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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 1607–1650

John Mason

JOHN MASON, a captain in the Pequot War, was born in England in 1600, and died at Norwich, Connecticut, in 1672. Like Underhill, his companion in arms, he had seen service in the Netherlands before he came to America in 1630. After five years at Dorchester, he moved to Connecticut and was one of the founders of Windsor. Two years later, the attacks of the Pequot Indians on the colonists called for retaliatory measures; and Mason, having been put at the head of ninety men, was instructed to attack the Indians at the mouth of the Pequot, now the Thames River. Securing the coöperation of the Mohegan and Narragansett Indians, timid and worthless allies, he attacked and destroyed the Pequot forts on the Mystic. This and subsequent engagements practically annihilated the tribe in Connecticut, and there was peace for forty years, for more than thirty of which Mason was major of the colonial troops, and from 1660 to 1670 Deputy Governor of Connecticut. He lived first at Saybrook, then at Norwich, exercising also the functions of a magistrate. His account of the war, prepared at the request of the Colonial General Court, was first published by Increase Mather (1677). It is impersonal, dignified, yet direct, and especially noteworthy for the Joshua-like confidence which it displays in Jehovah’s personal, minute, and never flagging interest in the Pequot campaign. A life of the sturdy soldier may be found in Sparks’ American Biography.

The Taking of the Fort at Mystic.
[From “A Brief History of the Pequot War.” Circa 1670.]

… THERE was a great commander in Belgia who did the States great service in taking a city; but by going beyond his commission lost his life. His name was Grubbendunk. But if a war be managed duly by judgment and discretion as is requisite, the shows are many times contrary to what they seem to pursue. Whereof the more an enterprise is dissembled and kept secret, the more facile to put in execution; as the proverb, “The farthest way about is sometimes the nearest way home.” I shall make bold to present this as my present thoughts in this case: In matters of war, those who are both able and faithful should be improved; and then bind them not up into too narrow a compass. For it is not possible for the wisest and ablest senator to foresee all accidents and occurrents that fall out in the management and pursuit of a war; nay, although possibly he might be trained up in military affairs; and truly much less can he have any great knowledge who hath had but little experience therein. What shall I say? God led his people through many difficulties and turnings; yet by more than an ordinary hand of providence he brought them to Canaan at last.

On Friday morning we set sail for Narragansett Bay, and on Saturday toward evening we arrived at our desired port, there we kept the Sabbath.

On the Monday the wind blew so hard at northwest that we could not go on shore; as also on the Tuesday until sunset; at which time Captain Mason landed and marched up to the place of the chief sachem’s residence; who told the sachem, “That we had not an opportunity to acquaint him with our coming armed in his country sooner; yet not doubting but it would be well accepted by him, there being love betwixt himself and us; well knowing also that the Pequots and themselves were enemies, and that he could not be unacquainted with those intolerable wrongs and injuries these Pequots had lately done unto the English; and that we were now come, God assisting, to avenge ourselves upon them; and that we did only desire free passage through his country.” Who returned us this answer, “That he did accept of our coming, and did also approve of our design; only he thought our numbers were too weak to deal with the enemy, who were (as he said) very great captains and men skilful in war.” Thus he spake somewhat slighting of us.

On the Wednesday morning, we marched from thence to a place called Nayanticke, it being about eighteen or twenty miles distant, where another of those Narragansett sachems lived in a fort; it being a frontier to the Pequots. They carried very proudly towards us; not permitting any of us to come into their fort.

We beholding their carriage and the falsehood of Indians, and fearing least they might discover us to the enemy, especially they having many times some of their near relations among their greatest foes; we therefore caused a strong guard to be set about their fort, giving charge that no Indian should be suffered to pass in or out. We also informed the Indians, that none of them should stir out of the fort upon peril of their lives: so as they would not suffer any of us to come into their fort, so we would not suffer any of them to go out of the fort.

There we quartered that night, the Indians not offering to stir out all the while.

In the morning there came to us several of Miantomo his men, who told us, they were come to assist us in our expedition, which encouraged divers Indians of that place to engage also; who suddenly gathering into a ring, one by one, making solemn protestations how gallantly they would demean themselves, and how many men they would kill.

On the Thursday about eight of the clock in the morning, we marched thence towards Pequot, with about five hundred Indians; but through the heat of the weather and want of provisions some of our men fainted. And having marched about twelve miles, we came to Pawcatuck River, at a ford where our Indians told us the Pequots did usually fish; there making a halt, we stayed some small time, the Narragansett Indians manifesting great fear, insomuch that many of them returned, although they had frequently despised us, saying that we durst not look upon a Pequot, but themselves would perform great things; though we had often told them that we came on purpose and were resolved, God assisting, to see the Pequots, and to fight with them, before we returned, though we perished. I then enquired of Onkos, what he thought the Indians would do? Who said, The Narragansetts would all leave us, but as for himself he would never leave us: and so it proved. For which expressions and some other speeches of his, I shall never forget him. Indeed he was a great friend and did great service.

