Mashantucket Pequot Tribe

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Mashantucket Pequot Tribe
Total population
(Enrolled members: 1,003)
Regions with significant populations
 United States Connecticut
English, formerly Pequot
Related ethnic groups
Mohegan and Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation

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The Mashantucket Pequot are a federally recognized Native American nation in the state of Connecticut. They are descended from the Pequot people, one of the Algonquian-languages family. Within their Reservation in Ledyard, New London County, Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot operate Foxwoods Resort Casino. It is the world's largest resort casino in terms of gambling space and number of slot machines, and until 2007 one of the most economically successful.[1] By 2012 it was deeply in debt.[2][3]

In the course of its successful federal land claims suit against the state, the tribe achieved federal recognition in 1983 by an act of Congress, as part of the settlement of the suit. It was the eighth tribal nation to have gained recognition through the political rather than administrative process. Tribal membership is based on proven descent from tribal members listed in the 1900 Census.[4] They are one of two federally recognized tribes in Connecticut; the other are the Mohegan Indian Tribe.

In addition, the state recognizes the Schaghticoke tribe, whose reservation dates from 1736; the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, with a reservation from 1683; and the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation, with a reservation from 1639.


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. It is 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 the Connecticut Colony in 1666. The Pequot population reached a nadir of 20 or 30 persons in the early 20th century. In 1973, when the last person living on the 214-acre reservation died, the state government started planning to take back the land.

In 1976, the Mashantucket Pequot filed a land claim against the state, contesting the illegal appropriation of reservation lands by the state of Connecticut. When finally settled by federal legislation in 1983, their land claims settlement included federal recognition as a tribe. The Mashantucket Pequot have since added to their reservation by purchase and placed the additional lands into trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on behalf of the tribe. As of the 2000 census, their total land area was 2.17 square miles (5.6 km2).[5]

Demographics and membership

According to the 1990 census, the Mashantucket Pequot population was recorded as 320. By 2005, tribal membership had increased to 785. As a federal tribe, it sets its own membership rules. The tribe requires members to be of proven descent from those members listed in the census of 1900.

The 2000 census showed a resident population of 325 persons living on reservation land, 227 of whom identified solely as Native American. (That census was the first in which people could claim more than one ethnic or racial identity.)


As of 2008, the Mashantucket Pequot Elders council includes:[6]

  • Chair—Joyce Walker
  • Vice-Chair— Gary Carter Sr.
  • Secretary/Treasurer-Anthony Sebastian

The seven members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council are:

  • Chairman—Rodney A. Butler
  • Vice-Chairwoman—Fatima Dames (Chairwoman of Administrative Support/Historical & Cultural Preservation Committees)
  • Secretary—Marjorie Colebut-Jackson (Chairwoman of Judicial/Health & Human Services Committees and Co-Chairwoman of the Family Protection & Reunification Team)
  • Treasurer—Jean Swift (Chair of Community Planning/Housing Committees)
  • Councilor—Daniel Menihan
  • Councilor—Roy Colebut-Ingram
  • Councilor—Richard Sebastian

The current administration's seven-member council has stated that the nation's priorities are protecting tribal sovereignty; focusing on the educational, emotional and physical well-being of 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, Connecticut. Tribal development there, such as the recently opened $80 million Lake of Isles golf resort, has proven to be a positive addition to the town's tax base.[1]

Members are elected to the Council for three-year terms. 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 what has developed as one of the largest resort casinos in the world. The Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, a research center at the University of Connecticut, analyzed the casino's effects 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, which receives a portion of gaming proceeds.[7]


The Mashantucket Pequot claim descent from the historic Pequot, an Algonquian language-speaking people who dominated the coastal area from the Niantic River of present-day Connecticut east to the Wecapaug River in what is now western Rhode Island, and south to Long Island Sound. A second descendant group is the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, who gained federal recognition in 2002.

Early history

Archeological and linguistic research has revealed that the recorded historic tribes encountered by the Europeans emerged at different periods and often undertook migrations. Various tribal oral histories also attest to major migrations of tribes and the emergence of new tribes over time.

In the early years after European contact through trading with fishermen, the coastal tribes began to suffer high fatalities from new infectious diseases. During the colonial years, Europeans recorded intertribal warfare, shifts in boundaries, and changes in power.

At one time some scholars believed that the Pequot migrated from the upper Hudson River Valley into central and eastern Connecticut around 1500. 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 wrote Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, to explore the ferocity with which New England's Native peoples had attacked the English. He did not recognize Connecticut and the Massachusetts Bay Colony's failed diplomacy and conflicts through encroachment on Native lands. Hubbard may have projected the colonists' status by classifying the Pequot 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."[8] The book was published in the mid-nineteenth century.

Contemporary scholars have generally concluded that archaeological, linguistic, and documentary evidence all show the Pequot and their ancestors were indigenous for centuries in the Connecticut Valley before the arrival of Europeans.[9][10][11] By the time the English colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were being established, the Pequot had established dominance of the political, military, and economic spheres 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 western Rhode Island, the Pequot numbered some 16,000 persons in the most densely inhabited portion of southern New England.[12]


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 mortality rate of the epidemic among other tribes resulted in their rising to dominance.

