With Friends and Plans Like These
May 1, 1637: “Connecticut’s Birthday.” Four years of tension, failed diplomacy and violent vengeance-raids have harried “New England’s” southwest frontiers. The English colonists of The Long Water Land and their allies of coastal Massachusetts declare open war, this day, upon the Pequot Nation.
Reverend Thomas Hooker and the leaders of Hartford Colony commission one Captain John Mason and 70-odd planters to take this fight to the enemy. They are all green to American war, civilians not soldiers, though they have been drilling as a “trainband” through the latest year of hostilities. Mason’s Hartford commission crowds his men into ready boats, they settle in among 20 more from Massachusetts Bay with Captain John Underhill; and they glide down-river past struggling, war-wounded Wethersfield to another new English post, called Saybrook Fort. From there, they’ll find a way to launch this war, and win it.
They ride a beautiful river, one of the grandest in New England, and view a rich green country. In May the Connecticut runs high along its last banks into the sea, cold and strong with the melt of unknown mountains. The river is an ancient easy road leading north into this America. Northward, the Mohawk and Iroquois—strong nations led, they say, by women—control the choice trade, the prized fat pelts of beaver and otter, marten and sable that grow where it’s cold year-round. There are still fat beaver hereabouts, but they’re harder to come by every year without allies from those hinterlands. The river carries American furs out to the sea and the world of money, and sends back coveted wampum white and black; English blankets, tools of steel and pig-iron, and sometimes (men being men), guns.
The main rule is simple: work hard, play the game discreetly among these “Indians” (all so alike, all so fractious), and the choice furs can be yours. In this world there is nothing more profitable: no activity more likely, for the deft and dauntless quick-learning man, to fetch the gold that makes colonists’ dreams come true.
Anybody can learn the river. The real trick to success is to play these illiterate Native Americans until they’re under your thumb. The rub is, though, that these cousins are all in together. Connecticut already is a world of dizzying Algonquian dialects and secret signs, a world of feuds, leagues and intermarriages old as Europe. Even the most liberal English colonists feel themselves outside the real workings of the country—and generations more “Indians” still make the map-makers crazy as they move and migrate up and down this river and back again.
The country shines, grand and mysterious in May morning sun. Hawks and seagulls swoop as the river flows into Atlantic marshes not far from Saybrook Fort. But no Maypole celebrates this Spring. That is not why the English are here.
Tall, portly Captain John Mason is matchit hoggery, plenty-angry enough as he stamps impatiently about the fort this morning. He has already lost “five or six days” (G136) trying to launch this attack. Mason’s and Underhill’s men have swept down here to the river’s mouth—running aground just a few times on its shoals—and here they run straight into Leiftenant Lion Gardener, the war-seasoned Master Of Works who built this fort for Lords Say and Brook. Of course there’s competition among the English colonies from Plimoth to Boston, from Hartford to Saybrook. But this Gardener seems uninterested in politics: what he does question is everything about Mason’s commission for war: his “fitness,” his allies and his plan of attack. 
Mason calls this delay being “wind-bound” (M21), but he cannot smile for puns this morning. He’s had enough talk. He can’t see what’s wrong with his 70-odd Connecticut men, all “completely armed” with leather ”corselets, muskets, bandoliers, rests, and swords” (U62). They look as hard as the 20 with Captain Underhill, here “at the charge” of Gardener’s masters (G135); and some of those have experience chasing if not fighting Native Americans. Gardener’s own professionals have skirmished all winter around this fort. To Mason, his total of 90 men look ready to “much daunt” anybody—even Dutchmen from New Amsterdam, who defy Saybrook Fort and slip up-river, in pursuit of those north-country furs.
Mason, in his late 30s (WCL 1: 173) has been here since 1633, one of many English who broke with Massachusetts Bay for the “elbow room” of Connecticut. How Mason gained this command is not clear, for though later writers deem him and Captain Underhill “famous warriors of those times” (DeForest 115), neither officer has experience of war. Perhaps this country’s constant need to improvise has made their collective motto “Not To Worry.” The men have drilled month by month with guidance only from New England’s reigning experts, Captain Myles Standish of Plimoth and Salem’s Captain John Endecott (Hirsch 1188).
Mason and his superiors expect good results through imitating the bluster, killings and maraudings led by those “first-generation” planters against New England’s Natives (Dempsey ed., Morton and Good News). The only colonist so far to question Standish and Endecott as teachers, Thomas Morton of the infamous plantation “Merrymount,” is banished. All else these green planters have from which to learn war in The New World is a chapter or two of Hakluyt’s Voyages, a rumpled copy of Captain John Smith’s fabulous conquests, and maybe William Wood’s New England’s Prospect of 1634—based on “little time” spent with Native people. “Clearly it was limited,” says editor Vaughan (7).
Wood did learn enough to warn his fellows about matchlock firearms: here, they are “more credit [for show-effect] than service.” Nevertheless, according to most research on these colonists as military men, these mostly-Puritan English in the hands of Standish and Endecott “take pride in traditional [Old World] drill, seemingly oblivious to the demands of combat in the wilderness” (Hirsch 1196).
