Teaching Native American Studies

History of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation

Teachers are strongly advised to look at the Eastern Pequot Tribal website, which includes the tribe's petition, timelines of federal recognition, archaeology collaboration, and government structures.

Background History

The Eastern Pequot Tribe arose from the ashes of the 1637 massacre at the principle Pequot fortified village on Long Island Sound at Mystic (the traditional name) in the area known as Connecticut (or Quinnetucket), where hundreds of Pequot children, adults and Elders burned alive in their Wigwams or were put to the sword by a colonial militia as they attempted to flee the conflagration. Estimates of those killed that day range from 300 to 700.

There were approximately 26 villages on the Connecticut, Pequot, Mystic, and Paucatuck Rivers, and on the coastal islands affiliated with or tributary to the Pequot Sagamores prior to the European Colonial incursion into the region in the 1630s and 1640s. The colonial “magistrates” under a claim of right and land rights from the English throne, waged a genocidal war against the Pequot in order to take possession of an area which has been described as “Paradise”.

The maps of early explorers deemed it “Paradise” because of the abundance of deer, beaver, bear, fox, otter, duck, goose, rabbit, and seal as well as the abundance of edible crops like corn, beans, squash, strawberries, and grapes that were cultivated by the native people; the wild native trees and plants were natural and precious resources that could be exploited for the European markets and for the survival needs of the colonists.

Also, the Native people in the Pequot and surrounding coastal territories were adept at the production of Wampum (wampumpeag), or sewan, purple (black) or white beads made of various types of shell, and worked with a metal called “Indian Gold” to create elaborate bead work and jewelry. Wampum played a very significant part in the spiritual, cultural and “political” lives of the Pequot, and it had a tremendous value as a trading commodity to the Europeans, who would trade whatever wampum they could get their hands on for furs or other marketable commodities which would result in tremendous profits to the Europeans.

Although the Pequots were initially amicable, gracious and enjoyed the trade with Europeans – who had goods previously unavailable to them such as metal pots, cloth coats, and reams of linen and other cloth to trade for their amicability – their trust was shattered when their primary Sachem was held for ransom by the Captain and crew of a wayward European merchant ship. According to some sources, they demanded a thousand fathoms (6,000 feet) of wampumpeag in exchange for the life of the Sachem. Valuing the life of their Sachem, they collected and turned over the desired sum of wampumpeag, only to have their Sachem floated back from the ship in his canoe, into the Pequot harbor (present day, New London, Connecticut) , slain by the Europeans.

This kidnapping and murder of the Pequot Sachem, which occurred around 1634, set the stage for a number of hostile encounters between the Europeans and the Pequots, resulting in a declaration of war against the “Pequot people and the destruction of their villages”; The pillage and plunder of their crops, forced captivity of all women, children and elderly persons (most of whom were sold or traded into slavery in the Caribbean or made servants to their captors), and the summary execution of all Pequot Warriors was the end result of the declaration.

Immediately after the massacre at Mystic, Connecticut, in 1637 a small band of Pequot survivors escaped with several of their leaders and gathered together on the coastal islands under the protection of Wequashcuk and Eastern Nehantic tribal leaders. The Eastern Nehantics were close affiliates of the Pequots and inhabited mutual areas in the vicinity of the Paucatuck river. Wequashcuk’s mother was a Pequot and his father was Eastern Nehantic, the brother of Ninigret, an Eastern Nehantic Sachem closely affiliated  with the Narragansetts, according to historians. Wequashcuk immediately sought and gained an agreement of non-aggression from the colonial militia’s regional commander who had located at Pequot harbor (now, New London, Connecticut).

Shortly thereafter, when hostilities had subsided somewhat, this band of Pequots and Eastern Nehantics were removed from the coastal islands back to Paucatuck River area (now known as Stonington, Connecticut and Westerly, Rhode Island), which was Wequashcuk’s inherited tribal territory. This band attempted to settle or resettled in the area, but was continually harassed and dislocated by the colonial militia and groups of encroaching colonists who claimed the territory their of conquest.

The same band of Pequots continued, however, to relocate in un-encroached areas and in traditional hunting and fishing grounds of the Pequots and Eastern Nehantics until approximately 1670, when this band, which has become known as the Eastern Pequots, finally settled in what is known as North Stonington, Connecticut, in the area set aside by the Colonial authorities for their use. Several hundred and possibly more than a thousand acres adjacent to Long Pond and Lantern Hill, a traditional gathering place of the Pequots and where the Narragansett and Pequot trails formerly intersected, became known as the Eastern Pequot reservation.

This reservation, one of the earliest tribal reservations in the country, has been continually occupied by the Eastern Pequot Tribe since 1670s. A formal deed of the reservation for use of the tribal leader and his followers and descendants was executed and filed in 1683.

Despite colonial encroachment and occasional skirmishes with local landholders and colonial authorities, Eastern Pequot tribal members have managed to stay on the reservation, living, hunting, growing crops, basket making, holding traditional gatherings, and maintaining a unique identity as a Native people and as Eastern Pequots for over three hundred years.