Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton

The Narragansetts and the Pequods

The settlements of the white men kept on spreading.

Edward Winslow became governor of Plymouth; and, hearing of the beautiful valley of the Connecticut, he sailed around Cape Cod, past Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard and Mount Hope, where Massasoit dwelt, into the broad Connecticut river.

When he saw what a fair land this valley was, with its small streams and beaver villages, its meadows and forests and hillsides, he decided to plant a colony there. So he sent a blockhouse up the river, which soon became the centre of the little trading station of Windsor.

Then Weathersfield, Hartford and Saybrook, were founded on the Connecticut; and then some English crossed the Sound, where the periwinkles grew, and settled the east end of Long Island.

Now, almost all these new towns were built by people, who, for one reason or another, had left the older towns along the coast.

Perhaps the strongest reason of all was religious persecution.

You would hardly expect these Pilgrims and Puritans to persecute, when they themselves had fled from persecutions. But this they did; and among those who were obliged to seek a new home for this cause, was a handsome young minister, named Roger Williams.

He wandered about for weeks, in bitter winter weather, living on acorns and the roots of shrubs.

When at last he reached Mount Hope Neck, Massasoit found him, and led him to his wigwam; and when the warm breath of spring had melted the snows, the chieftain led the exile to a beautiful spot by the side of a dancing brook. "Here is your home," he said, "if you will dwell among my people." The young preacher learned how to plant corn, and had begun to build a house, when news came from Plymouth that he must move farther away.

So, with five faithful friends, he sought a home across the bay among the Narragansetts. As they paddled along the shore, pleasant voices called out, "wha-cheer, netop?"  "How are you, friends?" and they knew that they were welcome.

After greeting the Indians they passed on up the Narragansett river, and near a hill, where a sparkling spring gushed forth, they founded the town of Providence.

In time Newport and Portsmouth were settled in this wonderful region of Narragansett Bay, which afterward became known as Rhode Island.

Now as we have seen, the country along Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod Bay and Buzzard's Bay, was almost free of Indians, on account of the plague; but west of Narragansett Bay there had been no plague, and thousands of Indians roamed over the valleys and hills of that region.

The Narragansetts were the money coiners, who made the wampum beads that passed for money everywhere.

They rounded and polished the periwinkle shells for the white beads, and cut the centre of the round clams for the black, which were worth twice as much as the white. The cutting was done with sharp-pointed stones, and was a long and tedious process. Few of the other Indians -had the patience to make the wampum, and there was no spot in the Land of the Bays where the shell-fish was so abundant as where the Narragansetts dwelt.

So they became very powerful. They paid tribute to the Mohawks, and thus were free from attack; they ransomed their captives, they bought land, and were the most splendid of all the nations in wampum-embroidered garments.

They were very ambitious, and always wishing for more land across the bay where Massasoit dwelt. Massasoit was too feeble to defend his land after the plague had carried away so many of his warriors, and was just about to be overcome, when the white men of Plymouth arrived to protect him. Canonicus, the chief of the Narragansetts, sent the rattlesnake skin, bound about a bundle of arrows, as a declaration of war to these white men, but, as we know, the stuffing of powder and bullets frightened him into keeping the peace.

West of the Narragansetts were the Pequods. They were the most warlike of all the nations of New England, and were noted for their cruelty to captives.

Their sachem was Bassacus, and twenty-six chiefs paid him tribute. West of the Pequods, beyond the Connecticut river, were the Mohegans, whose sachem was Uncas, and just at this time the two nations were at war with each other.

So you can see the English, who had built along the Connecticut river, were between the Pequods on the east and the Mohegans on the west.

The Pequods had recently been making war upon the Narragansetts east of them, because Canonicus was very old, and Miantonomo, his nephew, who would succeed him as chief, was very young.

So Miantonomo and his young wife had made the visit to Governor Winthrop in Boston, to seek alliance in case of another attack from his foes.

The alliance of the Puritans with the Narragansetts so enraged the Pequods that they attacked a small English vessel from Massachusetts and killed all the crew.

Sassacus straightway sent messengers to Boston to plead that the outrage was committed in self-defense, and asked an alliance with the English. He gave much wampum as a gift, and promised many beaver and otter skins as a tribute.

So peace was made, and Governor Winthrop induced the Pequods and the Narragansetts to bury their tomahawks. But now that he no longer feared his old enemies, Sassacus permitted many outrages against English traders. At last he went with his warriors to the Narragansetts, to induce them to join him in exterminating the white men from Connecticut. "These strangers," he said, "are robbing us of our hunting-grounds. They will destroy us one by one. Let us be friends, and unite against them. Let us fire upon them from ambush. Let us lay waste their harvests, and starve those whom we do not slay with our knives."

The colonies realized how desperate the situation would be, if these two powerful nations united against them.

There was only one man who could prevent this alliance, and that was Roger Williams. So messengers were sent to implore him to visit Canonicus, and persuade him to keep his pledges with the English. The young exile forgot his personal injuries, and set out on the dangerous journey. He crossed over a rough sea, and traveled many miles through forests alive with foes. When, at last he reached the village of the Narragansetts, he found the Pequods still urging war.

He spoke to the aged Canonicus in his own language, and urged him to be true to his treaty with the white men. He knew much of the past history of the two tribes, and for three days argued the case like a lawyer before his jury.

Roger Williams


He pictured the wrongs that the Pequods had brought upon the Narragansetts, and so inflamed the savage passions for revenge, that in the end Canonicus handed back the war belt. Sassacus left the wigwam in a towering rage, vowing destruction on the white men.

Soon after this, the Narragansetts entered into a league with the Puritans in the meeting-house in Boston, before all the magistrates and elders. It was the signal of their own doom. If they had united with the Pequods against the white men, they might have brought five thousand warriors into the field, and driven the white men forever from their valley.

But the Pequods now stood alone to fight their last battle. Their pipe of peace had been smoked for the last time in the Valley of the Connecticut.