Words To Remember

"The truth is this--genealogy is our living, and we are busy every minute, [and we] could use more hours." --Jane Wethy Foley, 1942

Saturday, January 21, 2012

King Philip's War

King Philip's War--sometimes called the First Indian War, Metacom's War or Metacom's Rebellion--was an armed conflict between Native American inhabitants of present-day southern New England and English colonists and their Native American allies in 1675–76. The war continued in northern New England (primarily on the Maine frontier) after King Philip was killed until a treaty was signed at Casco Bay {ME} in April 1678.  The war was named after the main leader of the Native American side, Metacom or Metacomet, known to the English as King Philip.

Sketch of King Philip by Paul Revere in 1772

The war was the single greatest calamity to occur in 17th-century Puritan New England. In little over a year, 12 of the region's towns were destroyed and many more damaged, its economy was all but ruined, and much of its population was killed, including one-tenth of all men available for military service.  Proportionately, it was one of the bloodiest and costliest wars in the history of North America.  More than half of New England's towns were assaulted by Native American warriors.

Prior to King Philip's War, tensions fluctuated between different groups of Native Americans and the colonists, but relations were generally peaceful. As the colonists' small population of a few thousand grew larger over time and the number of their towns increased, the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Narragansett, Mohegan, Pequot and other small tribes were each treated individually (many were traditional enemies of each other) by the English colonial officials of Rhode Island, Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and the New Haven colony. As their population increased, the New Englanders continued to expand their settlements along the region's coastal plain and up the Connecticut River valley. By 1675, they had even established a few small towns in the interior between Boston and the Connecticut River settlements.

Colonists--always wanting for more land--expanded into the Native American tribes' territory.

Metacom became Sachem of the Pokanoket and Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy after the death in 1662 of his older brother, the Grand Sachem Wamsutta. Well known to the English before becoming the Wampanoags' paramount chief, Metacom distrusted the colonists. Wamsutta had been visiting the Marshfield home of Josiah Winslow, the then governor of Plymouth Colony, for peaceful negotiations when he suddenly collapsed and died just after leaving the town.

Metacom had begun negotiating with other Native American tribes against the interests of the Plymouth Colony soon after the deaths of his father Massasoit, the Plymouth colony's greatest ally, and his brother Wamsutta. For almost half a century after the colonists' arrival, Massasoit had maintained an uneasy alliance with the English as a source of desired trade goods and a counter-weight to traditional enemies. 

Massasoit's price was colonial incursion into Wampanoag territory as well as English political interference. Maintaining good relations with the English became increasingly difficult, as the English colonists continued pressuring the Indians for permission to buy land for new towns.

The death of John Sassamon--a Native American Christian convert (a so-called Praying Indian) and early Harvard graduate, translator and adviser to Metacom--contributed to the outbreak of the war.  Sassamon had spread a rumor to Plymouth Colony officials alleging King Philip's attempts to arrange Native American attacks on widely dispersed colonial settlements.

King Philip was brought before a public court to answer to the rumors but was released after the court admitted it had no proof.  However, the court warned him that any other rumors—baseless or otherwise—would be rewarded with further confiscations of Wampanoag land and guns. Not long after, Sassamon was murdered; his body was found in an ice-covered pond, allegedly killed by a few Wampanoag, angry at his betrayal.

On the testimony of a Native American witness, the Plymouth Colony officials arrested three Wampanoag, including one of Metacom's counselors. A jury, among whom were some Indian members, convicted the men of Sassamon's murder; they were hanged on 18 June 1675 at Plymouth. Some Wampanoag believed that both the trial and the court's sentence infringed on their sovereignty.

On 30 June 1675, a band of Pokanoket, possibly without Philip's approval, attacked several isolated homesteads in the small Plymouth colony settlement of Swansea. Laying siege to the town, they destroyed it five days later and killed several inhabitants and others coming to their aid. Officials from Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony responded quickly to the attacks on Swansea; they sent a punitive military expedition that destroyed the Wampanoag town at Mount Hope (modern Bristol, RI).  On 7 July 1675, there was a full eclipse of the moon in the New England area that various Native American tribes viewed as a good omen for attacking the colonists.

