The Land of Tribute: Colonization and Tributary Networks in Connecticut 1620-1680

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King, Alice, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Taylor, Alan, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the essential role that tributary relationships with Native Americans played in constructing the colonial state in Connecticut during the seventeenth century. During the Pequot War (1636-1638), New England colonists waged war against the Pequot nation in a bid to appropriate their extensive tributary network of Indigenous communities who paid them corn and wampum shell bead tributes. After their victory, English colonists in Connecticut tried to establish codified tributary relations with the Mohegans and Narragansetts in the Treaty of Hartford (1638). By excluding Massachusetts Bay representatives from treaty negotiations, Connecticut’s leaders placed themselves at the center of a system I term “tributary colonialism.” Tributary colonialism was underpinned by the idea that English security and prosperity along the Connecticut River depended on the presence, rather than the absence, of Native people–provided they accepted subordination. For tributary colonialism to function, Connecticut’s leaders had to create controlled enclaves of Indigenous people who signaled their deference by paying tribute and providing military allies in colonial wars. Initially, the colonists depended on these tributary communities for Indian corn that alleviated their risk of starvation and for precious wampum that the colonists used first as currency and then as a symbol of their projected authority over the Native world of Connecticut.
Some Indigenous populations in Connecticut used their tributary status to advocate for their continued community survival, believing that it was safer to submit to English colonists through tribute than risk the enslavement or death that had followed English brutality during the Pequot War. Other larger Native nations, such as the Narragansetts, stridently resisted tributary submission to the New Englanders. They repeatedly challenged the viability of the system by raiding English tributaries. These raids forced the colonists to weigh the responsibilities of protection they had assumed as tributary heads. Examining Connecticut leaders’ tributary strategy reveals the gulf between their settler colonial ambitions and the reality of English weakness and sustained Indigenous influence through the seventeenth century. Crucially, Connecticut relied on Native tributary soldiers to help them subdue the southern Algonquian uprising known as King Philip’s War (1675-1678). Connecticut towns escaped lightly compared to other New England settlements, a fact that contemporary observers attributed to the tributary relationships the colony had formed with Native people. The experience of King Philip’s War vindicated the vision of prominent Connecticut leaders like Governor John Winthrop Jr., who believed that Native tributary enclaves would prove essential to the safety of colonists and could be a valuable asset, rather than simply a threat or liability. After the war Massachusetts Bay took an increasingly divisive and exclusionary approach to Native Americans within its bounds, while Connecticut decided to allow a level of Indigenous autonomy in exchange for tribute, submission, and ongoing exploitation through forced servitude. These contrasting strategies underscore the divisions that emerged between New England colonies because of their interactions with Indigenous communities.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
New England, Connecticut, History, Native Americans, Pequots, Colonialism
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