Restless souls still linger along the docks and streets of Mystic, Connecticut. The old sea village has a dark and turbulent past, and there are supernatural sightings on both the Stonington and Groton sides of the Mystic River Bascule Bridge. The Mystic Massacre of the Pequot Indians in 1637 left the land cursed for centuries by ravaging fires. A Revolutionary War hero and sea captain still keeps watch over his namesake Daniel Packer Inne. In the defunct Factory Square, phantom factory workers report to their jobs in the dead of night. From vanishing ghost ships and opinionated colonial chefs to disembodied laughter and chilling apparitions, the past possesses the Mystic landscape. Join ghost guide Courtney McInvale as she walks with the spirits that continue to haunt the streets of Mystic.
About the Author
Courtney McInvale is the founder of Seaside Shadows Haunted History Tours of Mystic, Connecticut, specializing in the research of paranormal history and local lore. Having grown up in a haunted house investigated by famed ghost hunters, Courtney is able to bring a unique perspective to the world of ghostly occurrences. She is a graduate of Catholic University.
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THE BLOOD AND FIRE THAT HAUNT THE LAND
On especially quiet spring evenings as the moon has long since risen over Mystic Country, sitting high in the sky, and not too long before the sun begins to rise, you can hear the roar of fiery blazes, seemingly consuming the land. Amid the roar, there are the faint screams or suffering cries of what could only be throngs of people trying to escape. A swish of the wind causes you to look around and see which way the smoke is blowing. As you anxiously search for the source, almost dizzying yourself, you hear the tromping of feet down the hillside. Your hair stands on end. What is happening? Rubbing your eyes and blinking once or twice, you gather your emotions and gaze at your surroundings once more. Somehow, everything around you seems secure. There's the drawbridge over a quiet, tamed river; there's the shops closed down for the night, lit up only by glowing street lamps; and there are the quiet residents sitting in their colonial homes. Laughter fills the air from guests enjoying their final round of local brew at a nearby pub, and you realize that all is as it should be in downtown Mystic. Something happened though. You heard it. You felt it. You can't shake the feeling that there was a furious conflagration right behind you, with victims helplessly trapped within.
When one thinks of Mystic, one thinks of the beauty that it brings to Connecticut, the tales of the seafaring captains, the boutiques for a most exceptional shopping experience and restaurants full of exquisite dining. Mystic has a scenic drawbridge; the iconic Mystic Seaport, with accompanying antiquated ships to tour; and one of the most respected and renowned aquariums in the nation. All these things are true to the Mystic, Connecticut region of today and depict beautifully the beloved community that Mystic has developed into. Mystic is an authentic representation of quintessential New England.
That being said, one thing that often goes forgotten is that early Mystic's beginnings came as a result of one of the darkest pieces of American history. The emergence of Mystic came on the heels of a mass genocide. Mystic Country is home to the first massacre that ever occurred in what would become United States territory. Early America was a time of revolution, forging new terrain and trade relationships and separating from the monarchy of England. It was a time to establish democracy and develop a culture of its very own.
These brave new ventures did not come without sacrifice and war. Many of these initial battles on our soil were between the European settlers and those indigenous to the North American land. Some encounters resulted in violence and the horrendous slaughtering of the Native Americans. In the 1600s and even through to the early 1900s, many people believed that the battles and wars that took place were necessary in the establishment of the nation, and the British soldiers and captains were held in high regard, revered for their accomplishments in conquering land across the East Coast and beyond. As our knowledge about what exactly transpired hundreds of years ago has risen in accord, a more rational assessment has taken place, concluding that the violent nature of these land-conquering expeditions was completely unnecessary.
The Native Americans, the first inhabitants of our country, were robbed of their land and their lives. The violence that took place in those early years was incomprehensible. While founding a new nation in Western civilization, some battles would prove to be inevitable and necessary, but oftentimes there were battle practices that no one today could possibly condone. They say war is hell, and to be sure, the Pequot War in Mystic was just that.
By the seventeenth century, the Pequot tribe inhabited a large part of the land around what is now known as the Mystic River. While there would have been multiple forts in the area, the largest fort was set apart on top of Pequot Hill. It was no more than a mile from the riverfront but in a safe, dry place due to its elevation. The Pequots were a respected yet feared tribe. Of all Native American tribes in the southern New England area, they were known to be some of the wealthiest and most skilled in the vicinity. In fact, among Native Americans throughout the land at the time, the Pequot tribe dominated on all fronts — economically, politically and with their "military."
Knowledge of the Pequots' well-trained warriors led to controversy among historians in regard to the exact derivation of the Pequot name. Some scholars claim that the name comes from the word Pequttôog, meaning "destroyers." Other specialists, including many modern members of the Pequot tribe, believe the term Pequot means the shallowness of a body of water, which could also ring true due to their tribe's proximity to the Long Island Sound and to the river itself. Regardless, legend of their ability and the fear they could invoke in battle was so profound that the name Pequot meaning destroyer became such a believable theory. (Additionally, the name Mystic, formerly called Mistick, was also inspired by the Pequots. The term missi-tuk described a large river whose waters are driven into waves by tides or wind.)
