Chapter 3

(The Assault on Mystic)
‘It Is Naught’:  Going In


Mystic, at last! The 80 Englishmen under Captains Mason and Underhill charge their long-sought target, dogged and frustrated by cautious, duplicitous Native allies. Improvising on a Native-born plan already heedlessly changed, they fail to strike their target in the night, and forget to set up that crucial ambush. If they do march from Porter’s Rocks after first light, then march two stealthy miles and stop twice to council, by now it must be 8 of the clock this May morning. Thousands of birds tune up as broad daylight brightens the Missituc tidal river and green shores.

Up and then along the flanks of this sloping wooded hill the English charge. Above in the trees they can see floating palls of smoke from campfires inside Mystic Fort; but not a living soul. Where are those hundreds of Pequot braves, those “wasps” harrassing Saybrook, who swore to leave their spiteful bones to rot in defiance of the English? They’ll be wild to find their Weinshauks battle-invitation snubbed for this action at Mystic.

Mason, Underhill and all their green planters-turned-soldiers have proven their temerity coming this far, but they can only be plenty-mad to get away with this harrowing plan. Swords drawn, their muskets primed and fuse-matches struck alight, the armored English trundle up through the trees, form two files and rush to surround the Mystic palisade. They neither follow nor wait for their “hundreds” of Narragansett and Mohegan allies (U78), but deploy them in “auxiliary” roles behind themselves as they encircle Mystic Fort.

Sun sharpens the crests of their sallet-helmets, and brightens the twenty yards of grass around the palisade with its handful of emptied lodges. No question that somebody’s in there: night’s campfires flavor the air of this the Pequots’ last lazy morning. The captains mean business with their colonies and careers at stake. Mason and Underhill wave the useless Uncas, his Mohegans and the remaining Narragansetts all but aside, into a second circle that turns disgusted English backs to them. “The Heathen shall not say our dependence is on them.” Each gunner punches his gun-rest into the earth and sets his muzzle in the swiveling crotch. Ready-a-­volley! The moment of truth, boys.



They and we arrive before a structure that contains a community. How big is Mystic Fort? The palisade is hundreds of stout trees set upright into a tight circle, or oval, around the “chief residences.” It is two massive interlocking crescents of tree-trunks 8-12 feet tall, whose overlaps form two narrow entranceways. With its typical surround of wetus and work-sites, Mystic to these Englishmen must be a shocking sight. Planted atop the “commanding and beautiful” hill, it is by all accounts (like sister-village Weinshauks) larger than most other communities then in Native New England (McBride 98).

Vincent (though never there) estimates Mystic Village as “at least two acres of ground” (in 1638: V105). Prince says “well nigh an acre” (1735: in Orr 78n). Orr agrees on “two acres” (1897: xvii), and archaeologist McBride cites Vincent in his report of a Spring 1987 survey that “located” Mystic Fort atop this hill (1990: 98).

So, with 44,000 square feet to an acre, Mason’s men behold a village containing perhaps 88,000 square feet. A square that size would have four sides each 300 feet long. Mystic Fort is a round or ovoid structure that just fits inside a modern football-field (300 feet from one “long end” to the other). In width, it equals almost two such fields (twice 160 feet). Some of that total acreage is “lost” to the outside because of Mystic’s curving palisade. But no one doubts this is an enormous and intentionally-daunting fortress. Mystic was “by no means an unprotected village” (Cave 209n47).



No historian doubts its magnitude. Yet, as we go in with these English captains, we must first be aware of how little physical trace of Mystic and this battle has survived.

Historian Williams in 1832 reported “no remains” on the site (in Orr 118), though its then-owner said that “within his recollection…some few Indian arrow­heads and spears [were] found on the ground, and also some bullets.” What, then, do historians such as Cave mean by “excavations” that support the traditional view of events at Mystic, citing McBride and “The University of Connecticut”? The fort’s site atop Mystic Hill today has been a much-paved-over suburban neighborhood for generations. Pequot ceramics found in the area have been verified as such (McBride 99). But beyond surface-finds of arrowheads and pottery, there is little or nothing to guide us. Visitors today at the exemplary Mashantucket Pequot Museum find its Mystic display a handful of oxidized musket-balls and a glass-covered model of the fort on its hill.

