King Philip's War, sometimes called 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 from 1675–1676. Colonial historian Francis Jennings estimated that the War killed nearly 7 of every 8 Native Americans and 6 of every 13 English settlers. King Philip's War was proportionately one of the bloodiest and costliest in the history of America. More than half of New England's ninety towns were assaulted by Native American warriors.
The war is named after the main leader of the Native American side, Metacomet, Metacom, or Pometacom known to the English as "King Philip."
Plymouth, Massachusetts was established in 1620 with significant early help from Native Americans, particularly Squanto and Massasoit, Metacomet's father and chief of the Wampanoag tribe. Salem, Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts and several small towns were established around Massachusetts Bay between 1628 and 1640. Towns such as Windsor, Connecticut (est. 1635), Hartford, Connecticut (est. 1636), Springfield, Massachusetts (est. 1636) and Northampton, Massachusetts (est. 1654) on the Connecticut River and towns like Providence, Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay (est. 1638) were being progressively built into Native American territories. Prior to King Philip's War tensions fluctuated between different groups of native people and the colonists, but relations were generally peaceful. As the colonists' small population grew inexorably larger over time and the number of towns increased, the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Narragansett, Mohegan, Pequot tribes and other small tribes were each treated individually (many were traditional enemies of each other) by the English officials of Rhode Island, Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven. The New Englanders continued to expand their settlements along the 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. The Native Americans were running out of trade goods and territory and felt progressively squeezed by the colonists out of some of their traditional territories.
The English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell's English Commonwealth was fought and won by New England's Puritan allies who remained in England. After Cromwell's death in 1658 and the English Restoration of 1660, Charles II of England was "restored" back to England under restrictions set by the English Parliament. He was the son of the beheaded Charles I of England and a bitter enemy of all things Puritan.
By 1664 Charles II had declared war on the Dutch and captured New York, installing Edmund Andros as governor there. The French in Canada hated almost all things English and would more likely support the Native Americans than the colonists. In 1675 the New England colonies were almost without allies in North America and would fight the war almost exclusively with their own money and militias.
The native population throughout the Northeast had been significantly reduced by pandemics of smallpox, spotted fever and measles brought in by fishermen starting in about 1618 — two years before the first colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts had been settled.
Shifting alliances between different Algonkian peoples and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), represented by leaders such as Massasoit, Sassacus, Uncas, and Ninigret, and the colonial polities of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, negotiated a troubled peace for several decades.
Metacom, known to the English as "King Philip", became Sachem of the Pokanoket and Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy after the suspicious death of his older brother, the Grand Sachem Wamsutta in 1662. Well known to the English before his ascension to the Wampanoag chieftaincy, Metacom's open distrust of the colony came to a head when Wamsutta suddenly died in Plymouth, while negotiating with colonial officials there. Metacom succeeded his brother.
Metacom began negotiating with other Native American tribes against the interests of Plymouth Colony soon after the death of the Plymouth colony's greatest ally, his father, Massasoit in 1661 and his brother Wamsutta in 1662. For almost half a century, Massasoit had been able to maintain an uneasy alliance with the English soon after their arrival as a source of much desired trade goods and even a counter-weight to his traditional enemies, the Pequot, Narragansett, and the Mohegan. Massasoit's price for having the English as allies and traders of Iron Age goods was colonial incursion into Wampanoag territory as well as English political interference. Maintaining good relations with the English became increasingly difficult as Massasoit, Wamsutta and Metacom ran out of Native American trade goods and started trading land for iron tools and weapons.
Many Puritans regarded one of the aims of settling anywhere to be the conversion of people around them to share their Puritan beliefs. This political, diplomatic, philosophical, and moral position sometimes increased tensions – as the Native Americans had their own beliefs. Through conversion to Christianity, the Puritans hoped to share their moral convictions with the gradual religious, social and political integration of native peoples into Puritan colonial society. However, only a handful of colonial missionaries, such as John Eliot and Thomas Mayhew, succeeded in gaining the trust of native peoples. Even Massasoit, one of the colony's staunchest Native allies, refused admittance to villages within greater Wampanoag territory to those intent on Christian conversion.
Initial Anglo-Native American contacts were mutually beneficial without any religious content. As relationships developed, some Puritans eventually attempted to convert Native Americans to Christianity. By the 1650s, many Native Americans had converted and moved to "praying towns." These were towns where the inhabitants were all Christian Native Americans and where English customs and trades were taught in addition to religious instruction.
