Our History

Long before Europeans arrived in North America, the coastal and inland territory along the Long Island Sound, between the Niantic and the Pawcatuck Rivers, was home to the Pequot people.

Known as the “Fox People”, the Pequots prospered for thousands of years on their land, which encompassed approximately 250 square miles. In the age of Western Colonialism—European exploration, colonization, and exploitation—the Pequots lost their land and faced annihilation. Yet, through resiliency and determination, the Pequots not only recovered but thrived–becoming the prolific sovereign tribal nation they are today.

Historic Leadership

Elizabeth George-Plouffe and Martha “Matt” Langevin

Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

Richard A. “Skip” Hayward

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

Theresa Hayward Bell

Distinguished Service Award Recipient

Juanita “Mother Earth” Reels

Distinguished Service Award Recipient

Phyllis M. Waite

Founder and First President of Pequot Pharmaceutical Network

With the arrival of Dutch and English settlers in the early 17th century, Pequots engaged in the lucrative production and trade of wampum (purple and white quahog shell beads). Their strategic coastal location and resources made them powerful economic players among English and Dutch settlers and neighboring tribes. In the course of time, European diseases decimated the Pequot population. And a series of raids culminating in the Pequot War (1636-1638) pushed the Pequots to the brink of near extinction.

Colonists’ greed and quest for power along with intertribal and colonial tensions over the Pequots’ economic ascendancy, led to the Pequot War. On May 26, 1637, right before dawn, in Mystic, CT, while the Pequot warrior party was away, a group of English soldiers along with Mohegan and Narragansett warriors, in less than an hour, attacked and burned the Pequot village to the ground, slaughtering hundreds of elderly men, women, and children. This incident became known as the Pequot Massacre of 1637.

In the months following the Massacre, the English continued to hunt down surviving Pequots in other forts and villages. In 1638, leaders of the Hartford Colony and Mohegan and Narragansett Tribes signed the Treaty of Hartford. The Treaty divided the surviving Pequots among the Narragansett and Mohegan Tribes and forbade them from ever again being called “Pequot” or returning to their homeland.

Forcing Pequots to assimilate into other tribes failed, as Pequots retained their cultural identity in spite of European attempts to the contrary. In 1651, with the support of John Winthrop Jr.—who later became Governor of Connecticut—the Connecticut Colony granted the Mashantucket Pequots, under the leadership of Robin Cassacinamon (the first Pequot sachem after the Pequot War until his death in 1692), the right to resettle on 500 acres of their original land.

Cassacinamon’s group settled at Morgan’s Point in Noank. The group was later given approximately 2500 acres of land to resettle at Mashantucket where a reservation was established in 1666. But the Mashantucket reservation acreage dwindled continuously over the next 200 years.

For centuries, the Mashantucket Pequots struggled to maintain and regain their land and yearned to bring their people home to restore the Tribe’s community. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, colonials cleared trees on Tribal lands for logging and grazing livestock, often destroying the Tribe’s crops. Colonials signed purchase deeds for Tribal lands without honoring their payments. They seized the Tribe’s acreage with no legal authority. The Tribe’s state-appointed overseers sold Pequot plots to colonial farmers without the Tribe’s approval. Diminishing the Tribal land possession further, the poverty-stricken Tribe intermittently sold off parcels of land for subsistence and money. By 1865, only 214 acres of reservation land remained at Mashantucket.

The resilient spirit of the Pequots resisted subjugation of assimilation, neglect, and government appropriations of Tribal lands, ultimately preventing their extermination. To preserve their values and traditions, Mashantucket Pequot tribal members fought disease, poverty, and hostility from state and local governments. In the mid-1970s, two sisters, Elizabeth George Plouffe and Martha “Matt” Langevin Ellal remained as the last residents at Mashantucket; both determined to keep the spirit of the Mashantucket Pequots alive.

Following the deaths of Martha and Elizabeth, some 50 Tribal members from around the United States returned home to the reservation. In 1974, they completed a tribal Constitution based on a draft that Elizabeth George, Amos George, and members of the Tribal Council had created in the 1960s. Richard “Skip” Hayward was elected Tribal Chairman in 1975 and began a vigorous campaign to encourage Mashantucket Pequots to return to their homeland. The mission was to restore the Tribe’s culture and traditions, and to address housing needs, sustainable economic development, and self-sufficiency on the reservation.

The Mashantucket Pequots made several attempts at agricultural development, including selling firewood, a swine project, a maple syrup business, and a community garden; none of which provided the economic resources necessary to restore and revitalize the Tribe’s community. In 1983, Congress adopted the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Claims Settlement Act, and President Reagan signed the Act into law (PL: 98-134). In addition to granting the Tribe federal recognition, the Act provided the Mashantucket Pequots with funds to repurchase over 800 acres of stolen Tribal land. After 300 years of hardship, the Tribe entered the road to recovery.

Leaders of the re-established Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation searched for viable means of economic self-sufficiency, setting priorities for employment, health care, and housing for Tribal members. Throughout the 1980s, the Mashantucket Pequots launched a number of business ventures, including a pizza restaurant, a hydroponic lettuce farm, and a sand and gravel quarry. Finally, in 1986, opening a wildly successful high-stakes bingo hall, the Tribe found its viable revenue producer in gaming. 

Made possible by both self-financing and external funding, these ventures established a pattern for new and sustainable economic development. When the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1987, decided that federally recognized tribes could conduct casino gaming on their lands, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council raised private funds to build Foxwoods Resort Casino at Mashantucket. As only the third legal gaming jurisdiction in the United States at that time, Foxwoods was the largest gaming enterprise in the western hemisphere, and in the face of a declining economy, the Mashantucket Pequots became a major economic force and contributor of jobs and revenue in the State of Connecticut. And in 2017, former Chairman Richard “Skip” Hayward was inducted into the National Gaming Association’s Hall of Fame for being a key influencer of what would eventually become the Indian Gaming industry. 

Today, the Tribe remains committed to keeping alive the culture and spirit of one of North America’s most ancient communities, giving the next generation of Pequots a meaningful sense of cultural continuity, history, and destiny.

For more information about the history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, please visit our museum.