We do not expect today’s Pequots to display “remains” for the sake of “proof”; but there is no known physical evidence to solidly support the Mason/Underhill chronicles. [40]

McBride 98: "The evidence consists of eyewitness accounts of the battle and oral tradition, including accounts of farmers picking up Indian and colonial artifacts from plowed fields in the area. In 1875, Horace Clift, a local resident, reported that his father had told him about a circular embankment extending several rods across a field on the summit of Pequot [Mystic Fort] Hill, where charred wood, corroded bullets, and Indian relics were found whenever any plowing was done." But these finds match numerous Connecticut sites with no history of a "massacre." The "Clift Report" is in Carol Kimball, "Placing the John Mason Monument on Pequot Hill," New London Day, Nov. 13, 1986.

Both of these captains’ “eyewitness accounts,” as well as Native oral traditions, can establish only what the people who write and speak them either claim to have witnessed, or what they were told and believe. We have reasons to read Mason and Underhill with trepidation. And while we could hardly have more confidence in Native oral traditions, it is also true that Native people, like any others, can be misinformed. Their witnesses can be traumatized. They too can see or not see a tradition grow as it ages; can be affected, over time, by the relentless production of histories by and in favor of the so-called dominant society.

Few peoples demonstrate a better grasp of their traditions over many centuries. One strength of that is the ability to recognize and go beyond what Native writer Gerald Vizenor calls “terminal creeds”---ways of understanding that become dead because they do not evolve with new information and perspectives.

We repeat: as historians we have no doubt whatsoever of Native Americans’ achievements of memory down generations long before May 1637. At the same time, nothing human is perfect, without influences, or unchanging. Nothing comes intact through language or history.

There is no doubt that more Native Americans than Englishmen were killed at Mystic. It happened because the English forced it to. It was not a battle such as Mason would have got at Weinshauks. Mystic was an assault, an attempted massacre against a target identified as the weaker of two. There is nothing in this to redeem in any way the English intentions or behavior.

The question is, How many Native people really died that day at Mystic? And what does the quest for that answer reveal toward re-conception of the entire Pequot War? For these reasons we hope that readers, unlike Mason and Underhill, have patience as we bring this situation before them.

We return to what the English behold that morning: a palisaded fort as lengthy as a modern football field and twice that in width. Inside these walls, DeForest and Orr estimate 70 “wigwams” (133 and xvii respectively; but remember that both claim Vincent was there, and he wasn’t). McBride feels that while an “average” village might have 30 wetus, Mystic may have had 60 to 70 inside (101, 98).

In New England archaeology today, the usual estimate of how many persons shared home-dwellings can vary. Some reports suggest 5 persons per household (based on “low” birth-rates and the practicalities of small groups). Others prefer a range from 7 (for small homes) to perhaps 15 persons (Salisbury 26 says 7.5, with two families sharing a lodge). Given those homes’ average sizes [41] , and counting up the 98 lodges in “Underhill’s” sketch of Mystic Fort, we realize that its idea of Mystic’s population is extreme for the actual site. Seven hundred or more “souls” with living-equipment and their Sachem’s stores too would find the real Mystic Fort unpleasantly crowded. [42]

Hauptmann (37) gives average dimensions for three typical kinds of homes: 9 by 14 feet, 10 by 16 feet, and 12 by 17 feet; respectively totaling 126, 160, and 204 square feet each.

700 persons (or 98 lodges x 7 people, rounded off) meets Mason's estimate of 600-700 Natives killed at Mystic (M31), if not Underhill's guess of "about 400" (U81). We can reach their mean of 500 persons with 98 lodges x 5 persons each; but again we ask patience, for what the numbers really tell cannot be known without all the evidence.

