The Pequots and Mohegans were formerly a single group, but the Mohegans split off in the 17th century as the Pequots came to control much of Connecticut. Simmering tensions with the New England Colonies led to the Pequot War of 1634-1638, which dramatically reduced the population and influence of the Pequots; many members were killed, enslaved, or dispersed. Small numbers of Pequots remained in Connecticut, receiving reservations at Mashantucket in 1666 and at the Pawcatuck River in 1683; others lived in other areas and with other tribes. In the 18th century, some Christian Pequots joined members of several other groups to form the Brothertown Indians. They relocated to western New York in the 19th century and later to Wisconsin.
Pequot is an Algonquian word whose meaning is disputed among language specialists. Considerable scholarship pertaining to the Pequots claims that the name came from Pequttôog, meaning "the destroyers" or "the men of the swamp". Frank Speck was a leading specialist of the Mohegan-Pequot language in the early twentieth century, and he believed that another term was more plausible meaning "the shallowness of a body of water", given the Pequots' territory along the coast of Long Island Sound.
Historians have debated whether the Pequots migrated about 1500 from the upper Hudson River Valley toward central and eastern Connecticut. The theory of Pequot migration to the Connecticut River Valley can be traced to Rev. William Hubbard, who claimed in 1677 that the Pequots had invaded the region some time before the establishment of Plymouth Colony, rather than originating in the region. In the aftermath of King Philip's War, Hubbard detailed in his Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England the ferocity with which some of New England's tribes responded to the English. Hubbard described the Pequots as "foreigners" to the region; not invaders from another shore, but "from the interior of the continent" who "by force seized upon one of the goodliest places near the sea, and became a Terror to all their Neighbors."
Much of the archaeological, linguistic, and documentary evidence now available demonstrates that the Pequots were not invaders to the Connecticut River Valley but were indigenous in that area for thousands of years. By the time of the founding of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, the Pequots had already attained a position of political, military, and economic dominance in central and eastern Connecticut. They occupied the coastal area between the Niantic tribe of the Niantic River of Connecticut and the Narragansetts in western Rhode Island. The Pequots numbered some 16,000 persons in the most densely inhabited portion of southern New England.
The smallpox epidemic of 1616-1619 killed many of the Indians of the eastern coast of New England, but it failed to reach the Pequot, Niantic, and Narragansett tribes. In 1633, the Dutch established a trading post called the House of Good Hope at Hartford. They executed the principal Pequot sachem Tatobem because of a violation of an agreement. After the Pequots paid the Dutch a large ransom, they returned Tatobem's body. His successor was Sassacus. In 1633, an epidemic devastated all of the region's tribes, and historians estimate that the Pequots suffered the loss of 80 percent of their population. At the outbreak of the Pequot War, Pequot survivors may have numbered only about 3,000.
Members of the Pequot tribe killed a resident of Connecticut Colony in 1636, and war erupted as a result. The Mohegan and the Narragansett tribes sided with the colonists. Around 1,500 Pequot warriors were killed in battles or hunted down, and others were captured and distributed as slaves or household servants. A few escaped to join the Mohawk and the Niantic tribes on Long Island. Eventually, some returned to their traditional lands, where family groups of friendly Pequots had stayed. Of those enslaved, most were awarded to the allied tribes, but many were also sold as slaves in Bermuda. The Mohegans treated their Pequot captives so severely that officials of Connecticut Colony eventually removed them. Connecticut established two reservations for the Pequots in 1683: the Eastern Pequot Reservation in North Stonington, Connecticut and the Western Pequots (or Mashantucket Pequot Reservation) in Ledyard.
The 1910 census numbered the Pequot population at 66, and they reached their lowest number several decades later. Pequot numbers grew significantly during the 1970s and 1980s, especially the Mashantucket Pequot tribe which opened a casino in the same timeframe, and tribal chairman Richard A. Hayward encouraged them to return to their tribal homeland. He worked for Federal recognition and economic development.
