John Underhill (1609-1672) was an early English colonist in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and a soldier in that and other colonies. He is most noted for his part in two slaughters of Indians; one in the Pequot War of 1637, the other on Long Island in 1644.
The Bay Colony
As a young man he lived with his mother as part of the group of English Puritan exiles in Holland. While there he received military training in the service of Philip William, the Prince of Orange. He also married a Dutch girl, Helena (Heylken) de Hooch on December 12, 1628 in The Hague.
In 1630 the couple emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with John Winthrop. Underhill was to have the role of organizing the colony's militia. He was named Captain of the militia. In May of 1634 he was appointed to the General Court, and in July was elected a selectman for Boston. He started the fist construction of the fortification on Castle Island at Boston.
Early in 1636 he was sent to Salem to arrest Roger Williams for who was viewed by the Puritans as a heretic. But, Williams had already fled to Rhode Island. In August he led an expedition to Block Island.
The Pequot War
In September of 1637 he headed the militia as it marched out to the Pequot War. They first went to the Fort at Saybrook. Joining with Mohegan allies, and Connecticut militia under Captain John Mason, they attacked the Pequot fortified village near modern Mystic. They set fire to the village, killing any who attempted to flee. About 400 Pequots died here. He led other expeditions that joined in hunting down the surviving Pequots.
The Wandering Years
But, within a year of these exploits, he in his turn, fell to the Puritan drive for conformity. He had signed a petition supporting minister John Wheelwright, who had been censured for a sermon. After briefly returning to England, he joined Wheelwright in his colonial venture at Dover, New Hampshire.
He didn't last here, in spite of a brief term as governor of the Dover Colony. By 1642 he had settled at Stamford, Connecticut. In 1643, he represented them in the assembly of the New Haven Colony. But this location also didn't work out, and he moved on to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.
In May of 1644 he took up residence in New Amsterdam. His plot of land is now the site of Trinity Church in Manhattan. Later that year he led New Amrsterdam's forces in a reprise of his attack during the Pequot War. The Indians on Long Island had a fort at Great Neck. Underhill attacked and burned the fort, killing about 120 Indians. In 1648 he moved to Flushing, since the colony's director Peter Stuyvesant had appointed him sheriff of Flushing. He served as magistrate there starting in 1651.
Return to English Service
In 1653 he learned of Dutch plans to ally with some tribes to attack English settlements. He brought word of this to the colonies in Connecticut, and led Connecticut militia in seizing the Dutch post called Hope House at Hartford. When the Anglo-Dutch war was finally resolved and the English gained New York he returned to Long Island, living out his years at Oyster Bay.
He served as a sheriff, magistrate, and representative at various times in his later life. He also served as an advisor to remaining Indians on Long Island. He presented at petition to the court on behalf of The Matinecock Indians in October of 1666. He died on July 21, 1672 and is buried at Locust Valley, New York.
John Underhill has been the victim of a recent trend toward historically revised accounts of the Pequot War. (See: Pequot War#Controversy about the war). He has been described as mercenary, in service to the English and the Dutch. He was a professional soldier, so at times was paid for his service. He did serve in both English and Dutch armies, but remember that he grew up while in exile in Holland with other Puritans and that his wife was Dutch. He tried to be a legitimate pioneer in both the Plymouth Colony and New Amsterdam, but when the Anglo-Dutch war forced his decision, he held true to his English roots.