King Philip Meeting with Colonists

King Philip Meeting with Colonists

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King Philip’s War. The bloodiest in US history

From the dust jacket to “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” By Jill Lepore.

King Philip’s War, the excruciating racial war–colonists against Indians–that erupted in New England in 1675, was, in proportion to population, the bloodiest in American history. Some even argued that the massacres and outrages on both sides were too horrific to “deserve the name of a war.”

King Philip, leader of the Wampanoag Indians, retaliated against the hanging of two supporters by attacking English settlements in 1675. By the time this short war was over, half of the settlements and numerous Indian encampments were in ruin. Many were killed and the atrocities, tortures, murders, and rapes committed by all sides were beyond appalling.

But the book, which I’ve just started reading and will fully review soon, isn’t just about that war, it’s also about how it set the mold for future conflicts and mindsets and how the victors in a war create the history of that war, especially when the other side had no written language.

Jill Lepore makes clear that it was after the war–and because of it–that the boundaries between cultures, hitherto blurred, turned into rigid ones. King Philip’s War became one of the most written-about wars in our history, and Lepore argues that the words strengthened and hardened feelings that, in turn, strengthened and hardened the enmity between Indians and Anglos. She shows how, as late as the nineteenth century, memories of the war were instrumental in justifying Indian removals–and how in our own century that same war has inspired Indian attempts to preserve “Indianness” as fiercely as the early settlers once struggled to preserve their Englishness.

The image is from a marker at the Simsbury CT Town Hall. The destruction of Simsbury in 1676 was part of King Philip’s War. King Philip’s Cave on nearby Talcott Mountain is one of several so-named caves where he and supporters hid out from the English. I bought the book at the amazing Half Moon Books in Northampton MA, location of another settlement that was razed in the war. Clearly, the Indians did not go quietly. And the echoes of this war still reverberate.

The more savage a war is, the harder it is to recover from it, something amply proven by both the Civil War and King Philip’s War. Whether the conflict was (and is) Black vs. White, North vs. South, or Indian vs. Anglo, the scars of these wars have yet to heal.

King Philip Meeting with Colonists - History

King Philip's War is sometimes called the First Indian War. It took place between 1675 and 1678.

Who fought in King Philip's War?

King Philip's war was fought between the English colonists of New England and a group of Native American tribes. The main leader of the Native Americans was Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoag peoples. His English nickname was "King Philip." Other tribes on the side of the Native Americans included the Nipmuck, Podunk, Narragansett, and Nashaway peoples. Two Native American tribes, the Mohegan and the Pequot, fought on the side of the colonists.

The war was fought throughout the Northeast including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Leading up to the War

For the first 50 years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620, the English colonists had a fairly peaceful relationship with the local Native Americans in New England. Without the help of the Wampanoag people, the Pilgrims would have never survived the first winter.

As the colonies began to expand into Indian territory, the local tribes became more concerned. Promises made by the colonists were broken as more and more people arrived from England. When the chief of the Wampanoag died while in captivity in Plymouth Colony, his brother Metacomet (King Philip) became determined to drive the colonists out of New England.

Major Battles and Events

The first major event of the war was a trial in Plymouth Colony that resulted in the execution of three Wampanoag men. Metacomet had already been preparing for war, but it was this trial that caused him to first attack. He attacked the city of Swansea, burning the town to the ground and killing many of the settlers. The war had begun.

Over the course of the next year, both sides would mount attacks against each other. The colonists would destroy an Indian village and then the Indians would respond by burning down a colonial settlement. Around twelve colonial towns were completely destroyed during the fighting.

One particularly bloody battle is called the Great Swamp Fight which took place in Rhode Island. A group of colonial militia attacked the home fort of the Narragansett tribe. They destroyed the fort and killed around 300 Native Americans.

End of the War and Results

Eventually, the greater numbers and resources of the colonists allowed them to take control of the war. Chief Metacomet tried to hide in the swamps in Rhode Island, but he was hunted down by a group of colonial militia led by Captain Benjamin Church. He was killed and then beheaded. The colonists displayed his head at Plymouth colony for the next 25 years as a warning to other Native Americans.

The war was devastating for both sides. Around 600 English colonists were killed and twelve towns completely destroyed with many more towns suffering damages. The Native Americans had it even worse. Around 3,000 Native Americans were killed and many more were captured and shipped off to slavery. The few Native Americans left were eventually forced off their lands by the expanding colonists.

King Philip’s War begins

In colonial New England, King Philip’s War begins when a band of Wampanoag warriors raid the border settlement of Swansea, Massachusetts, and massacre the English colonists there.

In the early 1670s, 50 years of peace between the Plymouth colony and the local Wampanoag Indians began to deteriorate when the rapidly expanding settlement forced land sales on the tribe. Reacting to increasing Native American hostility, the English met with King Philip, chief of the Wampanoag, and demanded that his forces surrender their arms. The Wampanoag did so, but in 1675 a Christian Native American who had been acting as an informer to the English was murdered, and three Wampanoag were tried and executed for the crime.

King Philip responded by ordering the attack on Swansea on June 24, which set off a series of Wampanoag raids in which several settlements were destroyed and scores of colonists massacred. The colonists retaliated by destroying a number of Indian villages. The destruction of a Narragansett village by the English brought the Narragansett into the conflict on the side of King Philip, and within a few months several other tribes and all the New England colonies were involved. In early 1676, the Narragansett were defeated and their chief killed, while the Wampanoag and their other allies were gradually subdued. King Philip’s wife and son were captured, and on August 12, 1676, after his secret headquarters in Mount Hope, Rhode Island, was discovered, Philip was assassinated by a Native American in the service of the English. The English drew and quartered Philip’s body and publicly displayed his head on a stake in Plymouth.


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Siege on Brookfield:

On August 2-4, 1675, a company led by Captain Edward Hutchinson had arranged to meet with some Nipmucks, who claimed to be neutral, at a town called Quaboag.

En route to meet the Nipmucks, the company was ambushed by the tribe on a narrow trail surrounded by a swamp on one side and a steep hill on the other. Chaos ensued as the Nipmuck opened fire on the company with rifles. Eight soldiers were killed.

