King Philip's War

From Conservapedia
Jump to: navigation, search

King Philip's War (1675-6) was a bloody war in eastern New England in which Native Americans resisted European sovereignty. The Indians were led by Metacom, King Philip, a chief of the Wampanoags, who tried to build an intertribal coalition.

The war was fought by a coalition of Algonquian Indians, especially the Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes, against the English colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Rhode Island and Connecticut. It was the most devastating war, for both sides, in the history of the Northeast, and resulted in a decisive victory for the settlers.


By 1675 some 75,000 colonists lived in four New England colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Rhode Island and Connecticut, outnumbering the Indian population by about five to one. The settlers demanded that the Indians recognize the sovereignty of the colonial government. Indians could no longer be independent. In economic terms, they were not useful to the colonists. Land was a minor issue (the settlers lived on small farms and did not hunt for game, and so rarely entered Indian hunting grounds.) On the other side, Wampanoag and Narragansett Indians wanted to remain autonomous, did not want to be subject to English courts, and resented Christian missionary efforts. The leader Massasoit had been friendly but after his death in 1662 new Indian leaders challenged the settlers. They ignored the fate of the Pequot in 1637, and looked about for alliances with various tribes. The key leader was Massasoit's oldest living son, Metacom (1638-1676), called Philip by the colonists, who became sachem of the Wampanoag in the early 1660s. Philip renewed the peace covenant with Plymouth Colony, and sold more and more land to the colonists; the settlers established towns closer to the Wampanoag villages, including the nearby settlement of Swansea. The colonial authorities decided to regulate Philip's real estate transactions by requiring him to obtain permission from the Grand Court before selling any more land; that is, they asserted colonial sovereignty over the Wampanoags. Repeated reports of plots with the Narragansett, the French, and the Dutch (still based in New Amsterdam) led Plymouth in 1671 to call him to account. Philip haughtily protested peaceful intentions, and agreed to surrender firearms. Sullen peace followed, but the Wampanoag surrendered suspiciously few arms. Philip did not seem to take his agreements seriously and held the colonial authorities in utter contempt. He once complained that the Plymouth magistrates were too lowly; 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 of England. When he comes, I am ready."

When three Wampanoag were tried in court and executed for the murder of a Christian Indian informer, the warriors attacked and plundered nearby farms. Neither side was ready for war. Philip 's alliances were not concluded, and the English were unprepared and widely scattered.

The war

In June 1675, Wampanoag marauders threatened Swansea settlers. who fired back. Swift, devastating raids on Swansea and neighboring towns threw the colonists into panic, intensified when the militia found no Indians to fight—for the Indians never made a stand. The war was a series of Indian raids (lasting a few hours followed by sudden withdrawal), followed by retaliatory expeditions by the settlers. The counterattack was ill-planned and indecisive and antagonized other tribes. There was no unified command among the colonies that joined in, cooperation was spotty, the soldiers were under-equipped and ignorant of Indian warfare, and the troops lacked scouts to track the enemy and refused at first to employ friendly Indians. When combined Plymouth and Massachusetts forces drove Philip and his Wampanoag warriors into the swamps (June 30, 1675), he easily slipped away. In July additional Indian tribes joined Philip's uprising; Mattapoisett warriors destroyed most of Dartmouth in Plymouth Colony; Nipmuck Indians assaulted Mendon in Massachusetts Bay Colony on July 14. Suspicious of the Narragansett tribe, colonial forces raided their country and compelled a few lingerers to sign a treaty of neutrality on July 15, but most Narragansett warriors, led by Canonchet, had allied with the Wampanoag Abnaki in the north joined the insurgency, along with Norwottock, Pocumtuck, and Agawam warriors; even some Christian Indians were involved. The Indian tribes acted independently and were never under a unified command by Philip or anyone else.

The most effective Indian tactic was to raid a small settlement, besiege the garrison, burn abandoned farms and homes and then waylay relief parties. The men were killed, the women and children killed or kidnapped. At first the Indians set fires in patches of woods and ambushed detachments of troops sent to investigate. The Indians always refused a pitched battle, where the disciplined drilling and firepower of the colonists would overwhelm their individualistic fighting tactics based on ambushes and hatchets, with limited firearms.

