Getting There Is Half (Somebody's) Fun
“On Friday morning we set sail for Narragansett Bay,” Captain Mason notes (M23). The voyage will take all day and night, plus the next day till “evening.” Their shallop, pinnace and pink steer inside the serpentine shores of Fisher’s Island and fly their best canvas, with flags and ensigns bright in May sunshine. At twilight, the English may even light lamps and sing their Old Testament psalms as they sail the darkening coast of Connecticut. They mean, at this point, to be observed.
Captain Underhill is confident they are “deluding the Pequots thereby” (U77). Their enemy expects to meet them in battle on the Pequot River, near Sassacus’ fort and chief village Weinshauks. But neither captain tells how he knows this. Why don’t Mason and Underhill—the only two eyewitness chroniclers of Mystic—share the oath from Pequot braves to leave their bones defiant on the battlefield? In Native New England, “emphaticall speech” to enemies before combat is old tradition (Bragdon). Direct challenge from a “heathen” Great Sachem like Sassacus would add color and credibility to the captains’ chronicles (touches that sold books for John Smith). It would also oblige them, in the reader’s eyes, to manage a meeting with Sassacus’ hundreds of braves.
Why, then, do we know only from Plimoth’s Edward Winslow of Sassacus’ words, which produce the English plan of attack? Perhaps it is Uncas who confides what Sassacus, in his military tradition, will expect. After all, Sassacus knows a state of war exists, and Uncas knows his Pequot wife’s brother.
Because the captains are writing military history—how to prevail against an enemy in this time and place—they could teach their readers at least how they manage or “tame” a serviceable ally like Uncas. Clear complete presentation of a situation, the reasons for strategies and tactics are the life-and-death value of military education.
It is not clear how formal the captains’ training as soldiers. Both use The Bible’s Old Testament (if not Thucydides or Caesar) as authority for the morality, tactical wisdom, and political sense of the actions performed toward their Mystic end. Unfortunately for them, The Bible is one more “European” source that knows nothing about America. Its signifiers, shaped millennia ago by peoples half a world away, have no “natural” American referents. Whatever The Bible can offer to their actions and story, it must be imposed, for nothing between its covers has anything to do with this place. Indeed, The Bible is “deranged” by its driving code of “separation” from the contexts, cultures and histories of its own origins in Canaan (Herzog). The captains’ guiding textbook is not designed to produce accurate ideas of “cultural others,” and victories are rare without sharp intelligence.
Deeds performed “according to” The Bible can make part of the American world seem like a Bible-scenario come true, as long as the people in action believe in a Biblical understanding of America. Outside such a circle of believers, the world is the world. It is not necessarily “hostile wilderness.” America in fact may be a place of many circles, in which the majority do not forbid, demonize, or exterminate others in order to feel confirmed in their identities.
If Mason and Underhill follow The Bible, they will not find their way in America. More, if historians after them (like Hirsch above) follow the same lines and limits in their analysis of these events, they will not understand what happened. For 17th-century New England does not work according to wishes. “Beliefs” do not “reform” all other realities. A culture’s people have the right to limit themselves, but to imagine that their choices limit others is to invite disappointment. A monological approach to a complicated, multicultural place becomes a derangement (Chapters 4 and 7). We must not approach this world and war with only the captains’ assumptions. We watch them follow their secret Williams map, but it is not the territory. The Pequots are not Philistines or Canaanites. 
Decades onward, the most successful English-colonial war leader, Captain Benjamin Church of 1675’s “Philip’s War,” has no military schooling (except every day from Native Americans), and no religious agenda. The main accomplishment of his narrative is what it teaches his readers of tactics wise and foolish. As Slotkin details (in Regeneration Through Violence), it is no accident that Church’s adoption of “Indian” war-tactics becomes the frontier-English standard, his book the most “cockalorum” sensible of its genre. Church brings “victory” because he has come to better terms with American realities by observation and open-minded experiment.
Captain Mason half-honors the standards for worthwhile histories of war: he does list “reasons” for this long-way-around approach to an unspecified battle-location. He does not list the reasons that may “trouble” us (M22). Perhaps Mason cannot seem to offer himself as an example that includes questionable decisions to learn from, as well as wisdom. But neither captain intimates the source of their battle-plan’s first assumption—though it generates their very idea of this surprise against Sassacus’ ”expectation,” the attack on his Pequot people “from the rear.”
Whether the Pequots have a “rear” does not seem to trouble anybody, though it too is a problem that will not die of neglect.
To port as they sail their three crowded vessels, the Englishmen and Mohegan braves with Uncas watch thirty miles of May-green forested hills, “champion lands” and swamps of the Pequot country pass their view. The season’s enormous rosebay-rhododendrons dot the land with islands of sweet white blossoms. River by river-mouth, they are crossing inhabited, named frontiers: first beyond the Connecticut’s tidewaters, then the river of the Western Niantics; and then the Pequot River itself, where Weinshauks awaits them with many determined braves.
In time their boats cross the Mystic (their name for the “great tidal river” Missituc); where they may know of the “lesser” Pequot Sachem Mamoho, now in power at its hilltop village and fort. “The hill is commanding and beautiful, though not steep”: “Sassacus has this fort in the eastern part of his dominions to look after the Narragansetts” (Connecticut historian W. Williams in Orr 118). 
This is a point we must remember, even if the captains do not know it. Mystic stands, in part, to look eastward—to keep an always-watchful Pequot eye toward the frontiers of their cousins and old rivals, the Narragansetts.
The captains gaze on the land, and see how little Williams’ map really tells. “Look after” is an apt phrase for the complexities of Native-frontier relationships. Mystic Fort is a Pequot listening-post and base for scouts against raiding-parties of Eastern Niantics and/or Narragansetts, and a launch-point for Pequot retaliations. More commonly, because feud itself is the exception to many kinds of social and cultural intercourse, Mystic Village and Fort are also a thoroughly-connected source and destination of intertribal trade, political diplomacy, and personal travel. It is a given of these cultures that bonds among peoples require regular engagement (of one kind or another). The region is anything but what James Axtell ironically called “darkest Connecticut.”