Indians attacking a Garrison

After that, the war quickly spread. During the summer of 1675, the Native Americans attacked at Middleborough and Dartmouth (8 July), Mendon (14 July), Brookfield (2 Aug.), and Lancaster (9 Aug.). In early September, they attacked Deerfield, Hadley and Northfield.

The New England Confederation--comprising the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, New Haven Colony and Connecticut Colony--declared war on the Native Americans on 9 Sept. 1675. The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations tried to remain mostly neutral, but they were dragged inexorably into the conflict. The next colonial expedition was to recover crops from abandoned fields along the Connecticut River for the coming winter and included almost 100 farmers/militia plus teamsters to drive the wagons. They were ambushed, with about 50 colonists being killed, in the Battle of Bloody Brook (near Hadley) on 8 Sept. 1675.

Battle of Bloody Brook

The next attack was organized 5 Oct. 1675 on the Connecticut River's largest settlement at the time, Springfield, MA. During the attack, nearly all of Springfield's buildings were burned to the ground, including the town's grist mill. Most of the Springfielders who escaped unharmed took cover at Capt. Miles Morgan's house, a resident who had constructed one of Springfield's only fortified blockhouses. An Indian servant who worked for Morgan managed to escape and later alerted the Massachusetts Bay troops under the command of Maj. Samuel Appleton, who broke through to Springfield and drove off the attackers. Morgan's sons were famous Indian fighters in the territory, but the Indians had killed his son Peletiah in a battle during that same year.

On 2 Nov. 1675, Plymouth Colony Gov. Josiah Winslow led a combined force of colonial militia against the Narragansett tribe. While the Narragansett had not been directly involved in the war, they had sheltered many of the Wampanoag women and children. Several of their warriors were reported in several Indian raiding parties. The colonists distrusted the tribe and did not understand the various alliances. As the colonial forces went through Rhode Island, they found and burned several Indian towns which had been abandoned by the Narragansett, who had retreated to a massive fort in a frozen swamp.

The cold weather in December had frozen the swamp so it was relatively easy to traverse. Led by an Indian guide, on a very cold Sunday, 19 Dec. 1675, the colonial force found the Narragansett fort near present-day South Kingston, RI. A combined force of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Connecticut militia numbering about 1,000 men--including about 150 Pequots and Mohegan Indian allies--attacked the Indian fort. The fierce battle that followed is known as the Great Swamp Fight. It is believed that the militia killed about 300 Narragansett (exact figures are unavailable). The militia then burned the fort (which occupied over five acres of land), destroying most of the tribe's winter stores.

Great Swamp Fight, December 1675

Most of the Narragansett warriors and their families escaped into the frozen swamp. Facing a winter with little food and shelter, the entire surviving Narragansett tribe was forced out of quasi-neutrality and joined the fight. The colonists lost many of their officers in this assault: about 70 of their men were killed and nearly 150 more wounded. Lacking supplies for an extended campaign, the rest of the colonial assembled forces returned to their homes. The nearby towns in Rhode Island provided care for the wounded until they could return to their homes.

Throughout the winter of 1675–76, Native Americans attacked and destroyed more frontier settlements in their effort to expel the English colonists. Attacks were made at Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Groton, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Medford, Millis, Portland, Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Simsbury, Sudbury, Suffield, Warwick, Weymouth and Wrentham, including what is modern-day Plainville.

 The spring of 1676 marked the high point for the combined tribes when, on March 12, they attacked Plymouth Plantation. Though the town withstood the assault, the natives had demonstrated their ability to penetrate deep into colonial territory. The natives burned the abandoned capital of Providence to the ground on 29 March. At the same time, a small band of Native Americans infiltrated and burned part of Springfield while the militia was away.

