The Pequot War

The Pequot WarThe image depicts the attack on the Pequot fortified village at Mystic on June 5, 1637. The woodcut was included in John Underhill’s account of the Pequot War published in London in 1638. John Underhill was second in command to John Mason and the woodcut is considered an accurate depiction of the attack which left over 400 Pequot men, women and children dead in less than an hour, many of them burned to death. The narratives of the Mystic massacre/battle written by John Underhill, John Mason and Philip Vincent are all consistent with this depiction of the massacre/battle.

The fort is located on the top of Pequot Hill in Groton approximately ¼ west of the Mystic River. Pequot Hill is the highest hill in the area and is very defensible because of the steep sides. The fort was described by Philip Vincent in his narrative of the Pequot War (his account was published in London in 1638):

"They choose a piece of ground dry and of best advantage, forty or fifty foote square.
 (But this was at least 2 acres of ground.) here they  pitch close together, as they can young trees and halfe trees, as thicke as a mans thigh, or the calfe of his legge. Ten or twelve foote high they are above the ground, and within rammed three foote deepe, with undermining, the earth being cast up for their better shelter against the enemies dischargements. Betwixt these pallisadoes are divers loope-holes, through which they let flie their winged messengers. The doore for the most part is entred side-waies, which they stop with boughes or bushes as need requireth. The space within is full of Wigwams"

The attack began at dawn on May 26th (Old Calendar – June 5 New calendar) when the English surrounded the 2-acre village and fired a volley through the gaps in the palisade. The force of 77 English, 60 Mohegan and 200 Narragansett surrounded the fort and the English fired a volley through the palisade walls. Mason and Underhill, with twenty men each, entered the fort through entrances on the northeast and southwest sides. Their objective was to "destroy them by the Sword and save the Plunder" (Mason). Unknown to the English the fort was reinforced the night before by 100 warriors from other villages, bringing the total number of warriors inside the fort to approximately 175.  Within 20 minutes English inside the fort suffered 50% casualties. It was then that Mason said: "We should never kill them after that manner: WE MUST BURN THEM!"

The English retreated outside the fort and surrounded it to prevent anyone escaping from the fort. Their Native allies formed a second line outside the English as depicted in the woodcut. The fire quickly spread from the northeast to the southwest forcing everyone in the fort to cluster in the southwest quadrant of the fort. Pequot warriors continued to battle the English from behind the palisade and the English fired at them through the gaps in the palisade.

"Captaine Mason entring into a Wigwam, brought out a fire-brand, after hee had wounded many in the house, then hee set fire on the West-side where he entred, my selfe set fire on the South end with a traine of Powder, the fires of both meeting in the center of the Fort blazed most terribly, and burnt all in the space of halfe an houre;many couragious fellowes were unwilling to come out, and fought most desperately through the
 Palisadoes, so as they were scorched and burnt with the very flame, and were deprived of their armes, in regard the fire burnt their very bowstrings, and so perished valiantly : mercy they did deserve for their valour, could we have had opportunitie to have bestowed
 it; many were burnt in the Fort, both men, women, and children, others forced out, and came in troopes to the Indians, twentie, and thirtie at a time, which our souldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword; downe fell men, women, and children, those that scaped us, fell into the hands of the Indians, that were in the reere of us; it is reported by themselves, that there were about foure hundred soules in this Fort, and not above five
 of them escaped out of our hands" (Underhill).

Archaeologists and researchers from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and the University of Connecticut are currently documenting the site of the Mystic massacre with a grant from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program. Archaeologists use metal detectors and traditional excavations to recover evidence of the fortified village and battle. Recovered objects include gunflints, musket balls, brass arrow points, matchlock and flint lock gun parts and materials associated with the village such as pottery, pestles, food remains and brass and shell beads. When this project is completed in September we will have a much better idea, and more detail about, the events that took place on Pequot Hill that day.