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Volume 1: The First Three Generations of Aaron Stark's Descendants in New England
Chapter 1: Historical Introduction


Part 1: The First Generation in New England

Page 7



Chapter 1

 Historical Introduction

Copyright, 1922; by Charles R. Stark


Editor’s Comment: In 1922, Charles R. Stark self-published a book entitled Groton, Conn. 1705-1905. Palmer Press of Stonington, Connecticut printed 300 copies. The following quoted material comes from Chapter 1, pages 1 through 10. This was transcribed by Clovis LaFleur in September of 2006 from Copy #145. Footnotes in the following are those provided by Mr. Stark. (Copy of the book was contributed by Floyd Boyett. Library Location: Mystic Seaport Museum, G. W. Blunt White Library)

When the crowned heads of Europe in conjunction with the Pope of Rome proceeded to parcel out the New World among its discoverers, New England was allotted to Great Britain, by virtue of having first been seen by Sebastian Cabot in 1498. The account of his voyage is quite vague, though in the year above mentioned he is believed to have sailed from Labrador to Cape Hatteras.

His claim to the discovery was disputed, however, by France, who laid claim to the country by virtue of its discovery by Verazzano in 1524.[1] Verazzano was a Florentine navigator, who made several voyages to America in the employ of the King of France, and on one of these voyages, in 1524, he sailed from the Bay of New York, skirting Long Island, passing Block Island and entering Narragansett Bay. It is probable that on one or the other of these voyages Europeans for the first time looked upon the fair shores of Groton. Adrian Block, the Dutch navigator, explored the coast of Connecticut in 1614, and has left a map showing his explorations, which is to this day a fair outline of its coast.

The natural appearance of the land was not greatly different from what it is today. The same hills were crowned with forests, the same streams found their way to the sea through the same valleys, and the same mighty granite ledges gave a rock-ribbed appearance to the land, and protruded into the sea itself. Here and there could be found a clearing, made perhaps by some fierce forest fire, which had swept unchecked through the trees, leaving a place where the rude savage planted his wigwam and cultivated his maize. The low lands along the river banks were also probably bare of trees, and abounded with sea fowl, which, with fist and clams, comprised no small part of the diet of the natives. It is not known what tribe inhabited this region when it was first discovered, but at the time of the English occupation the Pequots held sway.

They were a fierce and warlike race, an offshoot from the Mohegans, that not long before had fought their way from beyond the Hudson, across the southern part of the present State of Massachusetts, until striking the fertile valley of the Connecticut they turned southward towards the coast, thrusting themselves like a wedge through the tribe of Niantics, and established their headquarters in what is now the town of Groton. The Niantics were divided, a part being beyond the Pawcatuck in Rhode Island, and a part beyond the Niantic in Connecticut.

The Dutch made the first settlement in Connecticut, at the mouth of the river of that name, in 1632. The English at Boston and Plymouth had been invited the previous year to come and settle on the Connecticut river, so it is quite probable that the Dutch came by invitation of the natives. In June 1633 Governor Van Twiller of New Netherlands sent a party up the river as far as the site of the present city of Hartford, where they purchased land of Wapyquart, or Wapigwooit, the grand sachem of the Pequots, styled in the treaty Chief of Sicknames (Mystic) River, and owner of the Connecticut. It was not long before the Pequots quarreled with the Dutch, and the latter killed Wapyquart or Wapigwooit, and his son Sassacus became a sachem in his stead. In October 1633 William Holmes of Plymouth sailed up the Connecticut, and defying the Dutch at Hartford sailed past their fort and landing at Windsor erected a trading house, thus beginning the first English settlement in Connecticut. The land on which this trading house was erected had been purchased of the sachems of the River Indians, whom the English considered its rightful owners, and “thus, on the very first settlement of English in Connecticut, they offered a distinct, though perhaps an unintentional insult and injury to the most powerful tribe in the country. The Pequots had conquered this portion of the Connecticut valley, and had obliged its original owners to submit to their authority.

“Their claim had been acknowledged by the Dutch: it was confirmed by the immemorial Indian custom: and it was at least as just as that by which some civilized and christianized nations hold large portions of the globe.”[2]



“A Half Century of Conflict,” Parkman, pp. 47 and 49. {Francis Parkman [1823-1893]. Published 1897.}


“History of the Indians of Connecticut, “ DeForest, p. 76. {John W. DeForest, History of the Indians of Connecticut. Brighton,Michigan: Native American Book Publishers, 1850.




