Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts

Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts

Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country

Ninigret (c. 1600–1676) was a sachem of the Niantic and Narragansett Indians of what is now Rhode Island from the mid-1630s through the mid-1670s. For Ninigret and his contemporaries, Indian Country and New England were multipolar political worlds shaped by ever-shifting intertribal rivalries. In the first biography of Ninigret, Julie A. Fisher and David J. Silverman assert that he was the most influential Indian leader of his era in southern New England. As such, he was a key to the balance of power in both Indian-colonial and intertribal relations.

Ninigret was at the center of almost every major development involving southern New England Indians between the Pequot War of 1636–37 and King Philip's War of 1675–76. He led the Narragansetts' campaign to become the region's major power, including a decades-long war against the Mohegans led by Uncas, Ninigret's archrival. To offset growing English power, Ninigret formed long-distance alliances with the powerful Mohawks of the Iroquois League and the Pocumtucks of the Connecticut River Valley. Over the course of Ninigret's life, English officials repeatedly charged him with plotting to organize a coalition of tribes and even the Dutch to roll back English settlement. Ironically, though, he refused to take up arms against the English in King Philip’s War. Ninigret died at the end of the war, having guided his people through one of the most tumultuous chapters of the colonial era.

"Fisher (graduate student, Univ. of Delaware) and Silverman (George Washington Univ.). . . provide an excellent study of the region's politics and diplomacy from the Pequot War to King Philip’s War.  They carefully detail Ninigret’s role as a skillful leader who forged strategic and often shifting alliances during this period.  The authors’ meticulous examination of diplomacy and war is accompanied by a wealth of insight into Native American society and culture.  This book makes an important contribution to understanding early New England and Native American history, and reveals Ninigret as an active and skillful agent in shaping the history of the period.  As such, this book takes its place as essential reading for scholars of 17th-century New England.  Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above."—J.C. Arndt, CHOICE (December 2014)


"This book is a sympathetic political and diplomatic biography of an important sachem who has rarely received adequate historiographical attention. It is an important contribution to our understanding of Indian diplomacy in southern New England between the Pequot War and King Philip's War. Students of colonial New England will find the nuanced understandings of Native community and kinship networks illuminating, and scholars of early America at all levels will discover in its pages a model for a Native-centered interpretation of on-the-ground colonial diplomacy."—Linford D. Fisher, William and Mary Quarterly

"Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts sheds powerful new light on a major figure and the tumultuous world he helped to shape. It is a must-read for anyone interested in colonial and/or Native American history."—American Historical Review

"This is a good book about an extremely difficult and important time in the history of this country. Buy it and read it. I am very grateful to the authors for having written it."—Northeast Anthropology

"Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts is an important book. Julie A. Fisher and David J. Silverman present Ninigret as an able politician, a flexible and resourceful leader, who saw in the European presence a means to accomplish his own agenda. In an extremely engaging portrait of early New England from the Indians' point of view they establish that Ninigret was possibly the most important—certainly the most feared—man in that time and place."—Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Silver Professor of History Emerita, New York University, author of Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America

"This engaging and nuanced biography illuminates the life and career of one of the most important political figures of seventeenth-century North America. Often an enemy to the English colonists, but finally their reluctant ally, Ninigret lived through—and significantly shaped—a period of dramatic historical change. In Julie A. Fisher's and David J. Silverman's hands, his life yields powerful insights."—Brett Rushforth, author of Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France

"The field of early American biography is almost entirely populated by white men—those most likely to have left a documentary record that survives to the present. In Julie A. Fisher and David J. Silverman's new book, we have a rare opportunity to read a deeply researched and richly imagined biography of a seventeenth-century Native American man. Using contemporary court records and other public papers, as well as archaeological records, the authors evoke Ninigret’s personality as well as his political and diplomatic purposes. This finely-drawn character study is also an excellent history of seventeenth-century New England in general. The pages of this book are packed with insights on early New England and Native America."—Jenny Hale Pulsipher, Brigham Young University, author of “Subject unto the Same King": Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England