By late 1675, disaster overtook the colonies on all sides. Numerous frontier towns (such as Mendon, Brookfield, Deerfield, and Northfield), were devastated, abandoned, or both; two small colonial units were ambushed and destroyed (Sawmill Brook, Sept. 3; Muddy Brook, Sept. 18). Hundreds of miles out similar raids devastated some colonial villages in New Hampshire and Maine.


Colonial authorities officially declared war on the Wampanoag on September 9, 1675, and set about drafting a 1,000-man army. The militia system was a variation on the English militia, with more local control, and was not considered effective for offensive warfare. With real war at hand the colony created new companies of soldiers to fight the enemy, leaving the town militia companies mostly intact for defense. The decision of which men would serve locally and which colony-wide was made by the town militia committees, comprised of civilian and military leaders from the community.[1]

Rhode Island was politically controlled by Quakers, but they enthusiastically supported the war in alliance with their theological enemies the Puritans. Many Quakers were in the militia, and noncombatants helped out.[2]

Great Swamp Fight

Finally the colonists overcame their weaknesses and devised a common strategy that worked. The Indians avoided pitched battles, but the had to defend their food stores or they would starve in the harsh winter. They could hide the stores but they could not easily move them, so the colonies, using scouts from friendly tribes, discovered and destroyed the enemy food supplies in December–January, 1675–76 and defeated the Indians who were forced into a pitched battle on European terms because to flee meant starvation.

The colonists first preemptively destroyed the threat posed by the Narragansett in the Great Swamp Fight on Dec. 19, 1675, (at the present site of South Kingstown, Rhode Island). The combined forces of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Connecticut, over 1,000 soldiers under the command of Gov. Josiah Winslow, with about 150 Indian allies, marched through the snow to the island in the Great Swamp, which had been fortified by the Narraganset to protect their food supplies. The first assault by the colonists early in the afternoon, was turned back with heavy losses; after three hours of desperate fighting the fort was forced at the rear and the Indians routed. The Indian wigwams were set on fire, and many women and children died in the flames. The English lost six captains and 120 men and the Narraganset losses ran into the hundreds. This battle forever changed the power of the Narraganset and gave the settlers confidence they had a winning strategy, with unified commands, Indian scouts, and a systematic attack on heavily guarded food stores. Several thousand Narraganset warriors who had not been in the swamp now joined the insurgency.

Philip and a small band wintered near Albany, New York, in hopes of gaining aid from the Mohawk Indians and the French. In early 1676 he attacked the eastern settlements in order to concentrate English forces there while they planted food crops in the Connecticut Valley. On February 10, 1676, Narragansett and Nipmuck Indians raided Lancaster, Massachusetts. They burned most of the town, killed more than 35 villagers, and took 24 captives, including 41-year-old Mary Rowlandson and her three children; her 6-year-old daughter was killed for falling behind. Mary spent 12 weeks in captivity before she was freed for a ransom of £20. Indians threatened Plymouth, Providence, and towns within 10 miles of Boston.

The long run logistics advantage of the colonists now came into play. Colonists had plenty of food but the disruption of Indian life made them unable to plant, fish, or harvest; they depended on stored supplies and began to run short of food. Indians started deserting to forage and plant crops.

Colonists captured and executed Canonchet on Apr. 3. The Mohawks suddenly decided to attack the Narragansett from the west, thereby helping the colonists. Finally on May 18–19, 1676, Capt. William Turner with 180 men surprised and massacred the Indians at Deerfield and broke their resistance in the Connecticut River valley. By the end of May the tide had turned in the west. The colonials gained further victories in June and July, and bands of war-hungry Indians surrendered en masse. Capt. Benjamin Church, assisted by able Indian scouts, trapped Philip and his Wampanoag in swamps near Taunton and Bridgewater, killing Philip on August 12, 1676. Philip's death marked the end of the main war, though hostilities continued in New Hampshire and Maine, where the Abnaki and others, supplied with French arms and encouragement, wreaked havoc on settlement after settlement.


On April 12, 1678, articles of peace were signed at Casco, Maine, with mutual restoration of captives and property. Since June 1675, sixteen towns in Massachusetts and four in Rhode Island had been destroyed, all colonists had fled Kennebec County (Maine), and all along New England frontiers, expansion had been retarded. But the Indians no longer posed a threat to the colonists in southern New England. Thereafter their struggle was confined to the northeast and northwest, where it merged with the struggle between the colonists and France for control of the continent.