The survivors of the ambush fled to Brookfield, Mass where they gathered in a garrison house. The Nipmuck converged on the house, shooting flaming arrows onto the roof, firing at soldiers in the windows, beating on the doors with poles and clubs, and making repeated attempts to burn the house down.

The siege continued until August 4 when Major Simon Willard and his troops arrived from Lancaster, Mass and the Nipmucks withdrew.

On August 13, the Massachusetts Council ordered all Christian Indians (Natives who had converted to Christianity and lived in designated Christian Indian villages known as Praying Towns) to be confined to their Praying Towns.

On August 22, a group of unidentified natives kill seven colonists at Lancaster, Mass.

On August 25, a skirmish took place at Sugarloaf Hill, about ten miles north of Hatfield, Mass, after a band of Nipmucks being pursued by a company led by Captain Thomas Lothrop engaged in a three hour battle at the hill. Nearly 40 natives and several members of the company were killed.

On August 24-25, raids on Springfield, Mass were carried out by bands of Nipmucks.

On September 1, 1675, Wampanoags and Nipmucks attacked Deerfield, Mass. The following day they attacked nearby Northfield. Half of the buildings in the town were burned and eight men were killed.

On September 4, a company of 36 men led by Captain Richard Beers headed to Northfield, Mass to rescue the survivors but were ambushed. Over half the soldiers, around 21 men, were killed, including Captain Beers.

Attack on the Wagon Train (Beers ambush), illustration published in Pictorial History of King Philip’s War, circa 1851

The survivors joined another company, led by Major Treat, and succeeded in evacuating the town on September 6. While evacuating the town, they discovered the mutilated bodies of the colonists slain by the natives, according to the book A Narrative of the Troubles with Indians in New England:

“Here the barbarous villains shewed their insolent rage and cruelty, more now than ever before, cutting off the heads of some of the slain, and fixing them upon poles near the highway, and not only so, but one (if not more) was found with a chain hooked under his jaw, and so hung up on the bough of a tree, (it is feared he was hung up alive) by which means they thought to daunt and discourage any that might come to their relief, and also to terrify those that should be spectators with beholding so sad an object: Insomuch that Major Treat with his company, going up two days after to fetch off the residue of the garrison were solemnly affected with that doleful sight..”

The area where the ambush occurred is now called Beers Plain. Beers was buried at the spot and his grave can be found next to the Linden Hill School near the intersection of South Mountain Road and Lyman Hill Road.

On September 9, the New England Confederation, which was a military alliance between the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, New Haven and Plymouth, officially declared war on the natives and voted in favor of providing military assistance for the war.

On September 12, colonists abandoned the settlements of Northfield, Deerfield and Brookfield after the earlier attacks there.

On September 18, the Narragansetts signed a treaty with the English in Boston. Meanwhile, Captain Thomas Lathrop and his company of 80 men were ambushed near Northampton while en route to harvest abandoned cornfields in Deerfield. Lathrop and about 60 to 70 of his men were killed.

On October 5, 1675, Pocumtucks attacked Springfield, Mass and burned 30 houses.

On October 13, the Massachusetts Council ordered all Christian Indians relocated and confined to Deer Island.

On October 19, a band of natives, led by Muttawamp, attacked Hatfield, Mass but were eventually repelled and retreated.

On November 1, the Nipmucks took a number of Christian Indians captive at Magunkaquog, Chabanakongkomun, and Hassanemesit.

On November 2-12, fearing that the Narragansetts were planning to join King Philip’s forces in the spring, the Commissioners of the New England Confederation ordered forces to attack the Narragansetts. Around 1000 soldiers were raised for an expedition against the Narragansetts.

Blood and Betrayal: King Philip’s War

The 1675&ndash78 war began with a murderous act of betrayal tied to a Wampanoag chief known to New England settlers as King Philip. His death at the hands of an Indian allied with the colonists, depicted here, largely ended the fighting. (Howard Pyle and Merle Johnson, Howard Pyle's Book of the American Spirit, Harper & Bros., New York, 1923)

In 1675, some 55 years after English separatists later known as the Pilgrims had founded Plymouth Colony (in present-day Massachusetts), newsletters began appearing in London describing horrible atrocities committed by Indians against the New England settlers. The reports told of lightning raids on towns by hundreds of warriors, barns and houses burned to the ground, farmers tomahawked in their fields, colonial militia columns wiped out in ambushes, women and children taken captive, and worse.

While some questioned the veracity of the initial reports, the unrest quickly flared into a broad and bloody armed conflict. Known today as King Philip&rsquos War (after the primary Indian war leader), the conflict stretched from 1675 to 1678 and was the subject of several important Puritan works, among them the Rev. William Hubbard&rsquos The History of the Indian Wars in New England From the First Settlement to the Termination of the War With King Philip in 1677 Benjamin Thompson&rsquos &ldquoNew England&rsquos Crisis,&rdquo the first epic poem written in North America and the Rev. Increase Mather&rsquos A Brief History of the War With the Indians in New England. The war has intrigued historians ever since.

‘But a small part of the dominion of my ancestors remains. I am determined not to live until I have no country’

King Philip&rsquos War was not a localized clash like the Pequot War of the 1630s but full-scale warfare involving most of the New England region and many of the indigenous tribes, a total war that made no distinctions between warriors and civilians. And it was not certain the colonists would win. The war ended the largely stable and, in many ways, mutually beneficial relationship between colonists and Indians that had endured some five decades.

It was also an especially bloody war&mdashthe bloodiest, in terms of the percentage of the population killed, in American history. The figures are inexact, but out of a total New England population of 80,000, counting both Indians and English colonists, some 9,000 were killed&mdashmore than 10 percent. Two-thirds of the dead were Indians, many of whom died of starvation. Indians attacked 52 of New England&rsquos 90 towns, pillaging 25 of those and burning 17 to the ground. The English sold thousands of captured Indians into slavery in the West Indies. New England&rsquos tribes would never fully recover.

The war not only caught the eyes of English readers, it also caught the attention of recently restored British King Charles II, who sent envoys to assess the situation in New England. Plymouth Colony, the flash point of the war, had not initially sought a royal charter Charles gave it one. He later dissolved the United Colonies of New England, a military alliance formed to adjudicate disputes among the colonies and to direct the course of any wars from Boston. As royal governors took charge, the New England colonies lost the freedom to manage their own affairs, which they had enjoyed since the 1630s. People used to ruling themselves no longer did. The consequences would stretch into the next century and beyond.

