King Philip's War

A Brief History

"The year 1675 was distinguished for a memorable war in New England with the Indians, called King Philip's War; by which the peace of the colonies was greatly disturbed, and their existence, for a time, seriously endangered. For several years previous to the opening of the war, the Indians had regarded the English with growing jealousy. They saw them increasing in numbers, and rapidly extending their settlements. The prospect. before them was humbling to the haughty descendants of the original lords of the soil.

The principal exciter of the Indians was Philip, sachem of the Wampanoags, son and successor of Masassoit, who fifty years before, had made a treaty with the colony of Plymouth. The residence of Philip was at Mount Hope, in Bristol, Rhode Island. The immediate cause of the. war was the execution of three Indians by the English, whom Philip had excited to murder one Sausaman, an Indian missionary. Sausaman, being friendly to the English, had informed them that Philip, with several tribes, was plotting for their destruction. The execution of these men roused the anger of Philip, who armed his men and commenced hostilities. Their first attack was made on July 4th, upon the people of Swanzey in Plymouth Colony, as they were returning from public worship, and eight or nine persons were killed.

The country being immediately alarmed, the troops of the colony repaired to the defense of Swanzey, where being joined by troops from Boston, they attacked Philip's force, killing several. Philip left Mount Hope the same night, marking his route with the burning of houses and the scalping of the defenseless inhabitants. It being known that the Narragansetts favored the cause of Philip, he having sent his women and children to them for protection. The Massachusetts forces, under Captain Hutchinson, proceeded into their country, either to renew a treaty or give them battle. Fortunately, a treaty was concluded, and the troops returned.

On the 27th of July, news arrived that Philip was in a swamp at Pocasset, now Tiverton. The Massachusetts and Plymouth forces immediately marched to that place, and the next day charged the enemy in their recesses. As the troops entered the swamp, the Indians continued to retire. The English in vain pursued, until night, when the commander ordered a retreat. Many of the English were killed, and the enemy were encouraged. It being impossible to encounter the Indians with advantage in the swamps, it was determined to starve them out, but Philip apprehending their design, contrived to escape with his forces, to the Nipmucks in Worcester county. This tribe had already commenced hostilities against the English; but in the hope of reclaiming them, Captain Wheeler and Hutchinson were sent to treat with them. But the Indians, having intimation of their coming, lurked in ambush for them, and fired upon them, killing some, and mortally wounding others, of whom Captain Hutchinson was one.

The remainder fled to Quaboag, Brookfield, closely pursued by the Indians, who burnt every house excepting the one in which the inhabitants had taken refuge. They surrounded this house at length, and for two days continued to put a storm of musket-balls upon it; with long poles they next thrust against it brands and combustibles; they shot arrows of fire; they loaded a cart with flax and tow, and, with long poles fastened together, they pushed it against the house. Destruction seemed inevitable, but when the house was kindling, and the Indians stood ready to destroy the first that should open the door to escape, a torrent of rain descended, and suddenly extinguished the kindling flames. At length, Major Willard came to their relief, raised the siege, and destroyed a considerable number of the assailants.

During the month of September, Radley, Deerfield, and Northfield, on the Connecticut River were attacked, and several inhabitants killed, and many buildings consumed. Captain Lathrop, with several teams and eighty young men, having been sent to Deerfield to transport a quantity of grain to Radley, were suddenly attacked by nearly eight hundred Indians, while stopping at Muddy Brook to gather grapes. Resistance was in vain; seventy of these young men fell, and were all buried in one grave. This event eventually became known as the Bloody Brook Massacre. Captain Mosely, then at Deerfield, hearing the report of the guns, hastened to the spot, and attacked the Indians, killed ninety-six, and wounded forty, losing but two of his number.

Early in October, the Springfield Indians concerted a plan with other hostile tribes, to burn that town. Raving, under cover of night, received two or three hundred of Philip's men into their fort, they set fire to the town. The plot, however, was discovered so quickly, that troops from Westfield arrived in time to save the town, excepting thirty-two houses, which had been previously consumed. Soon after hostilities were commenced by Philip, the Tarrenteens began their depredations in New Hampshire and the Province of Maine. They robbed the boats and plundered the houses of the English. In September, they fell on Saco, Scarborough and Kittery, killing between twenty and thirty of the inhabitants, and consigning their houses, barns and mills, to the flames.

Elated with these successes; they next advanced towards the Piscataqua, committing similar outrages at Oyster River; Salmon Falls, Dover and Exeter. Before winter, sixty of the English, in that quarter, were killed, and nearly as many buildings consumed.

