The Tragedy Of King Philip And The Destruction Of The New England Indians

PrintPrintEmailEmail

“Where there is love there is no fear”

Behind the present town of Bristol, Rhode Island, on Narragansett Bay, rises the aoo-foot hill called Mount Hope. East of it is an estuary dividing Rhode Island from Massachusetts; west of it is Bristol harbor, and west again, the peninsula of Poppasquash.

In 1620, when the Pilgrims landed forty miles to the east at Plymouth, Mount Hope was the seat of Massasoit, King of the Wampanoags. They were a branch of the Algonquin nation; the name of the tribe means “Eastern People,” and his own name means “Great Chief.” He was chief of all the lesser sachems from Cape Cod to Narragansett Bay. He lived comfortably in a tent village that he called Pokanoket, north of the hill. His lodges, framed on poles, were covered with reed mattings sewn together with hemp and bound tight at the smoke hole with walnut bark. Having a flap at each end, they caught the breeze whichever way it blew. The biggest of them, the long house, stretched a hundred feet. The village was built at the foot of Mount Hope, not on top of it, in order that the smoke of the campfire might not be mistaken for signals.

When the fish hawks arrived in March, Massasoit knew that scup had moved up from the sea. When the bud of the white oak had reached the size of a mouse’s ear, his squaws planted corn, laying a ripe herring at each hill for fertilizer. They hoed with quahog shells. His braves, who scorned labor, stalked deer on Poppasquash with bow and arrow, and netted tautog in the channel. There were soft-shelled clams in the mud at low tide for the digging, and eels, quahogs, and scallops offshore for the treading, all of which were brewed into a chowder called nasaump. Groundnuts, which are the roots of the wild bean, needed no labor at all; and huckleberries grew wild in the clearings. Over open fires, the squaws broiled roe, boiled succotash, baked corn bread, and refined the sugar of the maples. Winter was a season of semistarvation, but meat and fish, tanned in the sun the previous summer, saw the tribe through all but the hardest seasons. (The Indians never learned the use of salt to preserve their meat, though they were surrounded by sea water). Fifteen miles inland, at what is still called Fowling Pond, Massasoit had a winter game preserve. He might shift camp a little when his firewood gave out; even now, heaps of clamshells, marking a camp site, are sometimes dug up behind Mount Hope. But with fair weather he always returned to his hill. Mount Hope was his home and his throne.

On March 22, 1621, with his brother, Quadequina, and sixty of his braves, he visited the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The royal party walked all the way from Mount Hope; horses were unknown to them. The Mayflower , which had brought the Englishmen from England the previous autumn, still lay in the harbor; she was not to return till April 5. The King’s hair, high in front and long behind, was greased, and his face was painted with the royal mulberry. He looked like the gypsies the English had seen at home. He wore mooseskin moccasins, deerskin leggings, and a squirrel coat with the fur inside. A string of bone beads hung at his neck. He carried a knife in his coat-strap and a wooden tomahawk in his hand. As interpreter, he brought one of his subjects named Squanto. Seven years earlier, an English raider named Hunt had kidnapped Squanto from the coast and sold him to slavery in Spain. He had escaped to London, where he had learned English, and from London, as recently as 1619, he had escaped back to his own country.

Squanto stood beside the King on a rise above the Pilgrims’ stockade at Plymouth.

“Welcome, Englishmen,” he called down to them.

Governor Carver must have been astounded to hear his own language from a red man. He sent his young secretary, Edward Winslow, up to the hill with presents in his hand: a knife, a jewel for the ear, a pot of “strong water,” a good quantity of biscuit, and some butter. They were gratefully accepted.

“Do you dare to walk among us alone?” Squanto asked Winslow. “Where there is love there is no fear,” the secretary answered.

Winslow was detained on the hill as a hostage, while Massasoit followed Squanto down to the stockade. The newest cabin in the colony was made ready to receive him. It was not much better than the royal long house at Mount Hope. A green rug had been laid on the earth floor, with three or four cushions on it. Driftwood blazed in the clay fireplace. The room was lighted by paper windows, and, when darkness fell, by bayberry dips. Little Miles Standish, with a file of six men, presented arms. To the sound of a trumpet and drum, Governor Carver himself entered. He bent his chin over Massasoit’s hand and kissed it. He gave him a great draught of strong water, whereat the King’s whole body broke into a sweat. He had never tasted liquor before. Massasoit sat all afternoon beside the Governor, trembling with fear. Before he started home he had put his mark to a treaty of alliance with King James I of England. The white men who had landed on his shore, with cuirasses instead of leather for armor, with muskets and cutlasses for weapons instead of arrows, with sailboats and rum and tobacco, were lucky allies for him. He called them Wautoconoag , which means “men who wear clothes.”