On this day in 1638, an “agreement between the English in Connecticutt and the Indian Sachems” was signed in Hartford, marking the end of the Pequot War, the first major Anglo-Indian conflict in the region that became New England.
On May 1, 1637, English leaders in the fledgling Connecticut colony had formally declared war on the Pequots following a deadly raid in which Pequot and Wangunk warriors had attacked the small town of Wethersfield, killing nine colonists and destroying twenty horses and cattle. The attack had come just as the Wethersfield settlers were beginning spring planting following a desperately hard winter, and the attack was meant to threaten both the town’s people and their food security. The assault on Wethersfield had been preceded by two years of continuously escalating tensions between the English and the Pequots in which both sides had inflicted numerous casualties on the other.
Fearing the Pequots ability to conduct surprise attacks on the colonial towns virtually at will, the English response was ruthless. Forging alliances with the region’s Mohegan and Narragansett tribes, both of whom harbored their own animosities toward their aggressive Pequot neighbors, the English conducted a European-style total war against the Pequot tribe, killing hundreds of Pequot men, women and children in attacks on a fortified Pequot village near Mystic and a later swamp battle near present-day Fairfield. Colonists and native peoples throughout New England endured a summer of perpetual anxiety, marked by raids and reprisals, until the death of the Pequot sachem Sassacus in late July of 1637 effectively broke the Pequot’s will to continue fighting.
The agreement signed on September 21, 1638 by Connecticut, Mohegan, and Narragansett leaders — now commonly referred to as the Treaty of Hartford — outlined harsh terms for the remaining men, women, and children of the defeated Pequot tribe. All the Pequot warriors who fought against the English were to be executed, and the remaining tribal members were to be divided as prisoners of war (in many cases, de facto servants or slaves) between the English and their Indian allies. Furthermore, in an effort to totally erase the culture and even memory of the Pequot people, the use of the Pequot language — or even the name “Pequot” — was formally outlawed, and the Pequot people were forbidden to return to the expansive territory they once claimed as their homeland, an area of about 250 square miles in southeastern Connecticut. The leaders of Massachusetts, who did not participate in the negotiations, subsequently acted in ways that reflected ambivalence about, if not disagreement with, some of the Hartford Treaty’s terms. This proved to be one factor that helped some Pequots to return permanently to their homelands, where they have preserved their culture and identity through the ensuing centuries. Today, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe have earned federal, and the Eastern Pequot community state recognition.
“Treaty of Hartford (Transcript),” Yale University Indian Papers Project
“The History of the Pequot War,” Battlefields of the Pequot War, pequotwar.org