Today Captain Mason intends to have it out with Leiftenant Lion Gardener, that condescending veteran of combat here and in Europe. Mason’s worry and hurry are twofold. From intelligence shared by Boston’s governor John Winthrop, Mason knows that some of the enemy Pequots’ “women of esteem and children are gone to Long Island with a strong guard” already. As Mason feels the enemy slipping away, he also has the Pequots’ outright challenge in his ears: “They profess that [at Pequot River], you shall find them; and as they were there born and bred, there their bones shall be buried and rot, in despite of the English” (WPF 3: 420).
It is the saltiest war-challenge any of them record. And, “If The Lord be on our side, their brags will soon fall,” Mason replies, words of comfort from Plimoth’s Edward Winslow (cited above). But Mason’s men here, as well as their frightened farming families back up-river, do not share the Pequots’ curious confidence: “The Pequots follow their fishing and planting as if they have no enemies” (Williams qtd. in Thomas 137). 
Mason starts to hunt around Saybrook Fort to get Gardener to a conference again. Least of all does he want English argument in front of the 60-80 Mohegan braves who are also here (their number-estimates vary through Orr’s History), watching the planters clean their guns. Wolf People, they call themselves! Mason has signed them on as guides and allies for the attack. But his men, Underhill’s and Gardener’s too have bad stomachs just looking at them. Nobody in his right English mind fully trusts a Mohegan or any other “Indian.” They are a world unto themselves, and it’s unsettling, their secret conversations, those grisly Mohegan war songs, their confident painted bodies, ugly clubs of burl and stone, their spears and quivers of sharp-tipped arrows. They share too many grins and chortles that the English do not understand. 
Captain Underhill sees more delay afoot too, and crisply commences new drill within Saybrook Fort’s stout palisade. Like everybody else, Underhill knows the help these English need against the Pequots in a vast “wilderness.” The captains have sworn to keep both eyes open, for these Mohegan allies are out to play the English in turn against the Pequots, for reasons of their own in an old intertribal family feud. “They use us as their stalking-horse” (WPF 2: 442).
Where is Gardener? Running a patrol around again outside the fort with a few seasoned skirmishers, harrying back the Pequot braves who have surrounded this place for months now? The unproven Mason cannot get the voices of Hartford’s leaders out of his mind. “Though we feel neither the time nor our strength fit for such a service,” says Reverend Hooker, “yet the Indians here our friends [around Hartford] are so importunate with us to make war presently that, unless we attempt something, we deliver our persons into contempt of base fear and cowardice; and cause them to turn enemies against us” (WPF 3:407-8).
Mason’s company they send into action “against our minds, and constrained by necessity.” Indeed, “The eyes of all the Indians in the country are upon the English, to see what they will do,” warns the chaplain of Salem John Higginson (WPF 3: 404). And yet Mason must grant something to this cautious Gardener. They tacitly agree with Wood’s Prospect about guns: they know, as Higginson says it, that a “common conceit” about guns is “in truth a dangerous error”—namely, “that Indians are afraid” of firearms, that with matchlocks “ten English will make one hundred Indians flee.” The “malice” of these Natives is “not to be questioned,” Higginson warns; but it’s sure they have “experience in warlike affairs, being men of war from their youth.” This gives them “advantages against us in agility and arms” (405).
Does Uncas, sharing a meal with his braves, notice these worries in Mason’s face? Suddenly the Sachem rises, and lets everybody round the fort see him buck Mason up, his “intimate acquaintance” and “great friend” (M7, 25).
But Mason can’t eat. His responsibilities rest upon too much uncertain ground. For Mason knows that Uncas has his own game to play against the Pequots and their Great Sachem Sassacus. Uncas shrugs, smiles from behind his thinking eyes and rejoins his braves.
Five days stuck quarreling here at Saybrook. Face it—Nobody knows exactly how to “avenge ourselves” on the Pequots, for the “innocent” colonists killed in their part of the violence running years now (M23, U57). The English know what they’ve been told to do. Mason’s commission from Hartford (in Orr xv) allows his forces to attack “from the west” the Pequots’ 77-year-old “greatest and bloodiest Sachem,” Sassacus, at his chief fort, Weinshauks on that “Pequot River” (M26). There the main force of Pequot braves await battle, as their challenge says, “in despite of the English.”
Yet Saybrook’s Leiftenant Gardener has laid open the English captains’ worries, and all Mason can hear is Reverend Hooker’s zeal (WPF3:408): “I hope you see a necessity to hasten execution, and not do this work of The Lord’s revenge slackly.” 
At last Mason’s men fetch Gardener in to council and, hopefully, action. But Gardener fears not to smile at Captain Mason’s green hurry. Where have Hartford’s and these other English been all this bloody winter-past, through Saybrook’s siege? It is years already since the erstwhile cause of this war, the killing of interloping traders Captains Stone and Norton just up-river. All this, Gardener wonders, for a Virginian stealing our beaver-trade? (G123, 139) Nobody liked those “immoral” men in Boston.
