Title

"In behalf of myself and my people": Mashantucket Pequot strategies in defense of their land rights

Date of Completion

January 2007

Keywords

Anthropology, Archaeology|History, United States|Native American Studies

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

Within fifteen years of the attack on the Pequot fort in Mystic in 1637, the Pequot (Mashantucket and Eastern), were given permission by the Commissioners of the United Colonies to resettle within the boundaries of their aboriginal territory east of the Pequot (Thames) River. This was decided in spite of the fact that the Treaty of Hartford (1638) once denied the Pequot any further right to inhabit their aboriginal territory, or to ever refer to themselves as Pequot. Nevertheless, the English continued to claim all the Pequot lands after 1637. This meant the Pequot situation differed from other Indian tribes in southern New England who possessed the native right to their territory. Although this scenario was to change after King Phillip's War, Indian sachems maintained an element of control over the sale of their lands to English colonists. ^ Unfortunately for the Pequot, they were entirely dependent on the General Courts to establish reservation lands for their subsistence. When conflict arose over land rights between the Mashantucket Pequot and the Town of Groton and their proprietors, the Pequot looked to the General Court to intervene to resolve problems. Although the General Court enacted laws to counteract land abuses and to protect Indian land rights, the Court did not effectively enforce them. It was at these times that the burden fell on the Pequot to keep their land issues alive. The Pequot accomplished this aim by continuously developing and testing old and new strategies to defend their land rights. These strategies ranged in form from strengthening alliances with colonial officials, to acting independently of the General Court in making separate land deals with English colonists, at times seeking their own solution to injustices in pulling down proprietor fences, and lastly, working within the structure of the colonial legal system through the petitioning process to protest encroachments or to request the removal of an overseer. As active participants in the protection of their land rights, the disputes on their reservation lands at Noank, Mashantucket Hill, and the west half of Mashantucket, reflect how the Pequot chose at least one strategy for each particular case and thus transitioned from one strategy to another depending on which approach provided them with results.^