Dependence as a Form of Warfare


Aquy! My name is Natasha Gambrell. I am a member of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. I am a direct descent of Abby Fagin and John Randall. In 2017 I was elected as a Tribal Councilor. This is one of my greatest accomplishments.  I completed my first term and I am currently serving my second term. Before being elected to Tribal council, I severed on various tribal committees. These committees include the Youth, Election, Education and Pow wow, holding different roles on each committee. In 2008 I was named Miss Eastern Pequot; it is still a title I hold today. I have been an Eastern Blanket dancer for as long as I can remember, traveling the Pow wow circuit on the East Coast. In addition to this, I have worked several years doing archaeology with our collaboration with UMASS Boston. Doing archaeology has allowed me to work with other tribes such as the Mohegan Tribe, which allowed me to compare and contrast artifacts found on both reservations. 

While doing archaeology, I have come across a number of interesting things. In researching more about particular artifacts, and what time period they may come from, I had come across the Native Northeast Research collaborative webpage. I have been able to use this site to get a deeper understanding of some of the archeological sites we have encountered during field school excavations.

When given the opportunity to participate in the On Our Own Ground: Pequot Community Papers 1813-1849 project, I felt an extreme sense of excitement. Our history has always been oral and passed down through our elders. So for me, this was the first time I got to see actual historical documents that backed up the elders' stories and gave me a sense of visibility. At the time in which the United States government has been trying to tell us we don’t exist, these papers provide us with the knowledge that we have been here and aren’t going anywhere.

Throughout this process, I have chosen to take a deeper look at the forms of dependence the Euro-Americans or the State's overseers have imposed on the Eastern Pequots. When we look at the change of material goods that happen between 1813-1849, we see Euro-American material goods becoming more abundant within the overseers' accounts and a growing dependence by some members of the Eastern Pequot tribe on Euro-Americans to solve certain problems. Over time and even up to the present day, we see that this still affects the Eastern Pequots, who currently have had their Federal Recognition wrongfully taken from them. By doing this, the Government has stripped away the Eastern Pequots' power to provide for their people, not allowing the tribe to control their own destiny as they should be able to, but instead allowing history to repeat itself, making the Eastern Pequots once again dependent on Euro-Americans as modern-day overseers.    

As I write this paper, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to the strong Eastern Pequots that have taught me along the way. Bobby Sebastian, Kutaputush for teaching me how to love and honor this land. Ralph Sebastian Sidberry, Kutaputush for teaching me how to care for the land and helping foster my love of archaeology and our Tribal History. Marcia Flowers Kutaputush for showing me how to be a strong Pequot Woman and showing me how to speak our truth. I promise to keep your memories alive and pass down all the lessons you guys have taught me to the next seven generations.

Dependence as a form of warfare

It is no surprise or secret that the United States government has always been afraid of Native Americans governing themselves.  When we look back at the history of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, we see that this reigns true especially after the Pequot War. The government did everything in its power to attempt to wipe out the Pequot Nation. With the signing of the Treaty of Hartford, we see how the governing powers back then made the Eastern Pequots dependent on Euro-Americans.

“Second, it is agreed if there fall out injuries and wrongs for future to be done or committed each to other or their men, they shall not presently revenge it, but they are to appeal to the English, and they are to decide the same, and the determination of the English to stand, and they are each to do as is by the English set down, and if the one or the other refuse to do, it shall be lawful for the English to compel them and to side and take part if they see cause against the obstinate or refusing party.  (Treaty of  Hartford).

This is one of the first clear examples of Euro-Americans trying to assert their power over, not only the Eastern Pequots, but neighboring tribes as well. Making the Eastern Pequots settle their disputes through the Euro-Americans takes away the right of Eastern Pequots to be able to govern their people, which, in turn, sets up the groundwork for striping the Eastern Pequot Nation of their independence. 

When we examine the overseers' reports from the 18th Century more closely, we see the growing dependence on the state of Connecticut and Euro-Americans alike. This has helped set forth the path of current day dependence.  When the Eastern Pequots were stripped of their federal recognition, they were left desolate and dependent on the United States government once again, showing that history repeats itself.

In a sense, one could look at what has been done to the Eastern Pequots as an act of war. By striping the Pequot of their power to settle their own disputes, the community becomes internally dependent psychologically and physically on Euro-Americans. This in turn diminishes their ability to fight Euro-American encroachment and assimilation.