Just last July off Block Island, though, there was another trader named John Oldham killed, for some reason, by “Indians.” Whoever committed that crime (and it is not known for sure), it gave the English colonies fresh cause to press the Pequots for concessions in their growing power-struggle. Boston’s governor John Winthrop took up his treaties with the Pequots’ “traditional enemies,” the Narragansetts, through their Sachem Miantonomo; and he dutifully reported swift and “good success” sending his braves to avenge Mr. Oldham at Block Island (WCL 1: 79). To these colonists, however, there is something unsatisfactory about “independent Indian justice.” No Englishman witnessed this punitive violence. Governor Winthrop’s Boston needed better assurance that “Indians” really got hurt there. 
So last August (1636), Boston despatched the stern bungling “expert” Captain Endecott, in command of Underhill and 100 men, to unfurl their colors on the open or “champion fields” of Block Island and demonstrate justice. The “Indians” there kept a well- warned distance, jeered at the English, laughed and fled with ease. Humiliated and enraged, Endecott burned everything in reach from homes to cornfields, then was humiliated and enraged by the Pequots’ diplomatic run-around along the Connecticut. “Looking for Sassacus?” they asked. “Wait here, Captain, we’ll fetch him for you; and if we’re not back....”
Endecott burned more homes and corn, then hacked at any Native people he found along the river. This left Gardener’s Saybrook Fort with angry Pequot and other “wasps” about their ears all winter. Gardener himself did manage an October parley with Pequots and local Niantics, to make them understand they had better turn over those killers of Stone, Norton and Oldham. When the English failed to understand Pequot justice—something about their own legitimate revenge for the murder of their old Sachem, Tatobem—it was a stand-off.
And what a winter followed! At least three of Gardener’s men died in sorties around this fort: three more took a shallop up-river for supply and were never seen again (G134-5). There is even a new landmark nearby called Tilly’s Folly, where one Sergeant Tilly disobeyed Gardener’s orders “not to land anywhere” before the river-towns, and paid with a painful death. Gardener himself has an arrow-wound nearly healed. Saybrook Fort will likely burn this summer, or grow by English victory. 
Boston’s and Hartford’s attacks complicate everything with the Western Niantics and local “river Indians,” their formerly-friendly landlords who, like Uncas, bear less than great love for the Pequots’ leader Sassacus. Amid the past years’ increasing distrust and violent episodes, Hartford’s farmers have suddenly driven their Native neighbors off the lands remaining to them around the river- towns. These Niantics and river-peoples run straight to Sassacus; and he, not forgetting Endecott’s behavior, launches a strike at Wethersfield in April. The war is on. Nine English planters die there, and two women (though Gardener hears “fourteen” in all from a Dutch boat, G133). Hartford issues its commission, and here stands Mason with the fate of the colonies on his shoulders.
Captain Underhill is absorbed with his busy-drills till he sees Gardener, the true professional, stride in at last to join Mason on the camp-stools. Underhill quits his trainband with hearty blessing from his Bible, for of all his peers he most-gushes its epigrams and sermons. And though it is time to commit themselves to action, nobody invites the Mohegans or Sachem Uncas to the parley. Maybe there is too much mistrust, fear of a security-leak between Mohegans and their hostile Pequot cousins. They are very close-by. “The enemy lying hovering about the fort continually take notice” of all traffic and “supplies that...come” (U61).
Mason invites Leiftenant Gardener to speak frankly, knowing Gardener’s chief concern with “Captain Hunger,” and his hope that “the Bay-men…desist from a war a year or two, till…better provided for it.” “Let fortification alone awhile” (G124). Gardener begins to explain his frustrating hesitations. “Mr. Gardener, it seems, much discourageth common men, by extolling the valor of our adversaries, preferring them before the Spaniards [as warriors]” (WPF 3: 419). Underhill fumbles to help Mason, and Gardener lets fly at Underhill’s own mettle.
“None of our [Saybrook] men should go,” Gardener tells the two captains, “unless we, bred soldiers from our youth, can see some likelihood to do better than the Bay-men” (G136). This thrusts straight at Underhill’s share of the late Endecott/Block Island expedition: it brought down the “wasps” now surrounding the fort.
How, then, can Mason persuade Gardener to contribute his own good men to the coming action? The three leaders’ postures shift, and don’t look good to the restless men of the fort, who curse another day lost to their crops at home. Their eyes seek out “Be Strong” signals from the lounging Mohegans. They take a cue from Uncas, and gaze back at the bearded, boiled-looking English. One or two lift and shake a club or spear. They are here, to fight their Pequot enemies; but the English cannot feel sure of them. 
Gardener spells out his demands. As to Mason’s “fitness,” he will cooperate if Mason sends home “twenty insufficient” Hartford men, and replaces them with “twenty of the lustiest” on hand (M20, G137). Agreed.