As with so many wars, the casus belli in this case was a comparatively minor event, the murder of a respected elderly &ldquopraying Indian&rdquo (Christian convert) named John Sassamon, a Wampanoag, or Massachusett, man who straddled the tense psychological fringe between the two cultures. Sassamon had studied the tenets of Christianity under John Eliot, the foremost Puritan missionary to the Indians of New England, who had helped found 14 &ldquopraying towns&rdquo of converted Indians and had translated the Bible into Algonquian. Sassamon could read and speak English and had evolved into a go-between, serving as both an interpreter to the colonists and a secretary to the Wampanoag sachem (paramount chief), a man known to the English as &ldquoKing Philip,&rdquo for whom the war is named. Sachems were not kings in the European sense. Philip&rsquos powers were limited, and he led his people at their sufferance. But he did speak for them and lead them in warfare. The colonists dubbed him Philip after Philip of Macedon, having given the name Alexander to his older brother. Philip accepted the name his Indian name was Metacomet, but names among the Indians were provisional. It was their practice to change names when the occasion warranted.

In January 1675 searchers found Sassamon&rsquos bruised body, the neck broken, beneath the ice of Assawompset Pond, near Middleborough, where he had supposedly gone fishing. He had earlier warned Plymouth authorities that Philip was preparing for war and planning an attack on one of the towns. A fellow praying Indian soon came forward, claiming to have watched from a distance as three Wampanoags beat and killed Sassamon. (It is worth noting the witness owed a gambling debt to one of the three.) All three were close counselors of Philip. Authorities arrested and questioned the men. They further ordered one of the suspects to approach the corpse, which started to bleed folk superstition held that a murder victim&rsquos body will bleed in the presence of its killer, and this &ldquoevidence&rdquo seems to have been decisive. At trial in June a jury found the three Indians guilty, and the men were sentenced to hang. Within days of their June 8 executions disaffected Wampanoags attacked and burned several homesteads in protest. On June 23, when the residents of the recently built Plymouth village of Swansea left their farms lightly guarded to attend a prayer meeting, Wampanoags emerged from the woods to loot several homes. A farm boy spotted several Indians running from one of the houses, raised his musket and fired a shot, mortally wounding one of the raiders. The following day Wampanoags killed nine Swansea settlers in retribution. King Philip&rsquos War had begun.

It was a confused and unstructured war that had no front lines but was essentially a fight for territory, indeed for the future of New England itself. Except for the Pequot War, the Indians and the English had gotten along reasonably well until the 1660s. The English traded useful guns, ammunition and metal tools to the Indians mostly for beaver pelts, which merchants sold in Europe to feed a passion for beaver felt hats. The Indians did not own land privately, but they had a strong sense of collective tribal territory. If they were not using land to farm or hunt, however, they sold it willingly enough to the colonists to farm and establish towns. For a half-century the groups lived in proximity to each other, and the relationship remained stable.

As the English population increased, however, cracks began to appear on the surface. The English wanted more land and were going farther afield to lay claim to it. The settlements in the Connecticut River Valley, well to the west of Wampanoag country, were growing rapidly. The lands the Indians were willing to sell were dwindling all across eastern New England. The colonists often let their farm animals roam inevitably some roamed into Indian cornfields, destroying crops the Indians depended on to get them through the winters. Prior to the outbreak of war Rhode Islander John Borden, a friend of Philip&rsquos, met with the Wampanoag sachem to seek accord between the two groups. Philip stated the Indian case eloquently:

The English who came first to this country were but a handful of people, forlorn, poor and distressed. My father was then sachem. He relieved their distresses in the most kind and hospitable manner. He gave them land to plant and build upon.&hellipThey flourished and increased.&hellipBy various means they got possessed of a great part of his territory. But he still remained their friend till he died. My elder brother became sachem. They pretended to suspect him of evil designs against them. He was seized and confined and thereby thrown into illness and died. Soon after I became sachem, they disarmed all my people.&hellipTheir lands were taken.&hellipBut a small part of the dominion of my ancestors remains. I am determined not to live until I have no country.

Samuel G. Arnold, a 19th century historian and U.S. senator from Rhode Island, aptly described the statement as &ldquothe preamble to a declaration of war&hellipa mournful summary of accumulated wrongs that cry aloud for battle.&rdquo The theme would haunt most of the Indian wars in North America until indeed, two centuries later, when the Indians no longer had a country.

As the attack on Swansea proved, the Wampanoags had not disarmed, as the colonial government had demanded. The raid panicked the colonists, and authorities in Boston sent a contingent of hastily assembled militia south to Swansea, as did Plymouth. The gathered militiamen numbered perhaps 200, facing an Indian force of unknown size. They initially engaged in skirmishes but no pitched battles. One group of 20 colonists ran into an ambush&mdasha tactic that would ultimately claim hundreds of militiamen&mdashby an overwhelming Indian force and escaped only by commandeering a vessel passing on a nearby river. The colonists had muskets, but so did the Indians. The Indians also had longbows that could drive an arrow straight through a thighbone. And when pursued, the Indians melted into the woods, making it difficult for colonists on horseback to follow.

While the militiamen survived this initial skirmish, it soon became clear such outings would accomplish little, as the Indians were hard to pin down. They knew the land and likely escape routes, and the swamps in which they so often took refuge were impenetrable to anyone not intimately familiar with them.

After Swansea the Indians swept down on Middleborough and Dartmouth. Like most New England towns Dartmouth had established garrisons&mdashfortified strongholds in which residents could shelter. From there the settlers watched the smoke rise as the Wampanoags torched house after house and killed whoever had not retreated to the garrisons. They left most of the town in ruins. One garrison commander managed to persuade several dozen Indians&mdashmen, women and children&mdashto surrender themselves on promises of safe conduct. Then, in a pattern that became common during the war, he transported them to Plymouth to be sold into slavery. The betrayal prompted further reprisals.