Contact between the English colonists and Native Americans was carefully proscribed: those who violated regulations governing the interaction between the two were censored. On December 18, 1676, the town of Hingham, Massachusetts, imposed a fine on resident Nathaniel Baker for violating a town order forbidding the employment or entertainment of a Native American by any citizen. (Interestingly, the order for a fine of Baker was immediately followed by petitions from Baker, John Jacobs and other Hingham residents to the General Court asking that they be allowed to retain their Native American servants.)
By 1660, John Eliot oversaw the establishment of seven "Praying Towns." By 1680, several more had been established in Nipmuc territory, among which were, Chachaubunkkakowok (Chaubunagungamaug), Okommakamesit (Ockoogameset), Hassanamisco, Magunkaquog (Makunkokoag, Magunkook), Maanexit (also spelled Mayanexit, located on the Quinebaug River near the old Connecticut Path to and from Massachusetts, Quinnatisset, located roughly "6 miles south of Maanexit", and Wabaquasset (Massomuck, Wabiquisset), the largest of the three northeastern Connecticut praying towns, located west of the Quinebaug River in present-day Woodstock, Connecticut, Manchaug, Nashobah, Nashaway (Weshacum), Okommakamesit Pakachoog (Packachaug), Quabaug (Quaboag), Quantisset (Quinetusset), Wacuntug (Wacuntuc, Wacumtaug), and Wamesit. Here, Native American peoples were expected to learn English customs and trades. In all there were several hundred "Praying Native Americans" converts and they would be used shabbily by both sides in the upcoming conflict. They may have wanted English goods and military protection as well as instruction in new trades, reading, writing and religion. Praying towns developed quickly due to the efforts of native peoples themselves who voluntarily moved there.
The spark that ignited King Phillip's War was a report from a Native American Christian convert ("Praying Indian") early Harvard graduate, translator, and adviser to Metacom named John Sassamon. Sassamon told Plymouth Colony officials the news of King Philip trying to arrange Native American attacks on widely dispersed colonial settlements. Before colonial officials could investigate the charges, John Sassamon was murdered; his body was found beneath an ice-covered pond, allegedly killed by a few of Philip's Wampanoag, angry at his betrayal.
On the testimony of a Native American witness, Plymouth Colony arrested three Wampanoags, including one of Metacomet's councilors. A jury having some Indian members convicted them of Sassamon's murder; they were hanged on June 8, 1675 at Plymouth. Some Wampanoag believed that both the trial and the court's sentence were an insult to Indian sovereignty. In response, on June 20, a band of Pokanoket, possibly without Philip's approval, assaulted 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 settlers and others coming to help the settlers.
The war quickly spread, and soon involved the Podunk and Nipmuck tribes. During the summer of 1675 the Native Americans attacked at Middleborough and Dartmouth (July 8), Mendon (July 14), Brookfield (August 2), and Lancaster (August 9). In early September they attacked Deerfield, Hadley, and Northfield (possibly giving rise to the Angel of Hadley legend.) The New England Confederation declared war on the Native Americans on September 9, 1675. The next colonial expedition was to recover crops from abandoned fields for the coming winter and included almost a hundred farmers/militia. They got careless and were ambushed and soundly defeated in the Battle of Bloody Brook (near Hadley) on September 18 1675. The attacks on frontier settlements continued at Springfield (October 5) and Hatfield (October 16).
The next expansion of the war came from the colonists. On November 2, Josiah Winslow led a combined force of colonial militia against the Narragansett tribe. The Narragansetts had not yet been directly involved in the war, but they had sheltered many of the Wampanoag's women and children and several of their men had reportedly been seen in several Indian raiding parties. The tribe was not trusted by the colonists. As the colonial force assembled and marched around Rhode Island they found and burned several Indian towns that had been abandoned by the Narragansett, who had retreated to a massive fort in a swamp. Led by an Indian guide, on December 16 1675 on a bitterly cold storm-filled day the colonial force found the main Narragansett fort near modern South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Crossing the frozen swamp, a combined force of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Connecticut militia numbering about 1000 men, including about 150 Pequots and Mohicans, attacked the fort. The bitter and hard-fought battle that followed is known as the Great Swamp Fight. It's believed that about 300 Native Americans were killed (exact figures are unavailable). The massive fort (occupying over five acres of land) was burned and most of the tribe's winter stores were destroyed. Many of the 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.
