Quaiapen was born around 1603 in Narangasset Bay, in what is now Rhode Island, USA. She married Mriksah, or Mixan, the sachem of the Narangasset and Niantic peoples, in 1630. They had two sons and a daughter. He was the son of Canonicus, Quaiapen’s uncle and the previous ruler.
Quaiapen’s siblings were also sachems. She became saunkskwa, or female sachem, in 1657 after the death of Mixan. She took over his lands in the Cocumscussoc area and soon began ordering battles against the Nipmuc community of Quantisset. One of these occurred in 1667.
King Phillip’s War started in 1675 and was a battle fought between indigenous groups in what was re-named New England, and British colonisers. Quaiapen agreed with other indigenous leaders and the colonisers not to side with King Phillip, or Metacomet, the Wampoag sachem.
However, war was still initiated. In 1676 Quaiapen and her followers sought safety in the Nipsachuck Swamp. They had fled from Queen’s Fort, where they survived a previous attack by Josiah Winslow in which 150 weetoomash, or wigwams, were burned and several people killed.
Major John Talcott found Quaiapen in the swamp and she was murdered, along with around 100 others including the builder of Queen’s Fort, Stonewall John. Around 80 Narangasset and Niantic people then surrendered to Talcott. He killed them in what was named the Warwick massacre.
The remains of Queen’s Fort in Exeter, Rhode Island still stands as a reminder of Quaiapen’s leadership and bravery, and the craftsmanship of renowned mason Stonewall John. Most of all, though, it is a reminder of the unjust and horrific way indigenous people were treated by colonisers.
Douglas M. Peers, Warfare and Empires: Contact and Conflict Between European and Non-European Military and Maritime Forces and Cultures (London: Routledge, 1997)
Julie A. Fisher and David J. Silverman, Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017).