The Native men with these English know the bounds. When this force turns around to attack, and marches back westward to ford these same rivers, the Pawcatuck River marks the point of terror that they are intruding into Pequot territory. Just now, however, as Mason’s and Underhill’s vessel slide eastward beyond the Pawcatuck and into Niantic and Narragansett country, with its Great Swamp wrapped in green old-growth forest, they are counting on much more than “the least notice” in “so populous a country” (M45).
Curiously, then, this first half of their plan depends upon their being seen (as Roger Williams’ instructions told them). During its second half to come, the march back over the same territories, what they want—not to be seen—can hardly change realities on the land.
“I still remember a speech of [Reverend] Hooker at our going aboard” back at Hartford, Mason recalls (M45): “that they should be bread for us.” “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongues with singing.” However high the English spirits on-ship, these mostly-untried soldiers must be taking the measure of Sassacus as they behold the two days’ sailing-expanse of Pequot lands and his “dominion.” 
No minor player—and Sassacus is said to be 77 years old—can hold 26 villages tributary to his influence (McBride 103, of many source-examples), nor conduct diplomacy in their names, and hold them to his own dispensations of justice. Native people as far away as Wethersfield still turn to Sassacus in appeal, and he responds in force. His powers of war still have a terrifying reputation. Most people believe that Pequot braves make war as “savagely” as their north-country relatives and still-active allies, the “Man Eater” Mohicans and Mohawks (Time Line 4; Frazier 4-5; Williams in WPF 3: 446).
But this dominion is coming apart not only under the stress of English and Dutch challenge. Sassacus is beleaguered, as Uncas’ Mohegans on these boats have (as it seems) withdrawn their allegiance. At least one other Sagamore, Western Niantic Sassious, already (July 1636) feels free or frightened enough to “give” his loyalty to Saybrook Englishmen. 
Faced with this situation, Sassacus has taken skilled diplomatic steps toward Mass. Bay Boston and his long-traditional enemy Narragansetts. But perhaps all these respond most, now, to the scent of blood. Sassacus’ “master-stroke” treaty with Boston crumbles too, in two tense years of conflict over the meaning of its terms (“we could not make them understand,” WJH 1: 199, DeForest 104; and neither can the Pequots “make” Boston). 
The Narragansetts, meanwhile, are cool toward Sassacus’ overtures of new alliance, wary of their own safety within such reach of the English. The truth behind Sassacus’ appeal—that the Narragansetts will be next if they cooperate—is too much to be believed (G6; FBH 2: 247), and Williams’ speeches tip the balance. In time, Miantonomo will see that Sassacus was right and make the same appeal for help from other tribes (Chapter 5).
Aware of the territories passing by, and knowing that the enemy’s “numbers far exceed…ours” (M21), the English sail on. The land’s enormity, its unknown rivers and hidden valleys, its sheer populated space shows these three little boats what they have set out to do. Misquamicut’s dead-end spits of white sand reach out ahead after Fisher’s Island: the tidal countries of Weekapaug, Quinochontaug, Matanuck slide by, places given names because people(s) spend time there. The further east they voyage along the coast, the more the Englishmen feel themselves among more trustworthy Native friends, and victory seems a palpable possibility.
The recorded urgent messages reaching Mason must make him feel the weight across his shoulders. “The serious and speedy prosecution of this war [may] be the greatest business New England has; for it cannot be conceived that building, planting, fishing, trading, colleges, etc.—or in a word, the good of either Church or Commonwealth, can flourish and go forward without a timely removing and preventing the wars that now begin” (WPF 3: 406). This is compounded by the colonies’ “civil (nay, worse, and religious) dissensions, abounding at home.” Soon, Anne Hutchinson will be Roger Williams’ neighbor in exile. Everybody is counting on these three boats. First the “Indians,” then the heretics.
“And thus,” Mason sings, “when The Lord turns the captivity of his people, and turns the Wheel upon their enemies, we are like men in a dream….The Lord doth great things for us among the Heathen, whereof we are glad. Praise ye The Lord!” (M45). 
By Saturday the English vessels are past the Eastern Niantic country of Sachem Ninigret (below). After 20 more miles, they round the southwestern cape of Narragansett Bay and heave anchor offshore from the village of Miantonomo. They do not, however, land that evening, though they believe “Love” exists “betwixt” their peoples (M23). The Narragansetts “well know…that the Pequots and themselves are enemies.”
Instead, the English spend the night, and the entire next day, floating offshore because it is “the Sabbath.” Then, on Monday, the wind “blows so hard…that we cannot go on shore, as also on Tuesday until sunset.” It seems difficult to imagine that their struggling boats are not watched the whole time from the Narragansetts’ chief palisaded village, as well as from its typical surround of fishing-spots, work-sites, lodges and wetus (family dwellings).
Offshore in one place for nearly three days, bristling with weapons and perhaps even loud with song and prayer, the English can have no idea whether anybody is sent, or quietly departs, from Narragansett with news of English ships and soldiers on the prowl.
Consider that the English themselves can and will march from here to Mystic in one day; and that Sassacus’ Weinshauks is scarcely half a day beyond Mystic. There is enough time, between the Narragansetts’ first sight of these ships and their landing, for a trusty runner to go and ask Sassacus himself what to do about these aggressive outsiders, with their already-dangerous reputation. Roger Williams has to work hard against something between these Native peoples, and his word is nothing final.
The captains on ship do not seem to know enough to address the matter. At least, that is the impression derived from their works as historians, which do not address the matter either. In later histories this same lack of context seems to be missing, and more interesting examples lie ahead. 