At the start of the conflict Philip acted alone, and the colonists took pains to ensure that the Narragansetts, New England&rsquos most powerful tribe and neighbors to the Wampanoags, did not join the war. Philip moved northwest into Nipmuck territory, near Worcester. The Nipmucks had their own reasons to resent the colonists, and two of their sachems, Muttawmp and Matoonas, soon joined the fight and proved capable military leaders. Matoonas&rsquo attack on the town of Mendon in mid-July left six settlers dead a few weeks later Muttawmp hit Brookfield with 200 warriors, ambushing a small colonial force sent to reinforce the town. Nearby cavalry rode to the rescue at Brookfield, and no clear victor emerged, but there could be no doubt about what was happening: King Philip&rsquos war was spreading, and every town in southern New England was a target.

That other tribes joined the spreading conflict does not mean the region&rsquos Indians were working together in a united effort to drive the English settlers into the sea. The Mohegans, for instance, remained firmly aligned with the colonists throughout the conflict, while the Mohawks, farther west, exploited their alliance with the English to pursue ancient tribal rivalries along the Hudson River up into New England. Certainly, tribes were not &ldquonations&rdquo in any modern sense they were more collections of villages speaking the same language, connected by kinship and custom.

Nor did the war proceed in any organized way. The colonists fought by erecting garrisons in the towns and sending armed columns down forest trails after the Indians. The militias acted as though the laws of civilized warfare were in effect, as if the Indians would dutifully face them on a battlefield or retreat to strongholds that could then be properly besieged. The Indians did build palisaded forts, but they were just as apt to slip away when enemies approached.

The most effective tactic the colonists used was to burn Indian crops in the fields, but this was a two-way street. The Indians burned many barns packed with colonial harvests and killed or stole farm animals. The retaliatory raids persisted through 1675 and into the following year. The colonists pursued the raiders, but it took several costly ambushes for them to learn that a military column in thick woods was an extremely vulnerable target. The Indians were at home in the forests and repeatedly lured the colonists into traps. Only when Mohegan scouts led them through the woods did the settlers stand much of a chance.

In September 1675, on the Connecticut River near Deerfield, Muttawmp and his braves killed 71 colonial soldiers in a lopsided ambush called the Battle of Bloody Brook. Deerfield itself suffered repeated raids. Panicky and enraged, settlers began abandoning their towns and homesteads. Some called for the utter extinction of New England&rsquos Indians.

This was the mood in which the colonists decided the Narragansetts could no longer be trusted. In December&mdashaccusing the Narragansetts of harboring hostile Wampanoags, fearing they would soon join Philip&rsquos rebellion and ignoring a recently signed treaty of neutrality&mdasha combined force of colonial militia entered Rhode Island and mounted a pre-emptive strike. It marked the war&rsquos first traditional European-style campaign, in which a 1,000-strong army of colonists and allied Indians&mdashthe largest yet assembled in North America&mdashbesieged the Narragansett stronghold in the Great Swamp south and west of Narragansett Bay. The Narragansetts had not completed a defensive wall surrounding their camp, and the militia attacked at once, swarming into camp through a breech in the walls. When the smoke cleared, more than 200 of the colonial troops lay dead or wounded, but the militia had killed an estimated 300 Narragansetts and taken as many captive. Militiamen then burned the fort and destroyed the camp&rsquos winter stores. Still, the majority of the Narragansetts, including their sachem, Canonchet, and many of his warriors, escaped into the frozen swamp.

The colonists declared the battle a victory, but it had pushed the Narragansetts firmly into the war on Philip&rsquos side. Within weeks the surviving warriors, led by Canonchet, began raiding Rhode Island&rsquos towns and killing its colonists.

Townspeople abandoned Lancaster in the wake of a February raid. The raiders next struck Medfield, only 16 miles from Boston, followed by a string of other towns. King Philip was hardly a factor by this time the Indians on the march were Nipmucks, Narragansetts and people from other tribes led by such feared sachems as Muttawmp, Quinnapin and Monoco (aka &ldquoOne-Eyed John&rdquo). By early 1676 it looked as though the Indians might just prevail.

And they might have, had they had the manpower. But the war had taken a toll. Every attack cost the Indians, often more than it cost the colonists, and there were more militiamen than warriors. By this time the colonists were making effective use of their Mohegan allies and taking the war to their enemy rather than sitting in garrisons waiting to be attacked&mdasha policy proposed to colonial authorities earlier but rejected. A series of devastating attacks in March&mdashone on a garrison just 3 miles from Plymouth proper, then one on Providence&mdashchanged their minds. A turning point came in early April when Canonchet was caught, handed over to his Mohegan enemies and brutally executed. He had sworn to fight to the end. For him it had come.

As colonial tactics became more sophisticated, Indian losses mounted. Finally, that August, Philip himself&mdashhaving spent months on the run&mdashwas caught, cornered and mortally wounded by an Indian allied with the colonists. In keeping with English punitive tradition, the &ldquotreasonous king&rdquo was beheaded and his body quartered, the quarters hung from trees &ldquohere and there,&rdquo wrote one historian, &ldquoso as not to hallow a traitor&rsquos body by burial.&rdquo Authorities in Plymouth ransomed Philip&rsquos head and placed it on a spike atop a prominent hill overlooking town. It was said to have remained on display for decades.

The war was not quite over, however. By the summer of 1676 it had spread north into Maine and New Hampshire, where local Abenakis took revenge on some of the towns in which colonial traders had cheated them. Sporadic raiding persisted another year in the Maine interior.

By the time the fighting finally ended, the costs proved crippling for both sides. Hundreds of Algonquian-speaking Indians had been sold into slavery at an average price of three English pounds, and thousands more had been killed. Algonquian society as a whole would never recover. Colonial New England would recover, but at a snail&rsquos pace&mdashit took 100 years for the region&rsquos economy to reach the prosperity levels of the prewar period. Worse yet, a long peace had been shattered, as had the possibility that in the New World diverse cultures might live peacefully side by side, in mutual tolerance, to one another&rsquos benefit. Historian Russell Bourne quotes a current Narragansett leader&rsquos embittered remark to anthropologist Paul Robinson: &ldquoSo far as we&rsquore concerned,&rdquo he said, &ldquowhat the Puritans began here has never ended. The war&rsquos still on.&rdquo

A frequent contributor to Military History, Anthony Brandt is the author of The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage. For further reading he recommends The Red King&rsquos Rebellion, by Russell Bourne The Name of War, by Jill Lepore and So Dreadful a Judgment, edited by Richard Slotkin et al.

