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King Philip's War

Interactive Communications
1998


"The horrors and devastation of Philip's war have no parallel in our
history. The Revolution was a struggle for freedom; the contest with
Philip was for existence. The war lasted only about fourteen months; and
yet the towns of Brookfield, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Sudbury,
Groton, Deerfield, Hatfield, Hadley, Northfield, Sprigfield, Weymouth,
Chelmsford, Andover, Scituate, Bridgewater, Playmouth, and several other
places were wholly or partially destroyed, and many of the inhabitants
were massacred or carried into captivity. During this short period, six
hundred of our brave men, the flower and strength of the Colony, had
fallen, and six hundred dwelling houses were consumed. Every eleventh
family was houseless, and every eleventh soldier had sunk to his grave."

Charles Hudson: A History of Marlborough
Background:

King Philip's War of 1675-1676 was a predictable Indian rebellion against
continuing Puritan incursions into Native American lands. Though Indian
attacks were vicious, they were no more so than those the Puritans had
waged with less provocation.

In May of 1637, several hundred recent Connecticut Valley settlers led by
English Captain John Mason, formerly of Boston's Dorchester settlement,
surprised and torched a Pequot village while its warriors were absent. The
Puritans surrounded the village and shot hundreds of women, old men and
children attempting to escape the flames. An eyewitness account of that
horror reads "It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the
flames, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory
seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had
wrought so wonderfully for them." John Mason wrote back to Dorchester that
God had "laughed at his enemies and the enemies of his people,...making
them as a fiery oven."

The English Enchroachment

By 1670 New England's European population was about 50,000 and the
Colonists were thriving, living an average 20 years longer than their
overseas counterparts. Their population would double by 1700. Conversely,
Indians had been decimated by European-borne diseases in the plagues of
1616-21, and every passing year found them with less game and less land.
Younger Indians brooded over their losses, and took as their leader
Metacomet, the son of Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, who ironically had fifty
years earlier befriended and saved the original Plymouth Colony from
starvation. Massasoit died in 1661, succeeded by Metacomet's older
brother, Wamsutta (Alexander). When Wamsutta died a year later after being
questioned by Plymouth officials, Metacomet, already a chief in all but
name, became Chief of the Wampanoags, and known to the Puritans as King
Philip. In 1671, he too was questioned by Plymouth's administrators, and
was released only after surrendering a cache of guns and promising to
submit to English law. He vowed it would be his last humiliation.

Metacomet/King Philip would likely have led a war against the Puritans
without further provocation. William Tilden, in his History of the Town of
Medfield, Massachusetts, 1650-1886, writes that Metacomet had convened a
large gathering of warriors at Wachusetts Mountain, 40 miles northwest of
Medfield. But the trigger was the hanging in June, 1675, of three
Wampanoags charged with murdering a Christianized and Harvard-educated
Indian, John Sassamon, after Sassamon warned Plymouth's officials of a
pending Wampanoag rebellion. At the trial the officials produced an Indian
witness who identified the three.

Wampanoags On The Warpath

The next day the Wampanoags were on the warpath. They began their attacks
on outlying Plymouth Colony villages, beginning with Swansea on June 24.
In mid-July they destroyed Mendon, 15 miles west of Medfield. By autumn
the Wampanoags were joined by the Nipmucks of southwestern Massachusetts
and by Rhode Island's Narragansetts, and by November the entire upper
Connecticut Valley was once again Indian territory. The rapidity and
ferocity of Indian attacks, the vulnerability of the settlements, and the
Colonists' inability to respond in kind surprised the Colonists. Wrote
Missionary John Eliot, a dedicated Cambridge-educated missionary and
translator of the Bible to Algonquin: "We were too ready to think that we
could easily suppress the flea, but now we find that all the craft is in
catching them, and that in the meantime they give us many a sore nip."

Metacomet concentrated his attacks in what today is known as the
Tri-Valley region between Providence and Boston, no more than twenty miles
from either city. Panic ensued, and the Colonies passed America's first
draft laws, calling for all males between 16 and 60. Except for small
garrisons in large population centers, there were few standing military
units, and fewer under any coordinating authority. Most arms-bearing
residents remained close to home, forming local militias and requesting
officers and artillery from the garrisons.

Kingston -- A Gruesome Massacre

But when a large number of Indians were observed gathered near Providence,
the Colonies came together and formed an army of about 1000 men. Six
companies of Massachusetts militia marched from Dedham on December 10, and
were joined at North Kingston, R.I., by troops from the Plymouth and
Connecticut Colonies. They destroyed the Indian's fortified village on the
morning of December 19 after a three-hour fight. Eighty Colonists were
killed and 150 wounded. Indian losses were reported as "about 1000 killed"
(no wounded!), most of whom may well have been women and children.

The Indians' loss of shelter and supplies in the midst of winter increased
their desperation. They raided now in smaller, uncoordinated bands. Their
most devastating raid, against Medfield on February 21, 1676, left 17
Medfielders dead and 32 homes destroyed.

The raids continued through the spring and summer of 1676. An attack a few
miles north of Medfield, in Natick, was repulsed with the help of that
community's friendly "Praying" (Christianized) Indians. Tilden reports
that on 25 July men from Medfield and Dedham, assisted by friendly
Indians, fought with Pomham, the sachem of Shaomet (Warwick, R.I.) and,
next to Philip, the most dreaded of the chiefs. Fifteen Indians were
killed, including Pomham ("slain like a wild beast"), and 35 taken
prisoner.

The End Nears

The end came not from military prowess but from disease and famine.
Philip's faltering support bottomed when the Mohawks, potentially strong
allies, refused to join with him, preferring not to relinquish their
short-term fur-trade profits. Other tribes soon surrendered or moved
westward. By the summer of 1676 Philip's staunchest supporters saw his
cause was hopeless.

Lurking about Mout Hope, Philip put one of his warriors to death for
advising him to surrender. The brother of the man, fearful for his own
life, fled to the English and informed them of Philip's swamp camp. A
Captain Church of Milton surrounded the place and rushed the camp. Philip
fled, only to encounter An Englishman and an Indian. The Englishman's gun
misfired; however, the Indian sent a bullet through Philip's heart. This
was the same Indian, Alderman, whose brother had been killed earlier by
Phillip and who had led Captain Church to the encampment. Church ordered
Philip to be beheaded and quartered. The Indian pronounced a warrior's
eulogy: "You have been one very great man. You have made many a man
afraid of you. But big as you be, I will now chop you up in little
pieces." Philip's head was carried to Plymouth, where it was displayed
for 25 years, and his wife and son were sold into slavery in the West
Indies. Monaco, a subchief believed to have led the raid on Medfield, was
hanged in Boston in September.

The war was a disaster for both sides, but especially so for Indians, as
the Colonists used the war to remove even some "Praying Indian"
communities. For each Colonist killed, three or more Indians died, if not
from bullets, then from starvation, disease and exposure. Of some 90
Puritan towns, 52 had been attacked and 13 leveled. At least 600 Colonial
men and as many as 2,000 women and children were killed, and 1200 homes
destroyed together with 8,000 cattle. The total cost of the war exceeded
the value of all personal property in New England. Only a few small Indian
communities survived in semi-isolated areas. And for nearly half a century
what had been rapid New England expansion was halted.

Sources:
History of the Town of Marlborough, Charles Hudson, Boston, 1862
History of the Town of Medfield (http://www.medfield.com)
History of Essex County, Ipswich, D. Hamilton Hurd, Philadelphia, 1888.
 

 

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