But Gardener’s chirurgeon, Mr. Pell, seems to notice something. Here at Narragansett shore, he too declines the budding plan, and refuses to leave the queasy safety of a boat for marching all those miles of inhabited forest. Mason’s sole phrase about this is sly: Pell is “ordered to stay” at Narragansett (M31), though why an army should leave its one medic far behind is unexplained. Underhill (U82) is more open. He is angry that Pell is not on hand to care for men “maimed” at Mystic. Still, he tucks Pell’s refusal into his pages after the attack, while Narragansett is the only point at which Pell could have made his displeasing decision. He is not “accustomed to war, [and] durst not hazard himself where we venture…our lives, but, like a fresh water soldier, keeps aboard.”
Not to worry. At sunset on Tuesday, Mason lands first (M23) and marches up to Miantonomo’s “chief residence” to explain all this. (For the dimensions and likely location of this very large village see WCL 1: 181n1). Mindful of Miantonomo’s stature, experience, and power in numbers of braves, Mason requests “only…free passage through his country.” Uncas is not much-liked here (WCL 1: 121n11). He has sheltered with these cousins in his struggles against Sassacus. In time, Uncas and Miantonomo will be mortal foes.
Miantonomo, in his late 30s/early 40s now (Robinson 18, Rubertone 158), is a complex man and, like Uncas, a diplomat and tactician experienced with colonists from Plimoth and Mass. Bay Boston, Connecticut, and the “Rogues’ Island” Providence of Williams. Williams’ cabin stands on Narragansett ground because of Miantonomo’s own need for “insiders” to the plans of the English all around his country. As Williams lets him down, he’ll try again with another entangled exile in Samuel Gorton.
Robinson (15) reviews the records on Mianotonomo, who shares a “joint sachemship” with his older uncle Canonicus (little-mentioned in these histories, but see Footnote 31 and Chapter 6). They describe in Miantonomo a man “who could not be trusted,” according to Plimoth’s Bradford; but also “a very stern man, and of great stature, of a cruel nature, causing all his…attendants to tremble at his speech.” For Robinson these records describe Miantonomo as “an articulate, intelligent leader considered charismatic by friends and treacherous by enemies…a man who toiled to make comprehensible a world…increasingly complex and uncertain” (17). Indeed, Miantonomo’s people suffered “less” than others in the first wave of European diseases (1616-1618); but just this year, the Narragansetts are losing no less than 700 people to a second (WJH 1: 147).
Mason’s and Underhill’s men, 94 of them, come ashore at Tuesday twilight, and with them Uncas and his 60-80 braves, all of them clearly on an errand of war. Of the four Pequot War chronicles in Orr, only Mason’s describes some of what happens from this village onward to Mystic. Underhill says only that “We land our men…and march overland” (U77).
Miantonomo “does accept of our coming,” Mason reports (M24), “and does also approve of our design; only he thinks our numbers are too weak to deal with the enemy, who are (as he says) very great captains, and men skillful in war.”
Mason does not linger over this important advice from a Native insider—who, “feud” or not, has almost unquestionably seen the Pequot forts ahead. “Thus [Miantonomo] speaks somewhat slighting of us,” Mason growls, feeling this credible report of the Pequots’ “exceeding” numbers. From here, even Mason’s pages cut to their march for the attack, begun next morning (M24).
We can learn more about this stay at Narragansett, however, from Philip Vincent.  He (V102) reports that indeed, Mason and/or Underhill feel the need for “the advice of the sagamore…what way they should go to work, and how they should fall upon the Pequots.” It is the same crucial question the English couldn’t answer at Saybrook. 
Miantonomo’s answer to the eager but unsure captains is, we suggest, much more than meets the eye. “[His] judgment in all things agrees with the English, as though they have consulted together” (V102). Vincent’s words suggest that Mason and Underhill do little consulting. Rather, they appear to tell Miantonomo their plan, rather than ask for one or qualify their original.
If they plan to attack a yet-unspecified, fortified Pequot village full of people, will the people “naturally” be crammed inside this fort, like those in a European city? Or, if fear drives them to shelter inside it—against their own conventions of war—will that not mean that the English approach has been detected?
The captains, their courage under constant test, cling to an uncertainty. Months ago (Footnote above), Miantonomo gave Williams his best plan. Somehow (a process that should be clear in a military history), it has been changed. Miantonomo advised a sudden sea-borne assault: the captains plan an overland march. The core of Miantonomo’s plan was an “open field” ambush near the fort (still) in question. As we’ll see in specific examples, ambush is bound to create porous, shifting flanks and fluid interplay. But the captains don’t seem to want to confront that prospect. It matters because the expert before them has just finished saying that their numbers are too few for what they wish.
Whatever lies ahead between here (Narragansett) and the Pequot forts on Williams’ map, it will have to be accomplished by this small force: Patrick’s boats have their orders for the far-western side of this battlefield (see below). When this Narragansett council adjourns, the Saybrook plan is still the captains’ way to victory against so many.
The charismatic Miantonomo makes the captains feel they are completing each other’s thoughts. He has to recognize his own strategy in what the captains propose. Vincent’s language suggests seduction. Miantonomo is no passive, childish, or cowed individual, he knows Mystic and Weinshauks, and he has Pequot cousins. We cannot dismiss his further “irritation” (Cave 145) at Boston’s official “No” to his own offer—again, a sea-borne ambush against the Pequots (WCL 1: 78).
Unlike Winthrop after Block Island, these captains seem to trust Miantonomo to really hurt somebody.
Can Miantonomo, an expert in war here, other than realize that the English captains, with their preconceptions about a stationary target and a Pequot rear, are taking up exactly the wrong aspects of his own idea? Now, to their faces, he nods and agrees and smiles. It is not the first or last time an “Indian” pulls this off in “Christian conversation.”
