Today in 1637, Connecticut colonists formally declared war against the Pequots, the Native American tribe whose territory covered some 250 square miles in southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Relations between the colonists and the Pequots had been tense ever since the English arrived in the Connecticut River valley in 1633. Both the Pequots and English believed the other to be encroaching on vitally important trade routes. In 1636, a series of tense standoffs and retaliatory raids culminated in a seven-month Pequot siege of a small, palisaded English fort at Old Say brook. In early 1637, when troops from Massachusetts arrived to reinforce the Connecticans, the Pequots broke off their seige. They served notice, however, that they had every intention of harassing English settlers elsewhere in the region.
Despite the rapid deterioration of English-Indian relations, the Connecticut settlers, relatively few in number and enduring harsh early conditions marked by serious food shortages, were reluctant to declare outright war against the powerful Pequots. The tipping point came in late April 1637, when a large band of Pequot and Wangunk warriors attacked the town of Wethersfield. Nine men and women were killed, most while working on the desperately needed spring planting. Two young girls (later rescued by Dutch traders) were also captured, paraded past the English fort at Saybrook, and then taken into Pequot territory. In a clear sign the Pequots intended to starve the English settlers out, the attackers also killed 20 cattle and horses.
The Wethersfield assault convinced colonial leaders that all-out war was necessary to ensure English survival in Connecticut, and they formally declared war on the Pequot people on May 1st, 1637. Just three weeks later, a combined force of nearly 90 Englishmen and 300 native allies launched a surprise attack on a fortified Pequot village near present-day Mystic, killing anywhere from 400 to 700 Pequots. The event, often called the Mistick Massacre, became the most infamous example of the brutality that characterized the Pequot War, in which both sides repeatedly committed what would today be classified as war crimes. Though the fighting was over by summer’s end, the state of war continued for 16 months. The victory of the English settlers and their Indian allies resulted in a permanent shift in the balance of power in Connecticut. On September 21, 1638, representatives from the Pequot and Mohegan tribes signed the Treaty of Hartford, ending both the Pequot’s longstanding dominance over the First Peoples of southern New England and the war that began today in Connecticut history.
“The History of the Pequot War,” Battlefields of the Pequot War Project
Kevin McBride and Laurie Pasteryak Lamarre, “Exploring and Uncovering the Pequot War,” Connecticut Explored
Walter Woodward, “Two Controversial Statues Standing… At Least, For Now,” Connecticut Explored