Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Story of Pequot Swamp

Pequot Swamp


The Northwestern part of Southport is called Pequot Swamp. Two hundred years ago, and more, was fought here the great battle between our English forefathers and the Pequot tribes of Indians. This locality--then a lowland forest--as the scene of the Pequot massacre, was named Pequot Swamp. It is, comparatively, but a few years ago since an effectual bugbear to frighten children into obedience, was to mention them "the Indians," who-- their youthful imaginations led them to believe--were still lurking in the dark recesses of this dreaded forest. One of the "oldest inhabitants" of the village, relates to us, that he can recollect the time when the superstitious "children of a larger growth" were afraid to go near the "swamp" after dark, such was their dread of the red man. Not many years have elapsed since stone tomahawks and other relics of the Pequot’s were frequently discovered in this Indian retreat. And now at this day, when the farmer turns up its soil, flint arrow heads, such as are know to have been used by the Indians in their battles, are often found. The following account of the first white settlers in Pequot swamp is "founded on fact," although the imagination has been largely drawn upon to supply what history does not furnish.

  A short time previous to the battle between the English and the Pequot’s, Enoch Griswold, an exile from the Providence Colony, settled on the border of the Pequot Swamp. The house occupied by Enoch, a rude log cabin, was still standing (on the site now occupied by the Congregational church) at the beginning of the present century. Enoch's family consisted of Mary his wife, a daughter Esther, in her seventeenth year, and Josiah Morgan, a young friend and distant relative of the Griswold’s. But a few Indians lived in the vicinity of Enoch's settlements, and these were friendly. The Pequot’s were driven in here from the eastern part of the Connecticut colony, and all exterminated or carried away prisoners, except the few who escaped and were supposed to have fled and joined the Mohegan. But as the sequel will appear, they returned as soon as the English had left, and secreted themselves in an almost impenetrable thicket in the swamp. They doubtless resolved there to remain, until they had avenged, in a measure, their fallen comrades, by retaliation on the white family they had noticed in the vicinity. Those were good old Puritanical, patriarchal days. Enoch and his family were happy. Their simple wants were easily supplied from the fruitful land and the bountiful sea. Often they, in company with their Indian friends, spend the day fishing, and return with well filled baskets, for our river and the Sasco were then teeming with finny beauties. It was while returning from an excursion of this kind, one afternoon that Esther, who had loitered behind the rest of the company, gathering wild flowers for a wreath, was suddenly missed. No great fears for her safety were at first entertained, as no hostile Indians were known to be within many miles, and it is a common occurrence for her to drop in at the neighboring wigwams and chat with the squaws and their children, her goodness of heart making her a general favorite. But as evening began to approach, and no Ester returned, strange foreboding filled the minds of Enoch and his household. Inquiries were made at the various wigwams, but no trace of her could be obtained. All passed a sleepless, anxious night, but as soon as morning dawned, the firm lip and dauntless eye of both Enoch and Josiah, told of their determination to ascertain if possible her whereabouts. They first retraced their steps, by the path they had come the day before, to the landing, (Now White's Rocks) near the mouth of the river, that being the usual place for hauling up their canoes; it having just occurred to them that Esther, who being accustomed to use the paddle had often taken alone might, for a little playful scare, have hidden until they were out of sight, and then returned to the boat and been carried out by a fierce squall that had arisen soon after. But their canoes were all there. A wreath was found, the tell-tale wreath to the eye of Josiah, for none but Esther could have made it. On looking further, the print of strange moccasins was discovered in the sand, an arrow was found and recognized as belonging to the Nehantics, a Long Island tribe. At the water's edge there was a mark from the prow of a much larger canoe than any at the landing. it flashed upon their minds at once that Esther had been seized and carried to Long Island by the Nehantics. Who can picture to mind the anguish of the good father as he thought of the fate of his dutiful, affectionate daughter? Who can describe the agony of Josiah, as he imagined his idol, his betrothed, in the hands of a cruel, savage, foe!