When we examine the Overseers' reports, we see a change in both material goods and in the assistance of Euro-Americans. This speaks to the increasing dependence and less independence for the Eastern Pequots during the 19th Century. By having the Eastern Pequots supervised by an overseer, not only were Euro-Americans able to monitor what was happening on Eastern Pequot land and report back to the higher powers, they also had ultimate control over who received goods and who would be able to survive off the land. By having control over which goods were being brought to the Eastern Pequot reservation, the system allowed Euro-Americans to further not only their goal of controlling the Pequots but assimilating them as well.

While looking through more of the On Our Own Ground: Pequot Community Papers 1813-1849 documents, we see that Eastern Pequots were avidly resisting the control of the Euro-Americans and doing everything in their power to fight off this idea of dependence. This is clear from certain materials that we see on the overseers’ reports as well as several petitions to the New London County courts, where Eastern Pequots were speaking out and fighting for their rights.       

Members of the “Eastern Pequot community refused the notion pushed by colonial authors that they could never be modern, while simultaneously maintaining strong connections to their heritage” (Lewis pg.3 2014).  Though colonial officials, through military conquest, political domination and legal restrictions, sought to break the Pequots’ tie to their homeland, it remained a fundamental part of their identity (Den Ouden 2005).

Overall, it can be said that dependence was a form of warfare used against the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. It is clear that Eastern Pequots resisted this form of dependence and continue to. Throughout this paper, you will see several examples of how Euro-Americans have imposed their dominance and power as a way of trying to control and an attempt to eliminate the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation.

One of the first documents we see that shows the government forcing the Eastern Pequots to be dependent on them is found in “Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from June 16, 1822 to March 1823”. The notion of money stands out. We see Thomas Wheeler who is an overseer, paying Prudence Fagins and several other tribal members for rent of Indian Town pasture for the sum of five dollars. This important to note because I’ve always been taught that Eastern Pequots used wampum as a form of currency. In paying the Eastern Pequot Tribal members in the form of dollar bills as opposed to wampum strips the value of the wampum and makes that form of currency useless, which in turn, gives the Euro-Americans all the power.  Not only are they producing the currency, but they control who and how much tribal members will receive, successfully making tribal members dependent on Euro-Americans for wealth and access to goods that are needed for everyday survival.

We also see Eastern Pequots having to pay court fees. To be able to pay these fees, they must use Euro-American currency. Instead of being able to handle their issues internally, they are dependent on Euro-American law, which furthers the Euro-Americans' goal of ultimate dependence on them for the Eastern Pequots to survive. In a sense, it seems like the goal of the Euro-Americans was to leave the Eastern Pequots impoverished because it would be easier to control them. We see Euro-Americans further exerting their need for control to keep the Eastern Pequot dependent.

InEastern Pequot Overseer Account from March 1824 to March 1825,” there was a fee for “making line wall and to repairing line fence”. In the past, this is something Eastern Pequots would have been able to handle it amongst themselves. Eastern Pequots were made in that small instance to be dependent on Euro-Americans, washing away their vast history of independence. Although it may seem small in the moment, it begins to lay the groundwork to strip Eastern Pequots of their identity and independence. Euro-Americans treated the Eastern Pequots like wards of the state as if the Eastern Pequot were incapable of taking care of themselves. 

It is true that adapting is a big part of survival. It is in our nature to do everything we can to survive. This can be said about the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. We see their needs adapt and change as they continue to fight for independence. While trying to determine how material goods needed by the Eastern Pequot have changed over time.

I first looked atEastern Pequot Overseer Account from April 1827 to April 1829”.  Here we see “to grave clothes for James Abner”, “To Tyra Ned at John Hyde's store as per bill $4.26, one shawl 75 cents”, and “To Cyrus Shelly, Jr., one pair shoes for your boy”.  In these entries, we see Eastern Pequots, who previously would have made clothing out of rawhide or other materials commonly found on the reservation, are not producing the same types of clothing. Instead, they are buying it from Euro-Americans. I wonder had the Eastern Pequots been forced to purchase Euro-American clothing?  Or were they adapting by choice?  Or could it have been a matter of convenience?  Did the Eastern Pequots just not have time to make the clothing because they had to work jobs to be able to sustain and survive?

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Eastern Pequot were living within an industrializing New England and were economically and socially marginalized under overseers appointed by the Connecticut colonial government, who exerted control over many elements of daily life, including clothing procurements. (Patton 2007).

It is clear, after reading this quote, that Eastern Pequots were forced to assimilate in order to survive. By exerting control over daily life, Euro-Americans had found a way of making the Eastern Pequots dependent on them. Although Euro-Americans were exerting their power over the Eastern Pequots, there were ways Eastern Pequots resisted. One of those ways was wearing Eastern Pequot made items with their Euro-American clothing.

“The Eastern Pequot were able to consistently make or acquire their own clothing and to dress within their purchasing power and negotiated identities in a colonial, industrializing world. (Patton 2007).

