Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narrangansetts

Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narrangansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country

Julie A. Fisher
David J. Silverman
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
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    Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narrangansetts
    Book Description:

    Ninigret was a sachem of the Niantic and Narragansett Indians of what is now Rhode Island from the mid-1630s through the mid-1670s. For Ninigret and his contemporaries, Indian Country and New England were multipolar political worlds shaped by ever-shifting intertribal rivalries. In the first biography of Ninigret, Julie A. Fisher and David J. Silverman assert that he was the most influential Indian leader of his era in southern New England. As such, he was a key to the balance of power in both Indian-colonial and intertribal relations.

    Ninigret was at the center of almost every major development involving southern New England Indians between the Pequot War of 1636-37 and King Philip's War of 1675-76. He led the Narrangansetts' campaign to become the region's major power, including a decades-long war against the Mohegans led by Uncas, Ninigret's archrival. To offset growing English power, Ninigret formed long-distance alliances with the powerful Mohawks of the Iroquois League and the Pocumtucks of the Connecticut River Valley. Over the course of Ningret's life, English officials repeatedly charged him with plotting to organize a coalition of tribes and even the Dutch to roll back English settlement. Ironically, though, he refused to take up arms against the English in King Philip's War. Ninigret died at the end of the war, having guided his people through one of the most tumultuous chapters of the colonial era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7047-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: Picturing Ninigret
    (pp. vii-xx)
  4. A Chronology of Key Events in the Life of Ninigret
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. Chapter 1 Being and Becoming a Sachem
    (pp. 1-30)

    When Ninigret signed colonial documents, he left a war club as his mark, with the obvious intent of sending a message. At its most basic, this symbol warned colonists that Ninigret stood ever ready to defend his interests. More subtly, it also spoke to the central concern in his life: his responsibilities as sachem. Ninigret’s qualifications for leadership must have included proving himself in battle, apparently while wielding a club. Thereafter, he fulfilled his role as sachem by leading his warriors against foreign enemies and using this weapon to “brain” the heads of egregious domestic criminals condemned to execution.¹ Ninigret’s...

  7. Chapter 2 “To obtaine it by force”
    (pp. 31-53)

    Ninigret emerged as a major sachem during the 1630s, as surrounding European colonies, particularly English ones, began to expand in size and influence. Throughout the decade, English puritans arrived by the thousands in the new colony of Massachusetts and then began spreading into the Connecticut River Valley, Narragansett Bay, and eastern Long Island, thereby encircling Narragansett country. Meanwhile, the Dutch of New Netherland extended their Indian trade eastward through Long Island Sound and up the Connecticut River. These developments were followed quickly by the Pequot War of 1636–37, the first large-scale clash between Indians and colonists in the region....

  8. Chapter 3 “I doe but Right my owne quarrell”
    (pp. 54-86)

    Ninigret said nothing on record about his ambitions following the death of Miantonomi in 1643. Nevertheless, his actions suggest that he was driven by the goal of extending his network of tribute payers and broadening his influence domestically to include the Narragansetts as well as the Niantics. He behaved like a young sachem on the make, seeking to accumulate and wield power, rather than as an older leader focused on consolidating previous gains. To a certain degree, the path for Ninigret’s ascent was clear of major obstacles because of the defeat of the Pequots, the loss of Miantonomi, and shortcomings...

  9. Chapter 4 A Time of Decision
    (pp. 87-112)

    Throughout his career as sachem, Ninigret’s approach toward the English had been guided by a single principle: to keep them out of his people’s affairs. In practical terms, that meant he wanted them to stop defending the Mohegans and Montauketts so the Narragansetts could revenge Miantonomi’s death and assume the role once held by the Pequots as the preeminent tribute-collecting tribe on Long Island Sound. Yet neither the English nor Indians threatened by the Narragansetts would conform to Ninigret’s agenda. Ever since its founding, the United Colonies had systematically extended protection to the very Indians that the Narragansetts wanted to...

  10. Chapter 5 Ninigret’s Narragansett War
    (pp. 113-134)

    The great clash pitting a broad coalition of New England Indian peoples against the English and their Indian allies burst forth in 1675–76 after decades of festering tension. Nowadays we refer to this bloodbath as King Philip’s War, but some English contemporaries had a different name for it: they called it the Narragansett War.¹ Given Ninigret’s track record of leading Narragansett confrontations with the English, and the English image of Ninigret as the ringleader of a number of failed multitribal uprisings, it is easy to imagine him being the one to raise the banner of Indian resistance. Yet that...

  11. Epilogue: The Small Matter of Eltwood Pomeroy’s Mare
    (pp. 135-140)

    Ninigret’s political career was filled with so many crises that it is easy to overlook a less dramatic issue that dogged him throughout most of his life: compensating colonist Eltwood Pomeroy for the death of his mare. This seemingly minor affair testifies to Ninigret’s skill at acquiring and managing power during an era that undermined so many of his sachem peers, and reveals his management of the multipolar politics of seventeenth-century New England. It also shows that our tendency to characterize Indian leaders as either militant resisters of colonialism or colonial lackeys fails to capture the complexity of figures like...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 141-142)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 143-178)
  14. Glossary of Key People and Places
    (pp. 179-184)
  15. Index
    (pp. 185-191)