas and the Mohegans; Historical Enterprises, Santa Clara, Utah, 2018.
  5. ^ Oberg, p. 8
  6. ^ The tribe of the Mohican is not the same as the Mohegan.