A pursuit was once resolved upon.  Hastily filling up their largest canoe with supplies, and accompanied by two faithful Indian allies, Wampeag and Catoonah, all were well armed, they started for the islands (now Norwalk Islands) a short distance from the mouth of the river, thinking that if their fears were true, and Esther had been abducted by that tribe, they had probably stopped their over night, and might not yet have left.  Love, filial affection, and revenge nerved the ears, and they were not long in reaching the islands.  As they had surmised, the Indians had stopped there; but they were now gone.  The embers from a recent fire were still warm; the print of the same moccasins was visible; the prow of the same canoe had left its mark in the sand.  Burning with impatience and rage, and resolved to lose their lives if need be, in the attempt to save her, they started at once for Long Island, feeling sure from so many indications, that their foes were Nehantics, living near what is now known as Eaton's Neck.  But to return to Esther, whom we left gathering flowers, little dreaming of danger.  She had wandered from the path in quest of some rare colors with which to deck the brow of her lover, and having sufficient for her purpose, seated herself near a thick copse and finished her wreath.  As she was looking with admiration upon her work, her cheeks flushed with the thought of how pleased Josiah would be, she was suddenly seized by four dusky Pequots.  Before she had time to make any outcry, she was gagged, tied, and hurried into the woods.  Making a wide detour through the woods, which were then continuous from Pequot Swamp to the Sasco, the Indians dragged the almost insensible Esther to a bend in the Sasco, (where now stands the dwelling of Capt. Thorp,) and there meeting two comrades in waiting with a canoe, hastily embarked and glided down the river to a dense clump of woods near  itsmouth, where they waited until under cover of the darkness,  they could proceed in safety.  As soon as it was fairly dark they left the river, and hugging along the land, stopped at the place where Esther, a few hours before, had so happily tripped ashore.  Here they purposely dropped the wreath, and the arrow which had formerly belonged to the Nehantic, and leaving plenty of traces in the sand, they started for the islands.  Staying there until near midnight, and leaving fuel enogh on the fire to last till morning, they then doubled their track, and returning to Sasco River, were long before daylight, snugly ensconced in their Pequot lair; succeeding well, as we have seen, in throwing his party off trail.
   So intent were the pursuers on the object they had in view, so earnest in their purpose to rescue Esther, that they had hardly noticed the heavy swell of the sea noticed the heavy swell of the sea from a violent northeaster, which then, as now, was common to September.  The wind blew almost a gale, and was increasing every moment.  They had proceeded about half the distance fromLong Island, when Enoch, who seemed to have a presentiment of his fate, exclaimed to his companions, "we shall never reach the shore!  O, my poor Esther, I shall never see you again!"  Their frail bark soon after began to take in water.  Still by bailing and using the utmost skills to keep her trimmed, they succeeded in getting within a mile of the shore, near the reef, when they were capsized.  Enoch, with one look of despair, sank, and was not seen after.  Josiah and the two Indians clung to the boat, and nearly exhausted, drifted ashore.   The Nehantics, though not friendly to the tribe on this side, yet had enough of human kindness in their hearts to befriend a shipwrecked company. Josiah and his companions were tenderly cared for, and they learned from the Nehantics, without exciting their suspicions, that none of their tribe had made any voyages to the north shore within several days.  Grief, the double bereavement, the loss of his beloved and of him who was a father, had well-nigh unmanned Josiah, and with a heavy heart he made preparations for returning.  The next morning, the storm having subsided, they started.  On their way they stopped again at the islands to see if they could discover any more traces of Esther and her captors.  That her abductors had been their was plain; but the Nehantics were not the guilty party.  Who could it have been?  They again examined the beach.  The footprints of Esther were plainly visible, for the Pequots had unbound her after reaching the islands.  On looking further, where there was a spot of smooth clean sand, the tracks appeared to have a method--a design about them, and examining them closely, they could plainly make out the word "Pequot" imprinted by her feet in the sand.  this gave them a clue, and yet a faint one.  Of the history of the battles they were familiar, knowing that the Pequots were all killed or taken away prisoners, except the few that joined the Mohegans.  Had some of that few returned, and with their whites captive gone back to the Mohegans? Oh, with what a feeling of loneliness and almost utter despair Josiah gazed upon that word in the sand.  He could imagine how she, intently watching her masters lest they should discover her intentions, had endeavored to guide her friends in their pursuit.  those dear footprints seemed to him the last of Esther.  Hope of seeing her again had nearly fled.     Sadly they turned the prow of their boat homeward.  No Esther-no Enoch.  How could Josiah break the tidings to the mother, the wife.  Had they come back--this party of rescuers--bringing the darling object of their search, with what alacrity their little craft would have sped over the intervening water.  But now, instead of one to them as dead, another, Enoch, the head--the chief of the little family, was gone.  How languidly the canoe crept towards the landing.  How they dreaded to meet the anxious bereaved one.
