King Philip War

MASSASOIT kept his treaty with the English inviolate so long as he lived. He died in 1661, at the age of about eighty years, leaving two sons whom the English called, respectively, Alexander and Philip. The former did not long survive his father, when Philip became chief sachem and warrior of the Wampanoags, with his royal residence on Mount Hope, not far from Bristol, Rhode Island. He was called King Philip. He resumed the covenants with the English made by his father, and observed them faithfully for a dozen years.

It had become painfully evident to Massasoit before his death that the spreading colonies would soon deprive his people of their land and nationality, and that the Indians would become vassals of the pale race. The more warlike Philip pondered these possibilities with deep bitterness of feeling, until he resolved to strike an exterminating blow against the English in defence of his country and his race. His resolution was natural and patriotic. His unaided warriors would be inadequate to the work; so, in the primeval forest at Mount Hope, surrounded by seven hundred fighting men, he planned a confederacy of the New England tribes, which might have numbered about twenty-five thousand souls. It was a difficult task, the power of so many being overshadowed by that of the English, weakening and dividing them. Before any actual conspiracy was effected, Philip found himself compelled to declare war and lift the hatchet.

At that time there were many Christian converts among the Indians, who were firmly attached to the English. The Wampanoags had always discouraged the spread of Christianity among themselves, but there were many "praying Indians" there. One of these--John Sassamon, who had been educated at Cambridge, where John Harvard had established a college--was a sort of secretary to Philip. Becoming acquainted with the plans of the sachem, he revealed them to the authorities at Plymouth. For this treachery he was murdered, and three Wampanoags, who were convicted of the crime on very slender testimony, were hanged. The anger of the tribe was fiercely kindled by the event, and they were clamorous for war. The cautious Philip hesitated, for he knew his weakness. His young warriors would not listen to reason. They taunted him with causing the wrongs which his people endured because of his unwillingness to fight. Then they pointed to the humiliation and disgrace of his people when, a few years before, their firearms were taken from them by the jealous white men. His eyes kindled with rage. He had never forgotten nor forgiven that injury. The reminder excited his fiercest wrath. Springing from his seat he snatched up a bow and quiver, a gleaming hatchet and a keen knife, and vowed that none of these weapons should sleep whilst a pale-face remained in New England. He sent his women and children to the Narragansets for protection; and yielding his judgment to passion, he trampled upon solemn treaties and kindled the flames of war. Swift runners were dispatched to other tribes to arouse them to co-operation, and he required all of his followers to curse the white man and to swear eternal hostility to his race. It was but a foolish rushing to destruction. It has been well said: "Frenzy prompted their rising. It was but the storm in which the ancient inhabitants of the land were to vanish away. They rose without hope, and therefore they fought without mercy. To them, as a nation, there was no to-morrow."

Philip struck the first blow at Swanzey, twenty-five miles southwest from Plymouth. It was on the 4th of July, 1675. Expecting hostilities, the people had been to the house of worship to engage in fasting and prayer. As they were returning-men, women and children-the Indians fell upon them furiously, slaying and capturing many, while others fled to the surrounding settlements. The country was aroused. Armed men from Plymouth, Boston, and other places near, joined, and making a forced march toward Mount Hope, besieged the Wampanoags in a swamp several days. Philip escaped with most of his followers, and took refuge with the Nipmucs in the interior of Massachusetts, who espoused his cause. At the head of fifteen hundred warriors he pressed through the forests to the beautiful valley of the Connecticut to lay waste the settlements there.

Meanwhile the armed white men entered the country of the Narragan-sets, and compelled Canonchet, son of Miantonomah, then chief sachem of that people, to make a treaty of friendship with the English. When Philip heard of this he was amazed. His stout heart almost failed. But reflecting upon the perilous nature of his enterprise and his position, and that everything depended upon vigorous action, he aroused other tribes to join him in exterminating the pale-faces by the methods of treachery, ambush, and surprise. The scourge that now appeared was terrible. Men in the fields, families in their beds at midnight, and congregations in houses of worship, were murdered. The English settlements cast of the Hudson then numbered about fifty thousand souls, and, at one time, it seemed probable that few of them would escape the fury of the Indians, who hung upon and enveloped the parties like a consuming fire.

The Wampanoag chief entered the Connecticut Valley at Springfield, and swept northward almost to the present line between Massachusetts and Vermont like a destructive tornado, leaving desolation in his track. Near Brookfield, a party of twenty Englishmen, while on their way, at near the middle of August, to treat with the Nipmucs, fell into an ambush and were treacherously murdered. Almost every house in Brookfield was set on fire--excepting a stone one--into which the people had gathered for safety. There they were besieged two days, when the Indians set the house on fire. Just at that moment a shower of rain came like a providence and put out the flames, and at the same time a relief party of white people, under Major Willard, arrived, and drove away the Indians. Early in September a hot battle was fought at Deerfield, where seven hundred Indians were defeated by one hundred and eighty Englishmen; but a week later, prowling Indians laid the town in ashes. On the same day--the Sabbath--Hadley was attacked, and, as we have seen, was saved by the bravery of Goffe the regicide.

