This Week in New England Native Documentary History

Increase Mather, in his A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians in New England (Boston, 1676), wrote that the Native people “amongst whom we live, and whose Land the Lord God of our Fathers hath given to us for a rightfull Possession, have … been planning mischievous devices against that part of the English Israel which is seated in these goings down of the sun, no Man that is an Inhabitant of any considerable standing, can be ignorant.”

Thomas Stanton’s letter to John Mason, dated July 8, 1669, is one in a series of ten relating to rumors of a concerted plot by a confederation of Indians under the sachem Ninigret to assault English settlements at the eastern part of Long Island and on the mainland.  Whether or not the Mohegans, Pequots, Niantics, and Narragansetts were in fact planning on attacking the English has not been determined, but merely the rumors of such an attack were sufficient to make colonists anxious and afraid.  In fact, spreading rumors of war appears to have been an effective weapon used by Indians in Southern New England to exploit these colonial insecurities.

Interestingly, the news of a pending Indian attack in this instance was provided not by the colony’s interpreters or from military officers.  Instead, the key figures were an unnamed Indian woman, a twelve-year old English boy from Cossatuck, Ephraim Osborn, who was “well versed in the Indian tongue,” and his mother Mary Knight Osborn.  Both Osborns were told to prepare for an assault, but their information was discounted. Mary’s husband John told her she would be considered a tattle-tale. 

But the colony’s officials soon took it seriously.  As John Mason commented in forwarding the letter to John Allyn, “It’s not a time to be secure,” he wrote, “If I am not stark blind in Indian matters, it’s not farre from as great a hazard as ever N. England yett saw.”  In mid July, both Connecticut and Rhode Island sent forces to question Ninigret, who responded so well, suspicion fell away from him, and fears of an imminent attack were soon allayed.

This document comes from the Connecticut State Library‘s Connecticut Archives. For a closer look at Stanton’s letter, click here.  For some related items, click here, here, and here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.