Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
An engraving depicting the assault on the Pequot fort during the Pequot War by Captain Underhill and Captain Mason.

Native History: It’s Memorial Day—In 1637, the Pequot Massacre Happened

Alysa Landry

This Date in Native History: On May 26, 1637, a Puritan force fortified by Native allies massacred a Pequot fort in Connecticut, killing as many as 500 men, women and children and burning the village to the ground.

The pre-dawn attack on Mystic Fort marked the first time the Pequot were defeated, said Kevin McBride, an anthropology professor at the University of Connecticut and director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.

The massacre also marked a turning point in the Pequot War, a three-year war over the tribe’s traditional land—about 250 square miles in southeastern Connecticut—and the first major conflict between colonists and American Indians in New England.

“For the first eight months of the Pequot War, the Pequot never lost a battle to the English,” McBride said. “Tactically, the Pequot were superior, even without firearms. The English could not figure them out. Up until the Mystic Massacre, the Pequot had won every engagement.”

Southeastern Connecticut once was home to about 8,000 Pequot people residing in 15 to 20 villages. In response to the arrival of the Dutch in 1611, the Pequot tribe built a confederacy of dozens of tribes to control the fur trade and strengthen its political and economic power.

Until the English arrived in the 1630s, the Dutch and the Pequot controlled the region’s fur trade. With the addition of English traders and settlers, the power balance shifted. The Pequot War broke out when tribes under Pequot subjugation allied with the English.

Complicating matters were the Pequot murders of several English traders and colonists, McBride said. The English demanded that the murderers be turned over, and when the Pequot refused, the war began.

McBride called the Pequot a “complex society” and the Pequot War one of the most controversial and significant events in Colonial history. The attack at Mystic Fort, which was the first of three massacres that occurred during the war, changed the way Native forces looked at warfare.

The massacre, led by English Captain John Mason, was the first documented use of “total war” against American Indians, meaning the English force slaughtered all Pequot they came in contact with, making no distinction between armed warriors or helpless women and children.

“By any standards, it was a massacre,” McBride said. “The English did intend to kill everyone there, but they did not do it to steal land or to control trade. They did it out of fear that the Pequot and their Native allies would perpetuate a region-wide attack on the English.”


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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Interesting how the Europeans & Americans of power & priviledge alike many times think/ thought they are doing "God's will" when it comes to destroying " the heathen red devils". How many times do these so-called Christians claim something or kill someone is "God's will" when in actuality it is THEIR desire to steal something or THEIR hatred towards other people not like them & "claim" it's the "will of God" to destroy the heathen & idol worshippers. ......................................................................................................................... Religion has been used far too many times for doing the dirty work of the egotistical, elite & wealthy in society for eons. I say to those people like this to stop lying about what someone's "god/ess" wants & start telling the truth for once in their lives. That truth being that it is they themselves who want these natural resources & lands. ......................................................................................................................... What these arrogant ones fail to realize or acknowledge is that we leave this realm & world with EXACTLY what we came into it with: NOTHING! We are mere caretakers of the things in this world while we are existing in it for but a brief moment in time. What matters is how well we were the stewards of the resources we were entrusted with & how we treated others while the Creator blessed us with one more breath. THAT is what should matter to others.

logosmundi's picture
Submitted by logosmundi on
It always boils down to one thing - fear. Fear of losing, fear being killed, fear of understanding, fear of loving. We are too full of fear.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Religion, politics and power all work to convince man of his superiority to his fellow man. They are the means by which men can write lofty phrases like: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," while maintaining actions to wipe out or enslave an entire race of people. ____________________________________________________________ We were once called "heathens" because we didn't pray to the "right God." The White God was shoved down our throats and the faithful conveniently forgot "Thou Shalt Not Kill" when it came to teaching us how much God loves us and how we're supposed to love and forgive others. ____________________________________________________________ Our mother, the Earth has never asked me to hate someone for the color of their skin, or for the Gods they pray to. She's never asked me to suffer for her, or tell me that I owe her anything for all she's given me. She doesn't require me to spread the word of her greatness, nor does she care if anyone followes her. ___________________________________________________________ White man creates his God of convenience. The White God is only evident when the White Man wants to appear honorable. The White God is inter-changeable with his flag. My grandfather told me once long ago that I should NEVER trust anyone who is waving a flag or a crucifix in my face because they are hiding what the other hand is doing. Always good words to live by.