Page 8


The Pequots were too busy with their war with the Dutch to make open protest to this slight, though it must have rankled within, and we cannot tell how much it may have had to do with the final outbreak. During the summer of 1633 had occurred the murder of Captains Stone and Norton by the Pequots and their tributaries the Western Niantics. These men were English traders from Virginia, who had entered the Connecticut river for the purpose of trading with the Indians. A number of the Pequots were allowed on board the vessel and were hospitably entertained. While the crew were asleep they were cruelly murdered and the vessel was plundered. When called to account for the crime by the English, Sassacus pleaded that he thought the men were Dutch and made other excuses which were not acceptable.

The Pequots proved themselves to be skillful diplomats, and for more than two years succeeded in deferring settlement. They sent an embassy to Boston, seeking to convince the authorities that the murdered men were the aggressors and justifying the Indians in their action, winding up with the proffer of a present of “otter-skin coasts and beaver and skeins if Wampum”¾ their olive branch of peace. The English were suspicious of their motives, and while accepting the present did not cease their demands for the surrender of the murderers. In the fall of 1635, John Winthrop, Jr., acting under a grant from Lord Say and Sele and Lord Brook and other patentees of Connecticut, with a party of twenty men from Boston, effected a settlement at Saybrook, thus securing control of the Connecticut River and its adjacent territory. They were just in time to forestall similar action on the part of the Dutch, who had designs on the fertile valley of the Connecticut. Lion Gardiner was the engineer in command under Winthrop, and he spent the winter of 1635-6 in the erection of a fort and of houses for the colonists. He seemed to take a more favorable view of the Indian character and course of action than did the people of Massachusetts Bay, and cultivated friendly relations with them. Miss Caulkins writes thus: Is not to be assumed, however, that the friendship of the Pequots was founded on any higher principle than greediness of gain or desire of obtaining assistance against the Narragansetts. The government of Massachusetts distrusted all their pretensions, and while Winthrop was still at Saybrook sent instructions to him to demand of the Pequots ‘a solemn meeting for conferences’ in which he was to lay before them all the charges that had been brought against them; and if they could not clear themselves, or refused reparation, the present which they sent to Boston (and which was now forwarded to Saybrook) was to be returned to them, and a protest equivalent to a declaration of war was to be proclaimed in their hearing. These instructions were dated at Boston, July 4, 1636, and together with the present were brought to Saybrook by Mr. Fenwick and Mr. Hugh Peters, with whom came Thomas Stanton to act as interpreter. Lieut. Gardiner notes the arrival of Mr. Oldham at the same time, in a pinnace, on a trading voyage. The others came by land. The Pequot sachem was sent for and the present was returned. Lieut. Gardiner, who foresaw that a destructive was would be the consequence, made use of both argument and entreaty to prevent it, but in vain.”[3]

Just at this time occurred the murder of John Oldham at or near Block Island. He was an English trader of some unsavory notoriety at home, and engaged in trade with the Indians. The true cause of his murder is unknown, but it is thought to have been jealousy of his connections with the Pequots. The Narragansetts and Niantics were suspected of duplicity in this affair, and Canonicus was called to Boston to explain his connection with it, but succeeded in proving his innocence to the satisfaction of the authorities, and fastened the responsibility upon the Indians of Block Island. The action of the colonists was sharp and decisive. We again quote from Miss Caulkins:[4]

