History Revealed–The 1637 Battle of Pequot Swamp
Strolling through Southport today, it’s easy to see the historic homes and to get a sense of the rich history of the area. But less obvious is the fact that just underfoot—in backyards, parks and woodsy parts of the area—is a much more complicated history, evidenced by musket balls, buttons, and items dating as far back as the 1600s. Many of those items have now been re-discovered, photographed and documented, giving researchers more information than they ever had before about what exactly went on during the Battle of Pequot (Munnacommock) Swamp nearly 400 years ago.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center was awarded a grant in 2017 by the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program to identify and document the site of one of the earliest and most important battles in colonial America, and now, after two years of research that included scanning yards with metal detectors, the project has come to an end. Working with archeologists from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, the Fairfield Museum was able to chronical the last major battle of the Pequot War, a fight between Pequot and English Allied forces, which took place from July 13 to July 14, 1637.
Just before the battle, which was the final engagement of the Pequot War (1636-1637), the Pequot tribe had lost half of their men during devastating engagements farther north. They were retreating. The chief Pequot Sachem Sassacus left with his bodyguard and went up the Housatonic River to seek assistance from the Mohawk tribe near present-day Albany, New York. The remaining Pequots went to seek refuge with their Sasqua and Pequonnock allies in Sasquanikut (Fairfield). There they were attacked by a force of 160 soldiers from Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Battle of Pequot Swamp was an English victory and the last major engagement of the Pequot War.
The goal of this exciting research project was to locate and document battlefield activity associated with the 24-hour battle. In all, a total of 265 objects were recovered, 85 of which were considered battlefield related objects. Unfortunately, very little of the landscape associated with the battle was still intact, with houses and I-95 built right through the middle of the ancient Munnacommock Swamp. However, two areas yielded a number of 17th-century objects that allowed researchers to piece together what happened. One was Southport Park, just northeast of the swamp, where items that were found have lead the researchers to believe that the park area represents one of the first skirmishes of the battle, when the English descended Mill Hill and engaged Pequot warriors taking refuge in the swamp.
“It’s exciting when history is unearthed beneath our feet, especially when it’s in our own backyards,” says Fairfield Museum curator of exhibitions Laurie Lamarre. Says Lamarre: “Research like this makes events that happened hundreds of years ago, like the Pequot War, more tangible and relevant to Fairfield’s citizens. We look forward to working with the team in the future to help interpret more about the Pequot War, an event that changed the course of history in Fairfield.”
“The Fairfield Museum is committed to careful historical research that helps us better understand our community’s complex history,” notes Museum executive director Michael Jehle. “This multi-year project was a tremendous success thanks to our partnership with the National Park Service, and the generous support of the Southport Area Association and Pequot Runners Club, along with the encouragement of the Southport Conservancy, Sasquanaug Association, and all of the landowners who allowed access to their property.”
After nearly 400 years, the Pequot War is still considered one of the most controversial and significant events in American history. Two hundred non-combatants including women, children, and the elderly, surrendered to the English and were sold into slavery. The remaining Pequot-allied warriors fought the English overnight and were able to break out of the swamp at dawn. Although few casualties occurred on either side, the Pequot were not able to mount any further opposition. Six months after the battle, English settlers from Massachusetts Bay arrived at Quinnipiac to establish New Haven Colony and began to settle towns along the shoreline, including Fairfield.
The project is part of the state-wide Battlefields of the Pequot War project that is focused on identifying and preserving similar battlefields associated with the Pequot War (1636-1637) across Connecticut. To learn more, visit the Fairfield Museum’s “Creating Community” exhibition and read the project’s final report at fairfieldhistory.org/library-collections/pequot/.