   To Mary the blow was overwhelming.  To be deprived of her husband and her daughter, and she in a strange land, an exile from the home of her kindred; it was well nigh insupportable.  The sympathy of the little community was aroused, and not only their sympathy, but their anger.  It seemed to be the one opinion among the Indians, that Esther had been carried off to the Mohegans.  The Sachem was indignant that a sneaking Pequot should dare to steal his pale faced daughter, as he regarded her.  Wampeag and Catoonah offered to go in disguise to the Mohegan country, and if they found her, one of them was to return for help to assist in the rescue, and the other to remain near, to shield her, as far as possible, from harm.  They started on their hazardous journey, but with little hope of success.  The anguish and excitement of the last few days was too much for the not over robust Josiah.  The Pequots in their secure retreat were gloating over the prospect of revenge their captive they treated kindly in their rude way, not being ready to take her life--the final satiation of their hate.  They knew the value of their prize, for, unperceived, they had often been near the dwelling of Enoch, before the capture of Esther, and knew the high esteem in which she was held. The torturing--the death of one such pale face, was to them an equivalent to the torturing and death of scores of red men.   During the day they did not venture far from their hiding place, except to fish on the thickly wooded banks of the Sasco. They avoided the friendly Indians, and if seen, being dressed like them, they escaped detection.  At night, leaving one or two in charge of their prisoner, the others would travel miles away to gather clams, oysters, and other food.      Esther had become almost a stoic.  Sorrow had benumbed her faculties.  She did not dread death; to her it would be a relief.  The past happy life was like a dream. The few weeks that she had been imprisoned seemed an age.  Where she was she knew not.  The islands to which she was taken immediately after her capture, she was familiar with, having often visited them with her parents and Josiah; but before they returned, the Pequots had blindfolded her.  She little thought that not a mile intervened between her and her home.
   Three months rolled by.  The two Indians had come back, but brought no tidings of Esther.  They found that the remnant of the Pequots had not joined the Mohegan Tribe.  Josiah had recovered in some degree his wonted strength, but the fire of his manhood was gone; the light of his life had, to him, been put out.  Sometimes he would fish or hunt with his Indian friends, but these sports had lost much of their zest.  Twice, lately, on the banks of the Sasco, after a light snow, they had noticed tracks of a moccasin similar to those seen in the sand, at the landing, the morning after her abduction.  They appeared to proceed from and go towards the dense thick in the swamp.  This copse had never been entered since the battle.  It was the most difficult of access, and a sort of supernatural dread seemed to affect the minds of the Griswold family and the Indians regard to it; and no wonder, for around it lay bleaching the bones of many a Pequot.  The more Josiah thought of the similarity of the tracks in the snow and those in the sand, the more he felt convinced that they were made by the same feet.  All at once it occurred to him that Esther was in that thicket.  So sudden was the thought that his brain fairly reeled with excitement.  As soon as he became more calm, he resolved to immediately explore this part of the swamp, and hastily told a few trusty Indians of his plans.  Knowing well that if the Pequots were there, they would naturally leave at night, or most of them, for their food, as soon as it was dark, Josiah and his friends stealthily approached the thicket on the side toward Sasco river, until they were as near as possible without being discovered.  They had not long to wait, when five Pequots passed out, so near as almost to touch them in their place of concealment.  Waiting until they had gone far beyond hearing, Josiah, with feelings excited to an intense degree, led the way in the direction the Pequots had just come.  With a panther like tread, they slowly entered the tangled passage.  those minutes were hours!  Soon, a light in the far end of the opening guided their footsteps!  Two figures could be plainly seen!  It needed iron nerves just then!  A few more steps, half walking, half creeping, and Josiah had the swooning Ester clasped in his arms!  Her guard, asleep, was quickly dispatched by Josiah's comrades.  Loosing her bonds, they at once made their way out.  Leaving the Indians to watch for the Pequots, who, returning towards morning, were riddled with bullets, Josiah and Esther, with feelings too happy for utterance, returned to their home, to meet with still another joy; the father--the good Enoch was there!  Was it truly him, or his spirit from the dead!      When the canoe upset, the box containing their supplies had drifted near the spot where he arose, and clinging to it, he had been carried by the current some miles below the Neck, and had been picked up, more dead than alive, by a tribe just starting for the Hudson.  He had finally escaped from them, and after many adventures, had returned just in time to make the happiness of that family complete.  The lone settlers were soon made glad by an accession to their number, several more families emigrating from the Providence colony.  Josiah and Esther were married a few months after, and some of their honored descendants are now living in our midst.  Enoch and Mary lived to a good old age, happy in their declining years, in having such a son and such a daughter.