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The massacre at Mystic is one of the most important events in American History. It had set a new pattern in European/Native American relations in New England. After May 26, 1637, the colonists and native people would never become friends again. This day initiated the beginning of the constant feud between them.
Massacre at Mystic: New England, May 26, 1637
But in the beginning, everything was different. English came to a new land to start a new life there as well as to establish some new colonies. They were not ready to share this land with anybody. They regarded a supposition of any other inhabitants there as unthinkable. The Indians were a total surprise to Europeans. The more surprising was their way of life in the eyes of the colonists, who were mainly English. They couldn’t understand that their native perception of the world was fundamentally different than theirs. They had different views of spirituality, nature, appearance, property, division of labor, principles of warfare, and social relationships. The English were puritans so God was their power and anyone who sought power through access to the spiritual world was communing with the devil. From that point of view, the English couldn’t accept also the appearance of native people. Though all of them were interested in Indian wampums, they were indignant at the Indian’s lack of dress. Puritans as they were, were shocked by the relationships between men and women. Surprisingly for them, women were treated as equals, they were able to speak and earn money English were horrified at comparing men’s and women’s parts in getting food. They couldn’t imagine how ruthless Indian men must be to make their women work so hard. These two cultures were so differently organized that they had to cause some conflicts.
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The Puritans and the Pequot
So it did. As the puritans and natives grew increasingly distrustful of each other, the former set up local militias to defend them against the latter. These militias were commanded by Captain John Underhill who thought that the best form of defense is certainly offense. His first step was to defend English from all threats the first of which was the Pequot. The Pequot war was the result of many conflicts between the colonists and the Indians. These were disputes over property, hunting, and dishonest traders. Besides, the English made natives pay “tributes” by holding their children as hostages. In such a contingency one would expect some hostility between them.
This hostility became one of the specific conditions that provoked the massacre afterward. The other reasons are well-known – religious bigotry and diseases. Unfortunately, European colonists had little respect for cultural diversity and that they had a God-given right to settle in this New World. They believed that their way of believing is the only correct way and that the Indians simply haven’t been taught the right way. Still English felt superior to all Indians even those who became Christian. The last reason – diseases – played an important role in the relationships between colonists and the natives as well. Both sides considered it to be providential. Whereas the colonists saw in this sign of God, that this land belongs to them, the Indians considered diseases as a terrible sign of fate. After the epidemics, the Pequot population decreased very much. That’s why their rival tribes – Narragansetts, and Mohegans laid claim to become a leader instead of Pequots.
Still, the first claimants to the land were the English colonists. Pequots were proclaimed an aggressor since they were the main obstacle to European expansion. Pequot’s power was the exact reason why the attack was planned to be a massacre: English intended to make an example of the Pequots. The soldiers were told to kill everybody and when they hesitated Captain Underhill said that according to the Bible women and children must perish with their menfolks. People were blinded by religious bigotry at that time so they obeyed. Too many children and women were killed because of strong European convictions that their interests were God’s interests. This bigotry created a whole new moral underpinning for conquest. The terror that took its place at Mystic was God’s holy terror and the weapon that took so many lives was God’s weapon. It was something like a holy crusade against non-Christians. No wonder then that by drawing the line between Christian and non-Christians Puritans were always justifying bloodshed in the name of God.
But on the other side, there were the native tribes Narragansetts and Mohegans who took the field. These tribes wanted to grab power. Mohegans wanted to take vengeance on Pequots for their past. Six years before the Mystic attack the Pequots became divided into pro-English and pro-Dutch factions. Each faction wanted its leader to become the grand sachem. But it was the pro-Dutch faction leader who won this competition. After that pro-English part of the Pequot tribe fled to form their tribe, the Mohegan. Thus the Mohegan and the Pequots became enemies.
Narragansett’s motivation is worth mentioning either. They saw clearly that if they won the war they would become the strongest tribe in North America. Still, they had not any idea what they were getting into. Traditional native warfare was very different from the one in the Pequot war. The purpose of the Indian wars was not to kill their enemies but to capture them. They could swell the size of the tribe and become more powerful that way. A few warriors would be killed, but women and children were by all means protected as a prize. That’s why before the attack on the Pequots, the leader of the Narragansett forces had told the English that he would like for them to spare the women and children as Indian people usually did for their warfare. The English agreed to this thing for they wouldn’t have gotten the participation of the Narragansett and Mohegan. They just deceived the tribes by not telling them about their true intentions. Even during the massacre, they didn’t let their allying tribes be inside the fort and finish the runaways. Narragansetts and Mohegan didn’t know that they were wiping out the whole tribe as old as proud as Europeans.
After the Mystic Massacre relationship between Europeans and Indians changed forever. This day marks the beginning of the English promotion of the mass slaughter of Native Americans to clear them from the land. Since that day they would never be allies anymore. Overnight the balance of power had shifted from the natives to the English colonies. English finally got rid of the last obstacle to their further expansion and natives had no idea what the Mystic Massacre was about. Indians didn’t have an idea of property and seizing territory, so they were just shocked by a sudden colonist’s savagery, guessing what could motivate their attackers. The destruction of Pequots made a deep impression on the other tribes. It sent a message to all the natives that life would never be the same again. Mystic Massacre was the first time English people engaged in wholesale slaughter. That had the most profound impact on the development of America. From that day on Europeans realized that the continent was theirs for the taking.
The Tragedy of Two Different Cultures
This story illustrates the coexisting of two different cultures. It could be very productive if both of them could learn something new from each other. As said by Tall Oak, Absentee Mashantucket Pequot, and Wampanoag: “The first encounter between Europeans and Indians was positive, because our people followed the way of life that was based on sharing”. Europeans could have been taught some principles of natural society; they could change their attitude towards women, for example. But they believed that they were the Indians who haven’t been taught the right way. The Europeans didn’t want to share they wanted to come and take everything they wanted. And if they didn’t understand something they believed that that is wrong. Unfortunately, they showed a mean spirit: being dishonest traders, soldiers, and insatiable colonists. They judged people as much by what they believed as by how they looked and that was their mistake. The religious aspect of colonization in New England remains difficult for many Europeans to understand. It can be understood only in terms of religious wars in early modern Europe. For Europeans goal was the purification of the Christian Church they got the nickname Puritans. It’s worth admitting then that religious bigotry and sacred violence could never be the right guideline for making good choices towards others.
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