The Founding of Connecticut and War with the Indians
Many of the people who founded Massachusetts Colony were well-to-do people, people of good family, aristocrats in fact. They were men accustomed to rule, accustomed to unquestioning obedience from their servants and those under them. They believed that the few were meant to rule, and the many meant to obey. The idea that every grown-up person should have a share in the government never entered their heads. Their Governor, Winthrop, was an aristocrat to the backbone. He believed heartily in the government of the many by the few, and made it as difficult as possible for citizens to obtain the right of voting.
But there were many people who were discontented with this aristocratic rule. Among them was a minister named Thomas Hooker, like John Harvard a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
So, being dissatisfied, he and his congregation decided to move away and found a new colony. They were the more ready to do this, as the land round Boston was not fertile, and so many new settlers had come, and their cattle and flocks had increased so rapidly, that it was already difficult to find food and fodder for man and beast. Adventurers who had traveled far afield had brought back glowing reports of the beauty and fertility of the Connecticut Valley, and there Hooker decided to settle.
But for several reasons many of the people of Massachusetts objected to his going. He and his people, they said, would be in danger from the Dutch, who already had a settlement there, and who claimed the whole valley. They would also be in danger from the Indians, who were known to be hostile, and lastly, they would be in danger from the British Government because they had no charter permitting them to settle in this land. The people at home, they said, “would not endure they should sit down without a patent on any place which our King lays claim unto.”
The people of Massachusetts were keeping quiet and going along steadily in their own way, without paying any heed to the British Government. They wanted to be left alone, and they did not want any one else to do things which might call attention to them. And besides all this they were greatly troubled at the thought of losing an eloquent preacher like Hooker. Every church was like a candlestick giving light to the world. “And the removing of a candlestick,” they said, “is a great judgment, which is to be avoided.”
But in spite of all arguments Hooker determined to go. So one June morning he and his congregation set forth. They sent their furniture by water and they themselves, both men and women, started to walk the hundred miles, driving their cattle before them; only Mrs. Hooker, who was ill, being carried in a litter.
They went slowly, allowing the cattle to graze by the wayside, living chiefly on the milk of the cows and the wild fruits they found. It was no easy journey, for their way led through the pathless wilderness, their only guides being the compass and the sun. For in those days we must remember that beyond the settlements the whole of America was untrodden ground. Save the Indian trails there were no roads. Here they had to fell trees and make a rough bridge to cross a stream; there they hewed their way through bushy undergrowth. Again they climbed steep hillsides or picked their way painfully through swamps, suffering many discomforts and fatigues.
But there were delights, too, for the sky was blue above them: birds sang to them night and morning, and wild flowers starred the ground and scented the air. All day they marched beneath the sunny blue sky, every evening they lit their watch-fires as a protection against wild beasts and lay down to rest beneath the stars, for “they had no cover but the heavens, nor any lodgings but those which simple nature afforded them.”
For a fortnight they journeyed thus through the wilderness. Then they reached the Connecticut River and their journey’s end. And here they built a little town which they called Hartford.
Other communities followed the example of Hooker and his flock, and Wethersfield and Windsor were built. At first all these towns remained a part of Massachusetts in name at least. But after a time the settlers met together at Hartford and, agreeing to form a little republic of their own, they drew up a set of rules for themselves; the chief difference from those of Massachusetts being that the religious tests were done away with, and a man need no longer be a member of a church in order to have the right to vote. It is also interesting to remember that in these Fundamental Orders, as they called their Constitution, there is no mention of the British King or Government. These colonists had settled new land without a charter, and they made laws without recognising any authority but their own. Thus the Colony of Connecticut was founded.
Besides these towns, John Winthrop, the son of the Governor of Massachusetts, founded a fort at the mouth of the Connecticut River. For he saw it was a good place for trade with the Indians. This fort was called SayeBrook after Lord Saye and Sele and Lord Brook, two Puritan lords who had obtained a grant of land along the Connecticut River.
But this new colony was very nearly wiped out as soon as begun. For one of the dangers which the people of Massachusetts foretold proved a very real one. This was the danger from the Indians. The Indians are divided into several families, such as the Algonquins, the Hurons, the Iroquois, each of these families again containing many tribes. All the Indians in New England belonged to the Algonquin family, but were, of course, divided into many tribes. One of these tribes was called the Pequots. They were very powerful, and they tyrannised over the other tribes round about. They hated the white men, and whenever they had the opportunity they slew them.