Estimates were that about 6,000 Indian men, women and children were killed or captured—a third of the Indian population. Many of those captured were sold into slavery to allied Indians, or to the West Indies sugar plantations. About 5% of the settlers died—2,500 men, women and children; 1,200 homes were burned, and 8,000 cattle were killed.[3] Colonial expenses during the war amounted to 100,000 pounds sterling, a huge amount for the time. The frontier of settlement had been pushed back 20 miles. Northfield, Deerfield, Brookfield, Worcester, Lancaster, Groton, Mendon, Wrentham, Middleborough, Warwick, Wickford and Simsbury had been destroyed, and Springfield, Westfield, Marlborough, Scituate, Rehoboth and Providence had been heavily damaged. Boston was threatened but was never hit. The poor performance of colonial forces in King Philip's War and King William's War (1689–1697) led to a greater reliance on British forces and imperial administrators. Furthermore, the war weakened the colonial economy for years, raised local taxes, and required infusions of British money while reducing dividends to London investors. Henceforth, the American settlers would feel an increasingly heavy hand of the royal government.

Memory and memorials

Philip did not exercise any over-all operational control of events. With a tribal culture and tradition based upon decentralization of political and military power, such control was probably impossible. The colonists however needed an enemy to personify and he fit the bill; Captain Church ordered the "doleful, great, naked, dirty beast" to be beheaded and quartered. "Forasmuch as he has caused many an Englishman's body to lie unburied and rot above the ground, that not one of his bones should be buried." Philip's head was taken to Plymouth and mounted on a pole in the town square where it remained for 20 years.

Historians have often condemned the cruelty of both sides. But Drake (1997) and Drake (1999) argues it should not be compared to modern genocides and atrocities. He points out that a comparison with English military conduct in various civil conflicts in Britain shows that the colonists believed they were fighting a civil war rather than a war between sovereign nations, and that their conduct followed accepted rules of war in a civil conflict. Having defeated an Indian alliance in the Pequot War in 1637, the Puritans considered Indians dependents inside their colony, and not outsiders. The heavy-handed use of violence, enslavement, and harsh punishments inflicted on prisoners all had precedents in English civil conflicts, Drake notes, and were justified under recognized rules of civil war. In contradiction to the modern perception of genocidal destruction of the "other," the Puritans employed violence in a calculating fashion, sometimes showing restraint when strategically valuable. [4] There were atrocities committed on both sides, but there was punishment too when soldiers violated the rights of Christian Indians. On August 7, 1676, at Hurtleberry Hill near Concord, Massachusetts, colonial soldiers killed six Christian Indians - three women and three children - while they gathered berries. Four soldiers were tried and convicted for the deed and sentenced to death; two were eventually pardoned and two were executed.[5]

The war shaped New England's memory and self-image. It had been a close call and proved Divine providence was at work, according to the leading Puritan divine Increase Mather. His Brief History of the Warr with the Indians (1676) is mostly religious; Mather uses the war (with few factual details) as a platform for an expanded sermon on God's punishment for the decline of religious virtue and moral behavior among second-generation New England colonists.[6] By contrast William Hubbard, in Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians (1677) provided abundant specifics, usually quite accurate, along with the first map of New England produced in the colonies. Hubbard wrote a much more objective and impartial account of the war, although he also interprets events in terms of God's benevolent intervention, which Hubbard attributes to the barbarity of ungodly Indians and the perfidy of the French and Dutch, who provided local tribes with weapons.[7]

The status of the remaining Indians declined sharply after the war; there were fewer efforts to convert and integrate them, but the Christian Indian villages were allowed to remain. Most, but not all, Indians relocated from the Connecticut Valley to more distant locations in New York, Canada, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

In the 21st century by far the most studied memory is Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative, a first-hand account of capture and torture. One of the first great achievements of American literature, and a best-seller at the time, it set the tone of writing about Indian- white relations for 300 years.[8]


