The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke

Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton




The Pequod War

When Sassacus, chief of the Pequods, found himself alone in his war with the English, he built two strong forts, one on the bank of the Mystic river, and the other six miles farther west. Into these he gathered the warriors, squaws and children, and prepared to fight to the bitter end.

Meanwhile no Englishman was safe the Pequod country.

Fishermen were seized, their hands and feet cut off, and then left to die. Many outrages were committed which are too horrible even to mention.

At last a band of Pequods attacked Weathersfield on the Connecticut, killed nine men and carried off two girls.

There was no time now to wait for the aid promised from Plymouth and Boston.

Captain John Mason, who had once fought the Spaniards and was a gallant officer, sailed down from Hartford to Saybrook, with ninety Connecticut soldiers and seventy Mohegan braves. They were followed by the defiant shouts of some Pequod warriors who, in war—paint and feathers, stood on the banks of the river.

At Saybrook they met Captain John Underhill, with twenty men from Massachusetts. Twenty of the Connecticut men were then sent back to protect the settlements, and the rest sailed out into Long Island Sound. They had decided to surprise the Indians by an attack by land instead of by sea, so they steered east and passed the harbor where the Pequods were waiting for them in one of the forts.

When the warriors looked out over the water from their high, stockade fence, and saw the sails disappear in the distance, they leaped on the walls and shouted for joy.

"The white men are afraid! The white men have fled to Boston for safety!" they cried, and brandished the tomahawks whose sharp edges had struck such terror to the hearts of their foes.

But the little fleet kept on its course, and sailed out of the Sound to the west shore of Narragansett Bay, where Canonic us of the Narragansetts dwelt.

Ambassadors waited on the old chief, who received them as he sat on the floor surrounded by his nobles.

He listened gravely to Captain Mason while he explained the plan for surprise of the Pequod forts; and, when Mason had finished speaking, said the plan looked well on its face; but the Pequods were a powerful nation, the most cruel of all to their captives, and he did not want to risk the lives of his men in such an uncertain enterprise; if the English wished, they might pass through his territory, but they must not expect help from his warriors.

So the line of march began, and soon small bands of the Narragansetts began to join the ranks, until about two hundred had formed an escort. They walked in front and boasted what they would do when they reached the fort; but as they came near the stream of water which formed the boundary line between the two nations, they began to show fear, and many turned back.

The English continued on their way with their faithful Mohegan allies, under the sachem Uncas, and on the evening of the second day, came within two miles of the nearest Pequod fort.

Here they halted for the night. Sentinels were posted. The wearied soldiers threw themselves on the ground, and were soon asleep. The heat of the summer night was tempered by the cool breezes from the sea. The full moon shone softly down on bush and rocks and shimmering water, while these soldiers slumbered in the very jaws of death.

Before daybreak Captain Mason awoke his men and, offering up prayer for help, the little band hurried on to the attack.

The fort stood on the brow of a hill. It was a high stockade fence, enclosing about seventy wigwams covered with thatch and matting.

Within, the warriors were sleeping. Almost all night they had feasted. "These English are squaws! " they cried, "We are the Pequods, and kill English like mosquitoes." Then they shrieked and groaned and imitated the wretched colonists whom they had tortured. And now, after their revels, they were sleeping like conquerors.

A dog ran howling into a wigwam, and "Owanux! Owanux!"  "The English! The English!" rang out on the air. They sprang from their couches only to meet the English at their doorways.

Each captain, with his men, had come in at an opening, and surrounded the wigwams of the stockade to prevent escape. There was a fierce hand-to-hand struggle, and then the Pequods fled back to their tents. "Burn them!" shouted Mason. He seized a brand from a fire, and set the light mats m a blaze; Underhill laid a train of powder, and the winds from the northeast lent aid to the awful destruction.

Those of the unhappy victims who did not perish in the flames, fell on the swords of the English. Powwows, warriors, women, children-all went down together, and for a few short moments the screams and groans of the dying mingled with the boom of the muskets, the crackling of the leaping flames and the loud commands of the captains.

Then all was still. The horrible work was over. Six hundred Pequods lay dead on the field.

Two of the English were killed and several wounded.

There was no time to linger over the ghastly scene. At any moment recruits might come, for some Indians had escaped to spread the news. The wounded and dead were being carried rapidly toward the harbor below, when three hundred Pequods from the other fort appeared. They attacked the troops and fought as best they could. But Indians seldom fight in open battle, and the noise of the guns confused them. They ran wildly about, shooting at random; they aimed high and watched the effect of each arrow before they shot another, and were soon put to flight. Then they gathered on a hill which overlooked the still burning stockade, and, when they saw the charred and blackened corpses, they tore their hair, stamped on the ground, and, with the fury of demons, rushed down again on the English; but again they were put to flight. The troops returned to their waiting ships, and sailed away to their homes.

Meanwhile, the routed band of Pequods hurried to the western fort to tell Sassacus of the destruction of his people.

The remnant of the doomed nation held a long and fierce debate whether they would attack the Narragansetts, or fall upon the English, or flee to some distant tribes for protection.

In grief and shame they decided to flee. So they burned the fort with all the supplies they could not carry, and started on their journey.

After a night of weary march, the little band stood at sunrise on a high hill to view, for the last time, their lost hunting-grounds.

Below them stretched the famous valley where two winding streams united to form the Thames, one flowing with placid surface from between high cliffs, the other foaming and fretting in its rocky bed, as it hurried to join the river which empties into the sea.

Here and there ran tiny streams where beaver villages perched like beehives in the distance.

Forests of oak and walnut lay scattered like islands among the meadows where stalked the deer and the antelope.

Murmurs of cataracts mingled with the songs of the birds, and breezes from the sea caught the fragrance of the blossoms in the valley, and wafted their incense upward to greet the rosy dawn.

Ah, it was sweet, this native land! Stern and sorrowful, the group of exiles lingered a moment on the hill, and then disappeared behind the cliffs. They wandered on, hiding by day in the swamps, and stealing like hunted beasts through the forest by night.

Some perished on the way, some were taken captive and sold as slaves, and some were adopted into neighboring tribes.

Sassacus and five of his companions were slain by the Mohawks, and their scalps were sent to the English at Hartford.

The English had destroyed the Pequods forever. At the time, there seemed nothing else to do to save the lives of the settlers. But if the dear old pastor, who now lay in the little Puritan churchyard of Leyden, had known of this war with the Pequods, he would have said again: "Would that you had converted some before you killed any."