But, a smallpox 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. By the outbreak of the Pequot War in 1637, their numbers may have been reduced to about 3,000 in total.[13]


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.[14]

The colonists enslaved the surviving Pequot, and some were forced to become household servants of the Puritans in New England. Most were sent to the West Indies as labor for plantation agriculture. Others were transferred to the Mohegan and Narragansett, enemies of the Pequot who had allied themselves with the English.[15]

A few Pequot returned or survived in their traditional homeland, as marginal inhabitants of the territory they had once controlled. Through the years they intermarried with other ethnic groups. The majority culture assumed they had assimilated or disappeared. But, many of the Pequot descendants, while multi-racial, retained a sense of culture and continuity.[16] They absorbed others into their culture and identified as Pequot.

20th century history

By the time of the 1910 US Census, only 13 tribal members lived on the reservation.[17] 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.[18] The tribe achieved political success by persuading Congressmen and appropriate committees in making the case for recognition and land claims. In this period, some tribes based in New York filed land claim suits against its state government, winning in court.

On October 18, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the Connecticut Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, which included recognition of the Mashantucket Pequot. They were the eighth American Indian tribe to gain federal recognition through an act of Congress rather than through the administrative process of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).[19] At least one other case of recognition had also been tied to settlement of a tribe's legitimate land claim.

In his book Without Reservation (2001), Jeff Benedict suggested that the Mashantucket were not descended from the historical Pequot tribe, but rather from the Narragansett tribe.[18] The Pequot denounced the book but did not deign to respond to it. Dr. Laurence Hauptman, a State University of New York Distinguished Professor of History and specialist in Native American history, disputed many aspects of Benedict's work. He argued with Benedict's assertions on the genealogy of current members.[4] The anthropologist Katherine A. Spilde also criticized Benedict's book.[20]

The Bureau of Indian Affairs' had established criteria, in consultation with tribes, by which tribes seeking recognition had to document cultural and community continuity, a political organization and related factors. Among the criteria are having to prove continuous existence as a recognized community since 1900, with internal government, and tribal rules for membership.

In 2002, the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of North Stonington, Connecticut, gained federal recognition, as did the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in 2004. In 2005, the Bureau of Indian Affairs revoked recognition of both Connecticut tribes.

Tribal membership rules

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe receives numerous requests from individuals applying for admission as members. They base tribal membership on individuals' proving descent, by recognized genealogical documentation, from people included on the 1900 census of the tribe.[4] This is similar to the Cherokee Nation's reliance on proven direct descent from Cherokee listed in the early 20th-century Dawes Rolls. In addition, the Mashantucket Pequot have begun to require genetic testing of newborns whose parents apply to enroll them as members, to ensure they are descended from the parent claiming tribal membership. [21]


The interpretation of laws related to tribal sovereignty on Native American lands have enabled some tribal nations to develop new businesses and sources of revenue. The Mashantucket Pequot decided to use gambling as a revenue generator to support other economic development and welfare programs.

In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot opened their resort casino, called Foxwoods. Now one of the largest casinos in the world, it has become one of the most successful. It is located near a large metropolitan area. It provides a variety of jobs for tribal members but, more importantly, the tribe has used revenues from the casino to invest in other community development, such as its adjacent museum.[22]

Adjacent to Foxwoods, the tribe maintains the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. This interprets Pequot history and culture of several millennia. The museum is an educational center for both school children and adults, and has attracted international visitors. The museum hosts local and international indigenous artists and musicians, as well as mounting changing exhibits of artifacts throughout the year.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Jessica Durkin, "Mashantucket Election Returns Council Incumbents," Norwich Bulletin, 7 November 2005
  2. Associated Press, "Indian casinos struggle to get out from under debt," January 21, 2012 online
  3. Michael Sokolove, "Foxwoods is fighting for its life." New York Times Magazine (2012)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 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
  5. Connecticut – American Indian Area , Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density: 2000, U.S. Census Bureau
  6. "MPTN Inauguration an entertaining cultural affair", Pequot Times, January 2008, retrieved 2008-01-17<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. EconPapers Online
  8. William Hubbard, The History of the Indian Wars in New England 2 vols. (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1845), vol. 2, pp. 6–7.
  9. 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 Means, "Mohegan-Pequot Relationships", 26–33
  10. Alfred A. Cave, "The Pequot Invasion of Southern New England: A Reassessment of the Evidence", New England Quarterly 62 (1989): 27–44
  11. Truman D. Michelson, "Notes on Algonquian Language", International Journal of American Linguistics 1 (1917): 56–57.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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).
  15. 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.
  16. "Family Behind Foxwoods Loses Hold in Tribe", The New York Times, June 2, 2007, retrieved 2015-10-11<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "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).
  18. 18.0 18.1 Jeff Benedict (2001), Without Reservation: How a Controversial Indian Tribe Rose to Power and Built the World's Largest Casino, New York: Perennial, ISBN 978-0-06-093196-4, retrieved 2007-02-14<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Mashantucket Pequot Indian Claims Settlement Act (1983), S. 366.
  20. 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
  21. Reprint: Karen Kaplan, "Ancestry in a Drop of Blood", Los Angeles Times, 30 August 2005, RaceSciWebsite, accessed 17 March 2009
  22. "The Dealers Show their Cards", The New York Times, December 2, 2007, retrieved 2008-01-17<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

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).
  • Review: Without Reservation, Indian Gaming
  • 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 (April 1964), pp. 256–269; also republished in Roots of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

External links