Narragansett [key], Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). Part of the Eastern Woodlands culture (see under Natives, North American), in the early 17th cent. they occupied most of Rhode Island, from Narragansett Bay on the east to the Pawcatuck River on the west. They were the largest and strongest tribe in New England. The Narragansett escaped the great pestilence of 1617 that swept through S New England, and the remnants of tribes who had suffered joined them for protection, making the Narragansett a powerful people. In 1636, Canonicus, the Narragansett chief, sold Roger Williams land on which to settle. Williams gained great influence over the Narragansett, inducing them to become the allies of the Massachusetts colonists in the Pequot War (1637). The Narragansett in 1674 numbered some 5,000. The next year witnessed the outbreak of King Philip's War, which destroyed Native American power in S New England. The Narragansett shared the common fate. Their fort near the site of Kingston, R.I., was attacked (1675) by a colonial force under Josiah Winslow, and in that engagement, known as the Great Swamp Fight, the Narragansett under Canonchet lost almost a thousand men. The survivors migrated to the north and to the west, and a few joined the Mahican and the Abnaki; but a number of them returned and settled among the Niantic near Charlestown, R.I., the combined group taking the Narragansett name. Their numbers steadily declined, and by 1832 there were 80 left. However, by 1990 there were about 2,500 Narragansett in the United States.
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