More empirically, we know that in villages near the windy seacoasts, it’s important that each home’s cook-fire be well-spaced; for (as Mason and Underhill happily discover), the homes’ sun-dried mat coverings of “rush” catch fire easily from wind-borne sparks. We suggest that the 47 homes (plus one larger “official” or “ceremonial” lodge) in David Wagner’s illustration show a more realistic idea of Mystic Fort’s interior. McBride’s “60 or 70” simply will not fit between typical home-dimensions, Mystic’s likely size, and Native people’s practical needs in such a place.

Even so, grant McBride’s minimum of 60 homes inside the fort. We gain an estimate of 420 to 630 people living there. And yet, their family-groups’ total domestic home-space still adds up to less than 8,000 square feet, or at most, 15 to 20 percent of the likely total space inside the Mystic palisade.

Now, grant the tradition more by imagining all kinds of tools and gear, drying-racks, woodpiles, and other things of village life, even tangling “arbors” (V105) among the homes: structures, objects and embellishments of any kind that might get in people’s way and inhibit movement. For this is a key condition of the traditional Mystic Massacre---people trapped in their own crowded confines.

Allow for more of these unhelpful obstacles: grant them and the lodges a full third of Mystic’s possible 88,000 square feet. Any Native people supposedly trapped inside the palisade (whether 400 or 600) still have more than an acre to maneuver. At the same time in this traditional scenario, if numbers of people jam together the battling Native and English bodies, the more useless the Englishmen’s slow-loading guns. Toe to toe in a broad-daylight melee where there is no safe rear, a practiced war-club gains effect. It’s that against a gun’s stock or rest.

With these realities in mind, and no more physical evidence than described, we cannot accept the chief underpinnings of a Mystic Massacre. Others are also troubling. Recall for example Mather’s claim (final note last chapter) that when the English open fire all at once, “there is not one that misses.” Mather’s sentence leaves out the impact of bullets in Native bodies, but he clearly implies it, unless he means that nobody missed the broad side of the fort.

New England braves do leave loopholes in a palisade, to shoot arrows through when their best option lies inside. Such a hole might be a foot tall and 8 inches wide. Mason’s 80 men “give fire upon them through the palisado” (M27). His partner (U78) calls the first shot “ we could not but admire at the providence of God in it, that soldiers so unexpert…should give so complete a volley, as though the finger of God had touched both match and flint.” To both captains it seems the Pequot response is to turn over in bed, and stay there. Next we know, the English are charging the entrances.

If this volley does begin the whole attack, what really happens? Do the English hit Pequots in bed inside their lodges by firing through loopholes from 20 feet outside the palisade? Does each one charge up silently, find a hole, thrust in a gun, and at the same instant shoot with all others through the nonexistent windows of each lodge? Not a good tactic: a boy inside can grab your gun-barrel and requite you a very sharp spear, about neck-high. What really happens?

When the fight starts inside the Mystic Fort we know today, does a Pequot warrior have to stay standing so close to a flaming lodge that his bowstring can catch fire (U80), and leave him (as hoped) defenseless? Underhill says this happened to “many.” In fact, it is the granddaddy of the stuff of Fenimore Cooper, and of Mark Twain’s “savaging” of Cooper. [43]

See "The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper" (reprinted in many collections), one of the funniest cures for the frontier romance (and Cooper one creator of "savage" Uncas). Twain, like D.H. Lawrence, simply applies physical common sense to see whether real people can do things Cooper describes. Twain: "He saw nearly all things as through a glass eye, darkly. Of course a man who cannot see the commonest little everyday matters accurately is working at a disadvantage when he is constructing a 'situation.'" "We cannot too much admire this miracle." "Almost always in error about his Indians." "A literary delirium tremens."


With such room inside Mystic for maneuver, let alone places to hide till escape can be tried, are Pequot men, women and children really going to “run…into the very flames” (M29)? Will they stay, like the fey martyrs of Europe, cowed in the infernos of their lodges (“crept under their beds,” M28) until burned to death in passive “helplessness,” rather than take a fighting chance outside? In the captains’ scenario, it’s kill or be killed, and your neighbors too. Surely one would strike a memorable blow. If there. [44]

Mather adds swoon: "Some of the old men taking hold of others that were willing to run away [say], 'As we have lived together, so let us die together.'" His Pequots join hands and sing like The Bible's Daniel and fellows in the fiery oven.