[email protected] of Nebraska - Lincoln

The following pages represent a new edition of Increase Mather’s influential contemporary account of King Philip’s War, between the English colonists in New England (and their Native allies) and the Wampanoag, Naragansett, and other Indian nations of the region, beginning in 1675. Mather’s account runs through August of 1676, when hostilities in southern, central, and western New England ended fighting continued in the region of Maine until 1678. The war was disastrous for both sides, but particularly for the hostile Native Americans, who were brought very close to extermination.

Mather describes his history as “brief” (it runs to 89 pages in this edition) and “impartial”—a claim that may ring false to modern ears. Mather was not a direct participant, but was an associate of most of the colonial leadership and a spiritual advisor to the war effort. His History has the advantage of being freshly written during the conflict, and reflects the alternating hopes and disappointments that accompanied each bit of news that arrived in Boston. He argues that the United Colonies (Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut) waged a defensive war against a treacherous enemy who assaulted their settlements and plantations without provocation. He does, however, blame the English colonists for their neglect of religion (including efforts to Christianize the natives) and for the sins of apostacy, inordinate pride of apparel and hair, drunkenness, and swearing—all of which gave God adequate cause to raise enemies against them as a “Scourge” to punish them and motivate them to repentence and reformation.

The Brief History does deliver many telling truths about the conflict: that the English conducted search-and-destroy campaigns against both persons and provisions, slaughtered (Mather’s word) large numbers of women and children as well as men, executed captured leaders by firing squad (on Boston Common and at Stonington, Ct.) and that their “armies” were on several occasions routed or entirely wiped out by Native fighters.

This online electronic text edition is based on the first printed edition published at Boston in 1676, and it retains the spelling, punctuation, and orthography of the original. Some explanatory notes have been added (at the end), along with a bibliography, and a note on the textual history of the work, the editorial rationale employed, and a list of all emendations.

Mather’s work contains slightly more than 30,000 words it is published here as a PDF file that can be printed out in landscape format on 52 letter-size pages.


No copyright page found. No table-of-contents pages found.

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King Philip Meeting with Colonists - History

While the Swedes, Dutch and English were fighting it out in the Delaware Valley Region, there was a lot going on in New England. Although the focus of this timeline is the Mid-Atlantic Region, the activities of the British had a wide-ranging effect all over eastern North America. And thanks to the The Early History and Massachusetts Blog, ( there is a detailed post about King Philip’s War that is summarized here:

King Philip’s War was fought between English colonists and the American Indians of New England in the 17th century. It was their last major effort to drive the English colonists out of New England. The war took place between 1675-1676 in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts and later spread to Maine and New Hampshire.

King Philip, was the son of the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Philip was also known by his Wampanoag name, Metacom, so his eponymously named war was alternatively known as Metacom’s War. It was also known as the First Indian War, but that was technically a misnomer since the English and French had been fighting with the Native Americans for most of the 17th century in Canada, and especially Virginia (see the post in this time-line about the First Anglo-Powhatan War).

Philip led his tribe and a coalition of the Nipmuck, Pocumtuck and Narragansett tribes in an uprising against the colonists and their allies, the Mohegans and the Mohawks. The major fighting lasted 14 months, although as noted below, the war went on longer. The war was considered disastrous for both the Native Americans and the colonists because: the war continued for a relatively long time the fighting ranged over a wide area with numerous battles the casualties were quite high and there was a lot of property damage, including livestock. And, it was considered more of a civil war among the native groups, since there were large forces fighting against each other, rather than focusing on expelling the English.

The War finally ended with the treaty of Casco Bay in April 1678. But, King Philip had already been killed and decapitated, in August 1676, at an old Wampanoag village called Montaup near Mount Hope. As destructive as it was, King Philip’s War was a turning point in American history because it gave the colonists control of southern New England and cleared the way for English expansion in the area. This, along with the expulsion of the Dutch and Swedes – as noted in other posts in this time line – led to English Control of the entirety of North Eastern North America.

King Philip’s War: Indian Chieftain’s War Against the New England Colonies

All the war’s scars have disappeared from the landscape of southern New England, where, more than three centuries ago, the great Wampanoag Indian sachem, or chieftain, King Philip waged a fierce and bitter struggle against the white settlers of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The old fortresses of the colonists–sturdy blockhouses of wood and stone–have all vanished. So too have the signs of Indian villages in what used to be the fertile lands of the great Wampanoag, Narragansett and Mohegan tribes. But near Bristol, Rhode Island, beneath a gray bluff of rocks called Old Mount Hope, where the Sakonnet River flows gently into Narragansett Bay, one can still find a place called King Philip’s Seat, a rough pile of boulders that legend says is the spot where the Indian sachem planned the ferocious war of 1675-1676, and where, when all was lost, he returned in great sadness to die.

It is in the shadowy places like King Philip’s Seat and other obscure landmarks that one may feel the ghostly presence of Philip, the Wampanoag warrior sachem who nearly succeeded in driving the English out of New England in a war that inflicted greater casualties in proportion to the population than any other war in American history. Down through the centuries, though, King Philip has not been well remembered. The Puritans scorned him in life and denigrated his memo-ry after his death. In the 18th century, Paul Revere, the famous Revolutionary and self-taught artist, engraved a portrait of Philip that made him look hideous, even comical. Historians of New England have written reams about King Philip’s War, but in their descriptions of burning villages, booming muskets and brutal massacres, King Philip the man has been lost.

Lost, too, is the meaning of Philip’s unsuccessful attempt to win a lasting victory against his white enemies. What King Philip experienced in his defeat was a pattern that would repeat itself over and over, down through the subsequent centuries, as whites spread their settlements into Indian territory. The pattern itself was insidious. As a first step, whites would invade Indian lands and establish permanent settlements. Later, after a period of trade and friendly exchanges, the Indians came to realize that they were being swindled, usually out of their valuable lands, by the whites. When they resisted, the Indians almost always faced an enemy that outnumbered them and possessed superior weapons and technology. In the end, as the pattern repeated itself, the Indians ultimately faced two untenable choices: extermination or acculturation. In the case of King Philip, he chose to gamble on war–giving his life in the end–rather than acknowledge his white enemy as his master.