Gardener, however, insists upon knowing how Mason “durst trust the Mohegan Indians, who have but that year come from the Pequots” (G136). Uncas is here because he wants his brother-in-law Sassacus’ high office. Whether it is an ancient or a recent tribal break that has divided the followers and families of Uncas and Sassacus, it is younger by far than the ties than bind them still. Mason has to confess that Native New Englanders have “many times some of their near Relations among their greatest foes” (M24). 
And what choice is there? We will trust them, Mason growls; for, to a man, their company is “altogether ignorant of the country” (M21). Gardener agrees that “We cannot well go without them for want of guides” (G136).
But that is the difference between experience and the captains. “I will try them,” Gardener demands, “before a man of ours shall go with you, or them.”
Mason makes two fists on the air. Underhill chides that they must not fail to “enterprise some stratagem upon these bloody Indians” (U67). The question of whether to really trust these “allied Indians” does “perplex the hearts of many very much, because they have had no experience of [Mohegan] fidelity” (U68). 
Possibly, these leaders’ own ways are in their way. For “on The Lord’s Day” just past, Uncas’ Mohegans offered to “fall out...to see whether they can find any Pequots near the fort.” “But it being The Lord’s Day, order was given to the contrary” (U68). Had they foregone such observances (and they will not do so later, either), they might have some “proof” by now. Mason, exasperated, “calls for” Uncas to join them. Rarely is Uncas already part of a council.
“You say you will help,” Gardener tells Uncas (G136), “but I will first see it. Therefore, send you, now, twenty men” to the Bass River—an inlet just off the Connecticut—where, “yesternight,” the English spotted “six Indians in a canoe, thither.”
Were they Pequots? No Englishman asks. Uncas gazes in silence upon the river.
“Fetch them now, dead or alive,” Gardener orders, “and then you shall go” with the English attack on the Pequots. “Else not.”
So, Uncas “sends his men,” “early in the morning” (G136, U68).
The captains and men must wait yet again, and study Uncas. Uncas is young, perhaps in his early 30s (for he lives another 46 years after Mystic, till 1683). A writer who never sees him describes a man “of large frame and great physical strength” (DeForest 86). Born the son of Sachem Owaneco, his mother the well-born Mukkunnup (“Genealogy”), Uncas’ “royal” blood entitled him 10 years before to marry a daughter of Pequot Sachem Tatobem, the father of Sassacus. This makes him brother-in-law to the Englishmen’s prime enemy (more in WCL 1: 115-116n11, and Time Line 4).
In time, Uncas’ reach for power among Connecticut tribes brings him to marry six more Native women of standing (WCL 1: 202). This may be a man (in DeForest’s words) “selfish, jealous and tyrannical,” whose “ambition is grasping, and unrelieved by a single trait of magnanimity”—“faithful like the jackal to the lion.” But there is no doubt that Uncas intends to be a long-term contender. Uncas has made at least five attempts to unseat his kinsman Sassacus, been humbled for it, exiled, forgiven again: he cannot have survived this long without friends to whom Sassacus himself must show restraint. At this point, Uncas may have “few” followers and much-reduced territory of his own. But the English are hardly aware that Uncas is rising much because Sassacus’ power is crumbling. 
How can the English trust a man so utterly foreign, a man openly bad-mouthing the Great Sachem of his country? Uncas never lets the English forget Sassacus’ and his Pequots’ “evil” intentions (WPF 3: 270-1). They hear from planters that Uncas even exhorts Reverend Hooker to attack his own Native kinsmen (WPF 3: 407-8).
The English are no strangers to feuds and power-struggles. But Uncas’ reputation makes them despise him, even as they can’t deny their need for him. He is their only anchor to American realities. They cannot grasp Uncas’ “resistance of a different form than [that] more easily recognized” in other Natives (Johnson 46). A gifted negotiator and strategist, Uncas has a long patience with which the English will have to reckon. 
Before too long, Uncas’ Mohegan braves return to Saybrook Fort with several Native American heads (G136). Underhill sees four (U68). This “mightily encourages the hearts of all” against their doubts, Underhill says, and they all accept this “as a pledge” of the Mohegans’ “further fidelity.” Mason (M20) looks at the heads as “a special Providence; for before we were somewhat doubtful.” The men mount the heads along the palisade of Saybrook (DYW 122).
Are they Pequot heads? Uncas never says so, and no Englishman asks. Nobody wants to admit, in front of Uncas and his Mohegans, that they have no idea how to identify a Pequot. “We cannot confide in [them], but look at them as uncertain” (M45). “Withall, we conceive that you [should] look at the Pequots, and all other Indians, as a common enemy,” Winthrop has advised (May 20: WPF 3: 417). 
