By Wayne Curtis

Conical rolled brass arrowpoints used by the Wangunk of the middle Connecticut River Valley. The Wangunk were traditional enemies of the Pequot and allies of the English during the Pequot War. | Credit Kevin McBride

Shortly before dawn on the morning of May 26, 1637, a contingent of seventy-seven English soldiers accompanied by as many as 300 Native American allies quietly advanced upon a palisaded fort of the Pequot tribe, which sat atop a prominence about a half-mile west of a river in Mystic, Connecticut. The soldiers and their allies planned the attack ostensibly in retaliation for a Pequot attack on English settlers the previous month in Wethersfield. But this was also the culmination of months of skirmishes and part of a broader English effort to wrest control of the Northeastern colonial fur trade away from the Pequot and their Dutch allies. These conflicts marked the first of many sustained battles that would follow between Native Americans and the Europeans of the colonial era.

University of Connecticut students excavate a midden at the Calluna Hill site. The small village of six households was attacked and burned by the English during their retreat to the Thames River following the Mistick Fort attack. | Credit Kevin McBride

As dawn approached, the English rushed Mistick Fort, intending to surprise and overwhelm. They failed—more warriors had amassed than they’d anticipated—and they quickly pulled back, setting the palisades on fire. The fort was soon engulfed in flames, and an estimated 250 Pequots perished inside, including many women and children; another 150 were killed as they fled the fort and ran headlong into musket volleys.

This native brass pipe was fashioned from a brass kettle. It was recovered from the withdrawal battlefield. It’s a rare example of a personal item that was carried by the Native combatants. | Credit Kevin McBride

Today, there’s no trace of the horror that unfolded here. The fort’s site is now a leafy suburb outside of Mystic, which is a popular stop on the New England tourist circuit.

A brass Jaw harp recovered from the battlefield. Jaw harps are musical instruments that originated in Mongolia 1,700 years ago. They were carried by the Native Americans and the English. | Credit Kevin McBride
This is an article excerpt from the Winter 2022-23 edition of American Archaeology Magazine.  Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription!


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