Mashantucket Pequot Tribe

The Mashantucket Pequot are a small Native American tribal nation of the Algonquian language community in the state of Connecticut. Within the tribe's Reservation, in 41°27′58″N 71°58′28″W / 41.46611°N 71.97444°W / 41.46611; -71.97444 Ledyard, New London County, Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot operate Foxwoods Resort Casino, the world's largest resort casino, in terms of gaming space and number of slot machines, and one of the most successful economically.[1] The tribe achieved federal recognition by an act of Congress in 1983, the eighth tribal nation to have gained recognition through the political process. Membership is based on proven descent from tribal members listed in the 1900 Census.[2]



The Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation is a land base held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Ledyard, Connecticut, in New London County, in the Norwich-New London metro area, and on the Pequot River, now known as the Thames River. The Tribe also has about 3.47 acres (14,000 m2) of off-reservation trust land in the town of Preston. The Pequot reservation was created by Connecticut Colony in 1666. Over time it had been reduced to less than an acre (4,000 m²), and the Pequot population reached a nadir of 20 or 30 in population in the early 20th century.

In 1976 the Mashantucket Pequot brought a successful lawsuit that contested the illegal appropriation of reservation lands by the state of Connecticut. They went on to expand their reservation by purchase. They placed repurchased lands into trust on behalf of the tribe with the BIA.

Their total land area as of the 2000 census was 2.17 square miles (5.6 km2).[3]


According to the 1990 census, the Mashantucket Pequot population was assessed at 320. By 2005, tribal membership grew to 785. The 2000 census showed a resident population of 325 persons living on reservation land, 227 of whom were of solely Native American heritage.


As of 2008, the Mashantucket Pequot Elders council includes:[4]

  • Chair—Priscilla Colebut Brown
  • Vice-Chair—Joyce Walker
  • Secretary/Treasurer-Anthony Sebastian

The seven members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council are:

  • Chairman—Rodney A. Butler
  • Vice-Chairman—Richard E. Sebastian (Chair of Economic Development/Public Safety COmmittees)
  • Secretary—Marjorie Colebut-Jackson (Chairwoman of Judicial/Health & Human Services Committees and Co-Chairwoman of the Family Protection & Reunification Team)
  • Treasurer—James T. Jackson (Chair of Finance/Natural Resources Protection Committees)
  • Councilor—Fatima Dames (Chairwoman of Utilities Authority, Chairwoman of Education/Parks and Recreation Committees)
  • Councilor—Crystal M. Whipple (Chairwoman of Administrative Support/Historical & Cultural Preservation Committees)
  • Councilor—Steven J. Thomas (Chair of Community Planning/Housing Committees)

The current administration's seven-member council has publicly stated that the tribal nation's priorities are protecting tribal sovereignty; focusing on the educational, emotional and physical well being of tribal members; and working to leverage the tribe's financial and economic strengths through partnership initiatives, both locally and abroad. Mashantucket Pequot's most recent efforts include investment in North Stonington. Tribal development there, such as the recently opened $80 million Lake of Isles golf resort, has proven to be a welcome addition to the town's tax base.[5]

Council terms are three years. There are roughly 450 eligible voting members of the tribal nation. Tribal Members must be at least 18 years old and in good standing with the Tribe to be eligible to vote.


  • Richard Arthur Hayward, 1975 to 1998.
  • Kenneth M. Reels, 1998 to 2003.
  • Michael Thomas, 2003 to 2009.
  • Rodney Butler, 2009 to present.


Since 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot have operated one of the largest resort casinos in the world. The Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, a research center at the University of Connecticut, performed an analysis of the casino's impact on the Connecticut economy. Their report stated that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and its Foxwoods casino have had a positive economic impact on the neighboring town of Ledyard and the state of Connecticut.[6]


The Mashantucket Pequot claim descent from the Pequot, who at one time held dominion over the coastal area between the Niantic River of present-day Connecticut, the Wecapaug River in what is now western Rhode Island, to the border of Long Island Sound. Today, there are believed to be two descendant groups of those Pequot who survived the Pequot War: the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, and the Western Pequot, better-known as the Mashantucket Pequot.

Early History

Native Americans are believed to be descended from peoples who came over the Bering Straits land bridge more than 15,000 years ago. Gradually they moved throughout the Americas. Various tribal oral histories also attest to major migrations of tribes. In the early years after European contact, Europeans recorded intertribal warfare, shifts in boundaries and changes in power.

