Tall, powerfully built, and a proven leader in the field, Mason was given a hastily cobbled militia of ninety men. They were joined by seventy Indian warriors under the command of Uncas, chief of the nearby Mohegan tribe, which was already at war with the Pequots.
Mason’s motley expeditionary force boarded three small ships on Wednesday, May 20, 1637, for a trip down the Connecticut River to the military garrison at Saybrook, where the river met Long Island Sound. On the way, the Mohegans disembarked, preferring to walk rather than travel in ships that constantly ran aground in the river’s low water. The Mohegans skirmished along the way with Pequot war parties but arrived intact as a fighting force at Saybrook. Mason was impressed with the Mohegans’ fighting spirit. However, other members of the English expedition doubted their mettle. To test the Mohegans’ loyalty, Mason ordered them to track and capture, dead or alive, a small war party of Pequots seen nearby. The Mohegans killed four Pequots and brought a fifth warrior back alive. They lashed the captured warrior–who dared them to do their worst–to a post, tied a rope to one of his legs, and pulled him apart. An Englishman finally put a bullet through the Pequot’s head to end the torture.
Mason was under orders to strike the main Pequot fortified village, but en route he decided against a frontal assault, noting that the Pequot fort was likely to be on alert and well defended. Instead, he chose to withdraw from the area, sail east to what is today Rhode Island, and then march back west, surprising the Pequots from the rear. Mason was initially opposed by those soldiers in his force who felt a direct attack on the main Pequot fort was the quickest way to achieve victory. It was only after a minister accompanying the expedition announced that he had received word from God endorsing Mason’s proposal that the captain was able to proceed with his plan. Mason sent home those who still doubted his leadership and replaced them with professional soldiers from the garrison at Saybrook.
On Friday, May 29, his small force sailed east toward Rhode Island, which, as planned, led the Pequots to assume that Mason was giving up. Instead, Mason’s ships landed in Narragansett territory, recruited several hundred of that tribe’s warriors, and quick-marched back into Pequot territory. The weather was exceptionally warm that May, and the English soldiers with their heavy metal armor, leather boots, and matchlock guns labored in the extreme heat. From his Mohegan and Narragansett scouts, Mason learned that the two largest Pequot camps were too far apart for him to attack simultaneously with his small force. He decided to concentrate the attack on the nearer of the two, a hilltop fort overlooking the Mystic River.
The English and their Indian allies pitched camp two miles northeast of the Pequot fort. “The Rocks were our Pillows; yet Rest was pleasant,” Mason recorded later. “The Night proved comfortable being clear and Moon Light: We appointed our Guards and placed our Sentinels at some distance; who heard the Enemy Singing at the Fort, who continued that Strain until Midnight, with great Insulting and Rejoicing, as we were afterwards informed: they seeing our Pinnaces sail by them some Days before, concluded we were afraid of them and durst not come near them; the Burthen of their Song tending to that purpose.”
The English rose before daybreak on Friday, June 5, praying together to God for victory. They climbed quietly up the hill to the fort, where Mason divided them into two forces, sending one to the south entrance of the fort, while he led a second force to the north entrance. Mason and his soldiers advanced to within twenty feet of the Pequots’ wooden palisade before an Indian dog caught their scent and barked. A Pequot warrior cried out, “Owanux! Owanux! [Englishmen! Englishmen!]”
Mason and his soldiers rushed into the fort, pushing through a thorny brush pile intended to block the entrance. Once inside the oval-shaped fortification, they formed ranks and let go a volley of musket fire down the main lane. Frightened Pequots remained in their homes. Mason forced his way into one of the dwellings and killed several Pequot warriors with his sword. A fierce battle ensued. Many Pequots were killed, but Mason’s force was outmanned. Fearful of losing a protracted fight, Mason shouted to his men, “We must burn them.” He seized a firebrand, entered a house constructed of tree bark draped over wooden saplings, and set the dwelling afire. Within minutes, the entire fort was engulfed in a hellish inferno.