The new Colony of Connecticut was far nearer their hunting-ground than Massachusetts. It was a far easier prey, and from the very beginning the Pequots harassed the settlers. They made no open attack, but skulked about, murdering men and women, now here, now there, appearing suddenly and vanishing again as swiftly.
This sort of thing could not be endured, and the English determined to put a stop to it. So messengers were sent to the Indians to demand that the murderers should be given up to the English. When the Indians saw the English boats appear they did not seem in the least afraid, but came running along the water-side shouting, “What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer? What do you come for?”
But the Englishmen would not answer.
And the Pequots, never thinking that the Englishmen meant war, kept running on beside the boats as they sailed up the river.
“What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer?” they kept repeating. “Are you angry? Will you kill us? Do you come to fight?”
But still the Englishmen would not answer.
Then the Indians began to be afraid. And that night they built great fires on either side of the river, fearing lest the Englishmen might land in the darkness. All night long, too, they kept up a most doleful howling, calling to each other and passing the word on from place to place to gather the braves together.
Next morning early they sent an ambassador to the English captain. He was a big, splendid-looking man, very grave and majestic. “Why do you come here?” he asked.
“I have come,” answered the captain, “to demand the heads of those who have slain our comrades. It is not the habit of the English to suffer murderers to live. So if you desire peace and welfare give us the heads of the murderers.”
“We knew not,” answered the wily Indian, “that any of our braves had slain any of yours. It is true we have slain some white men. But we took them to be Dutch. It is hard for us to know the difference between Dutch and English.”
“You know the difference between Dutch and English quite well,” answered the captain sternly. “And therefore seeing you have slain the King of England’s subjects, we come to demand vengeance for their blood.”
“We knew no difference between the Dutch and English,” declared the Indian. “They are both strangers to us, and we took them to be all one. Therefore we crave pardon. We have not wilfully wronged the English.”
“That excuse will not do,” insisted the captain. “We have proof that you know the English from the Dutch. We must have the heads of those persons who have slain our men, or else we will fight you.”
Then, seeing that he could not move the English captain from his determination, the ambassador asked leave to go back to his chief, promising to return speedily with his answer. He was allowed to go; but as he did not return very soon the Englishmen followed. Seeing this, the ambassador hurried to them, begging them not to come nearer, and saying that his chief could not be found, as he had gone to Long Island.
“That is not true,” replied the English. “We know he is here. So find him speedily or we will march through the country and spoil your corn.”
Hour after hour went past; the Englishmen always patiently waiting; the wily Indian always inventing some new excuse for delay. But at length the patience of the English was exhausted, and, beating their drums, they charged the Indians. Some were killed, and, the rest fleeing, the English burned their wigwams and destroyed their corn, and carried off their mats and baskets as booty.
But the Pequots were not in the least subdued, and more than ever they harassed the colonists of Connecticut. So the men of Connecticut sent to Massachusetts and to Plymouth asking for help. The people of Plymouth, however, said the quarrel was none of theirs and sent no help, but from Massachusetts about twenty men were sent. Besides this, a few friendly Indians, glad at the chance of punishing their old tyrants, joined with the white men.
So one moonlight night the little company embarked, and, sailing along the coast, landed at a spot about two days’ journey from the Pequot fort. As they got near to it most of the Indians who had come with the English took fright and ran away. So less than a hundred Englishmen were left to attack seven hundred Indians.
A little before dawn they reached the fort. The Indians were all sleeping and keeping no guard, so the Englishmen quietly took possession of both entrances to the fort.
Then suddenly through the still morning air the sharp sound of a volley of musketry rang out “as though the finger of God had touched both match and flint.” Affrighted, the Indians sprang from their sleep yelling in terror. They scarce had time to seize their bows and arrows when, sword in hand, the Englishmen stormed into the fort. A fierce fight followed, showers of arrows fell upon the Englishmen, but they did little hurt, and glanced off for the most part harmless from their thick buff coats and steel corslets.
During the fight some of the huts were set on fire, and soon the whole village was a roaring mass of flames. Many perished miserably in the fire, others who fled from it were cut down by the Englishmen, or escaping them, fell into the hands of their own countrymen. They found no mercy, for they had given none; and, remembering the awful tortures which their fellow-countrymen had suffered, the Englishmen had no compassion on their murderers.
Ere an hour had passed the fight was over. Out of four hundred Indians not more than five escaped. The Pequots were utterly wiped out and their village a heap of smoking ruins. Never before had such terrible vengeance overtaken any Indian tribe. And all the other tribes were so frightened and amazed that for forty years there was peace in New England. For no Native Americans dared attack these terrible conquerors.