(The Assault on Mystic)
‘It Is Naught’: Getting Out
The “plenty mad enough” English commence their assault on Mystic with a booming, all-together volley into its massive palisade—an action either vainly symbolic or fearfully foolish. Firing all at once is just what they should not do with slow-loading matchlock guns, and a yet-unlocated enemy capable of lightning-charge. Forty years later, Captain Benjamin Church is still trying to keep his troops from panic-firing and being overrun. But the Pequots have a plan of their own this May morning, and it yields Mason and Underhill another mercy. Thanks to Uncas, they’ve already led their guests straight through Mystic’s most dangerous approach.
The English fire, and Mystic Fort’s response of silence draws the English in. Whatever their Native allies are doing on Mystic Hill (the captains record only hesitance and desertion), the captains each now gather half the men from their “ring battalia” and prepare to enter Mystic Fort by both its entrances. With 80 armed planters, this means that each captain has 40 men with whom to conquer half of it.
They know that the Pequots’ war-strength is not in the fort, but roving the forests somewhere outside it and, now, alerted by their guns. To prevent being trapped themselves inside Mystic Fort, the captains need to leave some men around its outer environs.
“Hundreds” is what they know of Pequot strength. Given the circumferential size of Mystic Fort, each captain can only take his chances and post perhaps a prudent 20 men around the palisade. So they enter and hope “to destroy by the sword” Mystic’s hundreds of people with a combined force of maybe 40 men, 20 to storm each entrance; and they leave perhaps 40 outside to manage the fort’s entrances, “hundreds” of allies and, they say, Mystic Pequots charging out 20 and 30 at a time.
As it turns out, the average of an Englishman every 12-15 feet around the whole claimed action—a space-interval doubled by the halving of their forces—is a ring of gaping holes, whose men’s first task is to hold the entrances (or now, escape-ways) and wait for hundreds of Sassacus’ braves. All this the dauntless captains must improvise that morning, with “so inexperienced” men.
When you go to Mystic and explore these and later historians’ claims, you know why Miantonomo laughed. If present this day he might have said, Time to worry.
There can be no denying the Englishmen’s courage, whatever kind it is. But they have no experience, and say start to finish that they can hardly find their way. In well over their heads now, they attack the breast-high brush in each entrance with fearful haste—a feeling that may also explain a 50 percent difference between the captains’ reports of Pequots killed between them.
Gardener and Vincent estimate 300 and 300-400 (G137, V104): skeptical of Underhill’s “about four hundred souls” (U81) and Mason’s “six or seven hundred” (M31). Later historians, knowing what happens to casualty reports, also deem Mason’s number high. His chronicle’s publication-time is the least certain of the four in Orr’s History (see Footnote below).
The longer Mason waits, the higher his claim may be amid his post-war ascension to Major General, Governor, “great man” etc. Underhill, even in May 1637, is suspected as an Antinomian friend of Anne Hutchinson’s Boston that so threatens Winthrop’s. Demanding his (denied) reward of land for service and eventually banished altogether, Underhill’s published number may be one kind of play to the Boston gallery, a total more “conservative” than his Hartford partner’s.
Trauma, confusion, self-inflation—Whatever the reasons to differ by 200-300 persons in their most important Mystic assessment, they must connect with the captains’ other eyewitness contradictions about a “massacre.” 
“Not above five” escape them, says Underhill (U81). Mason says “about seven” escaped (M31). They disagree about the day-or-night time of the attack, how it progresses, the winds and other aspects of the great fires they set. They do enter Mystic from opposite sides, and the Pequots’ deployments within explain some of this discord. But a “Killed In Action” difference of 200-300 “souls,” within a space as supposedly-confining as Mystic Fort, casts doubt upon them both. 
Underhill is not clear as to who first makes the fort “too hot for us” with arrows and resistance as he struggles to clear his entrance and storm in (U81). By design, Mystic’s entrances force any foes to come through bunched together with backs to the wall. There is no hint that Uncas or one Mohegan goes in. Underhill can hardly have more than twenty men with him, and he reports “near twenty” with almost immediate wounds: these quickly give up hunting skirmishes (that is, the enemy has pulled back among the lodges) and begin to set fires. But, suddenly, these twenty find themselves facing Pequot “prime men.” Though Underhill doesn’t tell their numbers, he shows how he feels with a phrase (U81-2). He says these braves emerge and confront him in “the open field,” inside the fort.
To Underhill, “open field” is the kind of place—spacious, with room to maneuver—where Underhill sees “no advantage against them.” We are left to assume many Pequots killed here without an English fatality.
Mason, charging into the other side of Mystic Village, is “very much out of breath” with his first fight in the lodge (previous chapter), and from chasing those vague “Indians” who “flee.” It seems that Underhill’s is the “hot” side of the fight, because now Mason observes something significant: two soldiers “standing,” incredibly, “with their swords pointed toward the ground.” It is not even an alert posture: they and other Englishmen must have made a disappointing discovery. Mason too, for he has to give an outraged general order that “burning” do the “killing” (M28-9).
An echo of a singular order emerges amid the chaos. One “Mr. Hedge” tries to enter Mystic Fort to join what fighting he can find, but Mason apparently objects. “If we may not enter, wherefore come we here?” Hedge demands (emphasis added), and he is immediately attacked (M30). With the tactics of the braves among the lodges, we can hardly locate “the” fight inside the Fort. But the order points to the English need to keep from being trapped themselves inside it; and, to a sense that actual English observation of how many “men, women and children” are in there is going to be very limited.
Why not send more men to help Underhill, if that end of the fight is hot? If “hundreds” of Mystic Pequots are hiding under beds inside the lodges, why not shoot and stab at them? The language about this battle from both captains is filled with harrowing violence; yet when we probe, we seem to come nearer the real reason why those fires are set so quickly.
Just as the above unfolds, Mason claims to encounter the real Pequot strength inside Mystic: “one hundred and fifty fighting men from the other fort [Weinshauks]” (M30). Underhill records these warriors not at all: DeForest finds them there without explanation (129-30), while Jennings and Cave also disagree. Mason leads us to think he can now tell Pequots of Weinshauks from Mystic ones—until he yields his “Indian” report that these 150 braves have been here since “the night before,” intending “to go forth against the English.”
Which participant in Mystic’s last night of music shares this with Mason? Does it come later, from a prisoner? If it is true, are we still to believe that Mystic woke from a “dead sleep”?
We do not need to choose sides about these 150 spectral braves. They may help to enlarge Mason’s kill-numbers beyond his partner’s, or to transform this assault into a “preemptive strike.” But there is a plan and a source for a strong contingent of braves waiting ambush of their own inside Mystic—down to the smoking campfires, from which the overmatched English will rush to set their blaze.
In so much confusion, we forget Mamoho, Sachem of Mystic since the murder of Tatobem (Time Line 4). Mamoho is a maternal kinsman to Uncas (WCL 1: 77n16).
Neither Mason nor Underhill mention Mamoho, but he is an active presence through Winthrop’s and Williams’ private war-letters; one of the Pequots’ “biggest” men with “great troops” (WPF 3: 427). Mamoho and “captains” of his own are the war-leaders of Mystic this day, and not the least of them is one Monoonotuck—a.k.a. Momomattuck, or to the English, Momonotuck Samm.
Him they call “a mighty fellow for courage,” for his “desperateness” later defending Pequots in their swamp-hides (WPF 3: 480; WCL 1: 77; his fate in Chapter 6). From those same letters (written with no effort to confirm Mason/Underhill), we know that Mamoho, Momomattuck, the Sachem’s wife Wincumbone and children, plus “many” more Mystic Pequots are still on the run months after the Mystic “massacre. Where are they, then, this day? 