The screams of Pequot women and children mingled with the roar of English muskets and the triumphant shouts of the Mohegans and Narragansetts. Some Pequots perished in the flames without attempting to escape; others rushed directly into the flames, either deliberately or in panic. Many warriors fought amid the conflagration until their bowstrings cracked and were rendered useless. Still other Pequot fighters gathered outside the fort and shot their arrows until cut down by musket volleys. About forty of the boldest rushed out and attempted to force their way through the English lines. Only a few escaped. Most were struck down by English swords or Mohegan and Narragansett arrows, tomahawks, and war clubs. In little more than an hour, close to four hundred Pequot men, women, and children were killed. Seven were taken prisoner, and seven escaped. Only two Englishmen died, and twenty were wounded.
To Mason’s way of thinking, the hand of God had been at work: “Thus were they now at their Wit’s End, who not many Hours before exalted themselves in their great Pride,” he wrote. “Threatening and resolving the utter Ruin and Destruction of all the English, Exulting and Rejoycing with Songs and Dances; But God was above them, who laughed at his Enemies and the Ene­mies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven: Thus were the Stout Hearted spoiled, having slept their last Sleep, and none of their Men could find their Hands: Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathens, filling the Place with dead Bodies!”
Following the victory at Mystic, the English hunted down the remnants of the tribe and handed over any survivors to the Mohegans and Narragansetts as spoils of war. A small number of Pequots were also sold into slavery in the Caribbean or indentured as servants to English families in Connecticut. In 1666, the Pequots under the control of the Mohegan tribe were given a two-thousand-acre reservation in what is today Ledyard, Connecticut. Those overseen by the Narragansett were given a reservation in nearby North Stonington. The days of the Pequots as a major force in southern New England appeared to have ended forever.
As a child growing up in the 1890s on the reservation in Ledyard–whittled down over the centuries by land sales and transfers to about two hundred acres–Eliza George heard a somewhat different version of the events of 1637. As one of her half sisters recalled,
My mother and grandmother told me how the Indians made a blockade to protect the women and children when they were fighting against the settlers. They said that John ­Mason came with a regiment of soldiers. First, they didn’t know what to do, whether to burn them out with their torches. . . . They went to the Baptist Church there in Old Mystic and talked. There were four or more ministers that were Protestant ministers to ask them if it would be all right to do that. And so my grandmother and mother told me that they said after talking about a half hour together with the other ministers, they said, “Yes. Go ahead and do it. Get rid of them.” I think they called them the Canaanites. “Get rid of the Canaanites, wicked people,” which was the Pequot Indians. So they did. They threw torches and put it all aflame.
Eliza George’s understanding of the Pequots as victims of history would turn out to be crucial. In her narrative of the Pequots’ demise were the seeds of the twentieth-century reinvention of the tribe.
In 1898 in Connecticut, a man clubbed to death was unusual, even in as remote and notorious a place as the Western Pequot Indian reservation in Ledyard. The reservation was essentially a dense patch of dark forest and rock ledge inhabited by a dozen or so impoverished people who claimed descent from the original tribe. By the late nineteenth century, the reservation had become a refuge for a few closely related families of Pequot descent as well as various squatters and tramps. Poor whites, blacks, and others at the bottom of the New England social ladder gravitated to the reservation, often intermarrying with the Pequot descendants. The prevailing attitude of town authorities and state government was that there was by this time no Pequot tribe to speak of, only a sordid assortment of Pequot half-breeds, and reprobates of uncertain lineage and history. When townspeople in Ledyard discussed the reservation, if at all, it was with the smug sympathy of small-town New Englanders. It was the bad part of town.
Cyrus George, Eliya’s father, was an impoverished half-Narragansett with uncertain amounts of Pequot, black, and white ancestry. Cy was well known to the barkeeps of the nearby provincial cities of Norwich and New London. Never boisterous or aggressive, he and his half-Pequot, half-Narragansett wife, Martha Hoxie George, and their seven children lived in a tumbledown cottage on the Ledyard reservation. His best friend was a worn-out nag who pulled his battered wagon along the dirt roads of the county.