And after we had refreshed ourselves with our mean commons, we marched about three miles, and came to a field which had lately been planted with Indian corn. There we made another halt, and called our council, supposing we drew near to the enemy: and being informed by the Indians that the enemy had two forts almost impregnable; but we were not at all discouraged, but rather animated, insomuch that we were resolved to assault both their forts at once. But understanding that one of them was so remote that we could not come up with it before midnight, though we marched hard; whereat we were much grieved, chiefly because the greatest and bloodiest sachem there resided, whose name was Sassacous; we were then constrained, being exceedingly spent in our march with extreme heat and want of necessaries, to accept of the nearest.

We then marching on in a silent manner, the Indians that remained fell all into the rear, who formerly kept the van (being possessed with great fear); we continued our march till about one hour in the night: and coming to a little swamp between two hills, there we pitched our little camp; much wearied with hard travel, keeping great silence, supposing we were very near the fort; as our Indians informed us; which proved otherwise. The rocks were our pillows; yet rest was pleasant. The night proved comfortable, being clear and moonlight. We appointed our guards, and placed our sentinels at some distance; who heard the enemy singing at the fort, who continued that strain until midnight, with great insulting and rejoicing, as we were afterwards informed. They seeing our pinnaces sail by them some days before, concluded we were afraid of them and durst not come near them; the burden of their song tending to that purpose.

In the morning, we awaking and seeing it very light, supposing it had been day, and so we might have lost our opportunity, having purposed to make our assault before day, roused the men with all expedition, and briefly commended ourselves and design to God, thinking immediately to go to the assault; the Indians showing us a path, told us that it led directly to the fort. We held on our march about two miles, wondering that we came not to the fort, and fearing we might be deluded. But seeing corn newly planted at the foot of a great hill, supposing the fort was not far off, a champaign country being round about us, then making a stand, gave the word for some of the Indians to come up. At length Onkos and one Wequash appeared. We demanded of them, Where was the fort? They answered, On the top of that hill. Then we demanded, Where were the rest of the Indians? They answered, Behind, exceedingly afraid. We wished them to tell the rest of their fellows, that they should by no means fly, but stand at what distance they pleased, and see whether Englishmen would now fight or not. When Captain Underhill came up, who marched in the rear; and commending ourselves to God, divided our men, there being two entrances into the fort, intending to enter both at once; Captain Mason leading up to that on the north-east side, who approaching within one rod, heard a dog bark and an Indian crying “Owanux! Owanux!” which is “Englishmen! Englishmen!” We called up our forces with all expedition, gave fire upon them through the palisado; the Indians being in a dead, indeed their last sleep. Then we wheeling off fell upon the main entrance, which was blocked up with bushes about breast high, over which the captain passed, intending to make good the entrance, encouraging the rest to follow. Lieutenant Seeley endeavored to enter; but being somewhat cumbered, stepped back and pulled out the bushes and so entered, and with him about sixteen men. We had formerly concluded to destroy them by the sword and save the plunder.

Whereupon Captain Mason seeing no Indians, entered a wigwam; where he was beset with many Indians, waiting all opportunities to lay hands on him, but could not prevail. At length William Heydon espying the breach in the wigwam, supposing some English might be there, entered; but in his entrance fell over a dead Indian; but speedily recovering himself, the Indians, some fled, others crept under their beds. The captain going out of the wigwam saw many Indians in the lane or street; he making towards them, they fled, were pursued to the end of the lane, where they were met by Edward Pattison, Thomas Barber, with some others; where seven of them were slain, as they said. The captain facing about, marched a slow pace up the lane he came down, perceiving himself very much out of breath; and coming to the other end near the place where he first entered, saw two soldiers standing close to the palisado with their swords pointed to the ground. The captain told them that we should never kill them after that manner. The captain also said, We must burn them; and immediately stepping into the wigwam where he had been before, brought out a fire-brand, and putting it into the mats with which they were covered, set the wigwams on fire. Lieutenant Thomas Bull and Nicholas Omsted beholding, came up; and when it was thoroughly kindled, the Indians ran as men most dreadfully amazed.

And indeed such a dreadful terror did the Almighty let fall upon their spirits, that they would fly from us and run into the very flames, where many of them perished. And when the fort was thoroughly fired, command was given, that all should fall off and surround the fort; which was readily attended by all; only one Arthur Smith being so wounded that he could not move out of the place, who was happily espied by Lieutenant Bull, and by him rescued.

