Fairfield County's Paugussetts

Excerpt from:
Westport Connecticut
The Story of a New England Town's
Rise to Prominence.

by Woody Klein

Chapter 2
The Native Americans

Posted by permission of the Westport Historical Society

Click the cover to order the book at Amazon.

The American Indian, although savage, is not cold. He has a sensitive development of spiritual nature, of vision, born of intercourse with the vibrant moods of the world he lives in.
Westporter Edward Coley Birge, Westport, Connecticut, The Making of a Yankee Township, 1926

A conservative estimate of the number of Indians in Connecticut at the time the English arrived in the early 1600s is about 12,000.(1) At this time, a total of approximately 25,000 Indians were living in Southern New England and on Long Island.(2) Today in Fairfield County, 1,226 of the total 830,000 residents are Native Americans. But only about 300 can trace their ancestry to villages in the county that now bear the English names of Stratford, Bridgeport, Shelton, Brookfield, Fairfield, New Fairfield, and Westport.(3)

The Indians did not understand the English tradition of land ownership. To them, the land-similar to the air-is something owned in common and used for the good of everyone. When the tillage around their villages was depleted, the Indians simply moved on to a new site, and the land was left to return to its natural state. They assumed that the white man would do the same, and when they "sold" the land, they thought the white man was just renting its use for a limited time period, or until the land was no longer good for growing food.

When colonists first came to this area, they were outnumbered by the Indians. It would have been relatively easy for the Indians to drive the New World explorers out. But, because of dissension and squabbling among the tribes, the white man learned to divide and conquer by turning one tribe against another. Further, the separate Indian tribes competed for the white man's fur trade, in return for precious goods the Indians had never seen before - mirrors, beads and trinkets, for example, that captured their imagination.

There were a number of distinct Indian tribes in Connecticut, located along the Sound running west from the Connecticut River: the Hammonassets, the Menunketucks, the Quinnipiacs, the Paugussetts, the Siwanogs, and the Pequots, one of the largest and most powerful. The Paugussetts, known as the Paugussett Nation, lived in villages along the coast at Pequonnock (Bridgeport), Uncoway (Fairfield), Sasco (Southport), Machamux (Green's Farms), Aspetuck (Easton), Saugatuck (Westport), and Norwalke (Norwalk).(4) The word "Paugussett" literally
translated means "where the river widens out."(5)

Reservations were set up for the Indians soon after the colonists arrived. In 1659, the General Court in Fairfield ruled that 80 acres of land should be held for the Paugussett Indians at Golden Hill - named after the corn grown on the hill - located in Bridgeport. Over time, however, the tribe was forced to sell off its land to succeeding generations of New Englanders who inhabited the area. Today, only one log cabin on one-quarter of an acre of land remains there.

While other tribes exchanged land for goods from the colonists, the Pequot Indians - who lived near Groton - refused to surrender their land to the white man. They first clashed with the colonists in 1632 and in the ensuing five years the tribe's fate would be determined. The Pequots had been warring with other tribes as well as trying to hold off the British by delaying to conform with the colonists' demands for their land.

In the spring of 1636, at a special session of the Connecticut General Court, Roger Ludlow, then deputy governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was appointed as one of the key advisors to the Connecticut forces. When the Pequots murdered two white traders - Captain John Stone and John Oldham in 1637 off Block Island - the British launched a force of 90 men, who sailed into Pequot Harbor and demanded that the tribe turn the killers over to them. Negotiations were held with Sassacus, the Pequot chief.  The renowned warrior(6) lived in his fortress at Weinshauks, the present town of Groton.(7)

Eventually, negotiations broke down, and the colonists drove the Indians down the coast, moving through the towns of Mystic, Groton, New London, Saybrook, and on to Fairfield in the final battle at Sasco Swamp. Troops were gathered from Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield, as well as from the Massachusetts Bay colony to attack the Pequots.

The full-scale war, known as the Great Swamp War because of its location, erupted on May 26, 1637, led by Ludlow and Captains John Mason and John Underhill, both renowned Indian fighters. Ludlow allied his troops with the Mohegans and the Narragansetts, two tribes who hated the much-feared Pequots. The colonists struck in a predawn attack on the Pequots, killing hundreds.

Although the massacre lasted less than an hour, most of the Pequots perished. Sassacus and the Pequots admitted defeat. Most of the last-ditch fighting took place near where the present Connecticut Turnpike crosses the Post Road just before Southport as one travels east from Westport to Fairfield. The Society of Colonial Wars has erected a granite monument on the Post Road to commemorate the event. The inscription, easily seen by the many thousands of people who daily pass in cars, reads: "The Great Swamp Fight Here Ended the Pequot
War July 13, 1637."(8)

The war was the major turning point in the history of the Indian-white relations in colonial America, marking an end to any illusion that the Indians and whites could coexist on an equal footing. Some historians consider it one of the most important wars in New England history because it set a permanent precedent for the colonists to seize land from the Indians.

Another war marked a second milestone event in the history of relations between the early colonists and the Indians in New England. The King Philip's War of 1675, named after an Indian of that name, was spurred by the controversial issue of land sales to colonists. Matacom, known in American history as King Philip, led the fight against the colonists burning Deerfield and forcing the colonists south.

When he failed to enlist the few remaining Pequots and the Mohegans in his cause, he was driven back by the English military, ensuring that New England would remain in English hands. Despite these two defeats, the Indian tribes posed a continuous annoyance to the white man throughout the seventeenth century.

Skirmishes between the Indians and the white man became routine, with the colonists getting the better of such confrontations. Westport historian Edward Coley Birge summed up the attitude of the early colonists who arrived in what is Westport today when he wrote: "The
American Indian, although savage, is not cold. He has a sensitive development of spiritual nature, of vision, born of intercourse with the vibrant moods of the world he lives in."(9)

Only a handful of Paugussetts remained when the white man first arrived in the area now called Westport. The English came from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to Fairfield and, finally, to this area in the 1600s. It was a long and difficult journey for those explorers who, in search of freedom and self-determination, persevered until they finally found what they wanted.

1. Elsie Florence (Nicholas) Dannenburg, The Romance of Norwalk (New York: The State History Co., p. 3.
2. Alvin M. Josephy, "Indians of the Sound, 120 Centuries of a Noble Heritage," On the Sound Magazine, Seascape Publications, 1972, p. 93.
3. Delphine Red Shirt, "Native Sons and Daughters," Fairfield County Magazine, November 1998, p. 30.
4. Franz Laurens Wojciechowski, Ethnohistory of the Paugussett Tribe, An Exercise in Research Methodology (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: DeKiva,
1991), Monogram, Series 9, Ch. 4, p. 39.
5. The Paugussetts' name is variantly spelled, depending on the town clerks of the time, as Pagaset, Paugasuck, Paugusit, Pawgassutt, and Paugussett.
6. John W. DeForest, Indians of Connecticut (Hartford, CT: Wm. James Hammersly, 1852), p. 73.
7. Arthur L. Peale, Uncas and the Mohegan-Pequot (Boston: Meadow Publishing Co. 1939), p. 28.
8. Despite this defeat, the Pequots are once again a power among the political forces in Connecticut. Not only do they run the profitable Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, but also they opened a museum in August 1998, built on their reservation at a cost of $135 million to tell the tribe's story.
9. Edward Coley Birge, Westport, Connecticut, The Making of a Yankee Township (New York: Writers Publishing Co.,1926), p. 2.

Photo, p. 19, (not included) Beadwork by Chief Big Eagle, Woody Klein

Thanks to:
Box 6
Westport, CT 06881

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