Cy worked as a common laborer for Everett Whitford, a Yankee who ran a sawmill three miles away. Sawmills were a growth industry in Connecticut in the late 1890s. Marginal pastures were reverting to forestland as farmers abandoned them in the face of competition from the more productive farms of the Midwest. More forests meant more trees for sawmills, which produced lumber for the construction trades in burgeoning New York City and elsewhere along the Eastern Seaboard. Cy was happy to work at Whitford’s sawmill cutting and stacking lumber, even if it did keep him away from home for weeks at a time.
One Saturday in October 1898, Cy received his wages from Whitford, but instead of going straight back to the reservation he stopped in at the Red Wing Tavern, a local bar. After treating friends and acquaintances to drinks, Cy left the Red Wing at nine o’clock, carrying half a pint of whiskey for the road. On his way home, he passed a neighbor near the reservation who later recalled that Cy was “under the influence of liquor,” but seemed ‘sober enough to talk rationally and handle his team without any trouble.”
About a mile from home, Cy was hit on the head with a club or another blunt instrument, crushing his skull. In the struggle with his attacker, Cy broke his whip trying to save himself. Bleeding profusely from the head, however, Cy fell backward into his wagon. He came to rest on the floor of the wagon, drawn up in a fetal position in a pool of blood.
The horse pulled the wagon, with Cy inside, beyond the usual stopping place outside his family’s cottage. That was where his children found their father’s body. His wife Martha sent for a nearby farmer, who helped carry Cy’s corpse into the house. Upon examining the body, the neighbor concluded that Cy had been struck with a club.
The State of Connecticut’s overseer for the reservation, former Judge George Fanning of Ledyard, came the next day. “I cannot give any opinion on the man’s method of death until after the inquest,” he said. “The mark of the blow on the forehead can be plainly seen and looks as though he was struck with a club. The horse is gentle and does not kick, and I don’t see how a man, even if he was drunk, could slip off the seat and cause death.” The ­headline in the New London Day newspaper read, “pequot indian murdered. Brought Home Dead in Wagon by His Faithful Horse.” A proper inquiry into the murder was never conducted. Confidential state records, however, said, “It is reported that Martha (Hoxie) George and Napoleon Langevin made way with Cyrus George while he was drunk. . . . The official report was that he died of heart disease and that the marks on his head and face were cause[d] by a fall.”
Cyrus’s widow was left with seven young children and the house on the reservation. Luckily, she paid neither rent nor property taxes because the state maintained the house and held the land in trust for the descendants of the Pequots. Martha George also received four dollars a month in public assistance.
Martha supplemented this assistance by renting out rooms to itinerant woodcutters working the forestland surrounding the reservation. She put her children up in the attic to make available four small bedrooms to let. Before Cy’s death, Martha had struck up a close friendship with one of her boarders, a skilled lumberjack (he could cut four cords a day) named Napoleon Langevin, the man mentioned in the confidential state records. French-Canadian and a baker by training, he arrived at the reservation after his bakery in Rhode Island went bankrupt. Tall, white, and slim with a full mustache, Napoleon towered over small, dark-skinned Martha.
Within two months of Cyrus’s death, Martha was pregnant with Napoleon’s child. This caused whispers among her children, one of whom, eleven-year-old Amos, accused Napoleon of having committed the murder. Nothing came of the boy’s allegations, and he soon left the reservation, never to return.
Napoleon proved a more reliable provider than had Cy. Napoleon and Martha went on to have four children. It was a happier marriage for her. Napoleon worked hard and abstained from liquor. He and Martha even developed a snake act and entertained people in the area with it. He would dance with live snakes he had trapped on the reservation, while Martha sold ice cream and hot dogs.
Before her marriage to Napoleon, Martha had doted on her daughter Eliza, the baby of the family. Born three years before Cyrus’s murder, Eliza was raised practically as an only child because her closest sister was nine years older. Eliza was beloved and a bit spoiled, but her mother’s marriage to Napoleon changed all that. The arrival of little half sisters and brothers meant less room in the small house, and as the eldest child at home, Eliza was first to be pushed from the nest. By age sixteen, Eliza was hired out as a maid and cook for families in Norwich. In the summers, she found work with rich families from New York City who vacationed on exclusive Fisher’s Island, located in nearby Long Island Sound just off New London.
