Its difficult to go anywhere in Windsor without encountering remnants of the Native Americans who once inhabited this area. Streets and business are adorned with the word "Tunxis." Windsor's northern section is named "Poquonock." Matianuck Avenue runs parallel to Broad Street through the heart of town. All these words are reminders of the Pequot people. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find any lasting physical reference to the people who first inhabited this area.
The most obvious landmark here is the tangled underbrush. Windsor's shoreline is made up of brush and trees covered in vines. The surrounding woods have intermixed with swamp. More often than not, small birds make up the wildlife in such environments.
Any observer could relate this tangled mess to that of a living museum. This exhibit chronicles the story of the wild, a time before roads and buildings had been built. A few seconds without the sound of the highway may only confirm this sentiment. Despite this, even Native American activity had a profound impact on this environment. This does not resemble the area they once inhabited.
Native Americans manipulated their environment in order to survive. In fact, one of the tools they used was fire. Many Northeastern Native American groups used controlled burns to help manage the undergrowth; the Pequot were no different. Doing so accomplished two tasks. I cleared the forest floor of wild brush. This allowed people to walk uninterrupted by brush. But most importantly, this helped to provide food. Larger game, such as deer, are better accustomed to clear spaces. The strategic clearing of wild brush through burning helped to severely ramp up the deer population in the area. Also, subsistence farming was also in high use. This is a method that uses field rotation and hard labor and was widespread amongst the first people of the Connecticut Valley.
Unlike common misconceptions, the Pequot people were much more than mere hunter gatherers. They developed a complex relationship with the environment around them. This, as historian James Wilson explains in his book "The Earth Shall Weep," is evidence of an advanced society with formal, centralized planning. Tribes were not roaming packs of humans, but rather "a group of blood relatives tracing their descent from a common female ancestor," says Wilson.
Northeastern Native Americans also relied on a simpler form of democracy to keep order and peace. The sachem, or chief, had to retain the support of his people by making informed decisions. As the colonist William Wood puts it, even the sachem's "fair courage bear him not out the better, they will soon unscepter him." Many Native American tribes had some form of hierarchy that made most decisions, kept peace and represented model citizens that were supported by the people.
Perhaps tribal leaders' most important role was that of peace keeper. While it is true that the Pequot did make war with other tribes, the rules of Native American warfare were much different than we are accustomed to today. One Algonquin spelled this out clearly for an English settler: "If we intend at any time to make War we will let you know of it, and the Reasons why we make War with you; and if you make us satisfied for the injury done... then we will not make War on you." The notion that two groups could could solve contact through peaceful declaration was to be expected. Its even possible to call Native American war a mutual agreement.
On top of this, fighting was not as violent, nor on the scale as Europeans were used to. During the Pequot War, John Mason's compatriot Captain Underhill wrote that many of their Narragansett allies were disgusted with his brutality: "our Indians came to us, and much rejoiced... but cried Mach it, mach it; that is, it is naught wicked, because it is too furious, and slays too many men." For Native Americans, light war was a method to resolve conflict. If necessary, arguments could end through a quick flash of brute strength. But this was meant to be avoided.
For the Pequot people, universal understanding was held in the highest esteem. For them, it was better to share in prosperity and suffering before conflict. James Wilson refers to this belief as "reciprocity." Today, we know it as the phrase "what's mine is yours, and yours is mine." When the first trans-Atlantic settlers arrived, it was Native American's generosity with food that ultimately allowed European success, and would prove to be the Pequot's downfall.