For a moment the scourge was stayed at Hadley, but it soon swept mercilessly over other settlements. The blood of many valiant young men, under Captain Beers, flowed freely in the paths of Northfield, late in September. A few days afterward a company of young men of highest character--"the flower of Essex"--under Captain Lathrop, were murdered by many hundred Indians on the banks of a little stream near Deerfield, which is yet known as Bloody Brook, when the Indians were beaten off by others who came to the rescue. Springfield was burned, and Hadley was again assailed.

The Indians were masters of the situation, and Philip, encouraged by his successes, now resolved to attack Hatfield, the chief settlement above Springfield. He was joined by the natives there who, until then, had been friendly to the English. They showed much zeal, and at near the close of October, Philip gathered his warriors around a huge fire, when the braves engaged in the wild scalp-dance, chanting heroic songs. Upon long poles they exhibited trophies of their horrid work--the long shining tresses of women and even the bright curls of little maidens whom they had slain--as they whirled around the flames with fearful contortions of limbs and body. Then, with almost a thousand warriors, the Wampanoags fell upon the settlement. The people were prepared for the onslaught. They had palisaded their houses with heavy timber standing upright in the ground bound close together with green withes, and the upper ends sharpened. Behind these stood armed men and resolute women waiting for the approach of the Indians, and when they came they were repulsed with such slaughter that Philip left the Connecticut Valley, with his shattered forces, and fled to Rhode Island. The Narragansets, in violation of their recent treaty with the English, received him with open arms, became his allies, and, late in the year, went out upon the war-path with him.

This perfidy of Canonchet and his people was terribly punished by the English at the close of the year. Fifteen hundred armed men from Massachusetts, Plymouth and Connecticut, under Captain Josiah Winslow, marched into the Narraganset country. The Indians, three thousand strong, had gathered in their wigwams within a large fort in the bosom of a dark swamp near the present village of Kingston, Washington county, Rhode Island, with their store of winter provisions. Snow had fallen to a great depth, and the Indians felt secure for the season. Suddenly, at near the end of December, Winslow and his little army appeared before the fort in the frozen swamp. They soon beat down the feeble palisades, and in the course of a few hours hundreds of men, women and children, with all the provisions, perished in the fire. About a thousand warriors were killed or wounded, and several hundreds were made prisoners. Among the latter was Canonchet, who was put to death. Philip, and a remnant of the Narragansets, escaped, and took refuge with the Nipmucs. Eighty Englishmen were killed, and one hundred and fifty were wounded. The surviving Indians suffered fearfully. Hiding in a cedar swamp, with no shelter but evergreen boughs, no food but nuts and roots which they might find beneath the deep snow, many of them perished. So disappeared the dominion of the Narragansets.

Philip was not idle during the winter. He tried in vain to induce the Mohawks to join him. Some of the exasperated Indians eastward of Massachusetts flocked to his standard, and early in the spring of 1676 the work of destruction began. In the course of a few weeks, the war spread over an area of almost three hundred miles. Villages and isolated dwellings were burned, and their inmates were destroyed. Weymouth, Groton, Medford, Lancaster and Marlborough, in Massachusetts, were laid in ashes; and Warwick and Providence, in Rhode Island, were given to the flames.

A terrible scene occurred at Lancaster. Forty-two persons took shelter in the house of Mary Rowlandson. It was set on fire by the Indians. "Quickly," wrote Mrs. Rowlandson in her narrative, "it was the dolefullest day that ever mine eyes saw. Now the dreadful hour is come. Some in our house were fighting for their lives; others wallowing in blood; the house on fire over our heads, and the bloody heathen ready to knock us on the head if we stirred out. I took my children to go forth; but the Indians shot so thick that the bullets rattled against the house as if one had thrown a handful of stones. We had six stout dogs, but none of them would stir." A bullet went through Mrs. Rowlandson's side, and another through a child in her arms, and she was made captive, having of her family only one poor wounded babe left. "Down I must sit in the snow," she continued, "with my sick child, the picture of death, in my lap. Not the least crumb of refreshing came within our mouths from Wednesday night until Saturday night, except a little cold water."

Quarrels among themselves soon weakened the power of the Indians. The Nipmucs and the Narragansets charged their misfortunes to the ambition of Philip. The alliance was dissolved. The eastern Indians hastened to their mountain fastnesses. Many who had been in arms surrendered to avoid starvation. Others marched off to Canada and joined some of the tribes there; and Captain Benjamin Church, the most famous Indian fighter of his day, hunted and slew all the hostile red-men he could find. Between two and three thousand of them perished or submitted in the course of the year 1676, and the proud Narragansets, to whom other tribes had paid homage, were reduced to a hundred bowmen. Like the Pequods, they were utterly ruined.

Philip eluded his pursuers for several months, hiding in many places, with a resolution to never surrender. He had a handful of faithful followers, but he cleaved the head of one of these friends with his hatchet, because he counselled submission. At last circumstances conquered his pride and his will. He returned secretly to Mount Hope. His wife and son were soon afterward made captive, when the "last of the Wampanoags" bowed beneath this crushing misfortune, and said: "Now my heart breaks; I am ready to die." Captain Church was then close upon his track; and a few days afterward, a faithless Indian shot him in a swamp. Church cut off the dead king's head with his sword, and it was borne upon a pole into Plymouth while hymns of thanksgiving were sung by the people. The ghastly trophy was placed upon the palisades; and the people slept that night with a sense of security which they had not felt for years.

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