Little in his background foretold Philip’s later greatness. His life began around 1638 in the Indian village of Sowams, near modern Warren, R.I., and his fellow Wampanoags knew him as Metacom. He was the second son of Massasoit, the principal sachem of the Wampanoags and the same man who had befriended the Pilgrims when they settled at Plymouth in 1620. During the early years of English settlement, Massasoit had worked diligently to maintain the peace with both the Plymouth Separatists and the Massachusetts Bay Puritans.

Keeping the peace between Indians and whites in 17th-century New England was no easy task. The white colonists were hungry for land, and their settlements began to spread quickly throughout the lands of the Wampanoags and other local tribes. Roger Williams, who founded the town of Providence in 1636 after being banished from Massachusetts for arguing, among other things, that Indians should be paid for their land, said that the English suffered from a disease called ‘God land–something he likened to God gold among the Spanish. As the years went by, the Wampanoags felt more and more pressure to give up their tribal territory, and Massasoit, wanting to accommodate his white neighbors and reap the trade goods that the settlers often used to pay for lands, sold off increasing amounts of the Indian country. Undoubtedly he understood the awful consequences if he did not comply with English demands for Indian land.

Philip’s father, like so many other Indians of New England, took heed of the outcome of the war fought in 1636 by the Puritans against the Pequot Indians of Connecticut, a war that came close to exterminating the entire Pequot tribe. As a result, Massasoit placated the English by continuing to sell land. The Wampanoags, given their proximity to the largest white settlements, were particularly under pressure to accept English culture and laws.

Despite the challenges facing his father and his tribe, Philip lived most of his life in peaceful obscurity. He took one of his cousins as his wife, a woman named Wootonekanuske. Together they lived not far from Sowams, in a village called Montaup (which the English settlers called Mount Hope). The historical records are vague about Philip’s children he and Wootonekanuske may have had several sons and daughters, but the extant sources mention only one son. Little is known about Philip’s private and family life because the white colonists paid relatively little attention to him.

Until the 1660s, that is. In the winter of 1661, Massasoit died at the age of 81. Philip’s older brother, Wamsutta, became the principal sachem of the tribe. In a gesture of friendship and fidelity, the two brothers appeared before the Plymouth Grand Court and took the English names of the two legendary princes of ancient Macedonia, Alexander and Philip–names appropriate to their high station among the Wampanoag people.

Yet the friendly gestures soon melted away in the heat of suspicion and distrust. The English colonists quickly came to believe that Alexander and Philip were hatching plans for a war against the whites. In 1662, Plymouth authorities sent an armed guard to arrest Alexander and bring him to trial in an English court. When Alexander pledged his undying friendship to the white settlers, the court released him and allowed him to return home, but he had contracted a serious illness in the English settlement and died on the trail before reaching home. Many Wampanoags believed that Alexander had been poisoned by the settlers at Plymouth, and some of the Indians wanted to avenge his death by attacking the colonists.

King Philip, probably in his mid-20s at the time, assumed the duties of principal sachem and managed to calm down the hotheads in the tribe. For the next nine years, he sustained peaceful relations with Plymouth and the other Puritan colonies, all of which had grouped together under a regional governmental body called the United Colonies of New England.

As the Puritan colonies banded together for strength, the Indians of southern New England grew increasingly weak in numbers and influence. During these years of peace, Philip continued his father’s practice of selling lands to the whites. But he soon found himself on a slippery slope. As he sold more and more land, the white settlers established towns closer to the Wampanoag villages, including the settlement of Swansea, not far from Montaup and Sowams. The colonial authorities also decided to regulate Philip’s real estate transactions by requiring him to obtain permission from the Grand Court before selling any more land.

Increased contact between Indians and whites bred increased suspicion and distrust on both sides. Repeatedly during the late 1660s and early 1670s, the Plymouth magistrates–often the victims of their own paranoia and gullibility–suspected that King Philip was plotting with the French in Canada or the Dutch in New Netherlands to attack the settlements of New England. Philip denied any involvement with the French or Dutch, but he failed to convince the Plymouth officials of his innocence. In 1671, after the colonists’ suspicions became a conviction that Philip was planning to attack their towns, they forced him to sign a new treaty that pledged his friendship to them. They also extracted a promise to pay them an annual tribute of 100 pounds sterling and to surrender his warriors’ muskets to the Plymouth authorities. Not all of Philip’s men gave up their guns, however, and the Plymouth officials saw the lack of total compliance as another threat of war. On September 29, 1671, King Philip signed yet another treaty with the whites that brought about what he had been trying to avoid all along: the subjugation of his people under the laws of Plymouth colony and the English king.

Philip did not seem to take the agreement seriously. He held the colonial authorities in utter contempt and complained on one occasion that the Plymouth magistrates did not hold the highest station in their government. If they wanted him to obey them, they should send their king to negotiate with him, not their governors. Your governor is but a subject, he said. I shall treat only with my brother, King Charles [II] of England. When he comes, I am ready.

It is nearly impossible to know what Philip was planning in the mid-1670s as he and the English veered closer and closer to war. A reconsideration of the scarce available evidence suggests that Philip never did develop an overall policy toward the English, or a grand design for a conspiracy against them however, he may have hoped on more than one occasion to rid himself of his white neighbors by attacking their settlements, or finding allies who could help him subvert the colonists’ rising dominance. Styled king by the English, Philip actually lacked the sweeping political authority over his own people attributed to him by ethnocentric whites who assumed that the governmental structure of Indian tribes resembled the English monarchy. Rivalries with other Algonquian tribes–and the success of the English policy of divide and conquer–precluded any military coalition among the Wampanoags and their Indian neighbors.