The indigenous Pequots were also great land cultivators in Connecticut and occupied a great deal of historic Connecticut land stretching between the Niantic River, the Wecapaugh River and the Narragansett River in what is now western Rhode Island. There were believed to be over sixteen thousand Pequots in the Connecticut River communities by the early 1600s. Other very close, local and neighboring tribes included the Mohegans and the Narragansetts.
As Western European (primarily the Dutch and British) settlers came over, with them came diseases to which Native Americans had no immunity. Several outbreaks scourged the New England area and all but decimated much of the Native American Indian populations. The smallpox epidemic of 1616 to 1619 was the first plague to kill many natives in New England. The Pequots remained virtually unscathed by this epidemic, but the epidemic that followed fourteen years later in 1633 took over 80 percent of the Pequots throughout the Mystic Country area. It is believed that, at most, three to four thousand Pequots were left by the year 1634.
Initially, the native relationship with the British was very amicable, despite the smallpox outbreaks. After the outbreaks, some areas or forts where the populations were completely taken by illness provided fertile ground and the colonial settlers actually moved in swiftly in order to utilize the land that had already been primed for cultivation and home building by the Native Americans. Up until the 1630s, trade agreements had been established between the settlers and Native Americans of all tribes. The Indians would receive different goods representative of the Western world and in turn exchange their highly valued wampum beads.
Despite these endeavors, tensions grew. The Native Americans were suffering from the aforementioned illnesses, and in the meantime, these new settlers — being the very religious, Christian English folk that they were — took close observation of their new neighbors' spiritual practices and societal structure with wary and disapproving eyes. The English interpreted wigwams and other native structures as inferior to the "real architecture" that they were familiar with, and above that, they believed the natives to be living in sin. They had, after all, witnessed them using what seemed to be supernatural powers by going into trances, utilizing tobacco in ritual and speaking of dreams as if they had control or meaning. Their worshipping practices took place outside and appeared barbaric. The newly arriving British concluded that the Native Americans were doing nothing more than communing with the devil. The natives worshipped and used nature and wilderness in everything they did. Respect of the land was of utmost importance to them since they knew that the land provided for them. The colonists saw wilderness as the devil and occupants of the wilderness as children of Satan. Combine these rituals with the natives' minimal dress and societal treatment of women as equals, and the British surmised that they were clearly living as heathens and had no regard for the true God. In sum, the English felt that the way the Indians treated their wives, practiced spiritual rituals and lived so closely to nature was despicable, and the settlers' feelings of wariness turned into spite. They felt scandalized and turned their shock into a hate that would come to dictate the massacre they planned in 1637 and would later boast proudly of.
Wanting to dispose of their neighbors once and for all, the English decided to approach the remaining Mystic natives in regard to taking the last Pequot fort. The English believed land could only be owned if it was tamed, thus the Pequots did not truly own land by their definition. They thought it would be an easy approach to retrieve the land that they desired. Pequots had previously maintained the control they had left by cooperating in trade agreements with the Dutch and English. When the English sent representatives to negotiate a land deal, the Pequots promptly refused. They, of course, had absolutely no interest in surrendering their land.
Sensing a more hostile motive behind the English approach, the Pequots sent raiding warriors against them, and as a result of these raiding parties came the death of an Englishman named John Olden. The Pequots had successfully sent their warning, and in retaliation, the British killed a few Pequot men. Ultimately, the Native Americans believed the roles were set in that both sides were dangerous and no one should approach the other. The Pequots grossly underestimated, however, the long history and experience that that British had with war, and British tensions ran high. They had reached what they considered to be a point of no return, and they were not going to let things lie. The only solution would be to end the Pequots and take that land once for all. In order to do so, they planned an attack that would stun everyone.
The English approached Mohegan and Narragansett tribes and expressed their desire to take out the Pequots. Not all the tribes were friends at the time, and the Mohegans and Narragansetts agreed on the principal that in war, it would remain a battle between men only. No women or children would be harmed. The English, perhaps knowing they were lying through their teeth, obliged to that standard and successfully equipped themselves with the assistance of their new allies and planned their deadly and sneaky approach.
On the night of May 26, 1637, Captains John Mason and John Underhill led their men and their native allies to surround the Pequot fort on the hill in Mystic. They trod forward into the deep, dark hours of the night, prepared to attack at dawn. The men found two entrances that could be utilized and immediately blockaded both. The Pequot terrain was a well-palisaded fort on a steep hill for best defensibility. One of the British soldiers described the fort as such:
They choose a piece of ground dry and of best advantage, forty or fifty foote square. (But this was at least 2 acres of ground.) here they pitch close together, as they can young trees and halfe trees, as thicke as a mans thigh, or the calfe of his legge. Ten or twelve foote high they are above the ground, and within rammed three foote deepe, with undermining, the earth being cast up for their better shelter against the enemies dischargements. Betwixt these pallisades are divers loope-holes, through which they let flie their winged messengers. The doore for the most part is entered side-waies, which they stop with boughes or bushes as need requireth. The space within is full of Wigwams.