  • Adams, James Truslow. The Founding of New England (1921) online edition
  • Bourne, Russell. The Red King's Rebellion: Racial Politics in New England, 1675-1678 (1990) excerpt and text search
  • Domer, Ronald G. "King Philip's Ferocious War," Military History, Dec 2004, Vol. 21#5 online at EBSCO
  • Drake, James. "Restraining Atrocity: the Conduct of King Philip's War." New England Quarterly 1997 70(1): 33-56. Issn: 0028-4866 Fulltext: in Jstor
  • Drake, James D. King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1676. (1999). 257 pp. Revisionist study; argues that Indians and settlers were cooperating well until the war excerpt and text search
  • Edney, Matthew H. and Susan Cimburek, "Telling the Traumatic Truth: William Hubbard's Narrative of King Philip's War and His 'Map of New-England.'" William and Mary Quarterly 2004 61(2): 317-348. Issn: 0043-5597 Fulltext: History Cooperative
  • Ellis, George W., and John E. Morris. King Philip's War (1906) online edition
  • Lafantasie, Glenn W. "The Long Shadow of King Philip." American History 2004 39(1): 58-67. Issn: 1076-8866 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Leach, Douglas Edward. Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War (1958), a standard scholarly narrative of the war
  • Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (1998), on remembrance
  • Lougheed, Pamela. "'Then Began He to Rant and Threaten': Indian Malice and Individual Liberty in Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative." American Literature 2002 74(2): 287-313. Issn: 0002-9831 Fulltext: Project Muse
  • McCue, Michael Westaway. "The Soldier and the 'King.'" American History 2002 37(2): 44-50. Issn: 1076-8866 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. (2002). 436 pp. argues that fears of Indian raids caused fears of witches
  • Pulsipher, Jenny Hale. "'The Overture of This New-Albion World': King Philip's War and the Transformation of New England." PhD dissertation Brandeis U. 1999. 399 pp. DAI 1999 60(4): 1297-A. DA9927239 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Ranlet, Philip. "Another Look at the Causes of King Philip's War." New England Quarterly 1988 61(1): 79-100. in Jstor
  • Slotkin, Richard, and James K. Folsom. Dreadfull a Judgment: Puritan Responses to King Philip's War, 1676-1677 (1999), on postwar literature excerpt and text search
  • Vaughan, Alden T. New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675 (1965), well-balanced scholarly background history excerpt and text search
  • Zelner, Kyle F. "Essex County's Two Militias: the Social Composition of Offensive and Defensive Militias During King Philip's War, 1675-76.: New England Quarterly 1999 72(4): 577-593. Issn: 0028-4866 in Jstor
  • Zelner, Kyle Forbes. "The Flower and Rabble of Essex County: A Social History of the Massachusetts Bay Militia and Militiamen during King Philip's War, 1675-1676." PhD dissertation College of William and Mary, 2003. 466 pp.

DAI 2004 64(12): 4599-A. DA3116187 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses

Primary Sources

  • Church, Benjamin, and Thomas Church, The History of the Great Indian War of 1675 and 1676, Commonly Called Philip's War; Also, the Old French and Indian Wars, From 1689 to 1704 (revised edition 1854), ed. by Samuel D. Drake online edition
  • Rowlandson, Mary. The Soveraignty and Goodness of God, Together, with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682) online edition


  • The History of King Philip's War. VHS. Color. 26min. published by Bride Media Intl., 2000. favorablly reviewed in Journal of Military History review in JSTOR


  1. Kyle Forbes Zelner, "The Flower and Rabble of Essex County: A Social History of the Massachusetts Bay Militia and Militiamen during King Philip's War, 1675-1676." (PhD dissertation 2003)
  2. Stephen W. Angell, "'Learn of the Heathen': Quakers and Indians in Southern New England, 1656-1676." Quaker History 2003 92(1): 1-21. Issn: 0033-5053; Jean R. Soderlund, "Pacifism in the Time of Fear and Danger." Reviews in American History 2002 30(2): 198-203. Issn: 0048-7511 Fulltext: Project Muse
  3. Different sources give highly variable estimated numbers.
  4. James Drake, "Restraining Atrocity: the Conduct of King Philip's War." New England Quarterly 1997 70(1): 33-56.
  5. Jenny Hale Pulsipher, "Massacre at Hurtleberry Hill: Christian Indians and English Authority in Metacom's War." William and Mary Quarterly 1996 53(3): 459-486. in Jstor
  6. See online edition
  7. Matthew H. Edney and Susan Cimburek, "Telling the Traumatic Truth: William Hubbard's Narrative of King Philip's War and His 'Map of New-England.'" William and Mary Quarterly 2004 61(2): 317-348.
  8. Pamela Lougheed, "'Then Began He to Rant and Threaten': Indian Malice and Individual Liberty in Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative." American Literature 2002 74(2): 287-313