Passive Native Americans, white made right by might: a Mason-Underhill fantasy in the shadows of Sassacus and Uncas. Settling for it is history in the captains’ shadow.

Not least as we try to go inside Mystic with some grip on realities, what about the “man-eating” Pequot braves? With their old and young families under sudden direct threat of death, will Pequot warriors be “unwilling to come out” (U80) and, instead of facing the enemy, simply lie down and burn with the people they live to defend?

Mason’s own first experience of combat is in “a wigwam,” just as Roger Williams promised. There, Mason is “beset with many Indians”---of unspecified age and gender, in such close quarters that his gun and sword are little use. “They,” his first long-anticipated foes, are simply “many,” yet they cannot “prevail.” That’s all Mason says about them, leaving us to assume he killed them all.



Then Mason claims to see “many Indians in the lane or street; [and] he making towards them, they flee” (M28). It is broad daylight. Are they braves, toddlers, old ladies? A gang of bold teenagers mooning the commander? We have records of that welcome, and provocation seems the Pequot order of the day.

These are a few of the unprobed vagueries, assumptions and details crucial to a massive English victory. If any of them should be dismissed, on which others can we rely? Before we trace exactly how the English get into Mystic Fort after their first shot, and what happens there, consider how fragile is another crucial part of a massacre reported as massive (M31, U81, G137, V104). [45]

We are not in quest of a number that "reduces" the "massive" aspects of this event. We are working to establish a more realistic concept of what happened at Mystic, and believe that new understanding will in turn change The Pequot War. If "only five" Pequots were killed there, we still more than agree with Native comment then that English actions at Mystic were "too furious" (U84).

Observe the Mohegan and Narragansett allies during the Englishmen’s approach and assault. Neither of the two captains there describes anything in “our Indians” but contemptible reluctance. As Cave notes (211n69), “not all” of them desert or hang back in fear of Pequot counterattack or passive inaction. Of the Mystic Pequots who supposedly come out to surrender “in troops…twenty and thirty at a time,” “those that scaped us fell into the hands of the Indians…in the rear” (U81).

They’re doing something back there, those allies. And the odds are that more Mystic Pequots (if there) will reach them than will be cut down on the “massacre” spot. With the size of Mystic above, we find one of 82-total Englishmen every 12-15 feet around the fort.

As Miantonomo noted, their manpower is inadequate to control the place of battle. Can men so spaced, with swords and one-shot guns, cut down “twenty and thirty [people] at a time” running for their lives? If not, what most likely would happen to Pequots taken by “Indians”?

Cave calls these supposed captures “systematic” (150), but we never see the system work. With what comes down on the English in retreat from Mystic (below), the count and control of prisoners is their least worry. We hear of no prisoners’ disposition at the later meeting with Patrick’s boats, of no heads displayed, no women or anybody marched overland back to Saybrook. It slips the captains’ writing minds? Prisoners make irrefutable trophies of victory, and we have not a footnote of these conquering men either managing or receiving “servants” as pay direct from Mystic (and there is no other loot: below).

Mason (M29) says there is “sufficient living testimony to every particular” of his chronicle: if only it were that simple (Chapter 4, end).

One captain’s claim of prisoners, let alone “troops” of them, means little unless the conquered power and wealth they signify is displayed, by the simple, usual, glory-spreading details of who got richer by them. For other later prisoners, the English take pride in such records. From here, too, there are “supposed” to be no survivors; although Mystic’s known Sachem Mamoho, his wife and children and others are known to survive, and we’ll see them further on.

Can and should we assume Mystic “prisoners” anyway, killed or carefully confined? Not if we want to rid ourselves of all the assumptions we can. Otherwise, we have to keep believing in thoughtless, passive Native Americans, interrelated and yet disconnected; who try no escape; who sooner cut a cousin than resist, together (at least by neglect) these omni-invasive foreigners; and all this in favor of foreigners who constantly let on their contempt. Vincent (V104) sees them as game-fetching dogs.

It’s at least as likely that prisoners do not “troop out” because they are not inside Mystic in the first place.