By the time Eliza turned twenty, she had blossomed into a handsome young woman. Slim with a long, graceful neck, Eliza wore modern, stylish suits and jaunty straw hats with upswept brims. Her pale skin and piercing, wide-set eyes gave little sign of the difficulties of her life. In addition to working, she had already given birth to a boy by a man named Charles Clady, a gambler of African-American descent, with whom she would have two more children before he abandoned her. After Clady, Eliza bore two more children by two different men whose families she worked for as a domestic. She gave both children the surname Clady but their middle names were those of their true fathers.
Now supporting five small children, Eliza moved back to the reservation to live with her mother, Martha. Her half sisters and half brother were by the mid-1920s grown and old enough to leave the reservation. Eliza offered to help Martha, by then in her sixties, take care of Jane Wheeler, Martha’s eighty-year-old mother, who was notoriously disagreeable. When Martha died in 1927, Eliza moved back into her childhood house and promptly packed her cranky grandmother off to a neighboring farmer where she lived out the rest of her life.
Eliza finally had her childhood home all to herself. The roof and walls were a patchwork of wood and tarpaper, so it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Yet with two floors and five small bedrooms, a kitchen, and a sitting room with a long wooden table that sat eight, the house was also a potential source of income. Like her mother Martha, Eliza took in paying boarders. And like Martha, Eliza had a relationship with one of her boarders, another young French-Canadian woodsman named Arthur Plouffe. Their first child died soon after birth in 1927 and was buried under a tree not far from the house, but she soon gave birth to two more children, giving her a total of at least seven children–by some accounts she had nine–by 1930.
As an unmarried woman with many children, Eliza attracted the attention of state and local authorities, especially since Plouffe had moved back to Canada. Fearful of having to support her and her children, the state arrested Eliza on a charge of “lascivious carriage,” a criminal count used to prosecute prostitutes. Having named Plouffe as the father of her children, Eliza asked to have the charges dismissed if Plouffe returned from Canada and married her. The authorities agreed but warned that if Plouffe failed to appear, they would incarcerate her at the state prison for women in nearby Niantic.
Eliza pleaded with Plouffe to return from Canada and marry her. He did, but with one caveat: Eliza agreed to give away her children fathered by Clady and the other men. Her dark-skinned children were shipped off to Ohio, while her light-skinned children were sent to live with families in the area. A few years later, Eliza recovered the light-skinned children. She made no such attempt to retrieve her dark-skinned children and in later years never spoke of them.
Eliza wanted little to do with her dark-skinned relations. Annie George, Eliza’s elder sister by nine years, became pregnant in 1929 by a young man named Jesse Sebastian, part black and part American Indian from the Eastern Pequot reservation in nearby North Stonington. Eliza objected violently to her sister’s involvement with Sebastian. According to a confidential report written in 1937 by the overseer of the two reservations, the Sebastians descended from an African named Manuel Sebastian, who married an Indian woman named Tamer Brussels in Stonington in 1849. Within a few generations, there were, according to the overseer’s report, ‘more than 150 descendants of different shades of color from blackest black to what appears to be pure white, most of them living in Southeastern Connecticut and Southwestern Rhode Island. They are very prolific, many of them having ten children or more.” Eliza had been taught by her mother that Tamer Brussels had not been a Pequot, but rather a squatter incorrectly counted by the overseer. Eliza didn’t acknowledge any of the Sebastians as Pequot descendants. She resented the state’s unwillingness to intercede in the dispute over “the Sebastian strain,” as the overseer’s report called it, noting, “as members of this family have been entered on the records of both tribes for over forty years, I have never taken steps to have those names removed. Eighty-eight years have passed since that marriage and it is rather late in the day to find out very much about it.”