At one time some scholars believed that the Pequot migrated toward central and eastern Connecticut sometime around 1500, from the upper Hudson River Valley. The theory of Pequot migration to the Connecticut River Valley can be traced to Rev. William Hubbard, a Puritan colonist. In 1677 he suggested that the Pequot had invaded the region sometime before the establishment of Plymouth Colony. In the aftermath of King Philip's War, Hubbard sought in his Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, to explain the ferocity with which New England's Native peoples responded to the English. Seeking answers not in Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony's own failed diplomacy and colonial conflicts over Native lands, Hubbard may have projected his own situation onto the Pequot by defining them as "foreigners" to the region. He described them as invaders from "the interior of the continent" who "by force seized upon one of the places near the sea, and became a Terror to all their Neighbors."[7]

Scholars have generally concluded that archaeological, linguistic, and documentary evidence shows the Pequot and their ancestors to have been longer in the Connecticut River Valley; essentially, they may be considered to have been indigenous for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.[8] By the time the colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were being established, the Pequot had already assumed a position of political, military, and economic dominance among Native Americans in what is now central and eastern Connecticut. Occupying the coastal area between the Niantic River of present-day Connecticut and the Wecapaug River in what is now western Rhode Island, the Pequot numbered some 16,000 persons in the most densely inhabited portion of southern New England.[9]


The smallpox epidemic of 1616–19, which killed roughly 90% of the Native inhabitants of the eastern coast of present-day New England, failed to reach the Pequot, Niantic and Narragansett. The epidemic likely contributed to their rise to clear dominance. An epidemic in 1633 devastated the entirety of the region's Native population.

Historians estimate that the Pequot suffered the loss of 80% of their entire population. At the outbreak of the Pequot War then, the Pequot may have numbered only about 3,000.[10]


In 1637, Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay colonies overwhelmed the Pequot during the Pequot War. This followed the Indians' attack on Wethersfield, Connecticut that left several settlers dead. When the military forces of the two colonies, led by John Mason and John Underhill, launched an assault on the Pequot stronghold at Mystic, a significant portion of the Pequot population was killed.[11]

Those who survived the massacre were enslaved, with some forced to become household servants of the Puritan English. More were sent to the West Indies, and others to the Mohegan and Narragansett, enemies of the Pequot who had allied themselves with the English colonies.[12] A few Pequot managed to return or survive in their traditional homeland, as marginal inhabitants of a once populous, politically powerful territory.

20th century history

By the time of the 1910 US Census, only 13 tribal members remained on the reservation.[13] In 1973, Elizabeth George (?–1973) died on the 214-acre (0.87 km2) tract of forest reservation land. Her death left no one from the tribe remaining on the land, and the federal government started the process to reclaim it.

In 1975 Richard Arthur Hayward became the tribal chairman. He worked to gain federal recognition for the tribe.[14] The tribe achieved political success by working with Congress and its committees on making their case for recognition. On October 18, 1983, President Reagan signed the Connecticut Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. In this way, the Mashantucket Pequot became the eighth American Indian tribe to gain federal recognition through congressional approval rather than following the long administrative process through the BIA.[15]

By contrast, in 2005, the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of Lantern Hill, North Stonington, Connecticut, lost their bid for federal recognition through BIA, following a challenge by the State of Connecticut. The Mashantucket Pequot is the only federally recognized Pequot tribal government in Connecticut.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs' recognition process requires tribes to prove they have been in continuous existence since 1900, were organized with internal government, and consisted of people who satisfied tribal rules for membership. The Eastern Pequots failed to meet the necessary criteria for recognition.

In his book Without Reservation (2001), author Jeff Benedict suggested that the Mashantuckets were not descended from the historical Pequot tribe, but rather from the Narragansett tribe.[14] The Pequots denounced the book but never otherwise responded to it by public statement. Dr. Laurence Hauptman, SUNY Distinguished Professor of History and specialist in Native American history, disputed many aspects of Benedict's book especially with respect to his genealogical claims regarding the current tribe.[2] Anthropologist Katherine A. Spilde also criticized Benedict's book.[16]

Tribal membership rules

Because of renewed interest in Native Americans and because the Pequots have had such a successful casino operation, they receive numerous requests from people claiming tribal ancestry and wanting entry into the nation. They base tribal membership on individuals proving descent from people included on the 1900 census.[2] This is similar to the Cherokee Nation's reliance on individuals listed in the Dawes Rolls. In addition, the Mashantucket Pequot have begun to require genetic testing of newborns to ensure they are descended from tribal members.[17]

The Mashantucket Pequot today

The interpretation of laws related to Native American lands enabled new sources of revenue. The Mashantucket Pequot, like many other Native American tribes, decided to use gambling as a revenue generator. In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot opened their resort casino called Foxwoods. One of the largest casinos in the world, it has become one of the most successful. Not only does it provide jobs for tribal members, but its revenues have enabled the tribe to invest in other community development, such as their adjacent museum.[18]

Adjacent to Foxwoods, the small tribal nation maintains the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. This describes and expresses Pequot history and culture of several millennia. The museum is an education center for both school children and adults. Its visitors have come from all over the globe. As a tribute to the diversity that makes up Indian Country, the museum hosts local and international indigenous artists and musicians, as well as mounting changing exhibits on artifacts throughout the year.