Throughout the winter of 1675–1676 more frontier settlements were destroyed by the Native Americans, as well as the burning of Bull Garrison House. Attacks came at Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Groton, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Millis, Medford, Portland, Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Simsbury, Sudbury, Suffield,Warwick, Weymouth, and Wrentham. The famous captive story of Mary Rowlandson, captured in Lancaster Massachusetts, gives a Colonial captive's perspective on the war
Spring of 1676 marked the high point for the combined tribes when, on March 12, they attacked Plymouth Plantation itself. Though the town withstood the assault, the natives had demonstrated their ability to penetrate deep into colonial terrority. Three more settlements – Longmeadow (near Springfield), Marlborough, and Simsbury – were attacked two weeks later, as Captain Pierce and a company of Massachusetts soldiers were wiped out between Pawtucket and the Blackstone's settlement and several were allegedly tortured and buried at Nine Men's Misery in Cumberland. The abandoned capital of Rhode Island (Providence) was burned to the ground on March 29. At the same time, a small band of Native Americans infiltrated and burned part of Springfield, Massachusetts while the militia was away.
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, and 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, nearly always only sufficient for a season or so, were running out. The colony of Rhode Island became an island colony for a time as the few hundred colonists there were driven back to Newport and Portsmouth RI on Aquidneck Island and Providence, Rhode Island was burned to the ground. The Connecticut River towns with their thousands of acres of cultivated crop land – known as the bread basket of New England, had to cut down on their crops as they had to work in large armed groups for self protection. Towns such as Springfield, Hatfield, Hadley and Northampton, Massachusetts fortified their towns, reinforced their militias and held their ground, though attacked several times. The small towns of Northfield, Massachusetts and Deerfield, Massachusetts and several others were abandoned as settlers retreated to the larger towns. The towns of the Connecticut colony largely escaped unharmed although over 100 Connecticut militia were killed helping their fellow colonists. The colonists continued to be re-supplied by sea from wherever they could buy supplies (the English government essentially ignored them). The war ultimately cost the colonists over £100,000--a significant amount of money at a time when most families earned less than £20/yr. The costs caused taxes to sky rocket. Over 600 colonial men, women and children were killed and twelve towns totally destroyed with many more damaged. Despite this they eventually emerged victorious. The Native Americans lost many more killed and were dispersed out of New England or put on reservations. They never recovered their former power in New England. The hopes of many to integrate Indian and colonial societies was abandoned.
The Indian hopes for supplies from the French in Canada were not met, except for some small amounts of ammunition obtained in Maine. The colonists allied themselves with the Mohegan and Pequot tribes in Connecticut as well as several Indian groups in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. King Philip and his allies found their forces continually harassed nearly everywhere they went. In January 1675/76 Philip traveled westward to Mohawk territory, seeking, but failing to secure, an alliance. The Mohawks, the traditional enemy of many of the warring tribes, instead of aiding King Philip proceeded to raid isolated groups of Native Americans, scattering and killing many. Their traditional Indian crop growing areas and fishing places in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, were continually attacked by roving patrols of combined Colonials and friendly Native Americans. They had poor luck finding any place to grow more food for the coming winter. Many Native Americans drifted North into Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada. Some drifted west into New York and points further west to avoid their traditional enemies, the Iroquois.
In April 1676 the Narragansett were nearly completely defeated and their chief, Canonchet, was killed. On May 18, 1676 Captain William Turner of the Massachusetts Militia and a group of about 150 militia volunteers from Hadley, Northampton and Hatfield, Massachusetts managed to sneak up and attack a large fishing camp of hungry Native Americans at Peskeopscut on a falls on the Connecticut river (now called Turners Falls, Massachusetts). These Native Americans had been raiding the Colonists towns and fields along the upper Connecticut river. The surprise was nearly complete and it is claimed that one to two hundred Native Americans were killed. Many jumped in the river to escape and were swept over the falls. Turner and as many as 40 of the militia were killed during the retreat. With the help of their long time allies the Mohegans, the colonists won at Hadley, Massachusetts on June 12, 1676, and scattered most of the survivors into the wilds of New Hampshire and points north. Later that month, a force of 250 Native Americans was routed near Marlborough, Massachusetts. Other forces, often a combined force of colonial volunteers and Indian allies from Massachusetts and Connecticut continued to attack, kill, capture or disperse bands of Narragansetts as they tried drifting back to their traditional locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Amnesty was granted to Native Americans who surrendered and showed they had not participated in the conflict.