“The murder of Mr. Oldham caused great excitement. Not only all the Indians of Block Island, but many of the Niantic and Narragansett sachems, were accused either of being accessory to the crime, or of protecting the perpetrators. An expedition was forthwith fitted out from Boston for the purpose of ‘doing justice on the Indians’ for this and other acts of hostility and barbarism. Ninety men were raised and distributed to four officers, of whom Capt. John Underhill, who wrote an account of the expedition, was one. The superior command was given to Capt. John Endicott. His orders were stern and vindictive: ‘To put to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods, to demand the murderers of Capt. Stone and other English, and one thousand of Wampum for damages, etc., and some of their children for hostages, which if they should refuse they were to obtain by force.’ (Winthrop’s Journal, Vol. 1. P. 192). These orders were executed more mercifully than they were conceived. Endicott’s troops did little more than alarm and terrify the natives by sudden invasions, threats, skirmishing and a wanton destruction of their few goods and homely habitations. At Block Island they burned two villages containing about sixty wigwams, with all their mats and corn, and destroyed seven canoes. Capt. Underhill says that they also ’slew some four Indians and maimed others.’ From thence they proceeded to Saybrook to refresh themselves, and obtaining from Lieut. Gardiner a reinforcement of twenty men in two shallops, they sailed for Pequot Harbor, in order to demand satisfaction for the murder of Captains Stone and Norton in 1633.….. The next morning the English vessels proceeded into the harbor. From the east side, now Groton, the natives flocked to the shore to meet the strange armament, apparently unconscious of offence. And now a canoe puts off from the land with an ambassador: ’A grave senior, a man of good understanding, portly carriage, grave and majestically in his expressions:’ who demands of the English why they come among them? The latter reply:

“’The Governors of the Bay sent us to demand the heads of those persons that have slain Capt. Norton and Capt. Stone, and the rest of their company; it is not the custom of the English to suffer murderers to live.’"



“History of New London,” page 28. {Caulkins, Frances Manwaring, History of New London, Connecticut. From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612 to 1860. Published in 1895.}


Ibid, page 29.




Page 9


“The discreet ambassador, instead of an immediate answer to this demand, endeavored to palliate the charge. Capt. Stone, he said, had beguiled their sachem to come on board his vessel, and then slew him; whereupon the sachem’s son slew Capt. Stone, and an affray succeeding , the English set fire to the power, blew up the vessel and destroyed themselves. Moreover, he said, they had taken them for Dutchmen; the Indians were friendly to the English, but not to the Dutch, yet they were not able always to distinguish between them. These excuses were not satisfactory: the English captain repeats his demand: ’We must have the heads of these men who have slain ours, or else we will fight. We would speak with your sachem.’ ’But our sachem is absent,’ they reply: ’Sassacus is gone to Long Island.’ ’Then,’ said the commander, ’go and tell the other sachem. Bring him to us that we may speak with him, or else we will beat up the drum, and march through the country and spoil your corn.’ Hereupon the messenger takes leave, promising to find the sachem: his canoe returns swiftly to the shore and the English speedily follow. ’Our men landed with much danger, if the Indians had made use of their advantage, for all the shore was high with tagged rocks.’ But they met with no opposition, and having made good their landing, the Indian ambassador entreated them to go no further, but remain on the shore, till he could return with an answer to his demands. But the English, imagining there was craft in this proposal, refused. We were ’not willing to be at their direction,’ says Underhill, but ’having set our men in battalia, marched up the ascent.’ From the data here given, it may be conclusively inferred that they landed opposite the present town of New London and marched up some part of that fair highland ridge which now hallowed with the ruins of Fort Griswold and over shadowed by the Groton Monument.

“To the summit of this hill, then in a wild and unobstructed condition, the English troops toiled and clambered, still maintaining their martial array. At length they reach a level, where a wide region of hill and dale, dotted with the wigwams and corn-fields of the natives, spreads before them. And here a messenger appears, entreating them to stop, for the sachem is found and will soon come before them. They halt, and the wondering natives come flocking about them unarmed. In a short time some three hundred had assembled, and four hours were spent in parley. Kutshamkin, a Massachusetts sachem, who had accompanied the English, acted as interpreter, passing to and fro between the parties, with demands from one and excuses from the other, which indicate a reluctance on the part of Endicott to come to extremities, and great timidity and distrust on the side on the Indians. The object of the latter was evidently to gain time for the removal of their women and children, and the concealment of their choicest goods, which having been in great part effected, the warriors also began to withdraw. At this point the English Commander hastily put an end to the conference, bade them take care of themselves, for they had dared the English to come and fight with them, and now they had come for that purpose. Upon this the drums beat for battle, and the Indians fled with rapidity, shooting their harmless arrows from behind the screen of rocks and thickets. The troops marched after them, entered their town and burnt all their wigwams and mats. Underhill says, ’We suddenly set upon our march, and gave fire to as many as we could come near, firing their wigwams, spoiling their corn, and many other necessaries that they had buried in the ground we raked up, which the soldiers had for booty. Thus we spent the day burning and spoiling the country. Towards night embarked our selves.’”