The Pequots appear to have a plan and stick to it: evacuation for their families to at least Owl Swamp and Cuppacommock, The Hiding Place; and at Mystic, a decoyed ambush as a holding-action. (Later the English find Weinshauks also abandoned: WCL 1: 83). The Pequots lure their enemy in—giving people escape-insurance time, and the warriors of Weinshauks time to descend upon the English.
The patterns and details of the captains’ fight in and around Mystic, together, show us their responses to Pequot braves, who shower them with missiles and emerge from hides to join and break off battle where they choose. Mason’s men hunt for a fight inside Mystic Fort, while Underhill gets one across this enclosed double-wide football-field of space—and in broad daylight, the latter misses Momomattuck and 150 “prime men”? Is this perhaps related to Underhill’s chief contradiction to Mason, that their attack was launched in the middle of the night?
Some of these braves surely die, and when the task is finished, the others melt away, or wheel about with Weinshauks’ coming braves to fight again. That is how a warrior does his job here, and why many are alive after Mystic (Chapters 5-6; DYW 125; Cave 158-60). Williams alone (and he was not there) credits the Narragansett allies “thrice” against Pequots that day: at the fort, in the counterattack, and helping the English out of there (WPF 3: 427). But they certainly are not visible doing anything of the kind in the two captains’ histories. The records that surround their accounts, carefully examined in chapters ahead, suggest little Narragansett will or action toward English goals. At Mystic and afterward, for all the violence, the colonies can do little about the escape of the main Pequot “body.” 
Why does no history of this battle weigh in Mamoho’s and his family’s and “Samm’s” escape? The most valuable prisoners there (and the most “warlike” Samm) slip through an impenetrable “ring battalia”—or, the Sachem is not in the fort at all. The sanctified assumptions that underwrite an easy slaughter seem untenable; and, “as in a dream” (M45), as “outside” factors break in, we start to wake up.
Underhill says, “Let the ends and aims of a man be good, and he may proceed with courage” (U77). And if not, not. It remains to see what more we can learn once the English discover who controls this place.
When a battlefield presents more options than just toe-to-toe combat or siege to the last defender, one common trick is to trade space for time and then bleed (or “attrit”) the invaders. Sachem Mamoho and his people are either in flight to Sassacus, to their “great and secure” swamps, or acting to help others flee. Who is in the fort? There may be a tragically stubborn family or two inside the lodges, easy marks if caught without braves near. The most parsimonious answer is that Mamoho’s “captains” lead an elite force of braves who turn their wooden decoy into a live one.
How many braves? The truly courageous are relatively few. If Mason and Underhill, inside Mystic Fort, each command twenty “so inexperienced” soldiers, their men feeling no “advantage” here may meet their Pequot match in a force that seems like “150” (about 4-to-one odds); but is more likely under 100 braves, who harass and provoke the small English groups, then fall back and wheel among the lodges to harry others—above all, dragging out the fight. Whatever you think of that estimate, first see how “the numbers” resolve by the end of The Pequot War. 
The captains claim that they set Mystic Fort ablaze because most of the Pequots won’t come out of their lodges to fight. No matter how vivid the details of their wished-for slaughter, virtually nothing beyond their claims supports them. The two English reported killed have likely shot each other in crossfires (M31, U80-1, V104), and the captains find their men “doleful,” uneager for any part of this “duty” (U81).
As we’ll see, this war’s typical difference between claimed and “verifiable” enemies-killed is substantial. If Sachem Mamoho deploys War-Leader Samm and 100 braves inside Mystic, the 40-odd English inside might kill perhaps 50 braves in the first of two hours-or-so of actual fight and maneuver. Half the English take wounds and arrows in return. Realistic numbers present not a massacre but a fight in whose first encounter, each side more or less meets its match.
In Native New England at the time, a fight that killed 50 braves would have shocking impact. Yet, if Mamoho deployed only 50 and they were all slain (“massacred”) inside Mystic Fort, they still would have accomplished their mission. If 50 braves survived inside the Fort, they’d be likely to drag out the fight even more, as sure as the captains that “hundreds” more braves are outside and on the way.
Mason and Underhill, by contrast, are far from any outside help. Every gun fired and each wound weakens their limited force. Given the unlikelihood of Native families jammed and cowering in their lodges, attrition must be what prompts the captains to pick up firebrands from the Pequots’ decoy-campfires. They are winning control of a massive, all but empty prize. Are they seized by a riotous rage at the trick? Do they panic to realize that Mystic may trap them, and that the fight has only begun? Mason says “command” is given to abandon the fort (M29).
Perhaps some of the 40-or-so men inside with them are beginning to poke around, to see if they’ve truly been mocked. The mat-roofed lodges of Mystic kindle so quickly into flames that the English are forced back outside the palisade. 
Out there facing the wooded hills now, they must shed any last sense of their advantage, and find themselves in a situation horribly consistent with Miantonomo’s strategy for ambush. Now, they are in the trap between forts. Immediately from the west (or inland side) of these flat open spaces around Mystic Fort (an area that might include the present Pequot Woods Park), the Pequots’ gathering warriors charge “upon us with their prime men, and let fly” their weapons.
Are they just arriving as claimed, or, knowing the English target for days, waiting en masse until the English find their own backs to the burning fort? The masterful reversal detailed by Benjamin Church cannot have been invented in 1675. The Pequot counterattack uses Mystic Fort as an anvil.
Underhill’s “twelve or fourteen” handiest men manage to volley, and they kill enough Pequots to break their first charge with “bullets [that] outreach their arrows” (U81). But the real battle has only begun. The brightening morning can bring only more and more warriors to sap the isolated English of strength and gunpowder. It is time to worry, and the captains know. Here are two rare long correspondences between their reports, Mason (M31) and then Underhill (U82-83):
And thereupon grow many difficulties: our provision and munition near spent, we in the enemy’s country who doth far exceed us in number, [and] much enraged; [and] all our Indians, except Uncas, deserting us. Our [ships] are at a great distance from us, and when they will come we are uncertain....(Mason 31)
We are forced to cast our eyes upon our poor maimed soldiers...but only constrained to look up to God, and entreat him for mercy towards them... .Distractions multiplying, strength and courage begin to fail with many. Our Indians that had stood close to us hitherto, are fallen into consultation, and are resolved for to leave us, in a land we know not which way to get out…(Underhill 82-83)
Notable also is Mason’s insertion of his wonder “when [our ships] will come,” since the documents show that his orders to Captain Patrick were not to “come,” but to “wait” ahead, supposedly for a combined assault on Sassacus at Weinshauks.
Underhill, faced with the here and now, first moves against the Pequot counterattack by consigning the open-field fight outside the fort to “our Indians.” In action he is admitting lost advantage, and for us he feigns control of it with a sudden tourist-request “that we might see the nature of the Indian war, which they grant us” (U82; “they” meaning Narragansetts and allies not in “consultation” for flight, below).
It’s time to worry because from here, on the forested northeast face of the hill where Mystic stands, nobody can see “the river” seawards, where they now seem to hope that somehow, those boats will beach. You have to walk some distance out of this “saddle” in the hill to see that, especially in leafy May. You certainly cannot see either river or ocean if you move westward to meet a counterattack.
But as noted, the river where Patrick plans to beach is not the Mystic, below the far side of Mystic Hill (as noted, a good 1/2-mile walk and more along the hill’s crest). That river is about 7 miles overland westward: Pequot River.
Mason records his wish for the boats, but realities keep closing in: the boats and Patrick’s fresh 40 men cannot help them now. The distance begins to grow between the captains’ experience and their “calm and collected” descriptions:
They [Natives in general] might fight seven years and not kill seven men. They come not near one another, but shoot remote, and not point-blank as we often do [in Europe] with our bullets, but at rovers; and then they gaze up into the sky to see where the arrow falls, and not until it is fallen do they shoot again. This fight is more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies ....(U82)
Underhill here is consistent with most observers. “Pastime” means social purposes, very little like European purpose in war. New England braves do not “shoot” all at once. They deal skirmish by skirmish with “rovers” rather than try to break ranks of “pike pushers” (Dyer). As noted (Chapter 1), that is not to say that Native braves are no threat to men with matchlocks.
