Marsh Madness

You perhaps do not recall this but an eye-witness observer reported that he went with ten men and three dogs to burn weeds, leaves and reeds about a half-mile from where he lived, along the narrow neck of land on College Street, and no sooner than when they began clearing the vegetation, four men jumped out of “the fiery reeds” and several more were seen hiding in the marsh.

Seeing so many strange men unexpectedly run from the marsh scared some of those who were burning the weeds and two of them, Thomas Rumble and Arthur Branch, dropped everything they were carrying and ran away.  They may have been cowards, or wise-men, because more men promptly arose from the reeds and began shooting and attaching the ones who came to clear the marsh grass.

Two of the men were almost immediately shot by the strangers hiding in the reeds who then attempted to get behind the men to prevent them from escaping to the safety of their home.  There were several more casualties:  Thomas Hurlbut was shot through the thigh.  John Spencer in his kidneys, and the eye-witness who told this story was also shot in the thigh.  Two others were shot dead.

As the group attempted to retreat they had to defend themselves against the attackers by wielding the long knives they brought with them and they eventually succeeded in returning to the safety of their homes.

A few days later, with wounds healing, a group of eight men went out again and found guns that were thrown away.  They recovered the body of one of their companions who was shot with an arrow through his right side.

The leader of the group decided that the two men who ran away should draw lots to see which one of the cowards would be executed.  But, needing men for the many tasks the group faced, others interceded and their lives were spared.

So it was on February 22, 1637 when Lion Gardiner, commander of Saybrook Fort, and a small group of men went to clear reeds from the marsh that today borders College Street.  It was one, but perhaps the most devastating, of several skirmishes between the English settlers and the Pequot natives that made up what we today call the Pequot War.

The war and the building of the first fort at Saybrook Point have been the subject of a multi-year archaeological and historical investigation by scholars from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.

In cooperation with the scholars from the Museum and with funding from the National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program, the Old Saybrook Historical Society has been developing materials to raise awareness and understanding of this significant event.

The Historical Society has scheduled a public program to share information about this work as a “report to the community” on Sunday, May 12, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. at the Vicki Duffy Pavilion.  Following brief presentations by those involved in the project, there will be a walking tour of nearby fort and battle sites.  The program is free and the public is invited.

Copyright Tedd Levy