Late in Annie George’s pregnancy by Sebastian, she returned to the reservation to give birth. Eliza played a key role in the family refusal to allow Annie to give birth at the house. Eliza referred to Sebastian as a “nigger Indian” and wanted nothing to do with black half-breeds who might call into question her own identity as a Pequot. Eliza was at most a quarter Pequot by blood and had never participated in any tribal rituals. She knew that the state bureaucracy already harbored severe doubts about the authenticity of the Pequots. As the overseer wrote in the 1937 report, “Of the living members of these Tribes, many have scarcely any Indian blood, for in the past they have not been particular as to the races with which they have intermarried. It would appear that basketmaking, which was formerly an occupation and source of revenue, has been forgotten.”
Eliza feared that if blacks like Sebastian and his offspring were allowed on the reservation, the state might throw them all off. Eliza would not risk losing her house, even for a sister. At Eliza’s urging, Annie was ejected from the reser­vation by the family–stoned off, according to Annie’s descendants. Annie moved eventually to New York City with Sebastian, naming her newborn child Clifford Cyrus Sebastian in honor of her murdered father, Cy.
Decades later, two of Annie’s grown children, a son and a daughter, drove back to see the reservation. The son was dying of congestive heart failure and had had both legs amputated. They pulled to a stop in front of Eliza’s house. Several members of Eliza’s family came out, looked the two black visitors over, and called for Eliza. Annie’s ailing son said, “Hello, Liza.” She looked at him blankly. ‘don’t you know who I am?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“I’m Cliff, Annie’s son Cliff.”
Eliza said that she didn’t know who he was and that he ought to leave. He and his sister drove away. Before Cliff died, he told his children, ‘don’t go around those people. Don’t ever go around those people.”
By 1928, anthropologist Frank G. Speck, the most dedicated student in the early twentieth century of the New England tribes, observed, “The remaining Pequot in Connecticut have become hopelessly deculturated.” One of Speck’s research assistants, Gladys Tantaquidgeon, a college-educated Mohegan from nearby Montville, Connecticut, wrote a paper on New England Indians for the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and concurred with Speck’s assessment.
With the exception of the tribes in Maine, the remaining Indian population in New England is made up of de-culturated remnant groups. In southern New England, our Indian communities have been, and still are, melting pots. Beginning with the early French and English contacts, and continuing through the later period of intensive whaling industries along the coast during which time the men from many lands married and settled in the Indian communities, the march had gone on and the Indian blood continues to become diluted. The infusion of Negro blood was strong in this portion of the area in certain tribes and scientists are of the opinion that many of the smaller tribes along the coast became completely absorbed. Here there are but few who are of ” Indian blood and a mere handful who can claim ” Indian blood. The majority [has] ” Indian blood or less.
By 1941 the state Welfare Department, responsible for the Ledyard reservation, had set strict rules for who was allowed to live on the reservation. Eliza supported the department’s regulations, which included securing written permission from the state to reside permanently. The new requirements also included at least two months of full-time residency per year, keeping a clean house, and not committing any illegal acts–all under threat of eviction if the regulations were not followed. All buildings erected on the reservation were considered part of the reservation, not private property. Additionally, if you died or abandoned your house, it became property of the state. Intentional or not, these rules made it practically impossible for anyone but Eliza to live on the reservation, which was fine with her.
Not that anyone had much of a desire to live in a remote area without decent paying jobs, electricity, or indoor plumbing. Even Eliza appreciated that. As her children reached adulthood, she encouraged them to head out into the world. She was especially pleased when her eldest daughter by Plouffe, Theresa Victoria, married a young navy medical corpsman, Richard Hayward, who traced his ancestry back to the Mayflower.
* * *
By the 1950s, Eliza’s two daughters by Plouffe–Theresa and Loretta–had grown up and moved away, returning only in the summers with their children. Those visits were a source of tremendous joy to Eliza. She especially enjoyed seeing her Hayward grandchildren–Theresa and Richard Hayward’s children–who were navy brats and lived primarily on military bases far from Ledyard. The grandchildren’s visits offered Eliza a welcome break from the isolation of the reservation. In summertime, the population on the reservation frequently comprised just Eliza, her half sister Martha Langevin, and ten Haywards.
