Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pratt/Woodruff History-New England Geography

The study of the Pequot War that has been the subject of my recent Emails raised several questions in my mind about the migration patterns that left our ancestors exposed out in the Connecticut River valley to Indian depredations. To follow me on this you will need a paper map of New England or Google Earth or MapQuest. If geography and history bored you in grade school you might just want to skip this episode.

Look at southern New England; Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Out there to the east is Cape Cod looking like the arm of a body-builder. In 1620 the Pilgrims in the Mayflower landed right across Cape Cod Bay at what became Plymouth. Our ancestors Phineas Pratt and Joseph Rogers did not stay long with the Pilgrims and Plymouth didn't expand much so we will exclude them from further analysis.

The wave of English immigration after the Pilgrims spread along the shores of Massachusetts Bay north of Boston and concentrated in what became Boston and its suburbs. The settlements east and southeast of Boston along the Massachusetts Bay shorline tended to be by people from Plymouth rather than from overseas. Aaron Pratt in Cohasset and Joseph Rogers in Duxbury are examples.

1624-1626: The Dorchester Company planted a colony at Cape Ann (present Glouchester) that proved ill-suited for either fishing or agriculture. Most returned to England. Those that stayed removed to what is now Salem.

In 1628 two different companies, the New England Company and a compnay led by John Endecott, landed in the Salem area. They were joined by the remnants of the Dorchester colonists.

The Massachusetts Bay Company suceeded the New England Company in 1629 and sent over several shiploads of emigrants, mostly Puritan separatists..

In 1630 the so-called Winthrop Fleet brought settlers to Salem, Charlestown, Boston, Medford, Watertown, Roxbury and Dorchester. We have ancestors who came over with them.

Sarting in 1633 there was an influx of new settlers including the prominent clergymen John Cotton and Thomas Hooker (Woodruff ancestor).

In that first decade some 20,000 English settlers emigrated to the New World in what became known as "The Great Migration". That's as far as I am going to go with this recital since the only colonists I am interested in for this study are those who were in New England before the Pequot War in 1637.

Going back to the New England map: There are all these new English colonies established on or near tidewater with 100 miles of wilderness between them and the Connecticut River Valley. One would think that if you wanted to settle in that fertile valley you would put your people and livestock and tools and goods on ships and sail around Cape Cod and through Nantucket Sound and Long Island Sound to the mouth of the Connecticut and then up the Connecticut to the feritile land you were seeking. There were all kinds of ships coming from England, some of which could be easily diverted. As for getting up the river, the Dutch had built a trading post at present-day Hartford and Edward Winslow from the Plymouth Colony had been up the river by boat by 1632, and the English had built a trading post upriver from Hartford at the site of today's Windsor in 1633. Further, in 1637 when the ninety man expedition headed down the river to deal with the Pequots they went by boat so they must have had access to boats suitable for travel both on the river and and the Sound. But the historical fact is that the Connecticut Valley settlers, including some of our ancestors, went what I claim was the hard way, 100 miles overland on foot.

While you still have the map out or the Google Earth or MapQuest image on-screen, let's take a look at the war path of Captain Mason and his troops and Indian allies.

Find Hartford in the middle of Connecticut on the Connecticut River. To the north upstream is Windsor. To the south also on the river is Wethersfield. These are the three settlements that furnished the men who took on the whole Pequot tribe. Wethersfield was where the Pequots had killed six settlers, tortured one to death and kidnapped two girls.* Captain Mason led his recruits downstream on boats to Long Island Sound where they were joind by some Indian allies, foes of the Pequots. Then the combined forces sailed eastward toward Narragansett Bay. I have found an account which says they were in three pinnaces (small sailing craft usually used for ship-to-ship service in harbors). They disembarked someplace beyond the the Mystic River and marched northwestward to the Pequot fort located north of Stonington (Connecticut Route 234 is called the Pequot Trail).

After the battle the Pequots who escaped the holocaust fled westward along the shore of the Sound. Mason divided his forces. Part returned overland to the river settlements to defend them. The remainder pursued the Pequots to the swamp at Fairfield where they were trapped and finished off. Then the victorious band returned to their settlements. They had lost only a few men.

* Captain Mason later rescued the girls.

NEXT: The Old Connecticut Path.

Emailed Nov. 20

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