English Superiority Questioned As Dempsey Explores Pequot War

Jack Dempsey and David Wagner, co-authors of the book “The Mystic Fiasco: How the Indians Won the Pequot War,” spoke about their book at the R.S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology on Tuesday. The lecture was part of the monthly meeting of the Northeast Chapter of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. Dr. Dempsey, who is a professor at Bentley College, and his colleague Mr. Wagner began an investigating the Pequot War when they noticed inconsistencies in the historical accounts of it. The war, which is commonly recounted in text books, was the Massachusetts Bay Company’s attempt to gain possession of what is now Connecticut. After the colonists declared war against the Pequots, the main inhabitants of the area, Captains Mason and Underhill planned to ambush them at their fort in Missituc, or Mystic. There were, however, a few problems with this plot. First of all, there was the issue of lack of manpower. Mason and Underhill had only 80 men and a few Indian guides against a Pequot force of 500. They were soundly defeated; however, history books say otherwise. To compound the fact that they were vastly outnumbered, one of the Indian guides had sympathies towards the Pequots and led astray another contingent of 40 troops. The group, led by Captain Patrick from Boston, was delayed multiple times and led on a wild goose chase by the untrustworthy guide. The troops were left exhausted when it came time to actually fight. By this point the Pequots, having been informed of the expeditionary force by the traitorous guides, were prepared for the Englishmen. When the Englishmen did arrive at the Pequot holdout, the Pequots had a trap set for them. Tired, hungry, and with depleted munitions, the English were forced to retreat. History books recount these events much differently, however. According to many common historical accounts of the event, the English massacred the overwhelmed Pequots. After the war, the tribe fell into obscurity. Through Dr. Dempsey’s presentation, supplemented by Mr. Wagner’s photographs, it became clear that the English accounts of the fighting were exaggerated. Dr. Dempsey left the members of the Archaeology Society in the audience with the statement, “history is not always the last word.” Dr. Dempsey’s other works include Ariadne’s Brother: A Novel On The Fall Of Bronze Age Crete, and the film documentary Nani: A Native New England Story.