Gardener reports of a Saybrook skirmish that, “[Al]though we gave fire upon them, yet they run onto the very muzzles of our pieces…and if The Lord had not put it in my mind to make the men draw their swords, they had taken us all alive” (WPF 3: 381-2, emphasis added). The hoary conceit of guns as advantage is dispelled: they break, get damp, explode, are inaccurate, and take an agony of time to reload.
Lion Gardener has seen more action than any man at Mystic. He has not come because he knows what his fellows are up against when New England braves intend more than pastime:
Within a few days [after a skirmish], after I had cured myself of my [arrow] wound, I went out with eight men to get some fowl for our relief. And found...the body of one [English] man shot through, the arrow going in at the right side, the head sticking fast, half through a rib on the left side, which I took out and cleansed…and presumed to send it to [Mass. Bay], because they had said that the arrows of the Indians were of no force….(G130)
Gardener finds other men shot through the head with arrows (G129). This does not just fall out of the world on May 26th. The Narragansetts, Mohegans, Niantics and Pequots know that this is not a day for their own mortal troubles. The captains have just managed to repulse a first wave of “enraged” warriors, and now they have time to “observe”—because what the Native men “grant” them is by no means what they are capable of in war.
These braves are not uncontrollably hoggery—with each other. Recall that they pass “scarce a week” without fighting, yet “with little loss to any” (WCL 1: 72). The differences, today, lie with the English presence and purpose, to slaughter their common kinsmen. 
Uncas seems able to imagine what English war is about. He hopes to benefit by it, but not as the English intend. If he provides good service this day, where is he, either inside or outside Mystic, to take charge of this Native fight and make it count? He brings 80 Mohegan braves bent on subjecting the Pequots, and they muster not one visible action, no secondary ambush of Sassacus’ soon-arriving reinforcements?
Uncas does, later, use his own and Mason’s forces to rob Pawcatuck Pequots of corn.  Where is he now to lay down the law of New English war? The captains say no brave finds inspiration to kill or be killed. Native rumor of “two” felled by this action, told the captains again by Native men, means little. Uncas, doing nothing, is up on secret everything. This is another show—of strength, and not the killing-kind; another part of the Pequots’ holding-action.
Vanity refashions this remarkably canny, intertribal gesture of restraint—in context, the one genuine miracle of this book—into the “play” of hopefully-harmless, submissive children. Their lives in Native hands this day, their later colonial confidence never what they long for (Chapters 5-7), the English swallow their own Mystic lie for comfort. 1675 will startle them from a dream.
There is another show coming for Mason, Underhill and the few uncertain allies still with them at Mystic. The enraged Pequots now begin to deliver them Sassacus’ personal greeting.
Suddenly after the quick “consultation” above, fifty more of the Narragansetts fall “off from the rest, returning home” (U83). With Weinshauks’ fresh reinforcements pouring eastward now, the Pequots attack again, and a “sortie” of theirs gives the deserters immediate attention: it clears the ground of Native foes they know.
And then, as in The Great Swamp Fight, the Pequots reverse the field on attackers who forgot (and lack the numbers) to deploy a force behind them. “Hundreds” of braves start to drive the English into the lower ground off the western side of Mystic Hill.
The first hint we have that this is their path—and not straight-out westward, towards Pequot River and Weinshauks—comes from Vincent, whose account (as noted, Chapters 1 and 2) is supposedly drawn from the “common” soldiers. “The whole work ended ere the sun was an hour high, the Conquerors retreated down toward the pinnace” (V103, and in Royster’s edition, 10). If this is “simply a mistake,” how can we tell? By reading Mason with the eyes of faith? Let’s find out more.
Since Saybrook the English have had scarce control of anything. They do not understand what is really happening, let alone control it. Vincent (V104) has no problem turning English panic into a moral nugget, by means of Underhill’s fearless sortie (examined closely below). Vincent can take license because he is not at Mystic, and never feels what it is to have enraged Pequot braves pressing in all around him in a strange “wilderness” with little apparent help.
Neither Mason nor Underhill forget. Their state, that sharp bright morning, is such that they make different pure guesses (M29, “we guess”) as to how many braves they see, fight or kill. Neither do they remember alike when and where the brunt of Pequot force comes down, or when they sight salvation in their boats.
Beleaguered, with no chance to plunder as planned, the captains gather almost more wounded than they can carry (“Indians” carry them to free English hands, below), and they begin to relinquish the high ground to make away from burning Mystic Fort. Perhaps at this point, Captain Underhill really does something that most remembered, in their ways. 
Once they detach from Mystic Fort, they enter the Pequot world of war and must become a floating force without a “rear.” As more braves pour into the swirling fight, showing “hundreds,” raining missiles and screaming ugly promises, the English panic grows. For look as the captains must at their options now. Go to Mystic, follow these actions and see what you would do.
The captains’ plan becomes to move towards “a certain neck of land that lay by the sea-side, where we intend…to quarter that night, because we know not how to get our maimed men to Pequot River” (U83, emphasis added; and where, again, is Uncas). They must connect with Patrick as their only hope of English help; and supposedly, the lucky sighting of those vessels diverts the English force from heading for that “neck of land.” Have they given us means to determine where they make this sighting?
In a coastal landscape filled with “necks of land” in this vicinity, from Willow Point on the Mystic to those of Groton Long Point and Noank far southward, the captains seem hopeful to have their backs to the sea, the sooner the better. Bluff Point, the longest of three peninsulas jutting into Fishers Island Sound, might be ideal for defense and for spotting those boats bound for Pequot River. If they can get there. They’d have to march almost directly south.
If they are heading even vaguely west toward that “neck near Pequot River”—and they are not now moving along a beach, but through green New England forest—how can they possibly see where Patrick might, in fact, reach shore? Do they spare even five men to scout ahead to south and west through a maelstrom of Pequots? We cannot learn from either captain. They maintain cool presentation and take us with them toward “the river” (U84).
We know by now that each captain’s chronicle is shaped to some degree for its audience with a pleasingly-Christian “object lesson,” a harrowing yet God-guided pilgrims’ progress to victory, through doubt, danger, and the candle-power of their American war- experience. When they say they “know not” which way to turn on the land, we can rightly give some benefit of doubt: perhaps they mean they do not know how to reach “the river” safely.
But what do we, as real world historians, gain for it? If they truly knew enough from the start to judge themselves ignorant of the country, would that not be a reason to plan at least one other walking-way out? Why can they not follow the Narragansetts back eastward, into allied country? Somehow as they leave Mystic Hill, that is not a good idea: after all, they don’t do it. 
Should they turn to fight their way back northward, up that narrow approach-corridor along the Mystic, and hedgehog at Porter’s Rocks with their keg of gunpowder, like Romans in Germany until Patrick’s assistance comes? Patrick is looking for Pequot River. He might never find them up there, two miles up the double-embayment of Mystic Head.
Perhaps he’ll come sooner—if the secret plan we never could nail down has specified Mystic as “the fort” after all for Captain Patrick. Perhaps. Wouldn’t a soldier wish now to understand why both captains make pages of pretense about their ignorance and how they discover the target?
Blast—They’ll just have to try to reach Pequot River. “A memorable day.” Yet, still here in Mystic Fort environs, at least they feel close to the Atlantic. At least that would put something definite at their backs, now, and a hope of Patrick.