Miantonomo, being asked, criticizes only the English lack of numbers (and he proves right). Yet, if he does give the captains’ plan wholesale blessing, and sends them confidently after such objectives, he is pointing them directly away from the traditions and norms of Native New England war. He approves a design that leads away from where his too-familiar Pequot enemies really will be; away from how he knows they will most likely handle their options—especially with warning of an enemy who does not intimately know their swamps of refuge. Underhill, on Block Island, noticed how Native people “disappear,” “as if they know we are coming” (U51).
Miantonomo has seen them coming. Mason’s and Underhill’s company, hoping, singing and praying offshore for mystic miracles, get what they bargain for at Narragansett. 
In the morning (Wednesday), the captains are naturally eager to launch their force. In a much-debated, second crucial move at this point—see the Footnote—Mason and Underhill refuse to wait for Massachusetts Bay’s Captain Daniel Patrick, who is coming to join them by boat with 40 more Englishmen. In fact the captains, deciding to strike out immediately, leave orders for Patrick’s boats and men to meet them later—at Pequot River, the site of Sasscus’ village Weinshauks. Equally important here, they leave behind about 15 of their own men, with “Doctor” Pell and their boats, at Narragansett. Altogether, this reduces Mason’s and Underhill’s English combat force to about 79 fighting men.
They and the Mohegans begin marching westward, back toward the frontier of Pequot territory. Mason must be glad for Uncas now. In this country of woods, swampy thickets and dead-end peninsulas, if you don’t have a trail you have a problem. The men’s bandoliers, hung with wooden powder-and-bullet “cartridges,” clack and rattle like wind-chimes as they march.
If we follow the captains’ accounts of this departure, they receive no promised guides or “auxiliaries” from Miantonomo’s village. They set out with Uncas’ braves across 20 miles of this country “to a place called Niantic,” where “another of those Narragansett sachems” lives “in a fort.” Their route was most likely the Native-trail basis for what became the “Post Road” and “Route 1,” which skirts the Rhode Island coastline well south of Worden Pond and leads all but directly to Niantic.
The Sachem’s name is Ninigret, “flesh and blood” to Miantonomo through marriage, as usual, to his sister (WCL 1: 205n10; WJH 2: 99; Drake 67-69). Ninigret, also related to the “hostile” Western Niantics (DeForest 60), will prove as subtle and “undependable” as any dependably-Native man of the period (Time Line 4).
Has some kind of news already passed through here ahead of the English force? It clearly seems so. Mason’s first remark is that “They carry very proudly towards us.” Niantic knows something. Its people do not risk “permitting any [English] to come into their fort” (M24).
It is an insulting welcome, in its own world and Europe’s too, that the English do not miss. What they do miss, or boldly ignore, is that their response to this cold reception is a few miles behind the most likely fact—that Miantonomo and Ninigret are keeping even “hostile” neighbors informed of everything, before the English can lay eyes on the chance for “treachery.” These chronicles are no Puritan self-interrogation fixed upon “where we went wrong” (and how others might do better). The captains (or their editors, see below) seem to expect us to be subject to their own limitations; to wage wars of our own as they wage theirs.
We beholding their carriage and the falsehood of Indians [sic], and fearing lest they might discover us to the enemy, especially they having many times some of their near relations among their greatest foes…therefore cause a strong guard to be set about their fort, giving charge that no Indian should be suffered to pass in or out. We also inform the Indians that none of them should stir out of the fort, upon peril of their lives. So, as they will not suffer any of us to come into their fort, so we will not suffer any of them to go out....There we quarter that night, the Indians not offering to stir out all the while. (M24)
It’s a miracle. Mason’s and Underhill’s English (and historians after them) assume that nobody Native sees perhaps 80 planter-soldiers march 20 miles into Niantic territory; that Niantic’s whole population is inside the palisade and that nobody leaves at their approach, or before they surround it; that the Niantics, like children bowing to obvious righteousness and power, do just as they’re told after English departure; and that nothing can travel the trail into Pequot country faster than the the captains, who completely depend upon Uncas.
According to the captains, these Eastern Niantics (like the Narragansetts) offer no assistance to the inadequate force. (Soon they will offer battle to protect “good Pequots” who try to resettle at Pawcatuck, just ahead.) Only “in the morning” do “several” of Miantonomo’s men catch up to the column, smiling and “come to assist us in our expedition” (M24). At this, “diverse Indians of that place [East Niantic]” desire to “engage also.” And suddenly, these new friends are loud with loyalty-oaths, signs and ceremonies that swear to their aggressive cooperation ahead.
One of the captains readily “swears them after his manner upon their knees” (V102). As Mason recalls the moment, the Narragansetts and Niantics “suddenly gather…together into a ring, one by one,” and make “solemn protestations how gallantly they will demean themselves, and how many men they will kill” (M25). 
For most of them within a few miles of the Pequots’ Pawcatuck frontier, the promises prove but a good way to show these English the territorial door. What fighting they do will be seen very inaccurately by the captains as “pastime” (U82).
These 80 Englishmen (a “round” number), and their matching number of Mohegans with Uncas, are now marching westward not far from the coast of southern New England. The land is thickly wooded, flat between its low hills. Streams cut and turn among many small ponds, and all this offers almost no reference-points except the sun and, when you can glimpse it, the ocean. Off trail, the land is sheer green tangle, for this region’s peoples practice less semiannual burning of the underbrush: their main food-sources don’t require as much as their neighbors’.
Neither captain suggests they can find their way without help: quite the opposite, and their peers from Winthrop to Mr. Pell know it too. We today also must hunt for it. Neither captain says outright that here, or later, they acquire more Native guides. What help they might get, besides Uncas’, amounts only to hopeful names in the letters of Winthrop and Williams, plus one name (and no deeds with it) from Mason below. Let us look at these to see more clearly what if any assets are really at Mason’s and Underhill’s sides.