There is evidence of this in the form of artifacts more specifically buttons and beads that date back to this time period. By merging both Euro-American attire and Native attire, the Eastern Pequots were able to hold fast to their culture and be productive in this new formed “Euro-American society”. As Euro-Americans pushed their notion of superiority over the Eastern Pequot in the form of dependence, Eastern Pequot were able to combat this by mixing both cultures, independently claiming their own identity.  Another example of this can be see with shoes or “brogans”.  While examining the overseers' reports, we see Pequots buying and obtaining more pairs of shoes. In the past, they would have just used rawhide from animals on the reservation to create shoes such as moccasins. “Brogans” are mentioned in “Bill from Dudley Wheeler to Henry Chesebrough for Cyrus Shelly”, Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from June 20, 1845 to June 3, 1846, and Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from June 12, 1846 to June 24, 1847. It is clear that, over time, the need for shoes became greater. This could be because the Eastern Pequots are working more on and off the reservation and have a need for more durable shoes, than what they could make in the past. This could also be because the Eastern Pequots have become more dependent on Euro-American goods, doing so as a means of surviving in this new world.

            For as long as I can remember, when a tribal member passes away, there is a certain routine of things that must be done so that the tribal member can cross over to the Spirit World peacefully. These things include a fire that must burn for a certain number of days and a plate of food being put out.  I was told that our people traditionally used to be buried, wrapped in pine tree branches, because pine trees were everlasting like our spirits -- they fall but they always come back. When we look at the overseers reports, though, we see the need for coffins. “ Bill from Shubael Whitney to Silas Chesebrough, Overseer of the Eastern Pequot Tribe for Goods Provided”,  in this bill we see a debit to Shubael Whitney for making a coffin for Anna Nedson's child in the amount of 50 cents. This report is from April 8, 1828 and is the first time in the overseers’ reports we've been looking at during the CARES grant period where we see the need for a coffin.

            As we progress through the reports, we see more of a need for coffins in “Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from July 1, 1847 to June 28, 1848”. In this particular overseers' report, we see the need for more than one coffin. “To paid Jack Randall for delivery coffin for Philena, to coffin for Ned girl and to coffin and grave cloths for Philena”.  Traditionally, Eastern Pequots would have made cloths for a burial ceremony but because of encroaching dependence on Euro-Americans, this is no longer the case. What was the cause of all these Eastern Pequots dying?  In the article Disease Has Never Been Just Disease for Native Americans by Jeffrey Ostler, we see Ostler explain what Diseases might have affected the Eastern Pequots. 

By the end of the 18th century, most Native communities in what would eventually become the United States had been exposed to smallpox…its impact correlated not with a lack of prior exposure, but with the presence of adverse social conditions. These same conditions would also make Native communities susceptible to a host of other diseases, including cholera, typhus, malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis, scrofula, and alcoholism.

Was it the intentions of Euro-American’s to spread smallpox? Was their intention to control the population of the Eastern Pequots by killing them?  We can see a clear change in the way Eastern Pequots are now taking care of their sick. Traditionally, there would have been a Medicine Man or Woman who holistically worked to clear illness, with the help of the Great Spirit.  

            In “Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from July 5, 1848 to May 5, 1849” it is stated “To this sum paid Doctor Walker for doctoring the year “This indicates that a physician was being paid to come on to the reservation and administer practical care. By having this done, the Eastern Pequots are now dependent on Euro-American medicine instead of working within the tribe's Medicine Man or Woman. This furthers the need for dependence on Euro-Americans. 

            In “Eastern Pequot Overseer Account from July 5, 1848 to May 5, 1849” it is stated , “To horse, wagon and man to deliver coffin and assist in burying…To paid for digging grave”. We see a change in this aspect of the way they Eastern Pequots are being buried. How come the Eastern Pequot weren’t burying their people traditionally anymore?  How come Eastern Pequot were not doing this task on their own anymore? In the past, it would have been the duty of the warriors to dig the burial site, but with the growing dependency on earning currency in this now Euro-American-dominated world, Eastern Pequot men were occupied.  Eastern Pequot men had to go out and earn a living wage for their families. They were no longer able to just stay on the reservation; they began having to branch out. Men like James Abner who served in the French and Indian War, or like Isaac Fagin’s navigating the seas. With the men out having to provide, traditional roles assigned to them were hard to complete. This is why you see, over time, more dependence on help from overseers on tasks such as burials. Eastern Pequot men going out off the reservation speaks to the Eastern Pequots combating dependency on Euro-Americans. Eastern Pequot men going out into the wider community to either become soldiers or mariners, established independence.