“Though they may take occasion [to cooperate with] some one part of the English, yet if they prevail, they will surely pursue...advantage to the rooting out of the whole English nation.” Indeed the colonists know that Native American ties, however fractious, run deep. And there can be no victory without clearly identifying the enemy. The English cannot tell even the Mohegans from other Native peoples: they have yellow paint on hand “for their heads,” but “not enough” to go around (WCL 1: 84).
What, then, is a Pequot? Is it a matter of language, village-origin, dress, hairstyle, “signs or marks”? The records mention not one working criterion until Native deaths and injuries make the “Indians” themselves demand better.
This war and all its records operate instead upon a single definition, unstated because it is so embarrassing. A Pequot is any person identified as such by a Mohegan, or in fact by any other “Indian.” In this war, Native judgment decides who lives and who dies by the English sword. 
The next Native person to die by this “definition” is one Siswas (G136, V101). As we’ll see, the best evidence suggests that Siswas is not a Pequot; but Uncas has his purposes. This one live prisoner is not cowed by Saybrook’s military might, but “braves the English, as though they dare not kill a Pequot.”
Is Siswas Pequot? The English seem satisfied. “Some will have their courage to be thought invincible when all is desperate,” Vincent opines (V101). But “it avails this savage nothing.”
The English want to test Uncas for their cause. Uncas “proves himself” by watching as they tie one of Siswas’ legs to a post, and then twenty men “with a rope tied to the other” pull the man to pieces on the spot. Underhill draws a pistol and shoots Siswas “through the head.” Neither captain details this spectacle. Vincent does. 
Does Gardener himself now “believe” in Uncas? Or, does he dislike the credulity in these green captains, and want them all out of his fort? For Gardener fetches 15 yards of trade-cloth from his stores to reward Uncas and his braves (G136), and picks out a “handful” of his own men to lend some strength (we estimate 5 men including “Dr.” Pell, note above). Mason, with not a word from Uncas about the killing of his captive, claps on his sallet-helmet and sounds a long-desired Make Ready!
But Underhill is still troubled. To him, with his penchant for sermonizing (U52-3, 68-9, 72-77), things call for mystical remedy: a prayer ”from the heart” of their company chaplain “Master Stone,” for whose Old World home the Hartford colony is named (Drake/Mather 157n182). Stone obliges (U69):
O Lord God, if it be thy blessed will, vouchsafe so much favor to thy poor distressed servants as to manifest one pledge of thy love, that may confirm us of the fidelity of these Indians toward us that now pretend friendship and service, that our hearts may be encouraged the more in this work of thine....
Then Underhill, “immediately myself stepping up” to Stone, tells him “that God has answered his desire.” Uncertain as it is when Uncas’ action was launched (the records are especially confusing on the point), and when those heads arrive, Underhill says he shares “news” of the heads’ delivery, and points to them piked upon the fort. The English “rejoice” and are “thankful to God,” “replenished…exceedingly.” The men clasp more-confident hands all around.
But it seems there is another matter—where they are going, and what the target is.
Captain Mason knows that his commission from Hartford ”limits” his English and Mohegans “to land our men in Pequot River: we had also the same Order by a Letter of Instruction sent us” (M22). Now it is Mason who “apprehends” an “exceeding great hazard” in doing so. He has reasons; and he has “also some other [reasons]” with which he “forbears to trouble” his readers.
First of Mason’s recorded reservations is that “The Pequots our enemies keep a continual guard upon the river night and day” (M21). If the English try to land on the Pequot River’s east bank as instructed by their ministers and magistrates, and attack Sassacus’ warriors at their strongest point, Weinshauks, they will find themselves eagerly expected. They will face “numbers that far exceed ours,” bearing at least “sixteen guns” besides. That is where “they expect...us,” Underhill confirms (U77). 
Well, then, is there no more strategic landing-place for their only commissioned action? They have no horses or heavy guns to offload. A landing means easing their small boats—a shallop, a “pink” and a pinnace—into the shallows and perhaps casting down a two-plank gangway. They don’t need a port.
Yet, Mason says there is “no other place to go on shore” that is “nearer [to the enemy] than Narragansett,” except “in that Pequot River” (M21). The claim, to anybody who knows the southern New England coastline, is simply preposterous, given its 30-odd miles of sloping shore. More strange, just there at Pequot River, where they are indeed “expected,” Mason’s company plan to come down to the shore after their attack (U84), there to rendezvous with their own boats and 40 fresh men under Mass. Bay Colony’s Captain Patrick.
Underhill (U83-4) calls Pequot River “the place appointed.” They seem to be counting on a rout of the Pequot forces and on great freedom of movement through this campaign. It seems that they know, and yet, do not know their plan.
In fact, the English have secret help that none of them explain: it’s Roger Williams, the fiery minister cast out of Boston for his conscientious heresies. Though the Narragansetts allow Williams a homestead in their midst, he has already risked his life (he says) to “break and hinder” a threatening new alliance between them and their “traditional enemies,” the Pequots (WCL 2: 609-10). Williams has “shipped” himself “all alone in a poor canoe…through a stormy wind” from his Providence to Narragansett; and, for “three days and nights,” labored against Sassacus’ “bloody Pequot ambassadors” to prevent a pan-Indian alliance (Chapter 6). 