Look at the clues we do have about “real Native attitudes” surrounding these sparse Englishmen and their massacre. Two of the best drop in unguarded moments in reports by Roger Williams; who offers to march with later soldiers, but stays at Providence on May 26 (WCL 2: 612).

First, Williams hints that he has given the men of Mason and Underhill--- “oppressed with multitudes” at Mystic---perhaps an apology, “the best reasons I could to persuade” them of why their Native allies in the battle “all either went to Connecticut [Saybrook?] for provision, or [went] upon some second assault upon the other of the Pequot forts” (WPF 3: 426). The Mohegan and Narragansett allies do neither in any other source: Williams is explaining simply why they are “not at Mystic” to palpable effect. If, however, what actually springs at Mystic is a Pequot trap, the English-allied “Indians” have hundreds of unseen, furious reasons to be inoffensive and/or gone before the counter-blow strikes their friends.

Williams also reassures “Mr. Governor” Winthrop that, in Mystic’s aftermath, their Narragansett allies speak only of “content and affection towards us” (WCL 1: 88; rpt. FBH 2: 252). The salient evidence Williams drops is that (emphasis added) “I hear no speech at present about inequality” from the Narragansetts. He writes in July to report this change: he has heard complaints, from allies first enlisted as crucial helpers, and then commanded to keep back in a second “ring battalia” around Mystic (which they do).

Native New England men know, before this one May morning’s insults, that Mason and Underhill (if not Gardener) ridicule them and their own kind of combat as childish (U82). Given the arbitrary, murderous behavior of later English captains at Narragansett, the only wonder is Williams’ finding “content and affection” among them (Chapters 5 and 6; WCL 1: 90n5, WJH 1: 277).

Is it credible that people so regarded will eagerly share either slaughter or the effective guarding of prisoners whose names, language, villages and kinsmen they know on a near-daily basis? Their common relatives fish both banks of the Pawcatuck. Not long after Mystic (as noted), Native people exactly there will harbor and defend “good Pequots.” [46]

Even after Block Island, Endecott noted that "Their flying to [Native 'captivity'] is no submission to us, but of purpose to avoid it.. ..They only use the Narragan­setts and others as their covering" (WPF3: 482). Think it through. If you, a Pequot, are held "in the rear" (that word again) at Mystic, this means you go to Native villages studied above. A few days' rest and some fresh adornments, cousin, and unless somebody turns you in to "Mr. Governor" and his spies (below), from now on you're Niantic. These foreigners have not one demon­strable criterion to prove you Pequot. Their gold is worth little except in their world. Now, raise your hand and repeat after Uncas: "Ungh---Heap good Injun." And don't worry, because Sachems Ninigret (WCL 1: 100n3) and Wequash (WCL 1: 93-94n2), plus others, will refuse to "deliver" you even if Mass. Bay demands it (WCL 1: 117, 128n6, 164, 203; DYW 131). In fact, if you're truly bold for proof, come along with Uncas as he swears his loyalty to Boston (Introduc­tion, and Chapters 5-6). Records repeat this for almost every tribe of the region.

We begin to wonder at the power and serviceability of stereotypes; at the power of books and oratures too, as we see that these unlikelihoods are the tip of the iceberg. With evidences that the Pequots are aware of the English approach, we want to know how likely it is that anybody is in Mystic Fort that morning, and why.

We have noted Native New England traditions and skills in using the landscape to advantage in war, especially the emergency-practice of taking refuge in swamps against too many enemies with plenty of time for a siege. Let’s discover that answer, along with more fact and perspective on Mystic as an English victory, through the dynamics of another great fort-centered “massacre,” that of The Great Swamp Fight in “Philip’s War” of 1675. Historian Jill Lapore sees it as “quite similar” to Mystic (281n73).



For almost forty years after The Pequot War, the Narragansetts try to stay clear of English fights with other Native groups. At the start of ”Philip’s War” between the English and the Wampanoags’ “confederates,” the Narragansetts pay dearly for keeping neutral while sheltering many “hostiles” from other tribes and refusing to surrender them. (By now they know what promises of “kind treatment” are worth.) Most histories now agree that arrogant English ineptitude turns the Narragansetts into “enemies.” Slotkin (Judgment 466n42): The English “began preparations for an attack…almost immediately after [the last of several Narragansett treaties] was signed.”

