My ancestor Capt. John Mason, who committed genocide in Connecticut, proudly wrote a book about it and was honored with a statue that nobody wanted three centuries later…
Today is the 378th anniversary of the “Mystic Massacre”, which occurred during Pequot War on 26 May 1637. My paternal 9th g-grandfather, Capt. John Mason (1600-1672), is the man responsible for what can only be described as an atrocity. John Mason was a staunch Puritan, and to modern sensibilities he seems to exemplify the worst excesses of the age in which he lived. As a military man, he was a ferocious fighter and exhibited unusual cruelty to the vanquished foe. In addition, he subscribed to what many would consider a misconstruction of the spirit of Christianity, which consigned its enemies to immediate and vindictive destruction by every means available. This enthusiasm is best illustrated through his role in what has become known as the “Mystic Massacre” during the Pequot War of 1636–1637. In that war, the Pequot tribe of Native Americans of Southern New England fought against an alliance of the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Saybrook colonies (aided by their Native American allies – the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes). During this conflict, John Mason earned a reputation as a ruthless “Indian Fighter” as commander of the Connecticut forces in the expedition that wiped out the Pequot fort and village at Mystic and in two subsequent operations that effectively eliminated the Pequots as a recognizable nation.
John Mason played an instrumental role on the English side in the Pequot War. After a series of incidents and reprisals between the English settlers and the Indians of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the situation escalated to the point that in May 1637, leaders of the Connecticut towns meeting in Hartford, raised a militia and placed Captain John Mason in command, with a resolution to adopt an offensive strategy with the intention of eliminating the Pequots as a threat to the English colonies. With that objective in mind, they selected the right man for the job. John Mason set out with 90 militia and 70 allied Mohegan warriors (native enemies of the Pequots) under Chief Uncas to punish the Pequot. At Fort Saybrook, John Mason was joined by John Underhill and another 20 men. Underhill and Mason proceeded to the principal Pequot village, near present-day Groton, but the Pequot defended their village behind fortifications. Without adequate resources to take the village, they turned east and stopped at the village of Misistuck (present-day Mystic, Connecticut).
On 26 May 1637, John Mason’s militia, attacked Misistuck by surprise. According to his own account, “six or seven Hundred” Pequot were there when his forces assaulted the palisade. As some 150 Pequot warriors had earlier accompanied Sassacus to Hartford, the remaining inhabitants were largely Pequot women, children and older men. John Mason ordered that the enclosure be set on fire. Justifying his conduct later, he declared that the attack against the Pequot was the act of a God who: “…laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn making [the Pequot] as a fiery Oven… Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling [Mystic] with dead Bodies…” John Mason insisted that any Pequot attempting to escape the flames should be killed. Of the estimated 600 to 700 Pequot residents at Mystic that day, only seven survived to be taken prisoner, while another seven escaped to the woods. The Narragansett and Mohegan warriors with Mason and Underhill’s colonial militia were horrified by the actions and “manner of the Englishmen’s fight . . . because it is too furious, and slays too many men”.
After the Pequot War, Mason justified his conduct during the war in his own account published as “A Brief History of the Pequot War: Especially of the Memorable taking of their Fort at Mistick in Connecticut in 1637” (written about 1670 and first published in 1677).
A statue of John Mason is on the Palisado Green in Windsor, Connecticut, and the story of how it got there is interesting. The statue was originally erected at Mystic in 1889. The statue was originally placed at the intersection of Pequot Avenue and Clift Street in Mystic, Connecticut (actually within the town of Groton), near what was thought to be one of the original Pequot forts. Over the years, there was considerable controversy involving the statue dedicated to John Mason and his role in the Pequot War. and remained there for 103 years. After studying the sensitivity and appropriateness of the statue’s location near the historic massacre of Pequot people, a commission chartered by Groton, Connecticut voted to have it relocated, with a new plaque that eliminated the interpretive language on the original plaque that was especially offensive to Native Americans.
The inscription on the 1996 plaque reads as follows:
This replaces the following text on the original 1889 plaque that celebrated the “heroic” nature of Mason’s actions:
In the decades following the Pequot War, John Mason was one of the most trusted men in Connecticut and rose to prominence in both civil and military matters. In his latter years the formal colony records referred to him simply as “the Major,” without forename or surname. John removed his family to Old Saybrook, Middlesex County, Connecticut in 1647. He was awarded land by the state of Connecticut where Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut was founded and in 1660 united with a number of distinguished families in the settlement of Norwich, New London County, Connecticut where he was Deputy/Lieutenant Governor (1660–1669), and Major General of the forces of Connecticut. Mason’s Island in Stonington, Connecticut, is named after John Mason.