First in their minds might be the name of the Eastern Niantic “friend” on Williams’ sketch-map—that of Wepiteammock, the Niantics’ “number two” Sachem under Ninigret. He is visible nowhere except on Williams’ map until later in the war. Wepiteammock is called “hostile to Pequots,” yet is married to one of their women (WCL 1: 120n6; 1: 77n17). Also out of sight is the “number three” Eastern Niantic Sachem, Wequashcook (a different fellow than Wequash below). Perhaps Wequashcook is not quite old or powerful enough to help. 
Nor can the captains find a man of record named Soso or Sassawaw. They mention only “one Wequash,” as Mason paints him (M27), standing next to Uncas at a critical moment below. (Wequash means “swan,” Williams Key Ch. 15.) Like Soso, Wequash was born a Pequot, “defected” to the Narragansetts and is now living with them “three or four years.” (Cave sees in him another “unsuccessful contender” against Sassacus, 66.)
Wequash, like his people on both sides, “knows every pass and passage” of the country. Before this action by Mason and Underhill, Wequash had been Miantonomo’s guide of choice for his own attack on the Pequots. After the action at Mystic, he is suspected of hiding Pequot runaways (WPF3: 450). With such a future inside him, Wequash (like all the other remotely possible guides) performs no noteworthy Mystic service. 
This help, lukewarm if any, leaves Mason’s enterprise at the mercy of Uncas.
Not to worry. On “Thursday about eight o’clock in the morning,” the English force feels its momentum building. They strike out westward again from Niantic, supposedly flanked now by “five hundred” Mohegan, Narragansett and Eastern Niantic warriors (Mason’s count M25). Unfortunately, the size of their force is a growing liability with each step toward Pequot country.
The enemy has no “rear.” No matter what these chronicles of real events assume, a Pequot “rear” is a thought only, an assumption inside English heads. According to Native reports, the Pequots are evacuating noncombatants; and they keep as “continual” a watch on the Pawcatuck as on the Pequot River (M21).
Somebody in the vanguard must be guiding the English over tough trail. With less than twelve miles’ march, some of Mason’s men begin to “faint” and “want…provisions” because of “the heat.”
Perhaps they are overburdened somehow. They carry guns and swords, food and liquid. Each man—Thomas Rumble, Arthur Branch, John Humfrey, Thomas Stanton and more—carries at least a required pound of powder (in Orr x), 20 bullets, and 4 pounds of smaller shot for survival on birds (not to stop an angry man). Somebody carries a keg of gunpowder. Another man is carrying a drum that they can’t use in their stealth: both they will leave at their launch-point ahead, ahead, Porter’s Rocks. They’ll wish they had the drum as they run out of powder (Chapter 4).
How hot is it? Most “natives” know that oppressive heat is rare to New English May. In this same spell of weather, the morning of Mystic’s attack turns so “sharp” that men perhaps-wounded will faint then too. In fact, “body armor” is coming back in use. The days of knights ended when bullets began to pierce their clanking costumes. But breastplates, gorgets, and other steel-pieces are coveted items against the New World’s arrows and spears. These mostly-green Englishmen, then, must be very heavily wrapped in thick “buff coats” of leather, some with metal plate sewn in: they are hot to wear in sunshine and cold without it.
They carry the weight of their faith in Roger Williams’ comforting promise that, in close-quarters fighting (inside a Native lodge, for example), “armored” men can do as they intend and not get hurt. The men wearing the heaviest stuff must be those who know that Williams has never seen combat.
It’s a bright May day, and the landscape’s little ponds and seaward estuaries flash bright beyond the trail’s forested flanks, the great trees’ canopies loud with bluejays and cardinals. This is no afternoon’s ramble to the English, but a mile-upon-mile march through environments wholly new, and that is no reassuring thing enroute to battle.
One virtue of the “Post Road” trail is that it skirts the swamps that flank all these ponds and tidal waters. For the same reason, it has to be the most-watched “highway” available. Is there any hint whatsoever that Uncas is taking steps to avoid their being noticed? How do Uncas or his “masters” handle the conflict between the need for speed and for secrecy? If there were any clues, we would present them.
With the trail’s gradual turn northward and inland to skirt the deepest waters of the Pawcatuck River ahead, the marchers reach the great north-to-east turn in its banks. This northward turn has taken them away from seaside Misquamicut, Soso’s Weekapaug village, with its ties between Pequot and Narragansett. But along the river, with May’s dense foliage and undergrowth, you can see perhaps 20 yards either side of your trail: acres of tall brown cattails make threatening ambush-blinds, through which arrows and spears can dart without exposing the attacker. Here, at a shallow ford, “our Indians” warn that Pequots come here to fish; so Mason “stays” his forces “some small time” to look things over (M25).
The pause is costly. The Narragansetts begin to “manifest…great fear, in so much that many of them return” to their homes. How many cannot be determined (one group of 50 men leave later, Chapter 4); but these depart with interesting farewells.
They have heard the English “often” tell them “that we come on purpose and are resolved, God assisting, to see the Pequots and to fight with them before we return…though we perish” (M25). Mason says they “frequently despise…us.” As “many” Narragansetts abandon the enterprise, they mock the English, saying they “themselves will perform great things,” and that the English are scared (“they durst not look upon a Pequot”).
Why say such things while turning for home, unless to provoke the English to an even more intense pursuit of their plan? These braves of Miantonomo’s moved not a muscle at first, and then “caught up” to the English and Mohegans, smiling, full of eager empty menace. They are actors as it helps them. Even so, not every brave can let the English and Mohegans out of their sight. They know their guests’ “desire…to come upon the enemy suddenly, and undiscovered” (FBH 2: 249).
