The Mohegan Indians lived along what became the Thames River in southeastern Connecticut and developed as close relations of the Pequot people. In 1600, the population of the two tribes totaled about 16,000.
In 1626, Uncas, son of the Mohegan sachem, married the daughter of Tatobem, the Pequot sachem. While this cemented their connections in the fur trade, it laid the groundwork for future conflict. Uncas began to contest Pequot authority, and, when the Dutch killed Tatobem in 1634, he and others defected to the Narragansett. When the English established Fort Saybrook, Uncas saw an opportunity to gain power in the region.
In 1636, Uncas offered to help the English fight against the Pequot, and, in May 1637, he joined the force that attacked Mystic Fort, killing many and scattering the survivors. As the campaign continued, Uncas sought to gather as many as of his people as possible to build up Mohegan power, and his became the leading Native American group in eastern Connecticut. New conflicts erupted with the Narragansett, led by Miantonomo, as the two tribes became rivals.
In 1638, the English colonists summoned Uncas and Miantonomo to a conference in Hartford. The resulting treaty required both to submit disputes to the English. Soon, rumors, possibly orchestrated by Uncas, convinced the English that Miantonomo was forging a hostile alliance with the feared Mohawks. In July 1643, when simmering hostilities flared into war and the Mohegan captured Miantonomo, the Puritans authorized his execution and promised to protect Uncas against retribution.
Miantonomo’s death did not result in peace. In February 1644 and May 1645, Narragansett war parties hit Mohegan villages, retreating only when the English intervened. The Mohegan, in turn, battled Narragansett allies, including the Pocumtuck and Nipmuc in western and central southern New England. Uncas also continued to pressure Pequot remnants and to gain dominance over the Montauk on eastern Long Island.
While this warfare gradually came to an end, the colonists continued to suspect Uncas’s independence (he barred Puritan missionaries) and aggressive ambitions. Yet the Mohegan remained loyal military allies, and, at the outbreak of King Philip’s War, they offered their assistance. As in the Pequot War, the Mohegan provided important support for English forces and carried out their own attacks on the enemy. After the war, the elderly Uncas and his son, Owaneco, reconfirmed their allegiance to Connecticut. Uncas died around 1685.
At the turn of the century, about 600 Mohegans remained, but their lands were shrinking rapidly. Tensions emerged as Connecticut began giving white settlers grants of land never sold by the tribe. In 1703, Owaneco accused the assembly of land fraud, and, two years later, the Mohegan filed suit against the colony. In 1707, a royal commission ruled in favor of the tribe. Connecticut appealed to the Privy Council, where the case died.
Additional tensions developed in 1720, when New London colonists reported hearing gunshots and seeing threats in the faces of their Mohegan neighbors. The Mohegan sachem assured the governor that his people were simply building a fort against Mohawk attack. But the colonists remained fearful; three years later, they limited how far Native Americans could travel from their villages. Connecticut authorities also intervened in Mohegan politics to ensure that their favorite, Ben Uncas II, became sachem.
From this point on, most Mohegans added their objection to the colony’s meddling to their anger over its land grab. The tribe renewed its pleas against Connecticut in the 1730s. While the initial verdict in 1738 favored the colony, appeals continued the case for thirty-five years.
The Mohegan, like other Connecticut tribes, initially resisted English religion and culture. But gradually, as the land filled with colonists who reshaped the environment and economy, these Native Americans began adopting Anglo-American ways. Some became interested in Christianity, particularly after 1740, when the Great Awakening offered a sense of spiritual equality and renewal. Several graduated from Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian school, including the famed Samson Occom, who became a tribal leader.
By the mid-eighteenth century, festering political conflicts and the religious awakening drove a growing wedge between conservatives and reformers, resulting in the division of the Mohegan into two villages, Johnstown and Benstown. At the former, men led by Occum began to build farms, fence land, and plow fields. Both groups called public meetings and wrote petitions to the legislature to discredit their opponents, weakening the tribe overall. In spring 1773 came the final rejection of the tribe’s land case, and Occum and other Native American reformers began to lay plans for a new community among the Oneidas in New York. While the war interrupted their plans, afterward many left for Brothertown. Only 200 Mohegan remained in Connecticut by 1790, when the last 2,300 acres they controlled as a tribe were divided up into individual plots for families.
Daniel R. Mandell See also: Native American-European Conflict; Native American-European Relations; Native Americans. Bibliography De Forest, John W. History of the Indians of Connecticut, From the Earliest Known Period to 1850. Hartford, CT: William Jason Hamersley, 1851. Salisbury, Neal. Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 15001643. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Weinstein, Laurie. “Land Politics and Power: The Mohegan Indians in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” Man in the Northeast 42 (1991): 916.
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