For some, the existence of slavery in New England is still a little known fact. Even fewer realize that Native peoples in the region, including those in Connecticut, were also enslaved. Diaries, letters, and other sources from the early colonial era document cases of Native enslavement. One of the most notorious incidents followed the Fairfield Swamp Fight of July 1637.
Earlier, in May of that year, colonial forces and their Native allies had attacked a Pequot community in Mystic (a campaign colonists called the Battle of Mistick Fort). They then pursued the remaining Pequot men, women, and children across southern New England until July when the last major engagement of the war took place in what is today the town of Fairfield. During this time and throughout the war, many captured Pequot men were killed, while women and children were given to colonists as spoils of war, placed in captivity under other tribes who had pledged their allegiance to the English, or transferred to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sold into slavery, and shipped to the Caribbean islands and other British outposts.
Some of the Pequot held in Connecticut and the other colonies managed to escape. As Major John Mason, an English settler and a central military figure in the Pequot War who had made Connecticut colony his home, reported, “The Captives we took…we divided, intending to keep them as Servants, but they could not endure that Yoke; few of them continuing any considerable time with their masters.
Mashantucket Pequot oral tradition has played a key role in preserving memory of this history, which until fairly recently, had not been widely studied.
Contributed by staff for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center’s Battlefields of the Pequot War project.