Dawn approached, and Mason and Underhill sent all their English soldiers, totaling fewer than 120, into the fort and left the natives outside the fort to take down any attempting escapees. As they began their attack within the fort, they entered into the wigwams, slaughtering whomever they encountered, be them men, women, children or the elderly. It was, in fact, documented that many of the men were out in the woods hunting and only one-third of the population in the fort at Mystic that night were men. Two-thirds of the slumbering populace at the time of the attack was women and children.
The Mohegans and Narragansetts were caught by nasty surprise. In the British wars that these colonial settlers had been trained in, no one was spared, regardless of age or gender. It was clear they had lied about their war tactics in order to gain alliance. Some of the native allies departed in the dark, horrified by the brutality inflicted on the women and children, while others stood there in shock, repeating the words, "It's too much. It's too much." Finally, some of the other tribal members, not knowing what else to do and not wanting to jeopardize the well-being of their own, continued to assist in battle against the Pequots.
Since the men were good warriors and their women were aptly trained as well, numerous British soldiers were injured severely and a couple even killed during the unforeseen attack. Mason and Underhill did not like the tone that this battle had taken in hand-to-hand combat and felt that the English were too susceptible to casualty. Thus, Mason promptly summoned his men outside the fort, continuing to block off any exits.
Captain Mason then famously proclaimed the murderous words, "We must burn them!" Others documented that he more cryptically proclaimed, "Let them burn!" Regardless of the words Mason chose for his fatal proclamation, he promptly ordered his men and his remaining allies to set fire to the fort and surround it in an impenetrable circle so that no one could escape. If anyone escaped, he or she would be shot dead by the British or taken down by the surrounding circle of Narragansett and Mohegan allies. It was set up so that all residents in the Pequot fort would die by fire or trying to escape.
Mason proudly recounted the evening, saying, "And indeed such a dreadful Terror did the Almighty let fall upon their Spirits, that they would fly from us and run into the very Flames, where many of them perished. And when the Fort was thoroughly Fired, Command was given, that all should fall off and surround the Fort; which was readily attended by all."
In less than one hour, all but fourteen Native Americans within that fort perished. It took not even a precious sixty minutes for hundreds upon hundreds of Pequots to burn to death surrounded by inescapable flames. If at first thought the event couldn't be more tragic, the fact also remained that the majority of the deceased were women and children. Unofficial counts indicate that somewhere between four hundred and seven hundred Native Americans passed away that horrifying night. Of the fourteen documented survivors, seven were sold into slavery and seven were believed to have escaped the rings of their tormentors that surrounded their fort that evening.
John Mason declared, "And thus in little more than one Hour's space was their impregnable Fort with themselves utterly Destroyed, to the Number of six or seven Hundred, as some of themselves confessed. There were only seven taken Captive and about seven escaped."
Nearby Pequot tribes attempted to come to the Mystic River fort when they heard of the incident to provide any help and found only overwhelming death and sadness. There was nothing that could be done. Just a few short weeks later, all the Englishmen attempted to find the surviving Pequots and kill them, or if they appeared to be good, sturdy men, they sold them into slavery. John Mason stated, "About a Fortnight after our Return home, which was about one Month after the Fight at Mistick, there Arrived in Pequot
River several Vessels from the Massachusetts, Captain Isreal Stoughton being Commander in Chief; and with him about One hundred and twenty Men; being sent by that Colony to pursue the War against the Pequots."
Of the Pequot population, 1,500 were either killed in the massacre and the subsequent manhunt or sold into a lifetime of slavery. All of these tragic events were deemed the Pequot War. After a nearly two- year saga of horror and attacks came to an end, nearly eliminating all surviving Pequots in Connecticut, the Treaty of Hartford brought the war to an end in 1638.
Any trust existing between the settlers and other Native Americans was short-lived at this point as word spread of what happened. It only took forty years for the British to turn on their allies the Narragansetts, who would meet a similar fate. The attacks, in fact, continued for hundreds of years across the country on all Native American tribes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Haunted Mystic"
Copyright © 2014 Courtney McInvale.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. The Blood and Fire That Haunt the Land: Downtown Mystic,
2. The Protective Captain and the Playful Niece: Captain Daniel Packer Inne Restaurant and Pub,
3. Homestead of the Elite, Safe House for the Enslaved: Whitehall Mansion Inn,
4. New England Traditions of History, Hospitality, Fine Dining and Ghostly Guests: Old Mystic Inn,
5. Some Spirits Just Can't Stop Working: Voodoo Grill and the Factory Square,
6. Sprightly Children, a Watchful Lady and the Eclectic Collection of Spirits That Frequent the Former Emporium: 15 Water Street,
7. The Returning Guests: Anthony J's Bistro and the Ancient Mariner Restaurant,
8. Legends and Folklore of the Mystic River: Strange Happenings and Unexplained Sightings Throughout Mystic Country,
About the Author,