The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is a federally recognized American Indian tribe in the state of Connecticut. They are descended from the Pequot people, an Algonquian-language tribe that dominated the southern New England coastal areas, and they own and operate Foxwoods Resort Casino within their reservation in Ledyard, Connecticut. As of 2018, Foxwoods Resort Casino is one of the largest casinos in the world in terms of square footage, casino floor size, and number of slot machines, and it was one of the most economically successful in the United States until 2007, but it became deeply in debt by 2012 due to its expansion and changing conditions.
The tribe was federally recognized in 1983 through the Mashantucket Pequot Land Claims Settlement Act. The federal land claims suit was brought by the tribe against the State of Connecticut and the Federal government, charging that the tribe had been illegally deprived of its land through state actions that were not ratified by the Senate. As part of the settlement of this suit, Congress gave federal recognition to the tribe, in addition to approving financial compensation so that the tribe could repurchase lost land. Tribal membership is based on proven lineal descent of 11 Pequot families whose ancestors were listed in the 1900 US Census.
The Mashantucket Pequot tribe is one of two federally recognized tribes in Connecticut, the other being the Mohegan Indian Tribe.
The Mashantucket Pequots are descendants of the historic Pequot tribe, an Algonquian-speaking people who dominated the coastal area from the Niantic River of Connecticut east to the Pawcatuck River which forms a border with Rhode Island, and south to Long Island Sound. A second descendant group is the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, which is not recognized by the Federal government.
During the colonial years, colonists recorded inter-tribal warfare, shifts in boundaries, and changes in power among the tribes. Scholars believe that the Pequots migrated from the upper Hudson River Valley into central and eastern Connecticut around 1500. William Hubbard wrote Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England in 1667 to explore the ferocity with which the Pequot tribe had attacked the colonists. He described them as invaders from “the interior of the continent” who “by force seized upon one of the places near the sea, and became a Terror to all their Neighbors.” Contemporary scholars suggest that archaeological, linguistic, and documentary evidence show that the Pequots were indigenous for centuries in the Connecticut Valley before the arrival of settlers.
By the time that Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay colony were being established, the Pequots had established military dominance among Indian tribes in central and eastern Connecticut. They numbered some 16,000 in the most densely inhabited portion of southern New England. The smallpox epidemic of 1616–19 killed roughly 90-percent of the Indians on the eastern coast of New England, but it failed to reach the Pequot, Niantic and Narragansett tribes, and this assisted the Pequots in their rise to dominance. But the Massachusetts smallpox epidemic in 1633 devastated the region’s Indian population, and historians estimate that the Pequots suffered the loss of 80-percent of their entire population. By the outbreak of the Pequot War in 1637, their numbers may have been reduced to about 3,000 in total.
In 1637, Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay colonies overwhelmed the Pequots during the Pequot War. This followed the Indians’ attack on Wethersfield, Connecticut that left several settlers dead. The military force of the two colonies was led by John Mason and John Underhill, and they launched an assault on the Pequot stronghold at Mystic, Connecticut, killing a significant portion of the Pequot population.
The colonists enslaved some of the surviving Pequots, sending some to the West Indies as labor on sugar cane plantations, putting others to indentured servitude as household servants in New England. Most of the survivors, however, were transferred to the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes. A few Pequots returned to the reservation years later, and they intermarried with the colonists. Many of the Pequot descendants, while multi-racial, retained a sense of culture and continuity.
The Mashantucket Pequot reservation was created by the Connecticut Colony in 1666, but only 13 people lived on the reservation by the time of the 1910 United States Census. Elizabeth George (1894–1973) was one of the last Pequot living on the reservation and, when she died in 1973, the federal government started planning to reclaim the land which they presumed would be vacated upon the deaths of the last remaining Pequot residents.
Richard “Skip” Hayward, a grandson of Elizabeth George, led the Tribe’s efforts in filing a federal land claims suit against the state of Connecticut which challenged the state’s sale of 800 acres of reservation lands—an event which had occurred more than 100 years earlier in 1855. The State of Connecticut agreed with the Tribe, and the US Department of Justice entered the suit, as it dealt with Federal issues and the legality of the state action.
On October 18, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the Connecticut Indian Land Claims Settlement Act which included Federal recognition of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe. They were the eighth American Indian tribe to gain Federal recognition through an act of Congress rather than through the administrative process of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Department of Interior. The Mashantucket Pequots have since added to their land holdings by purchase and placed the additional lands into trust with the BIA on behalf of the tribe. As of the 2000 census, their total land area was 2.17 square miles (5.6 km2).
In 1994 it purchased, and later developed further, what is now known as The Spa at Norwich Inn in Montville, Connecticut.