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A final battle over a massacre in the Pequot War proves indecisive

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MoonWaterMan
/
Wikimedia Commons
A statue of John Mason at the Connecticut state Capitol building

Renewed hostilities over the Pequot War of 1636-1638 failed Tuesday to resolve whether John Mason, a Connecticut colonial leader who nearly eradicated the Pequot tribe, deserves a place of honor at the state Capitol.

The State Capitol Preservation and Restoration Commission splintered over whether a marble statue of Mason should remain in the niche it has occupied for more than a century above the north portico of the Capitol.

A plurality of six on the 12-member advisory panel voted to recommend leaving Mason in place, three voted for his removal and three demanded clearer direction from legislative leaders who have ultimate control over the building.

No one questioned Mason’s role in a pre-dawn raid in 1637 that ended with his troops setting afire a fortified Pequot village, killing hundreds of men, women and children and crippling what had been the region’s dominant tribe.

He also influenced the Treaty of Hartford that not only marked an end to the hostilities, but attempted to erase the vanquished tribe by banning the use of its name.

“It ended up being the platform and the architecture of how we treated Native American communities from one end of this country to the other end,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a commission member.

Walter Woodward, the state historian and a commission member, made the recommendation to leave Mason in place, create an educational program providing context, and consider new statuary for the Capitol.

“You cannot deny that Mason burned the Pequot fort, and that it was a horrific thing to do,” Woodward said.

Woodward said the English were invited into the conflict by other tribes trying to resist subjugation by the Pequots. Allies of Mason included the Mashantucket Pequots’ modern-day neighbors, the Mohegans.

“This story is much more complex than a good guys, bad guys interpretation,” Woodward said.

But he seconded Osten’s assertion “that the indigenous people of this state have in the 300-plus years that followed often been abused and mistreated by the state and its overseers.”

If the Capitol’s statuary is going to serve as a history of Connecticut, as intended by the builders, “then we should make sure that that history is clear, accurately contextualized and meaningful,” Woodward said.

William Morgan, the former Capitol police chief and commission member, said a panel whose major function is to preserve the landmark Capitol has been asked to become an arbiter of history with no clear direction or authority from lawmakers.

Osten agreed with Morgan, but still urged that the commission recommend removing the statue of Mason from the Capitol. Its presence is not necessary to tell the story of Connecticut, she said.

“Statues do not tell history. They glorify the people that we want to glorify,” Osten said. “Right now, we glorify John Mason by having him on the Capitol.”

The commission conducted an invitational forum last month on Mason.

Historians, an anthropologist, members of the Mohegan, Eastern Pequot and Mashantucket Tribes and one descendant of Mason took turns talking about racism and erasure, the complexities and horrors of the Pequot War, and the opportunities and necessity of finding meaning in history.

Marcus Mason Maronn, a descendant of Mason, furiously defended his ancestor and criticized those who define him by one act and ignore that the massacre came during a war against a fearsome foe.

“They refuse to recognize that this statue on the Capitol represents John Mason for his entire career as a dedicated public servant and as the preeminent founder of the Connecticut Colony, that this symbol is sacred for many people, and is simply not a symbol of genocide that they obsess about,” Maronn said.

Sandy Nafis, a former state representative who sits on the commission, said Tuesday that history is complex, and others honored with statuary at the Capitol have histories that are mixed, at best.

“But no one, not one of them, in my opinion, comes close to committing what in my opinion is genocide,” Nafis said.

What to do about that now will most likely be left to the six top leaders of the General Assembly. They sit on the Legislative Management Committee that has ultimate control of the building.