If they follow their visible plan, they must now turn toward and into the Pequot attacks, “back into” the land and its daunting wooded trails. They shoot and struggle their way off the “back” side of Mystic Hill. When you follow out their course so far, it has been up one side, in-out, and down the other.
We trace and follow their landmarks below. But a realistic account of this day must feel the weight of options that Mason and Underhill feel now; that this westward way takes them straight to Sassacus. There is no hope of retrieving their keg of powder now, however helpful. How many Pequots of 26 villages has Sassacus called to the neighborhood since last week? Do we hear Mason’s soldiers?
Shouts for powder and more than birdshot just to keep the enemy at bay. “And the captains said we’d take both forts!” “Can’t you smell that Mystic water, brother, so near?” “Why are we going this way?” But Mason and Underhill press them all onward, refusing to change their plans in front of the company, and one of Gardener’s “handful” cursing them out (blunt Thomas Stanton). “Prudent chap, old Lion!” “And his seasick doctor, too!”
Wherever they can see very far ahead, they see “nothing” but seven miles of march. If you travel this westerly route today along New London Road and other paths, you lose sight and even sense of where the rivers and the Atlantic have gone as landmarks. Connecticut land descends, levels and runs, slopes up small steep hills and down more, thick with trees, without “English reference.”
And the time? Was it a 2-hour march from 5:30’s sunrise to battle, half an hour to penetrate Mystic Fort, plus the captains’ “hour” to conquer it? By 10 a.m., Mystic is in flames and the English are far outside it. They ”observe” Native fighting, perhaps launch an hour’s sortie to get going somewhere—and now it nears noon as they try for Pequot River. 
If they want to reach “safety” by forcing this westerly way, before them wait 6 or 7 miles of heat with the sun falling into their eyes, a trail without doubt full of ambush. Should they survive sunset, they’ll reach the even more imposing hill of Sassacus’ angry fort, and face combat all night alone unless Patrick shows. Will he answer Sassacus’ challenge for a fight to the death? We will soon meet Patrick and find out.
No guide says a word at the captains’ sides. Where is Uncas? Or Wequash? This place is part of home to every Native with them. Not one points a creditable finger toward tactics or “the way.” Why should they? The captains think they’re in control and each move finds them less so. If the captains still can’t bear to coax, bribe, or press Native guides for the best way out, they haven’t learned much coming in.
When real people claim to have massacred hundreds of other real people, we have to demand exactly how it was done. Yet from here comes a major theme of early American war-history, the incredulous frustration of the Captain Churches. We almost have to conclude that Church’s bumbling brethren study Mason and Underhill as scripture. If these chronicles are not war-histories, subject to a reasonable expectation of practical sense and usefulness, what then are they?
Experience in editing early New England writings teaches that, when a Puritan writer suddenly loses control of that famous “plain style,” and cripples our understanding with suddenly antiquated syntax, etc., there is something uncomfortable at stake for them behind that “lost” clarity. As we move chronologically through Mason’s and Underhill’s experience, we now find an increasingly garbled account from each and between them. Below you’ll see that when Mason claims to be calmly mounting down to his boats from “Pequot Hill,” his sentences reach their peak of syntactic distress.
From here in withdrawal from Mystic Hill, Underhill recalls Pequots “playing upon our flanks” until the men see and reach their boats “at Pequot River” (U84). In the process, he glides past the enemy’s most powerful fortified village without a single notice of his first (and last) encounter with it.
Mason—as if Pequot River is at the bottom of Mystic Hill—blurrily recalls almost no delay of “rejoicing” at “sight of our sails.” Recall Vincent’s line now, if all this seems to be happening far too fast for any possible attempt to reach Pequot River: “The whole work ended ere the sun is an hour high, the Conquerors retreat down toward the pinnace.”
That can only be when “immediately comes up [sic] the enemy from
the other fort”: Weinshauks’ “proper braves,” “three hundred as we conceived” (M31-2).
We implore the reader to look at Mason’s original passage here. It is impossible that he means anything else than that these 300 braves have come “from the other Fort” [Weinshauks], see what has (supposedly) been done atop Mystic Fort Hill, and then “come mounting down”—down the same hill—“upon us, at a full career, as if they would run over us.”
A volley of gunfire makes them “more wary.” And “There is at the foot of the hill a small brook, where we rest and refresh ourselves.” See the map of Mystic—This can only mean Fishtown Brook, which runs north-south today along that same foot of Mystic Fort Hill.
If they follow Fishtown Brook’s swampy course—treated further below, it may at least seem to present some kind of path through these woods—that will lead them slightly westward for a short stretch. But then Fishtown Brook turns south, where it joins with Eccleston Brook, and empties into the Atlantic. It might well have led them to “a certain neck of land.” But there is no mention of their crossing a second brook (Eccleston) or any other westward-indicating stream.
Rather, Mason now simply moves his narrative westwards, with a new paragraph whose text no longer concerns Mystic at all.
“We then march on towards Pequot Harbor; and falling upon several wigwams, burn them….” A few sentences relate that Pequot attacks and harassments dog them all the way. And then, the enemy “gathers together and leaves us.”
Any landmarks? Mason delivers them in his chronicle’s most syntactically-stressed collection of sentences:
“We marching on to the top of an hill adjoining to the harbor, with our colors flying, having left our drum at the place of our rendezvous the night before”; and, this complete passage concludes, “we seeing our vessels there riding at anchor, to our great rejoicing; and come to the waterside, we there sit down in quiet” (emphasis added).
That “hill adjoining to the harbor” would be Weinshauks, stronghold of Sassacus. Approach that hill from the east, and you instantly perceive that no one can possibly see the Pequot River beyond it, unless they climb to the top of the ridge; precisely the site of Sassacus’ fort, marked today with a tall monument-tower at the sight of later Fort Griswold.
How Mason and Underhill can behold their enemy’s “capital,” climb past it, and pass “quietly” down to their boats—without a memorable detail of any kind, with zero comment—is incomprehensible. Unless it did not happen that way at all.
With the land’s help, by walking it diligently looking for where advantage and disadvantage present themselves, we see that Mason’s English very likely give up moving overland from Mystic Fort toward more of the same at Pequot River. We invite you to go and walk this entire journey, try both options—the Mystic Sound water on the near “back side” of Mystic Fort Hill (as we’ll show), or the 7-mile march to Sassacus—and see which option you choose in their situation.
As you and they lose the hill, even in winter, you will not sight your boats in any direction.
To keep plunging toward Pequot, they must scramble downhill under a hail of weapons and, for some reason, strike off westward away from Fishtown Brook, thus to pick up Pequot trail along what is today’s New London Road (Route 1’s continuance).
The first mile or so descends steeply down onto Paquannock Plain. Then, far ahead, there are three sizeable north-south ridges to cross before Pequot River. There is no hope of seeing beyond each one of them to guess how far-off Weinshauks really is, or of signaling toward the ocean along this trail. Half their men are wounded, the other half must carry them, their weaponry, and fight with dwindling ammunition. Try the march, imagine their conditions, and you encounter an obstacle course with Sassacus waiting at the end, between you and any hope of Patrick’s boats.
Let us go back and see what most likely happens at this point at Mystic. Once they “refresh” themselves at the Brook, where can they go?
Four or five of our men are so wounded that they must be carried with the arms of twenty more. We also being faint, are constrained to put four to one man…so that we have not above forty men free [and not above ten, as Underhill sorties here with ‘thirty’]. At length we hire several Indians who ease us of that burden….(M32)
Coming down around the southwestern end of Mystic Fort Hill, the land presents both constraints and an invitation. The constraints are that, first, Fishtown Brook has a swamp of its own along the lower-back side of Mystic Hill (the Hill climbs away at far right in the photo, taken in winter without foliage to show more of the land itself here).
