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Pequot people

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The Pequot War

Pequot people (pronounced /ˈpˌkwɒt/) are a tribe of Native Americans who inhabited much of what is now Connecticut in the 17th century. They were of the Algonquian language family, originally named Mohegans. They adopted the name Pequot after conquering most of Connecticut, although the Mohegan tribe also continued in the area now known as Norwich, Connecticut. The Pequot War and Mystic massacre reduced the Pequot's presence in southern New England.


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The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut are a federally recognized tribe as of 1983, the descendants of the historic Pequots. The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation (EPTN) gained federal recognition in June 2002, but the State of Connecticut challenged and lobbied against their status. The Department of the Interior revoked the recognition in 2005, as they also did that year in the case of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Connecticut. These were the first instances since the 1970s that the BIA had terminated federal recognition.

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Etymology of "Pequot"

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Pequot is an Algonquian word, the meaning of which is in dispute among language specialists. Considerable scholarship pertaining to the Pequot claims that the name came from Pequttôog, meaning "the destroyers" or "the men of the swamp". This relies on speculations of an early twentieth century authority on Algonquian languages. However, Frank Speck had doubts, a leading early 20th century specialist of Pequot-Mohegan. He believed that another term meaning "the shallowness of a body of water" seemed much more plausible, given their territory along the coast of Long Island Sound.

Pequot people New England Photos Mashantucket Pequot Museum at Foxwoods

Historians have debated whether the Pequot migrated about 1500 from the upper Hudson River Valley toward what is now central and eastern Connecticut. The theory of Pequot migration to the Connecticut River Valley can be traced to Rev. William Hubbard who claimed in 1677 that the Pequot had invaded the region sometime before the establishment of Plymouth Colony, rather than originating in the region. In the aftermath of King Philip's War, Hubbard detailed in his Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England the ferocity with which some of New England's Native peoples responded to the English. Hubbard described the Pequot as "foreigners" to the region; not invaders from another shore, but "from the interior of the continent" who "by force seized upon one of the goodliest places near the sea, and became a Terror to all their Neighbors."

Much of the archaeological, linguistic, and documentary evidence now available demonstrates that the Pequot were not invaders to the Connecticut River Valley but were indigenous for thousands of years. By the time of the founding of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, the Pequot had already attained a position of political, military, and economic dominance in what is now central and eastern Connecticut. They occupied the coastal area between the Niantic tribe of the Niantic River of present-day Connecticut and the Wecapaug River; and the Narragansett in what is now western Rhode Island. The Pequot numbered some 16,000 persons in the most densely inhabited portion of southern New England.

The smallpox epidemic of 1616-19 killed many of the Native inhabitants of the eastern coast of present-day New England, but it failed to reach the Pequot, Niantic, and Narragansett tribes. In 1633, the Dutch established a trading post called the House of Good Hope at present-day Hartford. The Dutch seized and executed the principal Pequot sachem Tatobem because of a violation of an agreement. After the Pequot paid the Dutch a large ransom, they returned Tatobem's body. His successor was Sassacus.

In 1633, an epidemic devastated all of the region's Native population. Historians estimate that the Pequot suffered the loss of 80% of their population. At the outbreak of the Pequot War, Pequot survivors may have numbered only about 3,000.

Pequot War

In 1636, long-standing tensions between the Puritan English of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay colonies and the Pequot escalated into open warfare. There was much confusion on both sides and, when the tribe killed an Englishman thinking he was Dutch, war was soon upon them. The Mohegan and the Narragansett sided with the English. Perhaps 1,500 Pequot were killed in battles or hunted down. Others were captured and distributed as slaves or household servants. A few escaped to be absorbed by the Mohawk or the Niantic on Long Island. Eventually, some returned to their traditional lands, where family groups of "friendly" Pequots had stayed. Of those enslaved, most were awarded to the allied tribes, but many were also sold as slaves in Bermuda. The Mohegan in particular treated their Pequot captives so severely that colonial officials of Connecticut Colony eventually removed them.

Connecticut established two reservations for the Pequot in 1683: the Eastern Pequot Reservation at North Stonington, Connecticut and the Western Pequot, or Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Ledyard. While the land bases of the two tribes have been much reduced, the two groups have held on to their land and maintained community continuity.