Philip's allies began to desert him. By early July, over 400 had surrendered to the colonists, and Philip himself had taken refuge in the Assowamset Swamp, below Providence, Rhode Island, close to where the war had started. The colonists began to form raiding parties of friendly Native Americans and volunteer militia. They were allowed to keep what warring Indian possessions they found and received a bounty on all captives. Philip was ultimately killed by one of these teams when he was tracked down by friendly Native Americans led by Captain Benjamin Church and Captain Josiah Standish of the Plymouth colony militia at Mt. Hope Rhode Island. Philip was shot and killed by an Indian named John Alderman on August 12, 1676. He was beheaded, drawn and quartered (a traditional treatment of criminals in this era). His head was displayed in Plymouth for many years. The war was nearly over except for a few attacks in Maine that lasted until 1677.
The war in the south largely ended with Metacom's death. Over 600 colonists and 3,000 Native Americans had died, including several hundred native captives that were tried and executed or sold as slaves in Bermuda The majority of these Native Americans and many of the colonials died as the result of disease, which was typical of all armies in this era. Those sent to Bermuda included Metacom's son (and also, according to Bermudian tradition, his wife). A sizable number of Bermudians today claim ancestry from these exiles. Members of the Sachem's extended family were placed for safekeeping among colonists in Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut. Other survivors were forced to join more western tribes, mainly as captives or lower caste tribal members. The Narragansett, Wampanoag, Podunk, Nipmuck, and several smaller bands were virtually eliminated as organized bands, while even the Mohegans were greatly weakened.
Sir Edmund Andros negotiated a treaty with some of the northern Indian bands on April 12, 1678 as he tried to establish his New York based, royal power structure in Maine's fishing industry. Andros was arrested and sent back to England at the start of the Glorious Revolution in 1689 when James II, Charles II's younger brother, was forced to vacate the British throne. Sporadic Indian and French raids plagued Maine, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts for the next 50 years as France encouraged and financed raids on New England settlers. Most of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island was now nearly completely open to New England's continuing settlement, free of interference from the Native Americans. Frontier settlements in New England would face sporadic Indian raids until the French and Indian War (1754-1763) finally drove the French authorities out of North America in 1763. King Philip's War, for a time, seriously damaged the recently arrived English colonists' prospects in New England. But with their extraordinary population growth rate of about 3% a year (doubling every 25 years) they repaired all the damage, replaced their losses, rebuilt the destroyed towns and continued on with establishing new towns within a few years.
The colonists' defense of New England brought them to the attention of the British royal government who soon tried to exploit them for their own gain. This started with the revocation of the charter of Massachusetts Bay in 1684 (enforced 1686). At the same time, an Anglican church was established in Boston in 1686, ending the Puritan monopoly on religion in Massachusetts. The legend of Connecticut's Charter Oak stems from the belief that a cavity within the tree was used in late 1687 as a hiding place for the colony's charter as Andros tried unsuccessfully to revoke their charter and take over their militia. In 1690, Plymouth's charter was not renewed and they were forced to join the Massachusetts government. The equally small colony of Rhode Island, with its largely Puritan dissident settlers, maintained its charter – mainly as a counterweight and irritant to Massachusetts. The Massachusetts General Court (their main legislative and judicial body) was brought under nominal British government control, but all members except the Royal Governor and a few of his henchmen were elected from the various towns as always.
Nearly all layers of government and church life (except in Rhode Island) remained Puritan and only a few of the so called "upper crust" joined the Anglican church. Most New Englanders lived in self governing towns and attended the Congregational or dissident churches that they had already set up by 1690. New towns, complete with their own militias, were nearly all established by the sons and daughters of the original settlers and were in nearly all cases modeled after these original settlements. The many trials and tribulations between the British crown and British Parliament for the next 100 years made self government not only desirable but relatively easy to continue. The squabbles with the British government would eventually lead to Lexington, Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill by 1775, a century and four generations later. When the British were forced to evacuate Boston in 1776, only a few thousand of the over 700,000 New Englanders went with them.
King Philip's War was not the first or last conflict between Europeans and Native Americans. Previous conflicts include the Spanish enslavement of natives in the Caribbean, Florida and New Mexico as Coronado's expedition of 1540-1542 to New Mexico and the midwest and de Soto's war of destruction to the Mississippi in 1538-1542 introduced the Native Americans to Spanish culture. The Powhatan war of 1622 in Virginia, the Pequot War of 1637 in Connecticut, the Dutch-Indian war of 1643 along the Hudson River , the second Powhatan war of 1644 and the Iroquois Beaver Wars of 1650 are a few of a long list of other battles or "wars" fought prior to 1675's Philip's War.
In her book, The Name of War, Boston University Professor Jill Lepore theorizes that King Philip's War was the beginning of the development of a greater American identity, for the trials and tribulations suffered by the colonists made them into a group distinct from their English ties.