Fishtown Brook Marsh
This compels anyone coming down the back side of Mystic Hill to hold close to the foot of it, seaward (here in the photo, along the right side of the marsh). The land virtually forces you to turn toward the southeast, and toward the beaches that face lower Mystic Sound.
Another constraint is that, as noted, if they follow Fishtown Brook, it will quickly be leading them south, not westward. Come down the hill and you find that in less than 100 yards, Fishtown Brook joins Eccleston Brook near the foot of another hill—which is facing you from the far side of today’s Beebe Pond (see map). This second hill spreads and climbs over 100 feet in elevation.
Beebe Pond just south of Mystic Fort Hill, on the edge of Mystic Harbor
In this photo, you are looking back toward Mystic Hill (beyond right edge): the second hill referred to rises away to the left (in this photo) of the Pond. The clearest, closest and apparently-safest way to put the ocean at their backs, then, lies through this narrow corridor of rocky but dry land—running east-west between the last feet of Mystic Hill and Beebe Pond. The way is reinforced with obstacles by that second (to them, facing) hill, which spreads out south and west of the Pond. Perhaps they do follow the Brook and go around that second hill. Before it takes them to any “neck of land,” it will bring them onto Beebe Cove just south of this place, and the end of the “battle” is the same.
Follow that corridor eastward through, and immediately you reach a gently-sloping beach dead-ahead that faces “Mason’s Island,” lower Mystic Sound and, just beyond, Fishers Island (photos below).
Surrounded, bleeding and short on ordnance, it must be there near the Pond that Mason and Underhill come upon several “wigwams” (likely a fishing-camp near the water), “fall on” and, not surprisingly, burn them with no mention of enemies there. To them this mile-or-so detour to the “water-side” seems twice that (M33). But the “water” cannot be Pequot River. Beebe Pond is a not-unlikely site for a few “wigwams” in those Pequot days.
We will never likely know where and when they sight Patrick’s boats. It can almost-only be from the beach itself (see photos below), where the pressure from Pequot braves is changing from hot pursuit to harassing them on the shore. Given Mason’s wish (at Mystic) to sight boats coming to the rescue, it is possible that the record of his previous order to Patrick, back at Narragansett, conceals his actual order to bring the boats to Mystic. There is one other reason for Patrick to “sight” where Mason’s men really are, treated below. It is not the wind.
For the present, on these grounds, it is here that we locate the end of Mason’s and Underhill’s retreat and their actual meeting-place with Patrick—along this Mystic shore, somewhere between Beebe Pond (or Beebe Cove at the south extreme) and the small peninsula just up-River called Willow Point. Having given up Underhill’s “certain neck of land,” and with a great deal against their heading west, this is the way they most likely had to go in the midst of their retreat, for a fair chance of sighting and signaling Captain Patrick.
However preposterous this may seem, consider first that it is a more parsimonious option than the claimed, scarcely-demonstrated march to Pequot River. We have not one eyewitness to that scenario beyond Mason and Underhill. And the colonies, as we’ll see in detail, offer plenty of reasons to keep one’s mouth shut.
Consider this conclusion about Mason’s retreat beside other elements of the standing tradition, pillars that have withstood time but not its tests.
For example, if the above is correct, suddenly we can understand historian Vaughan: Mason “learned not to count on his Indian allies for much more than scouting duty, and at the same time discovered that this could be a crucial element in forest warfare” (153). This is to notice that Uncas has all but disappeared from both chronicles of Mystic.
Tradition in a nutshell. Native helpers are “there,” yet really do nothing for the English except somehow turn it all to victory. The captains state that victory is impossible without their help, and they scarcely do what their captains claim. If we cannot expect either captain to portray their real deeds or bestow much credit their way, then we do not have realistic accounts of what had to be done to achieve their great victory. Ironically, as with Captains Standish and Endecott, these become the models. Fiction makes up the differences.
How have we learned to think about this event? A strong example of invented colonial closure is Henry Trumbull’s of 1836, treated later herein. DeForest draws upon it (here, below) for his 1851 History of the Indians of Connecticut, long a standard:
At [this] moment a large body of warriors, seemingly 300 in number, is discovered rapidly approaching from the west…coming to revenge the destruction of their kinsmen. Such, however, is the feebleness, the perfect imbecility of bows and arrows when opposed to firearms….The Pequots follow them until they come to the sight of the recent catastrophe, where they halt to gaze at the scene of destruction.
In place of their late fortress with its 70 wigwams, bidding defiance as they thought...they behold only smoking, smoldering ruins, mingled with scorched and mangled corpses. There lies the aged counselor, the wise powwow, and the brave warrior; there lie little children who but the day before played in mimic warfare about the hill; there lie mothers and wives, and young girls just entering upon womanhood: all dead by a horrible and agonizing death, and so disfigured that not even the eye of love can recognize them. The stoicism of the Pequot warriors gives way under so terrible a blow…
“And the English, as they look back”—says DeForest, quietly closing the seam of his insertion—can see “the Pequots stamp and tear their hair in grief.”
Did he walk Mystic Hill and find that this “look back” is as physically unlikely as it gets? He claims to write “like a witness on oath” (143), and his book’s “Testimonial” from 1850’s Connecticut Historical Society vouches: “they have read the manuscript…with as much attention as time and circumstances would allow, and…have not thought it necessary to look at the authorities on which Mr. DeForest relies (iii). 
The Pequots have reason for rage without any of that. They charge, says Mason (M32), “come mounting down the hill upon us in a full career, as if they would run over us….Some of them being shot make the rest more wary. Yet they hold on running to and fro and shooting their arrows at random….
They come “down the hill.” What hill? It is the southwest seaward environs of lower Mystic Fort Hill. “At random”: meaning Mason sees no meaning. Either he does not know or does not want readers to know his situation, what the Pequots intend, or really can do.
Of Siswas, dismembered at Saybrook, we recall, “Some will have their courage thought invincible when all is desperate” (V101).
But the roving, encircling waves of Pequot men with bows and spears, flying hatchets and clubs keep up attack, and herd the English where they want them. The ocean is where the captains’ column is going, with or without boats waiting offshore. We know why they bother at this point to burn “wigwams,” anything “Indian.”
“The enemy [is] still following us in the rear, which is to windward,” Mason says. We are to believe that a May-day breeze reduces bone-breaking missiles to “little purpose.” The same breezes, Underhill’s last pages blame for the “delay” of Patrick’s boats, and then they are the reason he finds them at all.
Yet some of [the Pequot braves] lay in ambush behind rocks and trees, often shooting at us, yet through [God’s, not the Pequots’] mercy touch not one of us; and as we come to any swamp or thicket, we [have to shoot] to clear the passage. Some of [the Pequots] fall with our shot, and…our Indians…then…take so much courage as to fetch their heads….Within two miles of Pequot harbor [sic]…the enemy gather together and leave us….
Across the colonial records, matchlocks, slashing-swords and halberds are less effective than arrows or spears in this environment. Below is a photo of typical New England “thicket” that surrounds the English company, and see what weapon you’d prefer (the photo, taken in winter, does not include green foliage).
Yet, according to the captains, from here they are not at all in retreat: they stroll down to the boats passing the medicine-brandy. Short of powder, a “pretty courageous soldier” with a 3-foot “carbine” steps from the struggling ranks “at a venture,” and draws aim on a Pequot, who is lying flat “upon the top of a rock” (U84). With “so unexpert” ease, the planter “turns him over [dead] with his heels upward.” 
The “Indian allies” “greatly admire” the sport, and hundreds of Pequot braves are so “much daunted” that they dare nothing further. That is one way to understand their slow withdrawal here, and there is at least another. The question asked by Pequots from outside the besieged Saybrook Fort—“Have you fought enough?” (G132)—points more surely than either captains’ remarks to what is in their minds.