See also

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  1. ^ Jessica Durkin, "Mashantucket Election Returns Council Incumbents," Norwich Bulletin (7 November 2005).
  2. ^ a b c Professor Laurence M. Hauptman. "A Review" of Jeff Benedict’s Without Reservation: The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino, Indian Gaming, 17 March 2009
  3. ^ Connecticut – American Indian Area , Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density: 2000, U.S. Census Bureau
  4. ^ "MPTN Inauguration an entertaining cultural affair", Pequot Times, January 2008,, retrieved 2008-01-17 
  5. ^ See again Durkin, "Mashantucket Election", Norwich Bulletin (7 November 2005).
  6. ^ EconPapers Online
  7. ^ William Hubbard, The History of the Indian Wars in New England 2 vols. (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1845), vol. 2, pp. 6–7.
  8. ^ For archaeological investigations, 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.
  9. ^ Dean 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.
  10. ^ Refer to Shelburne 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.
  11. ^ For Mason and Underhill's first-person accounts, refer to John Mason, A Brief History of the Pequot War: Especially of the Memorable taking of their Fort at Mistick in Connecticut in 1637 (Boston: S. Kneeland & T. Green, 1736); and John Underhill, 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 (London: I. D[awson] for Peter Cole, 1638).
  12. ^ Refer to Lion Gardiner, "Relation of the Pequot Warres" in 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.
  13. ^ "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).
  14. ^ a b Jeff Benedict (2001), Without Reservation: How a Controversial Indian Tribe Rose to Power and Built the World's Largest Casino, New York: Perennial, ISBN 9780060931964,, retrieved 2007-02-14 
  15. ^ Mashantucket Pequot Indian Claims Settlement Act (1983), S. 366.
  16. ^ Katherine A. Spilde, "A Review": Jeff Benedict, Without Reservation: The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino, Indian Gaming, 17 March 2009
  17. ^ Reprint: Karen Kaplan, "Ancestry in a Drop of Blood", Los Angeles Times, 30 August 2005, RaceSciWebsite, accessed 17 March 2009
  18. ^ "The Dealers Show their Cards", The New York Times, December 2, 2007,, retrieved 2008-01-17 

Primary sources

  • Hubbard, William. The History of the Indian Wars in New England 2 vols. (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1845).
  • Mason, John. A Brief History of the Pequot War: Especially of the Memorable taking of their Fort at Mistick in Connecticut in 1637/Written by Major John Mason, a principal actor therein, as then chief captain and commander of Connecticut forces; With an introduction and some explanatory notes by the Reverend Mr. Thomas Prince (Boston: Printed & sold by. S. Kneeland & T. Green in Queen Street, 1736).
  • 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, [1676] 1972).
  • 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 special 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).
  • Mashantucket Pequot Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land, Connecticut United States Census Bureau
  • Vincent, Philip. A True Relation of the late Battell fought in New England, between the English, and the Salvages: With the present state of things there (London: Printed by M[armaduke] P[arsons] for Nathanael Butter, and Iohn Bellamie, 1637).

Secondary sources

  • Benedict, Jeff. Without Reservation: How a Controversial Indian Tribe Rose to Power and Built the World's Largest Casino (New York, NY: Perennial, 2001).
    • The National Indian Gaming Association has criticized Benedict's book, accusing it of being a work of fiction which attempts to undermine the tribe's status as an Indian nation. [1]
  • 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.
  • Cave, Alfred A. "The Pequot Invasion of Southern New England: A Reassessment of the Evidence", New England Quarterly 62 (1989): 27–44.
  • Cave, Alfred A. The Pequot War (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996).
  • Eisler, Kim Isaac. Revenge of the Pequots: How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World's Most Profitable Casino (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001).
  • Fromson, Brett Duval. Hitting the Jackpot: The Inside Story of the Richest Indian Tribe in History (New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003).
  • Hauptman, Laurence M. & James D. Wherry, eds. The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).
  • McBride, Kevin. "The Historical Archaeology of the Mashantucket Pequots, 1637–1900", in Laurence M. Hauptman and James Wherry, eds. Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), pp. 96–116.
  • McBride, Kevin. "Prehistory of the Lower Connecticut Valley" (Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1984).
  • Richter, Daniel K. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
  • Simmons, William S. Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620–1984 (Dartmouth, NH: University Press of New England, 1986).
  • 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).

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