Eliza liked to tell her grandchildren her version of the bloody defeat of the Pequots at Mystic, only ten miles from the reservation. In the middle of the night when the sky was ablaze with lightning, Eliza, who was deathly afraid of lightning, would rise from her bed, light the kerosene lamps, fire up the stove, and put on the kettle to make tea for herself and hot chocolate for the grandchildren. She knew her banging around the kitchen would wake them up. Trooping into the kitchen a few minutes later, the grandchildren would complain about being woken up. But they were not overly cranky because they knew Eliza would have hot chocolate and tales of the distant past when, as she said, “Our lands went to the ocean, before the white man pushed us back.” Eliza’s telling of the Pequot War made it a relevant topic, not an historical footnote from more than three hundred years ago. “Whenever she talked about the incident at Mystic, she would get extremely upset, very angry,” recalled her eldest grandson, Richard A. (Skip) Hayward. “Those are things you don’t forget.”
Visiting Eliza, who was known to her Hayward grandchildren as “Nanny,” was for Skip Hayward like stepping into another world. Skip’s visits to the reservation were filled with the kind of outdoor adventure missing from his suburban life on or near various navy bases. Nanny’s wooden floors creaked, and the ceilings were low. Skip played cowboys and Indians in the woods and took walks with his grandmother on the land surrounding the reservation. She told him that all the land had once been the Pequots’. Whenever they came upon a surveying stake in the ground representing possible development by neighboring landowners, she would send Skip or another of her grandchildren to rip it out . She would periodically berate landowners if she found them building a house near the reservation. “You’re on my land,” she would yell. “Get off my land.” When her neighbors reminded her that they owned the land they were building on, Eliza would shout back, “You couldn’t have bought it. That’s our land.”
Meanwhile, the Connecticut Welfare Department had less time and money for the state’s depopulated reservations. In 1962 there were only thirty-nine residents on the state’s four reservations, and by 1967 the number had dropped to eighteen. The man responsible for overseeing Eliza and the Ledyard reservation was Edward A. Danielczuk, an ex–small businessman who had joined the Welfare Department as an investigator in 1962, a second career to help pay for his retirement. It had seemed, on paper, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Ed wanted a quiet job, and the department wanted an employee who would willingly follow its policy of neglect toward the reservations. Ed oversaw the Ledyard reservation in a part-time fashion. He liked Eliza, but he did not consider her “a real Indian. As far as I was concerned, she was just an old lady. I didn’t really distinguish her as an Indian.” Ed’s primary task was to make sure that welfare recipients like Eliza did not cheat the state. Eliza and the reservation were perhaps “one-twentieth” of Ed’s responsibility. They really weren’t that important. As far as his department was concerned, it was just a necessary evil, something they had to take care of.
Ed understood that Eliza disdained him for his department’s indifference. He got used to Eliza ignoring him when he drove down from Hartford for the annual inspection of the reservation. Eliza would lock herself inside her house and have another family member deal with him. Ed managed as best he could with the state’s minuscule $5,000 annual budget for all four reservations. In 1968 he secured money for a bathroom addition so that for the first time Eliza could have indoor plumbing. Eliza, by then seventy-three, was still tromping out to a two-hole outhouse fifty feet off the back door. She had long wanted an indoor toilet. In 1956, one of her sons-in-law had written a letter on her behalf to the Welfare Department requesting one. “It is approximately 70 feet to the outhouse,” he wrote. “And it would be an insult to you to go into explanations why a woman of [Eliza’s] age should require what is today mandatory in every home.” Fourteen years later, Ed installed her bathroom at a cost of $2,400. “That was a lot of money in those days,” Ed recalled. “That was practically half the entire annual budget for all the reservations.”
By the late 1960s, Eliza’s family had shown little interest in returning to live on the reservation. She expected to die alone and that afterward the reservation would be turned into a state park. Eliza was terribly disappointed in her family, especially in her grandchildren who were coming of age.
