More links between wars in Europe and Puritan New England

I’m in the middle of researching those Puritans who fought in the Pequot War who also served in the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. So far, I know Lion Gardener who built and manned the fort at Saybrook, Connecticut fought with the English volunteer force in the Netherlands under Sir Horace Veer. And John Mason, who led the attack on Mystic was also with the English volunteers in the Netherlands.

It’s hard to start from scratch on this, because there are no lists of who fought as an English volunteer readily available on the Internet. But I’ve found that Gardener may well have been at the critical siege of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, or Bois-le-duc.

The interest in these ties is that they support my thesis that the Puritans in far-off New England, faced with exotic Native American enemies, actually saw themselves as Protestants in the thick of the battle for Europe, facing the too-familiar heretic foe. Catholics were no better than Pequots to the Puritans, and the grim and brutal battle philosophy of European soldiers and generals was transported to New England.

This means that the brutality shown by the Puritans to the Pequots in that war (1637, in the thick of the Thirty Years’ War) was not a brutality uniquely sparked by and reserved for Native Americans. It was the standard-issue European religious-war intolerance that called for the complete decimation of the enemy. Just as Protestants in Germany who fell under Imperial control were forced to convert or to leave their homes forever, so defeated Native Americans were forcibly converted or banished from their lands.

If anyone out there has more data on Puritans who fought in the Pequot and the Thirty Years’ War, let me know!

Understanding the Pequot War

Welcome to the conclusion of my series on the Pequot War. Here we ask ourselves just why this conflict took place.

I’ve already said, in part 1, that in 1637 the Massachusetts Bay Colony felt the threat it faced from “Indians” was equal to threats from the French, Dutch, and Spanish, and far less significant than the threat represented by its own English king . A handful of tiny settlements in Connecticut were all that was at stake, and MBC ended up sending fewer than 120 men to fight in just one battle. The Pequots were not particularly aggressive toward the Puritans, and only attacked after they had been provoked.

So why did it happen? To answer this question, I think we have to look at MBC and the colonies in Connecticut as part of a larger world. We have to see them as they saw themselves: soldiers in God’s army, fighting against the forces of evil. In short, they were part of the Thirty Years’ War.

From 1618-1648, brutal war was fought in Europe, mostly in Germany, between Catholic and Protestant forces. Each side engaged in incomprehensible atrocities, killing civilians and soldiers, burning towns, praising God for destroying their enemies… exactly the things the Puritans did to the Pequots in New England. For the Puritans saw themselves as the westernmost outpost of Protestantism in the world, and hoped to actually lead European Protestantism by its pure example—and its freedom from opposition. The Puritans were the only Protestants who were not surrounded by hostile or undecided fellow-Christians, and they hoped to use that lack of threat to be bold, and go far in their reformation.

So anyone who menaced them was threatening the whole future of Christianity, and, like their fellow-soldiers in Europe, New England Puritans reacted with merciless violence when heretics threatened them. To the Puritans, any non-Calvinist was a heretic, including Catholics and all other varieties of Protestants. Native Americans were really no more heretical or pagan than harlot-of-Rome papists.

When the Puritans were primed to spring with violence on anyone who threatened them, they had several potential enemies in mind (again, the Dutch, French, Native Americans, and England itself). The Pequots merely sprung the trap first. By making the first attack, they unleashed the full force of Puritan war upon themselves.

It was just the luck of the draw, in a way: if the Dutch had sprung the trap first, there would have been a bloody war with Manhattan instead, that would have involved thousands of Puritans rather than dozens.

For many decades historians have been certain that Puritans hated Native Americans above all others, considered only Native Americans to be heretics/pagans, and were dying to have an “Indian war.” I believe this is untrue. In 1637 New England, at least, all threats were equal, all foes were pagans, and war with Indians was seen as maybe just a foretaste of the war that would come with England itself.

Not even 40 years after the Pequot War ended, another, far more terrible war would be fought with Native Americans: King Phillip’s War (1675-6). It was fought for different reasons than the Pequot War. KPW was about land, and restricting New England to white settlement. It was the classic “Indian war” that would be fought over and over, hundreds of times, as English settlement and then the United States expanded.

But the Pequot War was a far-flung battle in a European war of religion, and while it set a bad precedent for relations between English settlers and (Native) Americans, in a perverse way, for the Puritans it was not about America at all.

Puritan New England on the Edge: 1637

In part 2 of my series on the Pequot War, we look at the condition of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the settlements in Connecticut and New Haven on the eve of war.

The MBC was founded in 1630 by Puritans led by John Winthrop. They had left England because persecution of Puritans was being stepped up by King Charles I’s new Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. The Puritans who founded the MBC were determined to be self-ruling. But they faced many threats to their security.

To the north, in today’s Maine, were the Catholic French, stretching out from Canada. To the west, in Manhattan and western Connecticut, were the Dutch, whose government claimed the land the Puritans settled on. In Europe, the Thirty Years’ War was being fought against the Spanish; if the Spanish won, Catholicism would triumph in Europe, and the Dutch possessions in New York would become Spanish (since Spain was fighting in part to resume control over Holland). And at home in England, Laud was urging King Charles to take direct control of Massachusetts and bring it in line by outlawing its Puritanism.

These threats were immediate and real. You notice there is no mention of Native Americans. To most Puritans, Native Americans were the least of the threats facing the colony. The Native Americans were few, and unarmed, and frankly, off the radar for the Puritans, whose focus was completely on fellow Europeans, both in Europe and in America.

As early as 1633, just three years after settlement, the MBC found out that a group of English men, some former American settlers, had presented a petition to the king saying the Puritans in America were traitors, and ought to be destroyed. Friends of the colony still in England stepped in to deny this claim, and the king was persuaded not to act. But the next year, news came that the Commission for Regulating Plantations run by Archbishop (and Puritan-hater) Laud had been granted authority over the colony. Months later, the commission demanded that the Puritans send back their patent to England for “revisions.”

The patent was the grant signed by the king that allowed the Puritans to settle in Massachusetts and to govern themselves as they saw fit, so long as they did not make laws contrary to English law. If it was sent back to Laud, it would be destroyed, and Laud would write a new patent making Massachusetts a royal colony, under the king’s control.

Several times over the next few years the colony refused to surrender its patent. It began arming itself for war with England, fortifying Castle Island and other positions. During this stressful time, the French attacked and destroyed a trading post set up in Maine by Plymouth Colony, and the Dutch refused to abandon a trading post they set up on the Connecticut River.

So the Massachusetts Bay Colony was alarmed and preparing for war well before trouble with the Pequots arose in late 1634. When it did, the Pequots were seen as just one more threat to the colony. Contemporary historians often describe the Puritans as chomping at the bit to have an Indian war, but in reality, the Puritans were certain that at least one war was coming to them, and when it turned out to be an Indian war, they must have been a little surprised.

Next time: What caused the Pequot War?