The wisdom of Sassacus’ appeal was that Narragansett help to the English would make themselves the next target. Somehow, Williams succeeded, and “broke to pieces” the “negotiation and design.” At least, the English think so. The captains will find out.
Williams, relatively intimate with his landlords, also confirms Pequot activities just now: “scarce of provision” at this time of year, they “are in some numbers come down to the seaside...to take sturgeon and other fish, as also to make new fields of corn in case the English should destroy their fields at home” (WPF 3: 411).
Below is Roger Williams’ crucial yet unspoken help to Mason and Underhill: a map he has sketched for John Winthrop (WCL 1: 74; rpt. FBH 2: 250). Equally important, with it comes a suggested plan of attack, “straight” from Sachem Miantonomo—one of the leading local experts in New World warfare.
This is how Williams’ map looks in the hands of Mason and Underhill. It offers no scale, but incorrectly suggests that these rivers and places are evenly-spaced along the coast. The dotted lines are rivers that empty (southward) into the Atlantic Ocean “at left.” The Mason/Underhill force will sail east from Saybrook (“above” the top line), all the way to Narragansett (“below” the bottom line), and then march back overland, westward, to their target.
Like Mason with this in our hands, we gain little idea of actual distances, conditions, trails, or especially the scale of what this company aims to do in an inhabited and “hostile” country never seen before. It leaves out the Pawcatuck River frontier (between E. Niantic and Pequot Mystic), a place of no small fear for their allies. But we do see two Pequot strong-points: Sassacus’ village, Weinshauks, and Mystic. Since the murder of Sachem Tatobem (Chronology), Mystic’s Sachem is a man called Mamoho.
We do not know how this suggested plan for attack moves from its recipient, Governor Winthrop, to the Saybrook captains. The obvious answers, inter-colonial sharing of intelligence and plans, may develop problems as this journey unfolds and the captains reveal their opinion of both information and orders. Here is what Roger Williams, more seasoned than either Mason or Underhill, tells them to do (WCL 1: 72-3): in turn, his source is Narragansett Sachem Miantonomo (citations in Chapter 2).
...To do execution to purpose on the Pequots will require...a riding by it [the unspecified target]...a falling off and a retreat, as if you were departed, and a falling on again within three or four days, when they are returned again to their houses securely from their flight.
If any [English] pinnaces come in ken, they presently prepare for flight, women and old men and children, to a swamp some 3 or 4 miles on the back of them; a marvelous great and secure swamp…called Ohomo-wauke…Owl’s Nest; or Cuppacommock...a refuge or hiding place....
The assault would be in the night, when they are commonly more secure and at home; by which advantage the English, being armed [wearing body-armor] may enter the houses and do what execution they please.
Before the assault be given, an ambush [must] be laid behind them, between them and the swamp, to prevent their flight....
It would be pleasing to all natives that women and children be spared, etc.
Four things are essential to English victory. First, they must show themselves (to the enemy unquestionably watching) as they leave the Weinshauks region with its waiting braves, and Mystic country too. Second, they must return undetected and attack the still-unnamed target at night—though the given plan itself does not specify whether to make this surprise-return by land or by sea; and this will have crucial consequences.
Third, the English soldiers are told that their weapons and body-armor will make the saving difference in hand-to-hand fighting. Fourth, but not at all least, the English must set an ambush “behind” the unnamed target before they attack. Theirs is a mobile enemy. 
Of the two possible targets in this intelligence, Mystic is the first enroute: the one described as a place of women, old men and children; and, it has the “marvelous great and secure” refuge of a nearby swamp. This is just the first leak from between the documentary lines that Mason and Underhill know, already at Saybrook, that they are not going to be limited by their commission, and know which fort their target is—not Weinshauks, with its blood-defiant fighting men, but Mystic.
The more the captains abandon the essentials of Miantonomo’s plan, the more they will fail in their purposes.
Before we set sail, consider the “forts” on both sides of this war. “There is a general lack of archaeological evidence concerning the existence of [Native] fortified villages in the 16th and early 17th centuries in New England,” writes Peter Thomas (136). Comparisons with peoples of the Hudson River watershed suggest that “internecine warfare was a factor of life [there] by A.D. 1300,” although “its causes are open to debate.” Thomas notes that this “doesn’t speak for New England”; and that “Mohawk raids occur in eastern Massachusetts” by the 1620s, “and perhaps before.”
As other experts from Bragdon (51) to Salwen (167) and Bradley agree, Native New England’s forts emerge on the land from a norm of ancient hunting-camps and “open” villages during the same generations that begin steady trade with transatlantic Europeans. Blankets and clothes, “bright objects,” strong tools, exotic goods have practical and symbolic (social status) value in the fur-trade. But over time, New England’s Native “royal” blood-lines begin to displace its more egalitarian social norms. Some of the powerful clans of families perhaps begin to reach for too much.