By midwinter 1675, the Narragansetts are in it for their survival too. No war here has been so widespread and brutal. That December, most of them decide not to follow the very old winter practice of breaking up into smaller bands and hunting-camps. (After harvest “they go 10 or 20 together, and sometimes more…wives and children also, where they build up little hunting- houses,” each with a “bound” of up to four miles for trapping: Williams Key 1: 188.) The numbers of war-refugees with them make this impractical. Instead, the Narragansetts congregate with huge stores of corn at their palisaded village in The Great Swamp near Kingston, Rhode Island. So many are there because, that year, winter-camps cannot provide for their numbers. Right now that makes families too vulnerable. They gather in the fort to survive, out of the way, not as a plan of battle.

The English have not been learning sound New England tactics from their histories of The Pequot War. That is why they are forced in 1675 to learn from the uniquely seasoned nonconformist Captain Benjamin Church. They locate the Narragansett fort as a still-preferred stationary target, and launch a huge assault (December 19-20).

The Narragansett braves fight a horrendous holding-action. By the time Church takes three wounds and his men gain any control inside the fort, he observes (besides many English killed by friendly fire) “a broad bloody track” in the snow, “where the enemy has fled with their wounded men” (413).

Church, following hard, realizes that the Narragansetts have reversed the whole battlefield, pulled “the rear” out from under him in “roving” style; for “immediately they hear…a great shout of the enemy, which seems to be behind them, or between them and the fort; and [we] discover them running from tree to tree to gain advantages of firing upon the the fort.” Church’s presence of mind in halting the English panic and reversing this, he owes to his lessons in Native tactics (414).

But Church cannot turn this tide right away. “The English, in short, are discouraged, and [draw] back” (415). “By this time, the English people in the fort begin to set fire to the wigwams and houses within.” Why? Church the writer relishes a sudden argument against his advice that “the Army”---short on supply and far from home with many wounded---“shelter themselves in the fort” (416). He is shouted down by fellow officers, the Narragansett fort takes flame; and, through the rest of this record, Church mentions not one Native person either in the fort or captured. He likes and admires Native people. He would not overlook them burning in their lodges or let us fail to see and hear them.

In frustrated rage, the English torch their hard-won empty prize. It robs them of life-saving shelter and baskets of corn big enough to stop bullets. In our histories, this blunder is glossed as an English “riot” that makes fiasco of victory. Historians accept the term “riot,” but they never explain it. They assume that 1675’s English are just over-full of battle-rage or, perhaps, Christian and English anti-Indian ideology.

This riot happens because The Great Swamp Fight itself forces the English to give up hunting an “Indian city” to depopulate; a misguidedness that wastes generations. At The Great Swamp, they see their planter-friends die to conquer a smoothly-evacuated fort, and in response they throw a self-destructive tantrum. [47]

Church proves right as the mauled army marches home "the same night in the storm and cold." This "riot" creates more fiasco because the Narragansetts "fled out of their fort so hastily that they carried nothing with them...[and] if the English had kept in the fort, the Indians had certainly have been necessitated either to surrender themselves...or to have perished by hunger and…the season" (416). At Mystic, then, if more Native allies "evacuate" as the fight intensifies, is it not likely that Mason's and Underhill's also-sudden decision to burn that fort is prompted by panic rather than victory? Events to come will strongly bear this out. Other studies of out-of-print primary sources on 1675 include Leach (112-13, 123-25) and Burke (144-5). Lapore (279-281, notes 53-75) offers a good guide to English "swamp" accounts, fears and frustrations. Two complain of swamps as "so soft ground that an Englishman can neither go nor stand thereon, and yet these bloody savages will run along over it, holding their guns across their arms and, if occasion be, discharge in that posture." "They fly before us…from one swamp to another."