By the captains, the Pequots watch some of the English board their boats “in quiet,” and allow others to parade back to Saybrook, as they go freely “punishing” Western Niantic villages under Sassious, and “burning and spoiling the country.”
If they do glimpse their boats as they come down Mystic hill, it’s pure luck through heavy trees on lower trail. Is it perhaps more likely that they find themselves strung along the shore of Mystic Sound, and that in their faces now is Chippachaug, the future “Mason’s Island”?
Gardener first-claimed this island (Prince’s note in Orr, G117: photo below). Did Mason himself ask for it (granted him by Connecticut authorities 14 years later) as part of his rewards for service at Mystic? If so, did he choose it as the place from which to gaze on the place of his deliverance by The Lord? 
Before we see how Captain Patrick enters the story, let’s look at why the fighting does end at just this point.
We reach strange answers with the logic of tradition. “Just as Indians reacted initially to colonial weaponry with panic,” Hirsch says rightly, while going wrong, “so now [at Mystic, the Pequots] panic when confronted for the first time” with a genocidal “colonial strategy” (1203). That is to say: the Pequots supposedly behold the captains’ unprecedented, total-war carnage, as in DeForest’s scene; and we the readers stand for one moment with them, and see it too, feeling “what anybody would feel” at the sight of one’s butchered family. Thus, we can “understand” (that is, accept the idea) that the Pequots “flee in disarray” through the rest of this war. Here, you have seen and will see that they do no such thing.
This “victory,” believed-in but riddled with doubt (below), is the birth of the Puritan colonies’ confidence in themselves as here to stay. Its blood-soaked miracles begin and predict the imposition of a tragically-sublime Calvinist cosmos on Native America’s. (Hence Connecticut’s Birthday).
But “colonial America” then and now is secretly most in love with the tragedy. It “owes” this love as long as it conceives itself as colonial, as owing its existence to violence. For violence is the only component of colonial method that can actually “work,” meaning take away real-world wealth that belongs to other very real peoples. History’s convenient, erzatz sadness over “the story of civilization” is the secret trace of real knowledge—that violence was not needed to get rich here. That is why multicultural Merrymount was burned first, “wrenches” the familiar mind with facts and fascinates still with its success.
In the traditional view, the Pequots, and by extension all Native Americans, lose their wars because of English war—because they don’t understand the new rules their opponents bring. What are those rules? Are they the ones still alive in Early Modern Europe (noted above), a body of post-chivalry traditions working across the lines of national identity, battered as they are by The Thirty Years War?
According to tradition in Hirsch’s words (1204), war evolves, right here at Mystic; from the European-style “oblivious drills” of Hartford and Boston (above) to a method called “sheer wantonness.” DeForest’s Pequot “imbeciles” fail to understand that there are no more rules.
Following the captains’ wishful books rather than their trail at Mystic, history chivvies us to a wistful false assumption. “If the Pequots had come down and massacred the captains and men on that beach, The Pequot War would have ended very differently.”
By this illogic, if the Pequots can just steel themselves to the necessity of sheer wantonness, they can hold onto their land and their universe by a massacre, “man and mother’s son.” Only something that awful, we confess, can awaken the colonies to the story’s other side.
The Pequots thus conceived have two “real world choices” that both come from Europe—disarray, or wanton retribution. And the “sad” part we accept is that neither will save them anyway, as what they truly are.
In their world, war is another way to make a statement to others, not a “tragic” way to find oneself a neurotic mass-murderer, with “innocent” hands full of windfall-wealth.
“We had formerly concluded to destroy them by the sword and save the plunder” (M38). Mason and Underhill, intending massacre, are sucked in, spun around and backed down onto the wrong beach at Pequot mercy, and tradition comes to their rescue. The captains conceal, confuse, bluster and browbeat, present us their model of innocent courageous public service, thrill us with their encounters with death and share their triumph against all odds. We the colonists “bond” by a terrified affirmation that “This is nature and people as they are: Thank God for the fort and a few amazing miracles.”
Accepting this in our terror, we consign ourselves to a colonial fort that we come to call the only “realistic” history. Violence polices the edge of our conception of the possible.
By this illogic, we grow into true Americans as education browbeats us never to consider Native imbeciles—who just weren’t advanced enough to wipe out Progress while they could. 
The land lays bare the Mystic foundation of Indian Doom; and even this late generation’s “multicultural analysis” (Vaughan for example, Hirsch, Cave) contains its true potentials in an old trap of new steel. Hirsch’s and other studies are “aware” of the heart of Native warfare, symbolic ascendancy (1190), in essence “one-upping” the enemy for today. Unless the captains are covering up more killed Englishmen, this is why we find only two of them dead and many “wounded” at Mystic, for all the Pequots’ numbers and assaults. Especially with small hints that the two dead English died from friendly fire, that tally is “about normal” for a Native battle.
A wound from a man who can kill you is a message.
But, for the good colonial reader, the Pequots’ choices remain either a fight to the death or racial/cultural extinction. There are other options, but tradition gives us one self-serving definition of victory. Belief in the success of wantonness comes as we learn these many ways to close our eyes.
We need to right our boat. The reason Native Americans “can’t win” in American tradition seems to be that at Mystic and surely elsewhere, they actually do.
Mason’s and Underhill’s outnumbered English bleed with their backs to the sea on Mystic Sound. Perhaps only now in this corner do they realize the magnitude of what they were dreaming. In their rage they must wish they could burn the ocean.
They’re on the wrong river and near out of powder. Mamoho, “Samm” and the Pequots above them can hear this, a dying-off in the rate of gunfire, and press down for the kill if they choose. If they come, it will be with weapons and numbers to do it. This is the situation behind the captains’ chronicles when yet another element gives the lie.
The boats! It’s Captain Patrick! How in the world—a miracle? No: a pillar of cloud, or rather, smoke. Mystic Fort has been burning, up there behind them on the area’s highest seaside hill, while the Pequots suffer Mason’s men to breathe. That smoke is the only thing to catch a far-off sailor’s eye this afternoon as he hurries for the right rendezvous. And it would not be missed even from as far as Fishers Island.
Lo! comes Captain Daniel Patrick with Mass. Bay’s “forty able soldiers…ready to begin a second attempt” (U84). Whatever Patrick hears and sees from offshore, he yells to Mason that he’s come to “rescue us, supposing we are pursued” (M33). As noted, Boston expects disaster from Mason, if Narragansetts know their war.
“Not any the least sign of such a thing,” Mason shrugs.
Above: view south from Mystic shore, Fishers Island at the horizon. Below: view east from Mystic shore, to Mason’s Island.
Nor does Underhill give Patrick the time of day in his last pages. Both captains grudge Mass. Bay’s delays. “Delays? Why didn’t you wait?” Patrick must wonder. The captains never let us hear him, and paint Irish a coward. He can only be a coward if there is trouble on that beach, such as hundreds of Pequots driving their mauled guests into the waves.
Patrick refuses to come ashore, or to land the boats that Mason “might carry our wounded men aboard” (M33). Underhill mentions a will from them to attack something—he, like Mason, is claiming that they are then beside Weinshauks, on Pequot River—but the captains’ own men, spent and injured, decline. We don’t see “Dr.” Pell even bring the brandy.
“We are very much troubled, but know not how to help ourselves,” Mason says. “It is our own boat.” As with the spectacles we have seen, we need to know why Patrick behaves this way—to know whether Mason’s poise after Mystic is genuine, as a further clue to his Mystic Fort scenario. 
Here at the beach, a comically-irrelevant argument breaks out “to a great height” between Captains Underhill and Patrick, over who owns the boat or has the greatest “interest” in it (M33). And that is all with which we are trusted. The real issue is what those boats will do right now.