Some Sachems begin to offend against well-documented mores opposed to personal hoards of food or wealth (Simmons “Shamanism”). Instead of redistributing wealth in food and the fine goods got with it, the Sachems keep more to their own uses, buy more “false influence” through the control of novel goods. People being people, corruption arouses resentment, and violence.
Sassacus’ Weinshauks and Mamoho’s Mystic are the biggest palisaded villages in the region just now (Ch. 3). We’ve seen that resentment is a problem to Sassacus’ dominion. What, then, is a Native fort for?
In Native New England warfare, with its familiar rules against killing anybody but enemy braves, a fort is where you keep women and children and those valuable stores from being “adopted” by your enemy’s tribe. The braves fight it out to “little harm” outside. If you need a fort at all, it’s because your Native enemies know where you hide in your territory’s swamps. A fort, if your enemy has time, numbers and will, can trap you. A swamp is better than a fort because it’s full of further options.
Most scholars, Hirsch for example, do not ask the English reasons for building forts in New England. Hirsch provides a useful summary of tradition (1188) that begins in all of 1620. “William Bradford fretted that his Pilgrim community” at Plimoth was “in continual danger of ‘the savage people.’ Puritan leaders at Massachusetts Bay soon echoed his fears. New England, then, promised to be a spiritual haven, not a terrestrial one. To survive and prosper in a hostile wilderness, the ‘City Upon A Hill’ had to be fortified with ugly parapets and ramparts.”
Had to be? In an historically-accurate context that needs to begin at least 100 years before 1620, this fatalism falls apart almost as fast as traditional ideas of Myles Standish, John Endecott, and Underhill as “training experts” at “Indian war.”
Until the decade just before The Pilgrims’ arrival, most contacts across the Atlantic were multilingual, multisided affairs of trade and other relations that often resulted in “revels,” cohabitations and children, in camps where peoples richly mixed it up. (These activities persisted into “Pilgrim times” at Morton’s unfortified “Merrymount,” the liveliest and first rival destroyed by Boston in 1630.) Of the earliest English forts here—at Sagadahoc in Maine and on Cuttyhunk Island—the former was starved out by once-helpful but insulted Abenakis, and the latter built before it was known to be unnecessary.
Even though The Pilgrims arrived at the end of a New England decade strained by epidemics and increased transatlantic violence, they began hopefully as traders and diplomats: it was the building of their fort and palisade that most helped their relations with Native Americans to fail. Once tangled in their own mistakes, they jumped to the point of “preemptively” murdering kinsmen of the people who saved their lives. Trade died. Fortification served worse than no purpose: it starved Plimoth of the personal relations that, here, had long policed the problems of frontier exchange.
If people are people, injustice and arrogance make ugly those cities on their hills. Hirsch attempts a multicultural analysis but keeps it under control. He does mention greed, domination preferred over equality, and needless terror grown in isolation.
What we learn is that here the use of a fort in war is one option. Your enemy may not know every “hide” you have in your swamps. To the English, war is different. They have “visions of genteel combat” and “rules and customs governing every detail of the practice.” Their “experts” bestow “a military system rooted in European tradition” (Hirsch 1209, 1188). To them, a fort is like a city: it’s where you stay, mass resources, and fight it out against massed Turks. Outside your city or fort (ideally the same), Europe’s horses will run you down, for one problem. It’s all still very Homeric.
Now we can see as Saybrook sees. Gardener, the Master of Works within European traditions, and the less-experienced captains, are looking for a European target. A city, that is, or a citadel, a fortified concentration crowded with the enemy, which (like a city of The Hundred or Thirty Years War, and other laboratories of “modern total war”) can perhaps be surprised, surrounded, besieged, penetrated, fought over, captured, “depopulated” and destroyed as a token of utter conquest. 
The English are on the wrong continent for the fight they want. At least until “Philip’s War” in the 1670s, open march to a stationary “siege” is more than rare in Native New Englanders’ tactical repertoire. To the last moments of the “massacre” at Weymouth in 1623, Plimoth’s Captain Standish and men find they cannot “get many of them together at once”: they need pretense of a feast to trap their targets in a block-house (Dempsey News lxvii-lxxi). Only then can they lay hands upon warriors who use the forests and the landscape’s secrets to maximum advantage; who prefer to fight and take cover not in village-forts, but in swamps.
Whether they know it or not, the captains face another crucial problem of intelligence. Williams adds in another missive (Correspondence 1: 78-9) the precise plan Miantonomo had in mind; that they move their forces including his own Narragansett braves by boat to Pequot country and, as part of a sudden attack, “lay ambush” between those two chief Pequot forts. In classic Native “roving battle” fashion, the English can then “intercept” the main force of Pequot braves. As the captains are about to discover, a sudden approach by sea might make all the difference; but this is not what they decide to do.
Gardener “dislikes” the prospect of a large-scale running fight (he tells why in Chapter 4); and Mason and Underhill will show themselves also disinclined to such “open field” combat.