The fire was kindled on the north-east side to windward; which did swiftly overrun the fort, to the extreme amazement of the enemy, and great rejoicing of ourselves. Some of them climbing to the top of the palisado; others of them running into the very flames; many of them gathering to windward, lay pelting at us with their arrows; and we repaid them with our small shot. Others of the stoutest issued forth, as we did guess, to the number of forty, who perished by the sword….

Thus were they now at their wits’ end, who not many hours before exalted themselves in their great pride, threatening and resolving the utter ruin and destruction of all the English, exulting and rejoicing with songs and dances. But God was above them, who laughed his enemies and the enemies of his people to scorn, making them as a fiery oven. Thus were the stout-hearted spoiled, having slept their last sleep, and none of their men could find their hands. Thus did the Lord judge among the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies!

And here we may see the just judgment of God, in sending even the very night before this assault, one hundred and fifty men from their other fort, to join with them of that place, who were designed, as some of themselves reported, to go forth against the English, at that very instant when this heavy stroke came upon them, where they perished with their fellows. So that the mischief they intended to us, came upon their own pate. They were taken in their own snare, and we through mercy escaped. And thus in little more than one hour’s space was their impregnable fort with themselves utterly destroyed, to the number of six or seven hundred, as some of themselves confessed. There were only seven taken captive, and about seven escaped.

Of the English, there were two slain outright, and about twenty wounded. Some fainted by reason of the sharpness of the weather, it being a cool morning, and the want of such comforts and necessaries as were needful in such a case; especially our surgeon was much wanting, whom we left with our barks in Narragansett Bay, who had order there to remain until the night before our intended assault.

The Massacre of Pawcatuck.
[From the Same.]

THUS did the Lord scatter his enemies with his strong arm. The Pequots now became a prey to all Indians. Happy were they that could bring in their heads to the English; of which there came almost daily to Windsor, or Hartford. But the Pequots growing weary thereof, sent some of the chief that survived to mediate with the English; offering that if they might but enjoy their lives, they would become the English vassals, to dispose of them as they pleased. Which was granted them. Whereupon Onkos and Myantonimo were sent for, who with the Pequots met at Hartford. The Pequots being demanded, How many of them were then living, answered, About one hundred and eighty, or two hundred. There were then given to Onkos, Sachem of Moheag, eighty; to Myantonimo, Sachem of Narragansett, eighty; and to Nynigrett, twenty, when he should satisfy for a mare of Edward Pomroye’s killed by his men. The Pequots were then bound by covenant: That none should inhabit their native country, nor should any of them be called Pequots any more, but Moheags and Narragansetts forever. Shortly after, about forty of them went to Moheag; others went to Long Island; the rest settled at Pawcatuck, a place in Pequot country, contrary to their late covenant and agreement with the English.

Which Connecticut taking into consideration, and well weighing the several inconveniences that might ensue; for the prevention whereof, they sent out forty men under the command of Captain John Mason, to supplant them, by burning their wigwams, and bringing away their corn, except they would desert the place [Pawcatuck]; Onkos with about one hundred of his men in twenty canoes, going also to assist in the service….

We were so suddenly upon them that they had not time to convey away their goods. We viewed their corn, whereof there was plenty, it being their time of harvest; and coming down to the water-side to our pinnace with half of Onkos’s his men, the rest being plundering the wigwams, we looking towards a hill not far remote, we espied about sixty Indians running towards us; we supposing they were our absent men, the Moheags that were with us not speaking one word, nor moving towards them until the other came within thirty or forty paces of them. Then they ran and met them and fell on pell-mell striking and cutting with bows, hatchets, knives, etc., after their feeble manner. Indeed it did hardly deserve the name of fighting. We then endeavored to get between them and the woods, that so we might prevent their flying; which they perceiving, endeavored speedily to get off under the beach: we made no shot at them, nor any hostile attempt upon them. Only seven of them who were Nynigrett’s men, were taken. Some of them growing very outrageous, whom we intended to have made shorter by the head, and being about to put it in execution, one Otash, a sachem of Narragansett, brother to Myantonimo, stepping forth, told the captain, They were his brother’s men, and that he was a friend to the English, and if he would spare their lives we should have as many murderers’ heads in lieu of them which should be delivered to the English. We considering that there was no blood shed as yet, and that it tended to peace and mercy, granted his desire; and so delivered them to Onkos to secure them until his engagement was performed, because our prison had been very much pestered with such creatures.