Inquiry again wakes up Mason’s “men in a dream.” Patrick and Underhill do not resume a legal quarrel at the river. Mather gives us Patrick’s “contempt or envy, without cause” (140). In fact, the two men disagree on the English situation; and we note such a starkly-opposite view from this first outsider to arrive. Whatever the English options here, title to the boat is the means to claim command of all three. They need a decision fast.
“At length,” Patrick relents: whether or not his men came ready to counterattack, the hundreds of Pequots who held the wooded shore let their statement stand, and fade away. They have mauled most English and, now, let retreat make waste of Patrick’s company’s voyage.
The boats sidle in and the parties decide who sails, who walks. And before these sails are out of sight, Underhill puts Patrick ashore again. Bad blood grows between them after the war, to end in it. 
Mason’s remaining Narragansetts also refuse here to “go home” by land until a Saybrook escort makes it safer (M35); or, as Cave sees it, until Underhill makes a second voyage back for them. Here at Mystic, they can’t fit into the boats full of wounded English. Do they “greatly admire” this planning too?
Mason has already proven the storytelling skill to substitute drama for realism, and his editor Mather shared that tendency and skill. Given cited examples, either and/or both are fully capable of inventing the mixture of confusion and dearth of details that, together, describe Mason’s forces’ (supposed) pass by Weinshauks to Pequot River. Underhill’s concluding pages add nothing except agreement on the claim of their journey’s end.
Seemingly rescued by Patrick’s boats, Mason finds himself “absolutely necessitated to march by land…with our Indians and small numbers” (M34), “it being near twenty miles” to Saybrook or any other quasi-friendly place (actually more, if they still are at Mystic), and through “the enemy’s country.” No account or other record begins to explain why they apparently can bypass Weinshauks without a second major fight or so much as a notice of the place named in their war’s commission.
Patrick’s judgment refuses the risk: he returns ashore “with his men” to add numbers (or at least his cautionary influence) to the marchers. “In truth,” Mason’s men do not “desire or delight in his company,” they “plainly” say. But Patrick and his forty “will and do” march along as the boats sail for Saybrook with the “maimed” (U85). Their now-combined force manages to attack and plunder a West Niantic village in reach along the way back to Saybrook Fort. Gardener’s guns sound salutes.
There are no visible prisoners. We are to assume that allies turn them in (next chapters). There is no plunder to pay expenses of the enterprise, for the English burn and run. No one dares to mount back up to Mystic Village. Captain Patrick, with time and more daring, would have made a priceless observer. But from here on, only Pequots know how many bodies lie at Mystic.
Somehow, fact and even likelihood begin to evaporate. We close this chapter asking how so little substance could prosper as it has.
Captain Patrick’s treatment and his silence begin a new order after Mystic. (Drake deems him “a good soldier,” in Mather 140n167.) From here on, anybody who doubts total victory at Mystic will prove unwise. We saw Winthrop’s sharp answer to questions from a peer, William Bradford. What can “lesser” men expect? A sacred willingness to believe that “we are safe, the Pequots are broken and gone,” will thank the Mystic heroes wherever they go, whatever they allow to become “fact” with tightlipped smiles. Their return with “rights of conquest” to Connecticut land, and with priceless relief and inspiration for Puritan colonists, begins to build Mystic tradition.
There simply is no one with adequate reason to tell the truth. Underhill is on the verge of banishment. Patrick stands to gain nothing by dragging down Mason’s myth. Vincent is soon in Germany, and Gardener knows enough to withhold his remarks for three decades.
Mason? His commission for “offensive war” lays the future of New England across his novice shoulders. He must produce, one way or another. The colonists send him to deal with their terror (fear of reprisal for what they do to Pequots); and now, the best thing helping Mason is the Pequots’ next move, their “flight” and/or “disappearance.” It proves the colonists’ desired results—to them.
Mason has no reason to forfeit the immense rewards of his peers’ need to live credulously. What man of the line will challenge Mason, or miss what happens to Underhill, or complicate even the praise of his planter-peers? With what reward? Scarcely half the English at Mystic actually go inside its fort and are quickly ordered out. They are the only 40 men with eyewitness-grounds for doubt of Mason’s claims. A man who keeps quiet becomes the crème of his crop—even as another year fails to run down the Pequots.
A new generation of “frontier experts” and their believers is born. This is not to deem the majority of colonists corrupt or consciously collusive; but they are for the most part church-fearing stay-at-homes. Mason’s Mystic is (literally) heaven-sent; vetted by the wounds and trauma they see in most of his men, and by the “absence” of and terror in Native people, who likewise may believe reports many times removed. As many may repeat with their own purposes a Native party-line. Less thoughtful desire for Pequot spoil closes more colonial eyes, ears and mouths. Real gain in exchange for mere silence is only in its effects a “conspiracy.” 
The laws of Puritan church and state already punish the quotidian contacts (casual trade, cohabitation) that teach anything “real” about Native Americans. That is Boston’s first court-order of political business in banishing Morton of Merrymount in 1630, and it is why the later Puritan orthodox accuse Captain Church of “lack of vision” (lack of blinding preconceptions). We know too much to imagine Uncas or any other Native questioning “massive” numbers at Mystic. Their plans (below) and their interest now lie the opposite way. Three years later, the colonies still pike the heads of “Indians” in public for any suspicion of a part in Pequot hostilities (Cave 163). Why the victorious English still feel that to be necessary is one major trace of the Mystic falsehood. 
“All we English would be thought and called Christians,” writes Gardener (G146). Who then, as Mason commands more war, spoil and status, will question the story he tells “many times” through the years before writing it up? “What can I say?” you recall him shrugging, “God led his people....”
What Puritan has enough knowledge of the Pequots and most New England Natives—their social and political ways, their kind of war, their idea of victory—to say what the Pequots’ “disappearance” means? Because the colonists don’t know these things, they can only suspect what the Pequots really do after Mystic. Religious, civil education and military training leap into the breach to enforce “facts” that nobody dares to examine.
Mason’s editor, Reverend Increase Mather, is qualified to represent the preachers who, before Mason’s book, spearhead the colonial theocracy’s public “thanksgivings” and imposition of “divine intervention” on behalf of Mason’s Mystic. In publishing Mason’s Brief History, Mather displays the elite’s assistances to “truth” in his choices of epigraphs for Mason’s title- page. The first is from The Bible’s 46th Psalm: “For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but Thy Right Hand, and Thine Arm…because Thou hadst a Favor unto them.”
This is not just Puritan-traditional self-abasement, but a word to the wise who see cracks in Mason’s chronicle. Hence Mather’s second selection (Psalm 18): “This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people…shall praise The Lord.” This means You.
“I have sent you a piece of timber. ..unfit to join to any handsome piece of work,” says Gardener of his pages that follow the others’ by decades. “You [friends] must get somebody to…smooth it, lest the splinters should prick some men’s fingers; for the truth must not be spoken at all times” (G121). “But I think you may let the Governor and Major Mason see it.”
Gardener himself has been a splinter, but by the time he lets his views circulate, the colonies are far from any need for his subtle, seasoned, hence “uninteresting” questions about the Mystic enterprise. By the time of his writing, “little” has been done “to keep the memory of such a special Providence alive,” as Mason agrees (M11); and Uncas is “forgotten, and [Native New Englanders] for our sakes persecuted to this day with fire and sword” (G147). Gardener knows that “Mystic” can offer the future life-saving lessons, but that they’ll be hard to face. He finds that all the colonies really want from Mystic is myth. 