Whether or not King Philip was conspiring with other Indians to wipe out the English, the white authorities certainly thought he was. So did some Indians. John Sassamon, an Indian who had served for a time as Philip’s aide and translator, believed the Wampanoag sachem was indeed planning a pan-Indian conspiracy against the English. A convert to Christianity who had studied for a time at the Indian school at Harvard College, Sassamon lived for many years among the whites in Massachusetts, but in the 1660s he abandoned the English and joined Philip’s band at Montaup. Later, Sassamon, who was described by another Indian as a very cunning and plausible Indian, well skilled in the English Language, lived with a community of Christian Indians in Natick and eventually became an Indian preacher.

In late January 1675, Sassamon, saying he feared for his own life, told Governor Josiah Winslow of Plymouth that King Philip was hatching a plot against the English. Despite all their earlier suspicions about Philip, Winslow and the other Plymouth officials refused to take Sassamon seriously–until they found his body beneath the ice in a pond. An Indian witness claimed that he had seen three Wampanoags murder Sassamon and throw his body into the water. Quickly the Plymouth authorities rounded up the suspects–all of whom belonged to Philip’s band–and took them into custody. With great speed, the three Indians were tried, found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged. On June 8, 1675, two of the Indians were executed. But when the rope around the neck of the third man broke, allowing him for the moment to escape death, he confessed to Sassamon’s murder and declared that Philip had masterminded the crime. The condemned man’s confession did him no good within a month he was executed by a Plymouth firing squad.

When word of the executions reached King Philip, he ordered his tribe to prepare for war. The Wampanoags sent their women and children to safety across Narragansett Bay and gathered their men together for war dances. Deputy Governor John Easton of Rhode Island visited Philip and tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Plymouth and the Indians. Even Plymouth’s Governor Winslow sent letters of peace and friendship to the Wampanoags. For about a week there was a possibility that the crisis would pass without bloodshed.

Then the storm broke. On June 18, several Wampanoags raided a few deserted houses in the English settlement of Swansea, just north of Montaup. Two days later, more Indians returned to the settlement, entered the abandoned houses and set fire to two of them. Meanwhile, the Swansea settlers took refuge in fortified garrison houses and sent a messenger to Plymouth asking for military assistance. On June 23, a young English boy shot and killed an Indian who was looting his house–the first bloodshed in what was to become New England’s most devastating war.

No one seemed able to control events, least of all King Philip. If his plan was to fight the English rather than submit to their ways, his military strategy revealed an utter lack of careful thought or purposeful design. On June 24, the Indians attacked Swansea in force, killing a total of 11 white settlers (including the boy who had fired the war’s first shot) and wounding many others. Yet the approach of militia troops from Plymouth made it apparent that Philip could not remain in Swansea or even in Montaup.

Fleeing Montaup, King Philip led his warriors east to the Pocasset country. A small group of white soldiers, commanded by militia Captains Benjamin Church and Matthew Fuller, tried to surprise Philip and his Wampanoags at Pocasset, but the Indians fled before the colonial troops could attack. Later, Church’s company was ambushed in a fierce attack by Philip’s Indians, who pushed the soldiers back to the Pocasset shore. Pinned down at the beach, Church and his men finally escaped when some Rhode Island patrol boats rescued them in the nick of time. Church later thanked the glory of God and his protecting Providence for helping to effect their narrow escape.

While soldiers from Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay assembled near Swansea and organized themselves into an army, Philip and his small force struck effectively at nearby undefended white settlements. During early July, Philip’s warriors attacked the towns of Taunton, Rehoboth, Middleborough and Dartmouth, killing settlers and burning houses. Stealth and speed became Philip’s greatest weapons, causing the English to live in constant fear of surprise attacks. Every noise in the forest sounded like the footsteps of moccasins or the echoes of war whoops.

On July 19, Church and his men, hoping once more to trap King Philip, returned to the swamps of Pocasset and fought a desperate battle with the Indians. The English suffered many casualties in the fight and withdrew, leaving behind seven or eight of their dead. After regrouping, Church and his men tried to surround the marshlands and force Philip to surrender. Instead, Philip and his Indians slipped through the swamp and disappeared into thick woods, leaving no trace. One English soldier observed that fighting in muddy swamps and tangled forests made victory for the whites nearly impossible. It was, he said, dangerous…to fight in such dismal woods, where the leaves muffled movements, thick boughs pinioned arms, and roots shackled feet and legs. It is ill fighting with a wild Beast in his own Den, he complained.

Philip’s escape from the clutches of Church and the colonial militia meant that the war would no longer be fought simply within the relatively small area around Mount Hope, Swansea and Pocasset. The conflict now burst out into the open country of New England, and the spread of its flames could not be contained. As Indian attacks multiplied throughout southern New England during the summer of 1675, white settlers believed that King Philip had taken supreme command of a large army of Indian allies, although such was not the case. At best Philip led a war party of some 300 Indians, most of whom were Wampanoags or members of other bands residing in the vicinity of Montaup.

At the end of July, Philip took his warriors out of Wampanoag territory to link up with the Nipmucks of central Massachusetts. No one knows precisely what he did or where he went for the next several weeks. Throughout August, reports came into Plymouth and Boston that he was spotted in Massachusetts, or seen in Connecticut, but most of the reports were unconfirmed or vague in their details. Actually Philip seemed to be everywhere at once, or nowhere at all.

Meanwhile, the frontier exploded from Connecticut to Maine with one Indian attack after another. The Narragansetts, who at first declared Philip their enemy, eventually allied with him as the fighting continued during the summer of 1675. But not all New England Indians rose up against the whites. The Niantics of southern Rhode Island, the Mohegans and Pequots of Connecticut, and several other smaller tribes throughout southern New England served with the English as scouts and warriors against Philip’s forces, or maintained a nominal neutrality during the conflict.

English towns, however, remained vulnerable to surprise attacks, and one settlement after another was abandoned in the wake of devastating Indian assaults that took place from the summer to the late autumn of 1675. Taken off guard by the Indian uprising, and poorly prepared to fight a major war of any kind, the New England colonists seemed unable to win any decisive victory against their Indian enemies.

That situation changed in December when a combined English force invaded the territory of the Narragansetts in southern Rhode Island in hopes of capturing Philip at an Indian fortress in the Great Swamp. On December 19, the soldiers assaulted the palisaded fort at a weak, unfinished corner, but Indian resistance was strong and effective. Impetuously, the English troops decided to fire the fort in doing so, they burned the Indians’ supply of food, which the soldiers themselves needed for their return march out of the swamp.