It is neither facetious nor inconsistent with documents to come that, here at the Pawcatuck frontier, no few Native men are leaving for reasons that have nothing to do with history. Many must leave because they have to be home for lunch. Or to help fix up that old dugout boat; or to share a hundred other things of their world more important today. They have no reason, least of all the English plan and hope, to imagine that anything too significant is going to happen across the river, except that these clanking English are going to get mauled, grow matchit hoggery, and then be very unpleasant company.
It occurs to no history that any one of these departing “allies” could, from here, immediately find a fast way ahead, to relay the latest intelligence on the English position and forces.
Perhaps Mason knows, for he describes himself as shaken. He turns to Uncas, for “what he thought the [remaining] Indians would do” when the fight begins. Uncas delivers apparently unmemorable “expressions and some other speeches of his” (M25). For Mason, their essence is that “The Narragansetts would all leave us, but as for [Uncas] himself, he would never leave us.” Hand over heart, eyes to the sky, as later in Boston (Introduction). 
The English press on now, and ford the Pawcatuck. Their trail here joins another that leads almost straight westward despite some turns around high land-forms. Uncas knows they need this junction in order to arrive at the northern end of the Mystic’s tidal river. Whatever their target is (Mystic or, as per their commission, Weinshauks), the captains need to listen to Uncas here, or find themselves faced with the Mystic River’s mile-wide waters. From the Pawcatuck ford, then, they must follow what is today’s Route 234, and its original name is significant: The Pequot Trail.
After three more miles of sunny afternoon, they come to “a field…lately planted with Indian corn.” There, they hunker in another watch-post and call council, “supposing we draw near to the enemy.” This might place them just north of today’s Dean’s Reservoir and Mystic Reservoir, two sizeable ponds along the way.
Here—given that reference to distances—they must be about two-thirds of the way to the northern end of Mystic River (it’s about 6 straight miles in total from the Pawcatuck to that point). According to the captains, this is when Uncas (or somebody “of the Indians”) informs Mason and Underhill that the Pequots have “two forts” ahead, both “almost impregnable” (M26).
Well, if the captains don’t already know this intelligence, what have they told their men enroute, men who surely need the “certainty” of a plan for the task ahead? What do they want their men, and us, to believe?
For all the mysteries at Saybrook, it is here that Vincent reports that “as they march, they deliberate which fort of the Pequots they should assault” (V102). But didn’t the captains tell Boston’s Captain Patrick about “the fort” they had in mind back at Narragansett? If we and they understand this plan, Captain Patrick’s men with the boats will be looking for them later at Pequot River. Not at Mystic.
Mason claims that “we are not at all discouraged, but rather animated” by this “Indian” report; such that “we are resolved to assault both their forts at once.” With perhaps 80 green men and as many Mohegan allies, they don’t seem to understand, like Miantonomo, what is ahead. And yet in every hopefully-convenient way, they do. Mason adds,
...understanding that one of them [Sassacus’ fort at Weinshauks, Pequot River] was so remote that we could not come up with it before midnight, though we marched hard…we were much grieved, chiefly because the greatest and bloodiest Sachem there resided....We were then constrained, being exceedingly spent with our march, with extreme heat and want of necessaries, to accept of [Mystic] the nearest. (M26)
Apparently, Mason had originally assumed that they could march from Narragansett through unfamiliar hostile country, all the way to Weinshauks on the Pequot River, faster than they made almost the same journey by boat. It appears he also planned the long march to end with a night assault on his enemy’s strongest position. Vincent claims that Mason was first resolved “upon the great fort” Weinshauks, and to fulfill his commission “there that night.” But Mystic, now the “necessary” target, is not “the great fort” of the two in any chronicler’s best intelligence. (Mather at least calls Mystic “the nearest,” 129.) The one English certainty born of their commission is that Sassacus’ warriors “wait” near the real “great fort,” at Weinshauks on the Pequot River.
If Mason and Underhill had taken Mianotomo’s plan seriously, perhaps they could attack the war-strength of “both” Pequot villages—but in “open field” ambush. That prospect they do not like (they neither discuss nor do it). The lack of a responsible plan for “so weighty an enterprise” (U78) wreaks havoc with their histories, and ours.
Mather, Mason’s later evangelical editor, comes to the rescue. “In this interim one of…Underhill’s soldiers falls lame,” and so is not able “to go as far” as Sassacus’ fort (171). Mather’s editor, Samuel Drake, comes to ours: “If this were true, it would be very remarkable indeed, that through the failure of a single soldier the plan of the campaign is changed.” Indeed, Mather’s insertion is a sign that others have noticed how real-world faulty these chronicles are.
The English “march…on in a silent manner,” and things get worse as the day’s sun deserts them. The farther west they venture, “the Indians that remain all fall into the rear...being possessed with great fear” (M26). Or, possessed of caution. The “Indians” at least are not sure where Mamoho’s and Sassacus’ “man-eater” braves are; where in this darkening forest they may “fall on” the noisy English and themselves. They certainly have an idea of the peril in this approach, but the enemy unseen is twice as terrifying. 
To arrive at Mystic Fort Hill, they must first march around the Mystic River, its double-bayed “Head,” or Inlet. They have to follow the long curving shore of the Head’s marshy northern end to get to the Mystic Village side, and then march south along that far western shore. The march will then be about two miles to Mystic Fort.
This is why Miantonomo’s original plan is the one that can, possibly, produce a “massacre” by working (meaning “surprising the enemy”) at all. His conception works with the land as it is. It would have dropped sea-borne warriors very suddenly on the beach at the west-bank foot of Mystic Hill, the place that in fact least expects daring aggression. The Englishmen’s actual last miles of march will show you the crucial differences below.
It is not possible that Uncas does not know the importance of one’s approach. Neither he nor Miantonomo ever make this difference clear to any Englishman. Instead, Uncas leads on.