            As a consequence,  Eastern Pequot men were able to provide for themselves and their families and not be dependent on overseers for survival. We know that after the Pequot War and with the Treaty of Hartford, the traditions and cultural practices of the Eastern Pequots were outlawed. This would have played a large role in the accessibility to practice cultural beliefs. By limiting the Eastern Pequots access to their cultural practices, tribal members became dependent on Euro-Americans to not only accomplish every day tasks, but for simple survival as well.

            Religion has played a forceful role in this.  “The Reverend Joseph Fish preached at the funeral of Samuel Apes on the Eastern Pequot reservation on May 18, 1773.  About sixty Indians attended the funeral and listened to Fish preach from Colossians 1:27”.  The passage from Colossians 1:27 states “to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. I interpret this as meaning if you believe that Christ is in you, you will have eternal life. It’s ironic that this is said at a funeral. It is encouraging other Pequots to convert to Christianity so that they can have eternal life.  Although Samuel Apes was an Eastern Pequot and buried on the reservation, he had a religious funeral that several Eastern Pequots took part in. Religion was being used as a tool to make Eastern Pequots dependent on Euro-Americans by imposing their “God” and his teaching as a way of keeping the Eastern Pequots contained and controlled. It was an attempt to assimilate them, pushing them further away from their traditional ways and growing an insurmountable dependence on Euro-Americans. The more dependence Eastern Pequots had on Euro-Americans, the easier it was for Euro-Americans to strip the tribe of their independence.  

            The ability to adapt is what has kept the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation alive and well. Their ability to exert their independence by maintaining their culture has been a way to combat the everlasting notion of dependence on Euro-Americans. When the reservation was established in 1683, Eastern Pequots fought extremely hard over time to maintain it and to this day continue to. With the encroachment of Euro-Americans into Eastern Pequot space,  it hasn’t always been the easiest fight, but it is something the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation holds fast to.

            Currently, the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation is still fighting for our existence. On October 12, 2005, Columbus Day, the United States Government said the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation ceased to exist, gone caput! This paper a figment of your imagination, another powerful nation thought to be wiped out. That was the day the United States reversed our federal recognition decision. This was the day I saw history repeat itself. They had tried to destroy us with the Pequot War, then with the banishing of our traditional ways, subjugating us to reservations, and imposing our dependency on Euro-Americans. In having out federal recognition decision revoked, we were left dependent and hopeless. With federal recognition comes education, health care, and housing. These are things our members desperately need. Without our federal recognition status, we have no means of getting these things. 

            Because we are a State-recognized tribe, it is the duty of the State of Connecticut to help us with certain things such as clean wells and clean water on the reservation. Yet the State continues to drop the ball. Although we are looked at as “wards of the state”, Connecticut is doing little to help us. As much as we try to hold them accountable, they continue to fall though on their responsibilities, so we are forced to do it ourselves. In doing so, we are exerting our independence. As we hold the State accountable, one might look at this as a form of “learned dependency” from our past with the dependence on overseers. 

            We have always combated dependence by staying true to our traditional and cultural values. We show independence currently by governing ourselves. We have a thirteen member council that serves as our tribal government. We have our own laws and rules on the reservation that govern tribal members.  We have a community garden where we grow our own food and traditional herbs.  We continue with our cultural practices by having our traditional pow wow every 4th Sunday in July.

            Each day that Eastern Pequot are alive and continue to practice our culture, we push back on this narrative of dependence. Eastern Pequots have showed time and time again their ability to adapt and survive. This is something that will never change.  It is true that history repeats itself and just like the strong Eastern Pequots who fought to keep their independence at a time when everything was standing against them, we will follow in their footsteps and do everything in our power to maintain our independence.

Work Cited

Cipolla, Craig. “Negotiation Boundaries of Colonialism: Nineteenth-Century Lifeways on the Eastern Pequot Reservation, North Stonington, Connecticut,", 2005,

Lewis, Keely B. “Corporeal Negotiation at the Margins of the Colonial Landscape: An Examination of Lae Eighteenth Century Embodiment on the Eastern Pequot Reservation,", University of Massachusetts Boston, 2014,

Ostler, Jeffrey. “Disease Has Never Been Just Disease for Native Americans.” The Atlantic, 29

Apr. 2020,          disease-native-americans/610852.

Patton, Jonathan  Knight. “Material Studied of Eastern Pequot Clothing in 18th- and 19th Century Connecticut: Issues in Collaborative Indigenous Archaeology,", University of Massachusetts Boston, 2007,

“Treaty of Hartford (Copy).” Treaty of Hartford (Copy) | Native Northeast Portal,