Consider one other similarity between Mystic and 1675. We know of Narragansett peoples’ traditions about this “massacre” at The Great Swamp. No one can attend their annual memorial ceremonies, or learn from their elders and historians, and not agree that many Native people were butchered there. At the same time, where we might expect this battle’s English historians to make a great traditional riot-obscuring boast about “Indians killed or taken” there, we have virtually nothing of the kind. What we do have, and where we have it from, tells much.

“Some of the [Narragansetts] that were then in the fort have since informed us that near a third of the Indians belonging to all that…country were killed by the English, and by the cold that night” (Church 416). First here, what is more universally typical than a “victor” overestimating the losses to his notoriously- numerous enemy? And what is more common than the “losers,” faced with a horrendous aftermath of choices, self-protectively overestimating their own losses? We will show reasons to suppose not that Pequot or Narragansett peoples “suffered less harm,” but that both these tendencies are in strong play in the construction of what happens at Mystic. [48]

Mather, again no eyewitness, is chief architect of the tradition. Of The Great Swamp Fight he writes (in Slotkin ed. 108): "There were hundreds of wigwams…within the fort, which our soldiers set on fire, in which the men, women and children (no man knoweth how many hundreds of them) were burnt to death. Night coming on, a retreat was sounded." Next paragraph: "Concerning the numbers of Indians slain in this battle, we are uncertain: only some Indians... afterwards taken prisoner...confessed that the next day they found 300...fighting men dead in their fort, and. ..many men, women and children…burned in their wigwams; but they neither knew, nor could conjecture how many: it is supposed that not less than a thousand Indian souls perished….Ninigret, whose men buried the slain, affirmeth that they found 22 Indian captains among the dead bodies." The reader is equipped for critique.

Even more crucial is the second implication above. Virtually every English count of Native American “kills and captures” at Mystic, and in The Pequot War itself, comes from Native Americans. Mason delivers his numbers: “six or seven hundred [killed], as some themselves confessed” (and he mentions no other source, M31). Underhill: “about four hundred” killed, reported only “by themselves” (U81).

That is it. What else can or will any of these English do but depend on Native intelligence? By the Mystic captains’ accounts, they are busy retreating from the fort (below) to rendezvous with their boats. The angry wounded English of 1675 march away “that night.” In both cases, no English participant and nobody else mentions any later return to evaluate the ashes. If bodies are left lying at Mystic, Native people tend to them. [49]

In the late 19th century, near the Mohegan Burial Ground in Norwich (about 30 miles from Mystic), the building of a Masonic temple caused discovery of now-unlocated "barrels full of bones" buried there. This is the only such report we know of in the area. We leave possible Mystic connections to your judgment.

Will Pequots captured in this war, faced with slavery or death, refuse the life-preserving wiggle-room of chained “security” they can gain by saying what the English want to hear? Compared with execution or foreign slavery, what is it to feign a mercy-fetching moan: “Yes, we are broken, and no threat to you anymore”? Just this we hear echoed in “Mr. Governor” Winthrop’s further twit to former critic William Bradford: that “the Indians in all quarters are so terrified” that their “friends are afraid to receive” any camouflaging Pequots (DYW 127; Time Line 4, 1637-end).

How comforting to hear, how difficult to prove---“each and every one of them in all quarters” lives in fear of the outnumbered English. Winthrop christens his supposed-Pequot “servant” Reprieve; but as we’ll see, that youth’s captivity suggests a different inner man than Winthrop and Williams see (Chapter 6).

Mason, Underhill, their soldiers, Gardener waiting back at Saybrook, Vincent, and historians after---never having sought out the physical facts---will be glad to inscribe and accept each other’s remarkable Mystic estimates: a circular reassurance of their superiors’ victory and their enemies’ crippled state. That is what they do.

But the successful, enduring Native practice of evacuation and escape into swamps cannot be forgotten at Mystic. Multiple writers before and after Williams echo him as he describes the Native norm by which “in half a day, yea, sometimes at few hours’ warning, [a Native village-population can] be gone and the house up elsewhere” (Key qtd. in Rubertone 103).