In the siting of Mystic, we see that its people already understand: if you come this walking way, you might have intentions that don’t bear open scrutiny. Mystic is sited to give Pequot people a good first look at any “marching” guests. 
Mason and Underhill press on till about “one in the morning,” and come up against the east shore of Mystic Head. They have marched a remarkable and difficult distance over days. A full moon rises over the waters before them, and there’s a May night-breeze along the dark shore. Where now, Uncas?
Along the shoreline’s flat splashy swamp-ground at the Head’s northern end, where the Mystic River narrows to a much smaller stream. Up that stream to your right, Pequots have fishing-weirs and other small useful camps.
Mystic “Head” or the north end of Mystic River. Mason’s company must march around the Inlet’s northern end (far right), and after a night at Porter’s Rocks (below), march down the far shore to approach Mystic Fort. When they do, the first hill they see before them is here at center-left. It is not Mystic Fort Hill.
In moonlit darkness the English come around the bright waters, and on the western side, arrive at another “little swamp between two hills.” Pleased to discover there the bastion-like heights of Porter’s Rocks, they climb up into them and at last pitch “our little camp,” “much wearied with hard travel [and] keeping great silence.”
Their citadel stands not thirty yards within the tree-line on the shore of Mystic Head. Go there and you’ll see that 40 men cannot find sleeping-space up top, so many English must lie among the feet of the Rocks, cramped close with “five hundred auxiliaries” (as is claimed by sources treated in previous Footnote). As Mason settles down, Uncas (or somebody) reports that they are now “very near the fort” (M26).
It proves true—and yet again, “otherwise.” The land shows why in the morning.
As the company “comfortably” rest beneath the night’s full moon, Mason sets “guards and.. .sentinels” at “some distance.” These guards, we are told, begin to hear “the enemy singing at the fort”; and the sounds “continue that strain” through the night, “with great insulting and rejoicing.”
The Pequots, “as we are afterwards informed,” are sure there are no English about. They supposedly believe that the sight of Saybrook ships sailing “by them some days before” are the signs of their safety now. Presumably (for the captains), these far-off songs are childishly “private” celebrations; not provocative insults to a nearby foe, that the English are “afraid of them and durst not come near.”
When the captains attack tomorrow, they’ll discover that these songs reaching only their sentinels at “some distance” originate at the fort “about two miles” to the south. Are their sentinels English, Native, both? How far away from this night-camp’s safety will an English planter go with a Mohegan? How close to his “enemies” will a Mohegan go? As a sentinel, neither one is much use even 100 yards away along this forested shoreline. Yet, in coastal Connecticut wilds and champion country, you are not likely to hear singing more than a mile away. You might, with brave stealth and luck, glimpse the glow and spark of a bonfire if a big one is lit for some special doings inside Mystic’s palisade. Who then informs Mason of the singing, and what it means? Where is Uncas?
His guiding presence is spectral. Uncas is already the most ambitious, active and versatile Native man of his recorded generation; yet the captains allow a passive or lazy reader to assume that just now, Uncas is lazily lounging, between master’s calls, in the darkness somewhere down below Porter’s Rocks. In fact, this close to Mystic there is almost no limit to what Uncas might be doing with plans of his own. Sent for, Uncas fetches up an Indian Lullaby.
On the edge of this Mason’s first battle, he presents himself as sure he has it right from the guide who, this day and more, has betrayed the mission. What Mason and most historians hear in the songs is that the naive Pequots of Mystic, with the short attention-span of their race, need to relieve their terror with insults to absent Englishmen, and to rejoice in their own fearful reputation; “days after” they have seen three passing ships, their only criterion of security. Would a young officer trying to learn from this military history wonder if perhaps the singing, and/or Uncas’ report (“They think you are gone, they are boasting”), is a Native tactic?
What if the songs mean, We are leaving this old beloved home? What if they mean, We can’t wait to bust you up? Like the Narragansetts’ tauntings at the Pawcatuck, Uncas’ translation of the songs heartens the English on their course. Perhaps he gets down on one knee this time atop the Rocks, and touches Mason’s hand to his brow, and promises and everything.
The lullaby works. For at this point, just where we might expect the captains to review and apply their plan, something remarkable happens.
We know the English have four main tasks from Williams to accomplish. First, they have visibly “fallen off” the Mystic area, and come back, they believe, undetected. Second, they wear the recommended armor. Third, they are now in position to “assault before day” (M26-7).
Do you recall the fourth essential instruction? Neither captain does, and nobody reminds them (not even next day, below). Instead, the Englishmen fall asleep; all of them, deeply, under the trees by the moonshiny waters. We take this lapse as true from Mason and show you why by the next chapter’s end. (Underhill simply cuts his chronicle straight from the march to the attack.) In any case, for the balance of the night, the Mohegans and other allies see that nothing disturbs English dreams.
Later histories also let us assume that Uncas and all the other “Indians” fall asleep with them; faithful dogs to kick when master wakes up late for work. We sleep as readers in the arms of Uncas.
“In the morning,” Mason and the others wake up at Porter’s Rocks, and see it “very light,” correctly “supposing it…day.”
In May here, this would be around 5:30 a.m. “We [may] have lost our opportunity,” Mason fears.
According to expert Miantonomo, yes they have. 
Not to worry. Mason casts no glance at Uncas. He rouses his 80 Englishmen “with all expedition,” calls for a “brief” prayer for “ourselves and our design to God”; and then he sets his men in motion, “thinking immediately to go to the assault.” Underhill: “Drawing near to the fort, we yield up ourselves to God and entreat his assistance in so weighty an enterprise” (U78). They leave their drum and keg of gunpowder here at the Rocks, two miles from battle. Perhaps no man dares to carry the powder in the range of sixteen Pequot guns.