“At last,” Gardener says, “we old soldiers agree…about the way and act” (G136). Sensible men, they want to know the enemy and the target before they embark. But we are sensible too. Unless we know of Roger Williams and his services, we cannot leave Saybrook Fort’s war-council knowing either. Williams’ crucial help seems not to be in play. Instead, Mason and Underhill describe a pilgrim’s progress complete with tactical guidance from The Lord.
Historian Vaughan catches “striking resemblance” between the Native and English plans, but moves on (374n45).
If this plan of attack comes instead from Uncas, why does Mason his “great friend” not acknowledge it, along with Uncas’ other supposedly-vital assistances? It is not possible that Uncas himself, born to the country of Weinshauks, believes that “By Narragansett we should come upon [the Pequots’] backs,” as Mason hopes. In New England, Native forts and their inhabitants do not face only one direction, like a city with a curtain-wall. “Possibly we might surprise them unawares,” says Mason; never, apparently, consulting his chief Mohegan guide. “At worst, we should be on firm land as well as they” (M21). 
We do not learn from either captain of their coming council with Miantonomo himself as to “what way they should go to work” (V102). Instead, Mason and Underhill write so that we believe they simply embark and learn from the hand of God. That only upon their crossing the Pawcatuck River into Pequot territory (below) do their guides inform them that “the enemy has two forts” ahead at Mystic and Weinshauks, “almost impregnable.” At this, the English supposedly grow “not at all discouraged, but rather animated...so much that we were resolved to assault both their forts at once” (M26). The very idea will prove a fantasy.
What, then, is decided at Saybrook among the “old soldiers”? We have another hint dropped by Mason amid his description of the Mystic “massacre”: “We had formerly concluded to destroy them by the sword and save the plunder” (M28). But that is all their narrative reveals about a plan. Destroy them where? How?
If these men are intent on victory, as cautious as their concerns reveal, and this dubious of their Mohegan allies and other guides (below), how can they head off into this enormous country with such allies, guides and plans? Their intent to accomplish a massacre is not, here, the point. (It animates Jennings and Cave, 218-221 and 209n47). At Saybrook, Mason and Underhill begin to whistle in the dark and sow the wind. They will show us this themselves.
And here, Lieftenant Gardener declines the entire “enterprise.” Later he sees himself as a “splinter” to his fellows. Is he chafing to get rid of them as loose cannons, like unhelpful Endecott? His refusal is as significant and silent as can be between the captains’ lines.
Mather simply makes it up that Gardener “readily accepts” the plan (122). Trained by mercenary service in Holland (G122), seasoned by hand-to-hand fighting here, Gardener is no coward. He knows that war is best won far from home. Nor is he a fool. He doubts that Mason’s company can do what it wants to do, and he’s not going. He contributes a likely four of Saybrook’s soldiers, adds his later-unwilling “chirurgeon” Mr. Pell; but Gardener holds to his commission. He will not go. 
The captains don’t seem to feel they can turn to Uncas or his braves with crucial questions. The result is more disadvantage. In some way they know it, too; for suddenly, Mason (M22) and Underhill seek out more mystic confirmation:
But Captain Mason, apprehending an exceeding great hazard in so doing [as their commission orders], does earnestly desire Mr. Stone that he would commend our condition to The Lord, that night, to direct how and in what manner we should demean ourselves in that respect [i.e., how to attack the Pequots]....In the morning, very early, Mr. Stone comes [back] ashore…and tells [Mason] he...is fully satisfied to sail for Narragansett. Our council is then called, and the several reasons alleged. In fine, we all agree with one accord to sail for Narragansett....
Mason and Underhill pack their three boats with 95 Englishmen and 60-80 Mohegan braves. Jennings alone finds it ludicrous that men of war “even then” would stake their lives on so thin a battle-plan because of a minister’s prayer. Cave disagrees, and sees “nothing exceptional” in a minister’s being asked to pray and “bless” such a plan (210n47). To support his point, Cave notes Stone’s previous prayer to God for Mohegan loyalty.
Does “God” know Uncas and these Mohegan braves? Does The Bible know the best way to attack the Pequots? Does right-as-rain Master Stone? Private prayer certifies nothing about Mohegans, who certainly can (in Stone’s words) “pretend loyalty.”
How does one willfully-ethnocentric move turn a second one into a strategy worth your life? What lessons will future American war-leaders take from this? This is indeed Puritan military history, and mystic foundation for more. 
The captains turn from Gardener and launch themselves, mostly ignorant of the country, with allies uncertain, and a target and enemy they cannot identify. Their fitness is doubted by the leaders who hurried them to action, doubted and refused by the country’s one seasoned captain. They need indeed what standing tradition calls “a generous assist from fortune” (Vaughan 88). “The settlers’ evolutions, however impractical, must have made for a brilliant spectacle” (Hirsch 1190).
Their holds this empty, buoyed with hope, the hallowed English set bold sail.