In 1976, the Pequots filed suit with the assistance of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the Indian Rights Association against land owners and residents of North Stonington in order to get their land, which the Pequots claimed had been illegally sold in 1856 by the State of Connecticut, and they reached a settlement after seven years. The Connecticut Legislature passed legislation to petition the federal government to grant tribal recognition to the Mashantucket Pequots, and the "Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act" was enacted by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan on Oct. 18, 1983. This settlement granted federal recognition to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, enabling them to buy the land covered in the Settlement Act and place it in trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for reservation use. In 1986, they opened a bingo operation, followed by the first phase of Foxwoods Resort Casino in 1992. Revenue from the casino has enabled development and construction of a cultural museum which opened on August 11, 1998 on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation where many members of the tribe continue to live.
The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation was recognized in 2002. Since the 1930s, both Pequot tribes had serious tension over racial issues, with some people claiming that darker-skinned descendants should not be considered fully Pequot. Two groups of Eastern Pequots filed petitions for recognition with the BIA, and they agreed to unite to achieve recognition. The state immediately challenged the decision, and the Department of the Interior revoked their recognition in 2005. That same year, it revoked recognition for the Schaghticoke tribe who had gained recognition in 2004. The Connecticut state government and Congressional delegation opposed the BIA's recognition because local residents were worried that the newly recognized tribes would establish gaming casinos.
Nearly all individuals who are identified as Pequot live in the two above-named communities. They are multi-racial but identify as Pequot. No members of the tribe have solely full-blooded Pequot ancestry.
Cover of 1663 Bible translated into the Wampanoag language
In the 21st century, the Mashantucket Pequots are undertaking aggressive efforts to revive the language through careful analysis of historical documents containing Pequot words and comparison with extant closely related languages. So far, they have reclaimed more than 1,000 words, though that is a small fraction of what would be necessary for a functional language. The Mashantucket Pequots have begun offering language classes with the help of the Mashpee Wampanoags. The Wampanoags recently initiated the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. The southern New England Indian communities who are participants in the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project are Mashpee Wampanoag, Aquinnah Wampanoag, Herring Pond Wampanoag, and Mashantucket Pequot.
Willy DeVille (1950-2009), rock and roll guitarist, songwriter and singer, Pequot through maternal grandmother's lineage, explored his Native American roots in his post-2000 works
William Apess (1798-1839) was an ordained Methodist minister, writer, and temperance activist of mixed-race descent, who was a political and religious leader in Massachusetts.
^ abDean R. Snow and Kim M. Lamphear, "European Contact and Indian Depopulation in the Northeast: The Timing of the First Epidemics," Ethnohistory 35 (1988): 16-38.
^Salwen, Bert (1978). "Indians of Southern New England and Long Island: Early Period." In Northeast, ed. Bruce G. Trigger. Vol. 15 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, pg. 175
^ abPritzker, Barry (2000) A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples, pp. 656-657. Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-513897-X.
^Pritzker, Barry (2000) A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples, pp. 654-655, 656. Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-513897-X.
^Jeff Benedict, Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods the World's Largest Casino Hardcover], New York: Harper, 2000, ISBN978-0060193676
^Frank Speck, "Native Tribes and Dialects of Connecticut: A Mohegan-Pequot Diary", Annual Reports of the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology 43 (1928): 218.
^"The Pequot Relationships, as Indicated by the Events Leading to the Pequot Massacre of 1637 and Subsequent Claims in the Mohegan Land Controversy", Archaeological Society of Connecticut Bulletin 21 (1947): 26-33.
^William Hubbard, The History of the Indian Wars in New England 2 vols. (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1845), vol. 2, pp. 6-7.
^For archaeological investigations disproving Hubbard's theory of origins, see Irving Rouse, "Ceramic Traditions and Sequences in Connecticut," Archaeological Society of Connecticut Bulletin 21 (1947): 25; Kevin McBride, "Prehistory of the Lower Connecticut Valley" (Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1984), pp. 126-28, 199-269; and the overall evidence on the question of Pequot origins in Means, "Mohegan-Pequot Relationships," 26-33. For historical research, refer to Alfred A. Cave, "The Pequot Invasion of Southern New England: A Reassessment of the Evidence," New England Quarterly 62 (1989): 27-44; and for linguistic research, see Truman D. Michelson, "Notes on Algonquian Language," International Journal of American Linguistics 1 (1917): 56-57.