The question becomes the degree to which the Mystic Pequots evacuate before the assault, and why. Recall how much time, how many possible informers, how many hints the Pequots have before the English enter their country. Miantonomo reports them slipping away in groups at these dark approaches. It grows hard to believe that the Pequots “know nothing,” as Underhill says. And we realize with those Pequots that, with the English force coming overland from the east, Mystic Village lies between the attackers and Sassacus’ men of war. Early-on, to the captains at Mystic, those braves seem to be “six or seven miles” off to the west at Weinshauks; but they counterattack before morning ends at Mystic, below. In the meantime, Uncas controls the English approach; and for that, a Pequot response is waiting.

In the battle to come, we’ll find that Owl Swamp is virtually Mystic’s backyard. Reports locate assumed Pequots hiding there after the “massacre.” Not before? Without Mason’s forgotten ambush to stop them? That is not an assumption, but another fragment of massive likelihoods smashed apart for us by the racism and violence of Puritan histories. These have done their work so that few people realize the habit English colonists themselves have, of putting their own women and children directly on the frontiers of wilderness-conquest. (What Vonnegut calls hors de combat.) There is no evidence that Native people do so. To the Pequots, war is where there are no old people, women and children. [50]

"Native logic would say, Well, you don't bring your women where you're going to make war...." (Wampanoag historian Nanepashemet/Anthony Pollard, interview in Dempsey film Nani).

Neither Mason, Underhill nor their men at first see or hear anybody at Mystic, though no village of its kind will lack at least two watchtowers. This utter stillness stymies the charging captains and makes Native allies fall back, “exceedingly afraid” (M27). The first real obstacles---after the hot reception of a barking dog and one Indian shout of “Englishmen!”---are Mystic Fort’s two entrances. They are “blocked up with bushes about breast-high” (M27, U78-9).

When do Native villagers block entrances “breast high”? When they expect an attack like this, they will not be in a fort. (Compare Massachusett tactics via Winslow Good News 51: their Sachem “would fain make his peace again with us, but…[has] forsaken his dwelling, and daily removed from place to place, expecting when we would take further vengeance on him.”) They do not block entrances when adults and braves are on hand on any given night to take shifts in a tower or other watch-position. They close entrances this way when they have deserted a fort for some reason. It keeps out animals while they’re gone; or, it can help to turn the place into a decoy of what a particular enemy is looking for.

Even on a normal spring morning, when they are not being shot at in their beds, will all the Mystic Pequots with Sachem Mamoho sleep in after a late-night sing? Consider what Mason tells you; that at Porter’s Rocks on the verge of this risky attack, he and his men fall asleep well-beyond their plan’s best chance. Perhaps he assumes that drowsy, sleep-seeking readers will assume that the Pequots do so, too; and, given their savage childishness, through so significant a sunrise. [51]

Underhill (U78) says that the English march down from Porter's Rocks at 1 a.m.: they either camp again enroute to wait for his "break of day" first volley, or attack in the dead of night. Which is it? Day and night are just that to a military history. His first shot brings forth "a most doleful cry" from the Pequots inside, "fast asleep for the most part." What are "the least part" doing? Mason (M27) describes a direct charge on both entrances "at once." That is when the dog and "Indian cry" sound, and then his men fire through the palisade, "the Indians [still?] being in a dead indeed their last sleep." Yet he still "sees no Indians" (M28) when, the "bushes" cleared, he enters the fort and can find fight only in a "wigwam." Below we'll look at the Pequot side of this and learn who really starts the fight inside the fort.
      On Mason's falling asleep on the edge of battle: "The rocks were our pillows, yet rest was pleasant: the night proved comfortable, being clear and moonlit" (M26). Mason's rare sleep-out seems to have seduced him into a "dead sleep" of his own. As a writer he knows how to set some matters up for his ends, for example his sympathetic "ignorance" at Saybrook and his "questioning the morality" of Mystic massacre, neatly resolved by "The Lord…filling the place with dead bodies!" (M30). His amazing doze-off at Porter's Rocks is as self- critical as he gets, and its narrative purpose is to blunt any question of the Pequots' doing likewise. Even if this were to them just another spring night and morning, their norm would be as always: keep your eyes open.


Mystic Fiasco

Chapter 2   Chapter 4