This expedition resulted only in confirming the enmity of the Pequots. Lion Gardiner had said to Endicott at Saybrook, “You have come to raise a nest of wasps about our ears and then you will flee away,” and vainly endeavored to dissuade him from carrying out his object. Open warfare was carried on during the winter of 1636-7. Sassacus was the possessor of that foresight which is one of the marks of greatness, and he semms to have realized the danger confronting the red man¾ to have seen the impossibility of the two forms of civilization dwelling side by side. Waiving his pride and haughty arrogance he sent messengers to the Narragansetts trying to engage them in al alliance against the English. The dangers confronting the Indians were portrayed in glowing colors: the difficulties of war with the colonists were not overlooked but the policy ever afterwards pursued by the Indians was out lined, viz., to torture and kill individuals, outrage women and children, rob and destroy houses, crops and cattle, and soto make it impossible for the white men to live in the country, in hope that they would be forced to return to the land from whence they had come. What the outcome of these negotiations might have been but for the intervention of one man is problematical. Hearing of the efforts of the Pequots to enlist the Narragansetts the authorities at Boston begged the services of Roger Williams. He tells of his efforts in a letter to Major Mason, June 22, 1670.[5] “When the next year after my banishment the Lord drew the bow of the Pequod war aginst the country, in which, Sir, the Lord made yourself, with others, a blessed instrument of peace to all New England, I had my share of service to the whole land, in that Pequod business, inferior to very few that acted, for



Upon letters received from the Governor and Council at Boston, requesting me to use my utmost and speediest endeavor to break and hinder the league labored for by the Pequods against the Mohegans and Pequods against the English (excusing the not sending of company and supplies by the haste of the business) the Lord helped me immediately to put my life into my hand, and, scarce acquainting my wife, to ship myself, all alone, in a poor canoe, and to cut through a stormy wind, with great seas, every minute in hazard of life, to the Sachem’s house.


Three days and nights my business forced me to lodge and mix with the Pequod ambassadors, whose hands and arms, methought, ‘wreaked’ with the blood of my countrymen, murdered and massacred by them on Connecticut River, and from whom I could not but nightly look for their bloody knives at my throat also.


When god so wondrously preserved me, and helped me to break to pieces the Pequods’ negotiation and design, and to make and promote and finish, by many travels and charges the English league with the Narragansetts, and Mohegans against the Pequods, I gladly entertained at my house in Providence, the General Stoughton and his officers, and used my utmost care that all the officers and soldiers should be well accommodated with us,” etc.


The scale, for a time evenly balanced, was finally turned in favor of the English and a treaty was entered into, which was never broken during the lifetime of Canonicus. The disappointed and enraged Pequots at once commenced war upon the English and during the fall of 1636 several skirmishes and ambuscades around Saybrook resulted in loss of life. In April 1637 the Pequots made a raid upon Wethersfield, killing eight men and women, carrying away two girls as captives, besides destroying much property. These affaires roused the colonists to action and on May 1 a court convened at Hartford, at which for the first time all the towns were represented by committees. After considering the whole matter it was voted[6] “that there shalbe an offensive war agt the Pequoitt, and that there shalbe 90 men levied out of the 3 Plantacons, Harteford, Wethersfield & Windsor (vizt) out of Harteford, 42, Windsor 30, Wethersfield 18: under the Commande of Captaine Jo. Mason & in cae of death or sickness under the comand of Rob’te Seely Leift & the ’ldest srieant or military officer surviving, if both these miscarry.” No time was lost in recruiting, and on the 10th of May, 1637, the company of ninety men, accompanied by seventy Mohegan Indians under the command of Uncas, embarked for Saybrook. Massachusetts had voted to raise two hundred men and Plymouth forty, but Capt. Mason determined not to wait for their arrival, but to proceed at once to the task in hand. In our next chapter, by permission of the Massachusetts Historical Society, we shall give Capt. John Mason’s account of the battle.



Letters of Roger Williams 1632-1682. Bartlett page 338.


Colonial Records of Conn. Vol. 1, p. 9.




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