Modern history

By the 1910 census, the Pequot population was enumerated at a low of 66. In terms of population, the Pequot reached their nadir several decades later.

Pequot numbers grew appreciably—the Mashantucket Pequot especially—during the 1970s and 1980s. The tribal chairman Richard A. Hayward encouraged the Pequot to return to their tribal homeland. He worked for Federal recognition and sound economic development.

Land claims

In 1976, with the assistance of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the Indian Rights Association, the Pequot filed suit against neighboring landowners to recover land which had been illegally sold in 1856 by the State of Connecticut. After seven years, the Pequot and landowners reached a settlement. The former landowners agreed that the 1856 sale was illegal and joined the Pequot in seeking the Connecticut state government's support for resolution.

Federal recognition

The Connecticut Legislature responded by unanimously passing legislation to petition the federal government to grant tribal recognition to the Mashantucket Pequot. The "Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act" was enacted by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan on Oct. 18, 1983. This settlement granted the Mashantucket Pequot federal recognition, enabling them to repurchase the land covered in the Settlement Act, and place it in trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for reservation use.

Mashantucket Pequot Nation

The Mashantucket Pequot Nation land base totals 1,250 acres (5.1 km2). The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has engaged in several entrepreneurial enterprises to become economically viable. These included selling fire wood, harvesting maple syrup, and growing garden vegetables. The Mashantucket Pequot have also raised swine, and opened a hydroponic greenhouse. They also purchased and operated a restaurant, and established a sand and gravel business.

In 1986, they opened a bingo operation, followed in 1992 by the establishment of the first phase of Foxwoods Resort Casino. Revenues from the casino have enabled development and construction of a cultural museum. The ceremonial groundbreaking for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center took place on October 20, 1993. This date marked the 10th anniversary of federal recognition of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation.

The new facility, opened on August 11, 1998, is located on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, where many members of the nation continue to live. It is one of the oldest, continuously occupied Indian reservations in North America.

Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation

The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation was recognized in 2002. Since the 1930s, both Pequot tribes had serious tension over racial issues, with some people claiming that darker-skinned descendants should not be considered fully Pequot. Two groups of Eastern Pequot filed petitions for recognition with the BIA; they agreed to unite to achieve recognition. The state immediately challenged the decision and, in 2005, the Department of the Interior revoked recognition for the EPTN. That same year, it revoked recognition for the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, who had gained sovereignty only in 2004. Worried that the newly recognized tribes would establish gaming casinos, the Connecticut state government and Congressional delegation, as well as anti-gaming interests, opposed the BIA's recognition.


The 1130-member Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation has a reservation called "Lantern Hill." The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation is recognized by the state of Connecticut.

The 800+ Mashantucket Pequot or Western Pequot gained federal recognition in 1983 and have a reservation in Ledyard.

Nearly all individuals who are identified as Pequot live in the two above-named communities. They are multi-racial but identify as Pequot. No members of the tribe have solely full-blooded Pequot ancestry.


Historically, the Pequot spoke a dialect of the Mohegan-Pequot language, an Eastern Algonquian language. After the Treaty of Hartford concluded the Pequot War in 1637, the colonists made speaking the language a capital offense. Within a generation or so, it became largely extinct. The Pequot from both the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and Mashantucket Pequot speak English as their primary language.

In the 21st century, the Mashantucket Pequot are undertaking aggressive efforts to revive the language through careful analysis of historical documents containing Pequot words and comparison with extant closely related languages. So far they have reclaimed over 1,000 words, though that is a small fraction of what would be necessary for a functional language. The Mashantucket Pequot have begun offering language classes with the help of the Mashpee Wampanoag. The latter recently initiated the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. The southern New England Native communities who are participants in the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project are Mashpee Wampanoag, Aquinnah Wampanoag, Herring Pond Wampanoag, and most recently, Mashantucket Pequot.

Famous Pequot

  • Willy DeVille (1950–2009), rock and roll guitarist, songwriter and singer, Pequot through maternal grandmother's lineage, explored his Native American roots in his post-2000 works
  • References

    Pequot people Wikipedia