^Refer to Sherburne F. Cook, "The Significance of Disease in the Extinction of the New England Indians," Human Biology 45 (1973): 485-508; and Arthur E. Speiro and Bruce D. Spiess, "New England Pandemic of 1616-1622: Cause and Archaeological Implication," Man in the Northeast 35 (1987): 71-83.
^Lion Gardiner, "Relation of the Pequot Warres," History of the Pequot War: The Contemporary Accounts of Mason, Underhill, Vincent, and Gardiner (Cleveland, 1897), p. 138; Ethel Boissevain, "Whatever Became of the New England Indians Shipped to Bermuda to be Sold as Slaves," Man in the Northwest 11 (Spring 1981), pp. 103-114; and Karen O. Kupperman, Providence Island, 1630-1641: The Other Puritan Colony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 172.
^"Thirteenth Census of the United States taken in the year 1910" United States Bureau of the Census,
(Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office (1912-1914).
^See Laurence M. Hauptman and James Wherry, eds. The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an Indian Nation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990); Wayne J. Stein, "Gaming: The Apex of a Long Struggle," Wicazo Sa Review, vol. 13, No. 1. (Spring, 1998), pp. 73-91; Jeff Benedict, Without Reservation: How a Controversial Indian Tribe Rose to Power and Built the World's Largest Casino, Harper Books, 2001; Brett Duval Fromson, Hitting the Jackpot: The Inside Story of the Richest Indian Tribe in History, Grove Press, 2004.
^See Reagan's initial response in "Message to the Senate Returning Without Approval the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Claims Settlement Bill", April 5, 1983, University of Texas.
^Mashantucket Pequot Indian Claims Settlement Act (1983), S. 366.
^Heller, Louis G. (1961). "Two Pequot Names in American Literature," American Speech 36(1): 54-57
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Mather, Increase. A Relation of the Troubles which have Hapned in New-England, by Reason of the Indians There, from the Year 1614 to the Year 1675 (New York: Arno Press,  1972).
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Underhill, John. Nevves from America; or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England: Containing, a True Relation of their War-like Proceedings these two yeares last past, with a figure of the Indian fort, or Palizado. Also a discovery of these places, that as yet have very few or no inhabitants which would yeeld speciall accommodation to such as will plant there . . . By Captaine Iohn Underhill, a commander in the warres there (London: Printed by I. D[awson] for Peter Cole, and are to be sold at the signe of the Glove in Corne-hill neere the Royall Exchange, 1638).
Vincent, Philip. A True Relation of the late Battell fought in New England, between the English, and the Salvages: VVith the present state of things there (London: Printed by M[armaduke] P[arsons] for Nathanael Butter, and Iohn Bellamie, 1637).
Boissevain, Ethel. "Whatever Became of the New England Indians Shipped to Bermuda to be Sold as Slaves," Man in the Northwest 11 (Spring 1981), pp. 103-114.
Benedict, Jeff. Without Reservation: How a Controversial Indian Tribe Rose to Power and Built the World's Largest Casino. New York: Harper Books, 2001.
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Fromson, Brett Duval. Hitting the Jackpot: The Inside Story of the Richest Indian Tribe in History. Grove Press, 2004.
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Means, Carrol Alton. "Mohegan-Pequot Relationships, as Indicated by the Events Leading to the Pequot Massacre of 1637 and Subsequent Claims in the Mohegan Land Controversy," Archaeological Society of Connecticut Bulletin 21 (1947): 26-33.
Snow, Dean R. and Kim M. Lamphear. "European Contact and Indian Depopulation in the Northeast: The Timing of the First Epidemics," Ethnohistory 35 (1988): 16-38.
Spiero, Arthur E., and Bruce E. Speiss. "New England Pandemic of 1616-1622: Cause and Archaeological Implication," Man in the Northeast 35 (1987): 71-83.
Vaughan, Alden T. "Pequots and Puritans: The Causes of the War of 1637," William and Mary Quarterly 3rd Ser., Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1964), pp. 256-269; also republished in Roots of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
_______. New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians 1620-1675. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1980.