The Narragansetts fled the fort, leaving behind about 100 dead and 50 wounded warriors, and perhaps as many as 1,000 casualties among their women and children. The English lost 70 dead and about 150 wounded, many of whom later died in the winter cold from their wounds. The whites had at last won a victory, but at a very high cost. More important, the English troops had failed to capture King Philip. Earlier intelligence reports had proven false he was not in the fort at the time of the attack.

While the Narragansetts took flight from the Great Swamp, Philip and his Wampanoags were traveling west on a long journey through the winter snows. Philip’s hope was to stay the winter with the Mohawk Indians of New York and convince them to join the war against the English. In January 1676, he encamped on the east side of the Hudson River, about 20 miles north of Albany, where he negotiated with the Mohawks and successfully avoided the English patrols that searched in vain for him throughout the New England countryside. But Philip’s plan for Indian assistance backfired when Sir Edmund Andros, the governor of New York, persuaded the Mohawks not only to remain loyal to the English but also to attack the Wampanoags in their winter camp.

So the war went on, and the casualties mounted with every engagement. Fleeing from the overpowering might of the Mohawks, King Philip took his followers to the upper Connecticut River valley. In March their attacks on white settlements grew even more merciless. On a single day, March 26, 1676, the Indians surprised several English towns and troops in separate assaults–at Longmeadow, Marlborough and at the Blackstone River, north of Pawtucket Falls. A few days later, the Indians attacked Rehoboth in Massachusetts and Providence in Rhode Island.

Even so, the tide of war was beginning to turn. Because the Indians had not planned on war, their stores of food and other supplies were being rapidly depleted. As spring approached, the tribes could not return to their seasonal camps to plant crops or to hunt the scarce game in the New England woods. Indians began starving to death. Others became convinced they could not totally defeat the English, who greatly outnumbered them and whose supplies of food and ammunition seemed unlimited. During the spring, many Indians decided to abandon the war and surrender to the English forces.

King Philip, however, refused to surrender. In July 1676, he and his Wampanoags returned to the Pocasset country, back to the lands where the war had begun the year before. All around southern New England, small expeditions of white soldiers were rounding up Indians and selling them off into slavery for profit. For almost a month, Philip and his people avoided capture by hiding in the woods and swamps. But he could not remain hidden forever. On July 20, Benjamin Church led a small expedition of English and Indian allies and attacked Philip’s camp near Bridgewater. More than 170 Wampanoags were captured or killed in the battle, but King Philip escaped into the forest. Among the prisoners, however, were his wife, Wootonekanuske, and their 9-year-old son. After much debate, the colonists decided to spare their lives by selling them into slavery in the West Indies for a pound apiece. When Philip heard of their fate, he is reported to have said: My heart breaks. Now I am ready to die.

Captain Church continued in hot pursuit of Philip. When an Indian deserter who blamed Philip for the death of a relative revealed that the sachem had returned to Montaup, Church led his men to the vicinity of the old Wampanoag village and down to the craggy shoreline below the impressive bluffs along the Sakonnet River. In the early morning hours of August 12, Church and his company found the small band of Indians sound asleep near the spot later known as King Philip’s Seat. Philip had posted no sentries around his camp. Without warning, Church and his men attacked, but Philip, aroused by the noise of battle, saw an escape route and ran quickly toward a swamp. As he ran for his life, a shot rang out, and the sachem slumped to the ground. The great King Philip–the most feared Indian in New England–was dead. The shot had been fired by John Alderman, one of Church’s trusted Indian friends. Like Crazy Horse 200 years later, King Philip was slain by a fellow Indian.

Church inspected the body of the fallen sachem and in disgust called him a doleful, great, naked, dirty beast. The captain’s men let out a loud cheer. Then Church ordered the body to be hacked to pieces, butchered in the manner of the standard English punishment for treason. As a reward, Alderman received Philip’s head and one hand. The rest of the sachem’s body was quartered and hoisted on four trees. Later Alderman sold the severed head to the Plymouth authorities for 30 shillings, the going rate for Indian heads during the war, and it was placed on a stake in Plymouth town, where the gruesome relic remained for the next 25 years.

The death of King Philip signaled an end to the war. About 9,000 people had lost their lives in the conflict, including some 3,000 Indians. Nearly 50 English towns and countless Indian villages had been destroyed. Many Indian captives, like Philip’s wife and son, were sold into slavery. Unlike the English settlers, the Indians of southern New England never entirely recovered from the devastation of the war. Some Indian tribes, including the Wampanoags and the Narragansetts, were almost entirely annihilated.

Indian survivors of the war huddled together in remote communities where they hoped to avoid scrutiny by the whites, but in subsequent years the local authorities made sure that these remnant bands of Indians came under close supervision of the colonial–and later state–legislatures. In the spirit of King Philip, these native peoples did their best to sustain their culture, traditions and identity despite their dwindling numbers, intermarriage with African Americans and uncharitable treatment by their white lords and masters.

The Pequots and Mohegans–some of whom intermarried with the Wampanoag survivors in the centuries after King Philip’s War–may have thought they had chosen the winning side by fighting against Philip’s Indians during the war, but they ultimately suffered the same cruelties of harsh white policies and bigotry that all Indians in southern New England experienced well into the modern era. Among their greatest losses, besides the tragic loss of life that occurred on both sides during King Philip’s War, were the lands that were gobbled up by hungry whites whose appetites could not be satiated until every last morsel had been consumed.

As for King Philip and his loyal Wampanoags who chose to fight rather than submit to English demands, they paid the highest price of all. Today the memory of Philip remains strong among the Indians of New England. Standing in the long shadow of King Philip, his descendants and other New England Indians still work for justice and fair policies toward their people. Outside of New England, however, few Americans know Philip’s story or the privations experienced by the Indians of New England after his death. Under the circumstances, it is intriguing to wonder just how different American history might have been if King Philip had won his terrible war.

This article was written by Glenn W. LaFantasie and originally published in the April 2004 issue of American History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to American History magazine today!