Eliza was determined to establish in her grandchildren some kind of interest in their Indian ancestry. In 1971, when one of her granddaughters, Theresa Darnice Hayward, decided to get married, Eliza argued that the young woman should have “an Indian wedding. There has not been one here in three hundred years.” The ceremony was held on the reservation atop a flat rock outcropping where the original Pequots were said by local historians to have held their tribal councils. Theresa, wearing a miniskirt with leather fringes, was given away by her big brother Skip, who wore a store-bought, Western-style feather headdress. Afterward, they served succotash and turkey, and the children played cowboys and Indians because they were already dressed for the parts. Robert Hayward, Skip’s younger brother, later recalled, ‘so it was authentic Pequot, even though, you know, it was done in the fashion of guesswork. There were probably a lot of different cultures like Middle or Western Native American because a lot of the heritage and culture was wiped out through the history. Even my grandmother didn’t practice it.”
Despite such efforts to foster a sense of Indian identity, Eliza’s grandchildren remained uninterested. Skip Hayward, a broad-shouldered, six-foot, two-inch tall young man, particularly disappointed Eliza. Of all her grandchildren, she felt that he had the greatest potential to organize the family and hold on to the reservation after she died.
It was not clear to anyone else that Skip was a natural-born leader. Armed only with a high school degree, Skip was just one of thousands of unskilled New England kids scraping by in a slow- growth economy. His father wanted him to go into the navy as he had, but instead Skip–or ‘skipper,” as he was known within the family–never got around to it. He floated from job to unskilled job until he made a deal to take over a clam shack near the ­Mystic Seaport. The Sea Mist Haven served fried seafood and hamburgers to locals and tourists. Skip took out a small loan from a local credit union, flipped burgers and clam fritters seven days a week, and worked nights as a pipe fitter at nearby defense contractor Electric Boat, where they built nuclear-powered sub­marines for the U.S. Navy. Skip hoped to show his father that he could make something of himself. Hayward Sr. was a taskmaster who had used corporal punishment liberally on Skip and his siblings when they were younger. As a teenager, Skip appeared one day at a cousin’s house. He looked terrible. His feet were horribly blistered. It turned out that Skip had walked more than twenty miles to his cousin’s house after having been beaten by his father.
The last thing Hayward Sr. wanted, however, was for Skip to get involved with old Eliza and her derelict reservation. So in early 1973 when Eliza visited Skip at his clam shack to ask him to take more of an interest in the reservation, he declined. She told him that the state was forming some kind of Indian Council in Hartford, and she wanted Skip to represent the family. He told her, “Between this restaurant and everything else I’m doing, Nanny, there’s just no way I can do it. I’m just too busy.” After she left, Skip didn’t think much more about it.
In the spring of 1973, Eliza had a formal photographic portrait taken of herself. She had been feeling weaker and weaker and wanted a photo before she died as a visual legacy for her children and grandchildren to remind them of their Pequot ancestry. She called a ­local photographer whose motto was “A Touch of Elegance.” Like most Americans, he had a stereotypical image of American Indians–red skin, high cheekbones, thick straight hair. The Indians in Connecticut had always disappointed him, looking either too white or too black. In Eliza, he saw potential. He gave her a false hairpiece–two long, thick braids–and a plaid workman’s jacket akin to the Pendleton blanket jackets worn by Western Indian tribes. He posed Eliza on the banks of a local pond in front of a tree-covered hill and an arching sky. Eliza never looked more Indian.
On June 8, 1973, a fine late spring day, Eliza died alone, as she had anticipated, in her old house. The peach, cherry, apple, and pear trees were in blossom. Her vegetable garden was beginning to fill up with green beans and peas and summer squash. In the rhubarb patch, a small forest of reddish stalks poked above the ground. Out front, hollyhocks, roses, daffodils, and lilies were in various stages of bloom. Inside, Eliza’s body rested in her old rocker. Her heart had simply given out.
Copyright ” 2003 by Brett Fromson. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.