Reprisals followed swiftly after Native Americans attacked Massachusetts towns.

However, the tide of war slowly began to turn in the colonists' favor later in the spring of 1676, as it became a war of attrition; both sides were determined to eliminate the other. The Native Americans had succeeded in driving the colonists back into their larger towns, but the Indians' supplies, particularly in powder and lead, nearly always sufficient for only a season or so, were running out. On the other hand, the New England colonists used their own or adjacent towns' supplies and were re-supplied by sea from wherever they could buy additional supplies. The Indians had no such resources. 

By April 1676, the Narragansett were defeated and their chief Canonchet was killed. On 18 May 1676, Capt. William Turner of the Massachusetts Militia and a group of about 150 militia volunteers (mostly minimally trained farmers) attacked a large fishing camp of Native Americans at Peskeompscut on the Connecticut River (now called Turners Falls, MA). The colonists claimed they killed 100–200 Native Americans in retaliation for earlier Indian attacks against Deerfield and other settlements and the colonial losses in the Battle of Bloody Brook. Turner and nearly 40 of the militia were killed during the return from the falls.

 The actual battle site of Turners Falls is submerged today under an impoundment lake.

With the help of their long-time allies the Mohegans, the colonists defeated an attack at Hadley on 12 June 1676 and scattered most of the Indian survivors into New Hampshire and points farther north. Later that month, a force of 250 Native Americans was routed near Marlborough, MA. Other forces, often a combined force of colonial volunteers and their Indian allies, continued to attack, kill, capture or disperse various Native American  bands as they tried to plant crops or return to their traditional locations. The colonists granted amnesty to Native Americans from the tribes who surrendered or were captured and showed they had not participated in the conflict. The captured Indian participants whom they knew had participated in attacks on the many settlements were either hanged or shipped off to slavery in Bermuda.

Called the Father of American Rangers, Capt. Benjamin Church pioneered techniques learned from the Indians to hunt the Indians.

Philip's allies began to desert him. By early July, over 400 had surrendered to the colonists and Philip himself took refuge in the Assowamset Swamp, close to where the war had started.   Often a combined force of colonial volunteers and their Indian allies, the settlers formed raiding parties. They were allowed to keep the possessions of warring Indians and received a bounty on all captives.

Philip was ultimately killed by one of these teams when he was tracked down by colony-allied Native Americans. Led by Capt. Benjamin Church--considered to be the father of the American Rangers--and Capt. Josiah Standish of the Plymouth Colony militia at Mt. Hope, RI, they found the war leader.   Philip was shot and killed by an Indian named John Alderman on 12 Aug. 1676. Philip was beheaded, then drawn and quartered (a traditional treatment of criminals in this era). His head was displayed in Plymouth for 20 years.

Death of Metacomet, King Philip



America’s Guardian Myths, op-ed by Susan Faludi, 7 Sept. 2007. New York Times. Accessed 7 Sept. 2007.
"Battle of Bloody Brook", Connecticut River Homepage, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1997
Gould, Philip, "Reinventing Benjamin Church: Virtue, Citizenship and the History of King Philip's War in Early National America." Journal of the Early Republic, No. 16, Winter 1996. p. 647.
Leach, Douglas Edward, Flintlock and Tomahawk, (East Orleans, MA: Parnassus Imprints; 1954) p. 46.
Moon Eclipse calculation. Accessed 22 Dec. 2011
Norton, Mary Beth, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (New York: Vintage Books, 2003)
Osgood, Herbert L. Herbert L., The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (1904) 1: 543
Phelps, Noah Amherst (1845). History of Simsbury, Granby, and Canton; from 1642 To 1845. (Hartford: Press of Case, Tiffany and Burnham.)
Schultz, Eric B.; Michael J. Touglas, King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict. (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2000) p. 5. 
The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut – 1675 King Philip's War

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