Roger Williams, as ever the complicit heretic, chides in 1670 that:
“However you satisfy yourselves with the Pequot Conquest…upon a due and serious consideration of matters in the sight of God, you will find the Business and Bottom to be, first, a depraved Appetite after the great Vanities, Dreams and Shadows of this vanishing Life, great portions of Land, Land in this wilderness, as if Men were in…Great Necessity and Danger for want of great portions of Land…This…will destroy and Famish….” (WCL 2: 614)
Something seems to be missing amid the captured yet unmeasured plenty. “Philip’s War” explodes five years after Williams’ words. Few have listened to Gardener (1660: G139):
“And thus far of The Pequot War, which was but a comedy in comparison [with] the tragedies which hath been here threatened since, and may yet come, if God do not open the eyes, ears and hearts of some that, I think, are willfully deaf and blind, and think because there is no change that the vision fails; and put the evil-threatened day far off. For they say, We are now twenty to one to what we were then, and none dare meddle with us. Oh! Woe be to the pride and security which hath been the ruin of many nations, as woeful experience has proved.”
From history we derive ideas of the possible. The enforced belief in victory against the Pequots creates a false choice with generations of bloody consequence—the refinement of practice based on experience, or “truth.” This is what Morton predicted from the the Puritans’ Old Testament/”martialist” approach to America, with their laws against all uncontrolled contact between English and Native Americans. This is how our journey begins to “arrive at Mystic”—by understanding how Mason and company “got out” of what really happened there.
To find our way, we need a kind of seasoning very different from “oblivious drill”; a different kind of guard against the clamor of voices as we go.
Listen: “It’s true, it’s true.” That is the urgent burden of the first reports of a Mystic massacre. All New England waits for news of disaster from the Mason/ Underhill action. Mason’s return to Saybrook and Hartford, Underhill’s to Boston, and the spread of their words go on precisely while other Englishmen track large “bodies of Pequots” in their moves toward the Connecticut River (and thence, to villages of shelter, from Quinnipiac to the Mohawks: next chapter). Who are they? Not only Sassacus and “his,” but Sachem Mamoho of Mystic, his family and all those under his protection. Reports of their freedom trouble English victory to its core.
“I find the first news of the cutting [off, or killing] of the whole fort of the Pequots at Mystic to be certain and unquestionably true,” Williams tells Winthrop (June 2: WPF 3: 426). Williams notes that the English “were oppressed with multitudes...and...wanting powder and shot” there, and that the “Indian allies” should be forgiven their non-participations: he reports only hearsay and leaves out the fact that he saw nothing.
Plimoth too waits for word, its soldiers girded for battle if not eager to help the countrymen taking over “their” Connecticut. Hartford and Mass. Bay let their old river-rivals sit. “Underhill and Patrick are [back] at Narragansett, and have been, days,” Winslow complains (FBH 2: 248). “I pray you, therefore, let us hear.”
But when Plimoth hears of Mystic, it is from “Captain Standish his Indian,” Hobbamock. A “loyal” Native, Hobbamock is sent out to gather second-hand word to Nemasket, a Wampanoag village with strong Narragansett ties; and he “saith the defeat of the fort is true” (WPF 3: 428). This is no less second-hand than what all the English get. There is no reason Nemasket’s people should challenge it, and more than one reason not to. The same is true for the planters of Plimoth still agitating for “elbow room” of their own.
In Governor William Bradford’s hands (FBH 2: 250), the word becomes flesh.
“Very few escaped [Mystic]. It was conceived [sic] they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof. But the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.”
This is comforting fiction, a holy wish for things nobody saw. Bradford knows how “wonderful” an “enclosed” group of Native people can be. Nobody investigates because this is what they want, and like a racist joke, it tells us only about the tellers.
Plimoth’s other historian Edward Winslow wants more, right away. Perhaps the rank-and-file is not what it should be.
“Let not this [Mystic], though true, discourage the sending of your 160 men,” he urges Winthrop’s Boston. Indeed, Winslow wants to see Englishmen “take such revenge as may be a service to after times, for any of the barbarians to rise against us.” He wants Native New England punished in advance—terrorized, in a word—and he writes this from within a colony crippled by its own needless massacre of 1623. The Native head(s) and bloodsoaked “flag” that hung above Plimoth’s church have produced their still-anxious “results”; and yet he urges that it’s time not to adjust Christian-colonial methods, but intensify them. 
The English language, symbols, rhetoric and repression of “Mystic” make wishes come true because of the Pequots’ next plans. But, because “belief in Mystic” is itself backwards in relation to what we call “the larger reality” (land and “other” peoples), these wishes come true as nightmare. Winslow’s son Josiah is General of the Army at 1675’s Great Swamp debacle: the fathers’ sins kill Captain Davenport’s son there, and maim Bradford’s son with an inoperable bullet in his body (Mather 108).
Can we hear the Pequots and other Native people who were there express themselves about Mystic? Yes, and what we have is more spontaneous and direct than their enemies’ words. So far, what we have seen in traditional histories is that their family relations matter little as an influence on how these events played out. But it bears repeating that their few words are talking about family, as we’ll see.
Beyond what will prove to be more of their yes-man performances in English company, Native peoples have no fantasy or deliberate misinformation to manage. Pain is what grows “Mystic” in their later ages. In these first utterances they do not “deploy tropes.” They are cries of rage, of challenge and relinquishment of home, of shock, grief and indignation. These are Narragansett men at Mystic as the English cut down every Pequot they can:
“Why should you be so furious?....Matchit [Enough!], Matchit….It is naught [evil], because it is too furious, and slays too many men….” (U81, 84).
Tradition hears what it wants to hear in this, that the Pequots are badly hurt to the number of hundreds and hundreds of souls, “prime men” and families. By now we know that the loss of “only” fifty brave brothers inside the decoy of Mystic will make them cry, with a force like nothing seen or allowed at Puritan funerals.
In the light of the Native American relationships seen and to come further on, we should not ignore one other report from the center of what happened. Plimoth’s Bradford hears something remarkable from Narragansetts. Though never shown fighting inside Mystic’s palisade, they reportedly “see” Pequot people “dancing in the flames” of their burning lodges, and say something about it.
What may separate this from Bradford’s inventions is the meaning that he credits to a Native translation. For as the Narragansetts witness, in some way, the Pequots’ courage at Mystic, they begin to “chant” a “word in their own language” that signifies, “O brave Pequots!” It is a word or song that they use “familiarly among themselves in their own prayers, in songs of triumph after their victories” (FBH 2: 252). 
Siswas in Chapter One showed us the warrior’s death that those Pequots inside Mystic Fort met: one with purpose never guessed. Tradition translates this into our share of Bradford’s ironic delight that, as he thinks, the Narragansetts mock their falling “overlords.” More likely, consistent with all their other provocations, those “unwavering allies” chant to hearten the execution of a brilliant, admirably bold and working strategy. They are watching some cousins die so that most of the others will live.
“Feud” here is not the same as European war—and it remains to witness something crucial to our journey, how the Native New England way of war in Pequot and their kinsmen’s hands can and did stand up to that supposedly all-conquering “sheer wantonness.” The English victors at Mystic do not want to know how Native New England really works, and it will cripple their confidence in gauging their own war’s results.
Does any Native person describe Mystic as a “massacre” beyond the terms above? There is only this sign of burgeoning hearsay, that (as Gardener tells us, G137) “three days after the [Mystic] fight, came Waiandance [a.k.a. Wyandot], next brother to the old Sachem of Long Island...to know if we were angry with all Indians.” Wyandot has “heard” about Mystic, but this proves no numbers of people killed there. Miantonomo, next, turns Mystic into a frightening inspiration of his own, but he will have reasons that do not require gross invention.
More attacks and killings across Connecticut prove too real. The Mystic Pequots’ “fate” of wholesale displacement opens a year of massacre up and down the coast. It is enough to convince those already moving of either migration or local camouflage. They have elders with stories of long migration, stories of good places old and new all around the Pequot Nation.
In New England, “good Pequots” now play dead. In this diaspora, reliable numbers can help understanding of Mystic and this war.
|Chapter 3||Chapter 5|