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The Tragedy Of King Philip And The Destruction Of The New England Indians
The most serious threat to white colonization of New England was the Indian uprising of 1675-76, known as King Philip’s War. What follows is the story of the tragic man who led that futile struggle, Philip, chief of the Wampanoags. But perhaps it is just as much the story of Philip’s erstwhile friend and resourceful pursuer, Benjamin Church. This account is taken from George Howe’s superb history of Bristol, Rhode Island, Mount Hope, due in February from the Viking Press.
December 1958 | Volume 10, Issue 1
They prevailed against Mr. Church’s advice. Burning up all the houses and provisions in the fort, the army returned that night [to Smith’s garrison house] in the storm and cold. And I suppose that everyone who is acquainted with that night’s march deeply laments the miseries that attended them, especially the wounded and dying men. Some of the enemy that were then in the fort have since informed us that near a third of all the Indians belonging to the Narragansett country were killed by the English or by the cold of that night; that they fled out of their fort so hastily that they carried nothing with them; and that if the English had kept in the fort, the Indians would certainly have been necessitated either to surrender themselves or to have perished by hunger and the severity of the season.
As it was, 207 of the colonial militia were killed that day or died that night, jolting through the blizzard to the garrison house on sapling stretchers slung from the muskets of their comrades. The Indians lost perhaps 500 fighting men. Another 500 women, children, and invalids, in spite of Church’s effort to spare them, were burned to death. Only a few survived. Cotton Mather exulted: We have heard of two and twenty Indian captains slain, all of them brought down to Hell in one day. When they came to see the ashes of their friends, mingled with the ashes of their fort, and the Bodies of so many of their Country terribly Barbikew’d , where the English had been doing a good day’s work, they Howl’d, they Roar’d, they Stamp’d, they Tore their hair; and though they did not swear (for they know not how) yet they Curs’d, and were the pictures of so many Devils in Desperation.
And his father, Increase, exclaimed, “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord!” 76
A“ter the victory, the colonies again foolishly disbanded their army. Queen Weetamoe escaped from the swamp. King Philip, after all, had not been in it, but in his camp on the Hudson. Canonchet led the surviving Narragansetts westward to join him. There was no doubt now which side he was on. On the way across the Nipmuck country, he joined forces with Philip’s field commander, Anawon, whom Church describes as “a great surly old fellow.” For four months, while Church recovered from his wounds at home, the two tribes harried the English settlements almost without hindrance.
The Mohawks of the Hudson had given Philip no help. When he attacked three of their men in the woods near the Schaghticoke camp, hoping the English would be blamed, one of them recovered and accused him instead. The angry Mohawks set upon him, and he just escaped with his life. He fled eastward, desperately short of provisions. At what is now South Vernon, Vermont, Weetamoe and the few survivors of the swamp fight met him on March 8, 1676.
In the Nipmuck country in the valley of the Connecticut, Philip’s spring campaign promised well. At a war council in Northfield, Canonchet and he decided to strike still farther east, into the heart of the colonies. This time Philip took the field himself. Astride the black horse, he leaped the fences of the English rather than waste time in opening the gates. He burned Medfield, just outside Boston. After the attack, a Praying Indian still loyal to his race, James the Printer (he had helped Apostle Eliot with the Bay Psalm Book), posted this defiance on the bridge across the Charles:
“Know by this paper that the Indians whom thou hast provoked to wrath and anger will war these 21 years, if you will. There are many Indians yett. We come three hundred at this time. You must consider that the Indians lose nothing but their lives, while you must lose your fair houses and cattle.”
Philip raided Bridgewater, Scituate, and Rehoboth once, and Marlborough and Sudbury twice. At Marlborough the squaws scalped and mutilated two Englishmen. At Sudbury he annihilated a whole company under Captain Wadsworth and prevented reinforcements from reaching them by setting fire to the windward meadows. He burned eighty houses in Providence, and would have burned the remaining twenty, except for the pleas of the aged Roger Williams, who had been his father’s friend. He killed no one in the village but a man named Wright, described as being “of a singular and sordid humour.” The braves disemboweled him and stuffed his Bible in his belly. Philip even struck at Plymouth itself and burned Clark’s garrison house only two miles from town. Yet he gave orders to spare the village of Taunton, for it was there that Leonard, the friendly blacksmith, had his forge.
In April, Canonchet was captured by the English. They taunted him with his broken promise to deliver the Wampanoag scalps.
“I shall not give up a Wampanoag or the paring of a Wampanoag’s nail,” he told them.
When they sentenced him to be shot, he said, “I like it well. I shall die before my heart is soft, or I have said anything unworthy of myself.”