Roger Williams with the Narragansett tribe

Fast Facts about Canonicus

Who was Canonicus and why was this Native Indian chief famous? Summary: Canonicus was a chief of  the Narragansett tribe during the 1600s and was famous for selling land in Rhode Island to Roger Williams. In 1636, Canonicus agreed to fight alongside the colonists during the Pequot War (1634 - 1638).

In 1675, a Narragansett settlement was mauled in the Great Swamp Fight, greatly reducing Narragansett numbers and influence.The following fact sheet contains interesting facts, background history and information about the life of Canonicus and the events in history that led to his fame as a great Native American Indian leader.

Fast Facts about Canonicus

  • Tribe: Narragansett, meaning "(People) of the Small Point"
  • Language: Narragansett
  • Homeland: Rhode Island
  • Lifespan of Canonicus: c.15651647
  • Role: Sachem meaning chief
  • Place of Birth: Rhode Island
  • Date of Birth: c.1565
  • Date of Death: c.15651647
  • Place of Death: Rhode Island
  • Name of Son: Mixanno
  • Native Indian Allies: Niantics, Wampanoag, and Manisseans
  • Native Indian Enemies: Wampanoag tribe under Chief Massasoit, the father of Metacom (King Philip)

Canonicus c.15651647 was a highly respected sachem of  the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island during the 1600s. The Narragansetts were a large and warlike people, who were accomplished fighters. Their country covered nearly all present Rhode Island. The dual sachems, Canonicus and Miantonomi, had gained their ascendancy in war with their main rivals, the Wampanoag tribe, who were governed by the sachem Massasoit, the father of Metacom (King Philip).

Canonicus and Roger Williams
Roger Williams (1603 - 1683) was a Puritan dissident who was a supporter of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. In 1636 his strong views clashed with those of John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Colony who banished him from the strictly Puritan settlement. Roger Williams left the colony and went to Rhode Island where he met Canonicus. Chief Canonicus agreed to give a portion of his territory to Roger Williams who established the town of Providence, which became home to many other religious dissenters from Massachusetts. The two men remained on friendly terms and Chief Canonicus shared some of his provisions with the newcomers.

Canonicus and the Pequot War
In 1634 Inter-tribal warfare between the Pequot and the Narragansett tribe had erupted and the relationship between Canonicus and Roger Williams increased as shared the Pequot tribe as their mutual enemy. In the same year the Pequot War (1634-1638) broke out between the Pequot tribe, against the Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and Plymouth English colonies. The Narragansett tribe under Canonicus together with the Mohegan tribes became their allies. Canonicus was largely responsible for the decision of the Narragansett tribe to side with the English during the Pequot War. The Pequot were defeated in a crushing defeat in which they were forced to sign the Treaty of Hartford declaring the Pequot nation to be dissolved. In the 1638 Treaty of Hartford the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes were given the Pequot lands. The surviving Pequots were unable to find refuge with any other tribe and were sold into slavery. The victorious Narragansett tribe had triumphed over their enemy and Canonicus lived in peace until his death in 1647.

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