King Philip's War (1675-1676)

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King Philip's War was a general Indian uprising in 1675-1676 to resist continued expansion of the English colonies in New England. It was the bloodiest of the Indian wars in terms of relative casualties, and several tribes were virtually or totally eliminated. The war proved a critical turning point by destroying the interdependent world constructed jointly by white colonists and Native Americans and replacing it with a new culture in which native peoples were marginalized and the white settlers were dominant. Six hundred colonists were killed, which included about one-fifth of all the men fit for military service. Philip was the Christian name assigned to Metacomet, the sachem of the Wampanoag Indians. Massachusetts colonial settlers frequently referred to the Native chiefs as Kings.

Tensions between the European settlers and American natives ebbed and rose, but were constantly present. All the Indians in the area were trapped in a decreasing area between the expanding colonies along the coasts and the even more hostile Iroquois and Mohican tribes to the west. The smallpox epidemics and Pequot War of the 1630s had reduced native population and brought 40 years of relative peace.

Philip had become chief in 1662 and he increased the contact between the Wampanoag and the colonists. By 1670 the entire area from the Atlantic west to the Connecticut River Valley was still partially wilderness, but had 40 or 50 colonial towns and villages scattered through it. These were matched by a similar number of interspersed Indian settlements, sometimes side by side. After several incidents, the court in Plymouth forced Philip's band to turn over many of their firearms to the colony in 1671. But this only increased tensions.

Also, as this involved the Puritan colony of Massachussetts, attempted conversion of the natives was a source of tension. Many settlers were attempting, and sometimes succeding, to convert the Indians to Puritanism. Those who were converted were called "praying Indians". Some natives were killed when they attempted to resist the conversion.

The spark that started the war was a report from a "praying Indian" named John Sassamon of an Indian conspiracy to attack the European settlements. Before the charges could be investigated, John Sassamon was found murdered in a pond, allegedly by Wampanoag angry at his betrayal. The settlers arrested three Indians from the area, convicted them of his murder, and hanged them on June 8, 1675 at Plymouth. The Wampanoag believed the trial and sentencing was an insult, and the incident inflamed tempers further.

In response to the previous incident, a band of Pokanoket, probably without Philip's approval, looted several homes at Swansea on June 20. After a siege of 5 days, the town was destroyed. The colonists from Plymouth and Boston were quick to respond, and on June 28 they sent an expedition that destroyed the Wampanoag town at Mount Hope (modern Bristol, Rhode Island).

Early engagements
The war quickly spread, and soon involved the Podunk and Nipmuch tribes. During the summer of 1675 the Indians attacked at Mendon (July 14), Brookfield (August 2), and Lancaster (August 9). In early September they attacked Deerfield, Hadley, and Northfield. The New England Confederation declared war on the Indians on September 9, 1675. The next colonial expedition was soundly defeated in the battle of Bloody Brook (near Hadley) on September 18. The attacks on frontier settlements continued at Springfield (October 5) and Hatfield (October 16).

The next expansion to the war came from the colonists. On November 2, Josiah Winslow led a force from Plymouth to attack the Narragansett tribe. The Narragansetts had not yet been involved in the war, but they occupied desirable land throughout the colonies, and the colonial view was that any Indian was an enemy. Several Indian towns were burned, and in December the Narrargansett stronghold near modern South Kingstown, Rhode Island was taken. About 300 Indians were killed and winter stores destroyed, but most of the warriors escaped into the swamp. Facing a winter without food and shelter the Narragansett joined the uprising.

The Indian victories
Throughout the winter of 1675-1676 more frontier settlements were destroyed by the Indians. Attacks came at Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Groton, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Medford, Portland, Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Sudbury, Warwick, Weymouth, and Wrentham.

The high-water mark for the combined tribes came in the spring of 1676. They reached and attacked Plymouth Plantation itself on March 12. Even though the town stood the assault, they had shown that they could attack anywhere. All but five of the outlying settlements were deserted, and the colonists were thrown back on the seacoast. In May a militia force of 200, led by William Turner, set out from Springfield to destroy a camp of the Indians who had raided Hatfield. At dawn on May 14 they attacked the sleeping camp, and killed about 200 Indians. But they hadn't considered their withdrawal. Surrounding camps closed in, and half the force, including Captain Turner, never made it home. To compound this, in their absence, some braves got into Springfield and burned substantial parts of the town.

The Colonial Tide


But now the tide of war began to turn. This had become a war of attrition, and both sides were determined to eliminate the other. The Indians had nearly succeeded in driving their enemy into the sea, but their supplies were running out. The colonists continued to be supplied by sea, and although the war ultimately cost them over ?100,000, they would emerge victorious.

The Indian hopes for supplies from the French were not met, except for some ammunition in Maine. The colonists now allied themselves with the Mohican tribe to the west, and King Philip found his forces surrounded. With the help of the Mohicans, the colonists won at Hadley on June 12, and scattered the survivors into the wilds of New Hampshire. Later that month, a force of 250 Indians was routed near Marlboro.

The colonial militia had asked for aid from Britain. Britain went to protect its colony and investment.

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. He was ultimately defeated when he was tracked down by Rangers lead by Captain Benjamin Church at Mt. Hope where he was shot and killed by an Indian member of the group named John Alderman August 12.

With Metacomet's death, the war in the south was largely ended. Over 600 colonists and 3,000 Indians had been killed. Several hundred more natives who had surrendered or been captured were sold as slaves in the Caribbean. Members of the sachem's extended family were placed for safekeeping among colonists in Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut. In Stonington, Connecticut, selectman John Starkweather married his Christianized captive. Other survivors were forced to join more western tribes, mainly as captives. The Narragansett, Wampanoag, Podunk, Nipmuch, and several smaller bands were virtually eliminated, while the Mohicans were greatly weakened.

Sporadic raids continued on the far northern frontier in Maine and New Hampshire. These were finally ended when Sir Edmund Andros negotiated a treaty with the northern bands on April 12, 1678.

After the war, the British soldiers were remained throughout New England, due to the cost of shipping the soldiers back home. Thus, the salutary neglect of enforcement of the Navigation Acts decreased.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were now fully open to European colonization, although western settlements would face raids until the American Revolution.

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