Touchstones With History: Native Americans

5/3/2016
By John Van Epps

HARTFORD (05/03/2016) -- The theme of our Historians Workshop this year is the Native Americans and the Congregationalists. Where does this story all begin? We all know that the Dutch bought Manhattan for $24 in 1626. They also bought land from the natives in what is now known as Hartford in the early 1630s- what is known as Dutch Point. By the early 1630s it is estimated that there were about 6-7,000 natives in this area, although their numbers had already been decimated by the smallpox, caught from European traders.

The English came into the CT river valley in the mid-1630s. The river valley tribes were peaceful, like the tribes around Boston. The Podunk tribe actually had appealed to the Plymouth and Boston colonies to settle here, as help against the warlike tribes of the Mohawks in the west and the Pequots in the east. When the first colonies settled, they did buy the land from the natives- in the CT river towns, New Haven, Guilford, Fairfield, and elsewhere.

However, in 1636 war broke out between the English and the Pequots, often focused around the Saybrook fort. The Pequots hoped to have the support of the war-like Narragansets. However, Roger Williams of Rhode Island courageously went to that tribe and was able to convince them not to be allied with the Pequots. In 1637 the Pequots attacked Wethersfield and killed several settlers. So far over two dozen English had been killed. In consequence the General Court ordered an offensive war, with the assistance of Uncas, chief of the Mohegans. In the ensuing battles hundreds of Pequots were killed. The Pequots retreated toward the west. One of their sachems was captured by Uncas and beheaded, at what is now called Sachems Head in Guilford. The remaining Pequots were trapped in a bog near Fairfield and surrendered. So peace returned. As commander John Mason concluded, with a quote from scripture: "Thus the Lord was pleased to smite our enemies in the hinder parts, and to give us their land for an Inheritance."

On another front, the Confederation of New England, of all the New England colonies, was formed in 1643. One of its stated purposes was to spread the gospel to the natives. In 1654 the General Court appointed a missionary to the natives, but his efforts were minimal. In 1754 the Moor's Charity School for Indians was formed in Columbia. It eventually relocated to New Hampshire and became Dartmouth. One of the stated aims of the Missionary Society of CT in 1798 was the preach the gospel to the heathen. Then after 1812 the American Board of Foreign Missions sent missionaries to the native Americans in our South. A decade later the Cornwall Mission School was founded to train Indian missionaries. It lasted about a decade.

Want to know more about this story, or share your insights? Come to the Historians Workshop on Saturday, May 7, 9-1, at the Rocky Hill Congregational Church.

The Rev. John Van Epps is Archivist of the Connecticut Conference UCC.