We then drew our bark into a creek, the better to defend her; for there were many hundreds, within five miles, waiting upon us. There we quartered that night. In the morning, as soon as it was light, there appeared in arms at least three hundred Indians on the other side the creek. Upon which we stood to our arms; which they perceiving, some of them fled, others crept behind the rocks and trees, not one of them to be seen. We then called to them, saying, We desired to speak with them, and that we would down our arms for that end. Whereupon they stood up. We then informed them, That the Pequots had violated their promise with the English, in that they were not there to inhabit, and that we were sent to supplant them. They answered, saying, The Pequots were good men, their friends, and they would fight for them and protect them. At which we were somewhat moved, and told them, It was not far to the head of the creek where we would meet them, and then they might try what they could do in that respect.

They then replied, That they would not fight with Englishmen, for they were Spirits, but would fight with Onkos. We replied, That we thought it was too early for them to fight, but they might take their opportunity; we should be burning wigwams, and carrying corn aboard all that day. And presently beating up our drum, we fired the wigwams in their view. And as we marched, there were two Indians standing upon a hill jeering and reviling of us. Mr. Thomas Stanton, our interpreter, marching at liberty, desired to make a shot at them; the captain demanding of the Indians, What they were? who said, They were murderers; then the said Stanton having leave, let fly, shot one of them through both his thighs; which was to our wonderment, it being at such a vast distance.

We then loaded our bark with corn; and our Indians their canoes, and thirty more which we had taken, with kettles, trays, mats, and other Indian luggage. That night we went all aboard, and set sail homeward. It pleased God in a short time to bring us all in safety to the place of our abode; although we stroke and stuck upon a rock. The way and manner how God dealt with us in our delivery was very remarkable; the story would be somewhat long to trouble you with at this time, and therefore I shall forbear.

Thus we may see how the face of God is set against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. Our tongue shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long; for they are confounded, they are brought to shame that sought our hurt! Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who only doth wondrous things; and blessed be his holy name forever! Let the whole earth be filled with his glory! Thus the Lord was pleased to smite our enemies in the hinder parts, and to give us their land for an inheritance. Who remembered us in our low estate, and redeemed us out of our enemies’ hands. Let us therefore praise the Lord for his goodness and his wonderful works to the children of men!


I shall add a word or two by way of Comment.

OUR commons were very short, there being a general scarcity throughout the colony of all sorts of provision, it being upon our first arrival at the place. We had but one pint of strong liquors among us in our whole march, but what the wilderness afforded (the bottle of liquor being in my hand); and when it was empty, the very smelling to the bottle would presently recover such as fainted away, which happened by the extremity of the heat. And thus we marched on in an uncouth and unknown path to the English, though much frequented by Indians. And was not the finger of God in all this, by his special providence to lead us along in the way we should go? Nay, though we knew not where their forts were, how far it was to them, nor the way that led to them, but by what we had from our Indian guides; whom we could not confide in, but looked at them as uncertain. And yet notwithstanding all our doubts, we should be brought on the very fittest season; nay, and which is yet more, that we should be carried in our march among a treacherous and perfidious people, yea, in our allodgment so near the enemy, all night in so populous a country, and not the least notice of us, seemeth somewhat strange, and more than ordinary. Nay, that we should come to their very doors: What shall I say? God was pleased to hide us in the hollow of his hand. I still remember a speech of Mr. Hooker at our going aboard: That they should be bread for us. And thus when the Lord turned the captivity of his people, and turned the wheel upon their enemies, we were like men in a dream; then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongues with singing; thus we may say the Lord hath done great things for us among the heathen, whereof we are glad. Praise ye the Lord!

I shall mention two or three special providences that God was pleased to vouchsafe to particular men; viz. two men being one man’s servants, namely, John Dier and Thomas Stiles, were both of them shot in the knots of their handkerchiefs, being about their necks, and received no hurt. Lieutenant Seeley was shot in the eyebrow with a flat-headed arrow, the point turning downwards: I pulled it out myself. Lieutenant Bull had an arrow shot into a hard piece of cheese, having no other defence. Which may verify the old saying, “A little armor would serve if a man knew where to place it.” Many such providences happened; some respecting myself; but since there is none that witness to them, I shall forbear to mention them.

The year ensuing, the colony being in extreme want of provision, many giving twelve shillings for one bushel of Indian corn; the court of Connecticut employing Captain Mason, Mr. William Wadsworth and Deacon Stebbin, to try what providence would afford, for their relief in this great strait. Who, notwithstanding some discouragement they met with from some English, went to a place called Pocomtuck, where they procured so much corn at reasonable rates, that the Indians brought down to Hartford and Windsor fifty canoes laden with corn at one time. Never was the like known to this day! So although the Lord was pleased to show his people hard things; yet did he execute judgment for the oppressed, and gave food to the hungry. Oh, let us meditate on the great works of God! ascribing all blessing and praise to his great name, for all his great goodness and salvation! Amen, Amen.