“The Indians show…a path” that leads, they say, “directly” to Mystic Fort (M27). This can only mean the “path” along the west shore of Mystic Head (see photos), for the approach presents nothing so agreeable, the land at their right (as they march south) climbing more and more steeply up into rugged rocky forest, without a trail and with plenty of points for ambush.
Again, the Mystic River’s northern end, from here looking southwest to show Mason’s line of march. The English come around the shore at background right; then march along it, with higher rocky ground to the right of the road/path. The second southern half of Mystic River lies far to the “left” and beyond this visible hill, which as noted, is not the site of Mystic Fort.
Below: Mason’s line of march (at right) southward along this bend in the shoreline. The second southerly bay of Mystic River opens out just after this bend. Then, level ground climbs toward another very similar hill—Mystic Fort Hill.
About 500 men of war—to optimistically sum up, about 82 English including the captains, 60-80 Mohegans, “hundreds” of Narragansetts and others—fall in and move “undetected” down this open track between the Mystic River’s bay at left and the high ground’s rocks and trees at right. But this trail does not “seem” to serve as promised; for the English now encounter another trick of the land in this approach built into the siting of Mystic Fort. You can experience this today.
As the war-host “holds on our march [for] about two miles” in the rising light of morning, a distinct hill begins to stand out in front of them at right. As they march nearer to it, the English learn that it is not, disappointingly, Mystic Fort Hill. They must want it to be, for a 500-man column feels exposed by this place, feels visible even from across the Mystic’s morning-misty waters. But that is not the hill they seek. With Mason they begin “wondering that we came not to the fort, and fearing we might be deluded.”
And yet, neither captain blames Uncas. This is as-usual negative testimony to his and perhaps other Native men’s delicate skill in walking a line through the unpredictable English demands, their contempt, and the Native men’s own intentions. Uncas keeps to their good side in the midst of armed impatient foreigners bent, “God assisting,” on hurting somebody “Indian.”
The English follow this narrow corridor of approach with a mile of water on their left. Ahead they find young corn, squash-plants and bean-hills in small clearings as they travel nearer to Mystic. A well-worn path begins to take shape underfoot. A sign of Pequot people! Is that a good thing, now, in the bright May morning sun? They march Uncas’ garden-path. He brings their column around that first disappointing hill, around the bend that has blocked their southward view; and now they behold the “second” or southerly inlet of Mystic Head, nearer the Sound and sea. They stop short.
As you can see today, this whole place before them looks almost exactly like the inlet and surroundings just marched through. Did they make a circle? Have they been here already? They see yet another field of “corn newly planted at the foot of a great hill, supposing the fort was not far off” (M27).
That is Mystic Fort Hill. The sun shines down on the land and broad blue bay. But it’s leafy May, and they can’t see the target for the trees. Are those morning mists, or the smokes of campfires floating up yonder below the ridge? The captains are now near the end of patience with Uncas and their guides. They “make a stand,” and order “some of the Indians to come up.”
“Up” into cleared farming-grounds. Up into the last subtly-guided approach to the Mystic they cannot see. The hill seems, from Mason’s position, to have a long crest and a saddle-bow near its middle: that’s where Mystic Fort is, on this northeastern face of the great ridge. Up there among old-growth trees, it half-hides within the sag of the saddle-bow’s optical illusion. Up there in fact, the ground levels off underfoot in broad spaces, and fresh streams run behind it into the Sound: a good living-place.
Again the captains’ call seems to say that neither Uncas nor even “one Wequash” are by their sides. So it is, for “at length” the busy Uncas and Wequash appear. Where have they been? No question, no answer.
Mystic Fort Hill (seen from the east across Mystic River). Mason’s company are marching southward from the right along this shore and will charge its heights.
Where is the fort? demand the captains (M27). “On top of that hill,” they are told. “Then we demand, Where are the rest of the Indians?” They are “behind, exceedingly afraid”—terrified, that is, that here on Mystic’s waterside doorstep, their own tradition of ambush (rather than siege) is about to spring.
Again, see the photos of Mystic: facing the high rocky ground to their right, this column has nothing but water at its back. If the Pequots really mean to teach their guests a bloody lesson, this is the place to “fall on” them, downhill in numbers of at least 3 or 4 to 1. But consistent with what is to come, nothing happens here.
The Narragansett and other Native men are also terrified because they know, after all, that the English have wholly neglected Miantonomo’s and Williams’ fourth crucial point: to first lay that ambush “behind” the Pequots, to “intercept” their warriors and prevent their people’s escape.
Why didn’t the captains have Uncas remind them? Because they wouldn’t tell him the Williams plan? Where, anywhere, is his truly helpful initiative? The least we can say now is that the English really have no idea where the “common enemy” is, nor his strength. In war, this is supremely dangerous.
Mystic, like any major village, has lodges and campsites outside its palisade and around its corn. It’s bright May morning, and here come five hundred men unheard, unseen. Not one Mystic grandmother, if there at all, gets up early to fish, although she had a night of raucous music. Not one child, if there, is out for mischief before she wakes. Not a glimpse of these armed hundreds from a corn-tower built for scaring birds; not a clacking-sound off them; not one person atop Mystic Fort’s wooden watch-platforms. 
If even Mason’s “Indians” have seen not one Pequot, nor report being seen so close to a “great fort,” the sign is a bad one. Native war is where the people are not. If the people are nowhere, hundreds of angry Pequot warriors are virtually everywhere.
Suddenly, the English discover what it is to have no rear.
They have had enough help. “Tell the rest of [your] fellows,” Mason sneers to Uncas, “that they should by no means fly, but stand at what distance they please…and see whether English men…fight or not.”
The assault begins. What do the English discover at Mystic as they rush “silently” along the water, pass the cornfields and lodges, then break into two files (U78) and charge up this gentle hill? What happens when they actually find Mystic up there, and, guns and swords ready, deploy around it in an Old World “ring battalia”?
Is anybody there?
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