This Day in History

May 26, 1637: Pequot Massacre

Time Periods: 1492
Themes: Native American, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

Engraving depicting the Pequot Massacre, 1637. Source: Library of Congress.

A pre-dawn attack on Mystic Fort that left 500 adults and children of the Pequot tribe dead, the Pequot Massacre (or the “Mystic Massacre”) was the first defeat of the Pequot people by the English in the Pequot War, a three-year war instigated by the Puritans to seize the tribe’s traditional land.

The Pequot War is described in the new young reader’s version of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Here is a brief excerpt:

Pequots were living in two forts. In one fort were mainly Pequot men. In the other were primarily women, children, and elders. [Mercenary John] Mason targeted the latter. Slaughter ensued. After killing most of the Pequot defenders, the soldiers set fire to the structures and burned the remaining people there alive.

Though the Puritan’s slaughter of the Pequots was devastating, they continued to fear retaliation by the surviving Pequots who had sought refuge among neighboring nations. The fear was so great that they destroyed Pequot’s remaining homes and food supplies and forced them to leave their homelands.

This gruesome defeat marked a turning point in the war, which the Pequots and their allies had been winning for eight months. The war also had the goal of enslavement, as described in “America’s Other Original Sin” in Slate:

During the Pequot War, which was initially instigated by struggles over trade and land among the Europeans, the Pequot, and rival tribes, colonists explicitly named the procurement of captives as one of their goals. Soldiers sent groups of captured Pequot to Boston and other cities for distribution, while claiming particular captured people as their own.

Below is a photo of the site of the Pequot Massacre today. It is one of the images in a series by photo journalist Andrew Lichtenstein of unmarked locations of historical significance.

Pequot Massacre Site in Mystic, Connecticut.