Notwithstanding the Narragansetts had pledged themselves, by their treaty; not to engage in the war, it was discovered that they were taking part with the enemy. Upon this, Governor Winslow, of Plymouth, with about one thousand eight hundred troops from Massachusetts and Connecticut, and one hundred and sixty friendly Indians, commenced their march from Pettysquamscot, on the 29th of December, through a deep snow, towards the enemy, who were in a swamp some fifteen miles distant (South Kingstown Rhode Island). In the middle of this swamp, on a rising ground, stood the fortress of the Indians, a work of strength, composed of palisades, and surrounded by a hedge sixteen feet thick. Only one entrance led to the fort through the surrounding thicket. Upon this the English providentially fell, and, without waiting to form, rushed impetuously towards the fort. The English captains entered first. The resistance of the Indians was gallant and warlike, and at length the English were compelled to retreat.

At this crisis, some Connecticut men, on the opposite side of the fort, discovering a place destitute of palisades, instantly sprang into the fort, fell upon the rear of the Indians, and aided by the rest of the army, after a desperate conflict, achieved complete victory. Six hundred wigwams were now set on fire, and an appalling scene ensued. Deep volumes of smoke rolled up to heaven, mingled with the dying shrieks of mothers and infants, which, with the aged and infirm, were consumed in the flames. The Indians were estimated at four thousand; of whom seven hundred warriors were killed, and three hundred died of their wounds; three hundred were taken prisoner and as. many women and children; the rest, except such as were consumed, fled. This event became known as the Great Swamp Massacre. The victory of the English, complete as it was, was purchased with blood. Six captains fell, Davenport, Gardiner, Johnson, Gallop, Siely, and Marshall; eighty of the troops were killed or mortally wounded, and one hundred and. fifty were wounded who recovered.

From this defeat the Indians never recovered. They were not yet, however, effectually subdued. During the winter they continued their work of murdering and burning. The towns of Lancaster, Medfield, Weymouth, Groton, Springfield, Northampton, Sudbury, and Marlboro, in Massachusetts, and of Warwick and Providence, Rhode Island, were assaulted, and some of them partly, and others wholly, destroyed. The success of the Indians, during the winter had been great; but, on the return of spring, the tide turned against them. The Narragansett country was scoured, and many of the natives were killed, among whom was Canonchet, their chief sachem.

On August 22nd 1676, the finishing stroke was given to the war in the United Colonies, by the death of King Philip. After his flight from Mount Hope, he had attempted to rouse the Mohawks against the English. To effect this purpose, he killed several of that tribe, and charged it upon the English. But his intention being discovered, he was obliged hastily to flee, and returned to Mount Hope. Tidings of his return being brought to Captain Church, a man who had been of eminent service in this war and who was better able than any other person to provide against the enemy, he immediately proceeded to the place of Philip's concealment, near Mount Hope, accompanied by a small body of men. On his arrival, he placed his men in ambushes round the swamp, charging them not to move until daylight, so they might distinguish Philip, should he attempt to escape. Such was his confidence of success that he shook the hand of Major Sandford and said, "It is scarcely possible that Philip should escape." At that instant, a bullet whistled over their heads, and a volley followed.

The firing proceeded from Philip and his men, who were now in view. Perceiving his peril, the Philip hastily seized his powder-horn and gun, and fired; but directing his course towards a spot where an Englishman and an Indian lay concealed, the former leveled his gun; but misfiring, the Indian drew, and shot him through the heart. Captain Church ordered him to be beheaded and quartered. The Indian who executed this order pronounced the warrior's epitaph: "You have been one very great man. You have made many a man afraid of you. But so big as you be, I will now chop you to pieces."

Thus fell a savage hero and a patriot, of whose transcendent abilities our history furnishes melancholy evidence. The advantage of modern education, and a wider theater of action, might have made the name of Philip of Mount Hope as memorable as that of Alexander or Caesar.

After the death of Philip, the war continued in the Province of Maine, until the spring of 1678. But the westward Indians, having lost their chiefs, wigwams and provisions, came in singly, by tens, and by hundreds, and submitted to the English. Thus closed a violent period in the annals of New England, during which six hundred men had fallen, twelve or thirteen towns had been destroyed, and six hundred dwellings consumed. Every eleventh family was houseless, and every eleventh soldier had sunk to his grave.


— A History of the United States, by Charles A. Goodrich, 1857 (edited)


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