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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
When Cotton Mather heard the news of Philip’s death, he exclaimed from the pulpit, “God hath sent us the head of Leviathan for a feast.” The head actually was sent to Plymouth and set on a pole. It stayed there for 25 years. The body was quartered, and a piece hung on each of four trees. Church gave the scarred hand to Alderman as a reward. For months thereafter he exhibited it in a pail of rum “to such gentlemen as would bestow gratuities on him.”
Anawon, who had escaped with the remnant of the tribe, had vowed never to be taken alive. It seemed hardly worth pursuing him now that Philip was dead. Captain Church had surely earned a rest. He went back to his wife on the Island. Two weeks later word reached him that Anawon had begun to raid the long-suffering settlements of Rehoboth and Swansea. He learned through a deserter that the old chief was kenneled at the base of a steep rock a few miles above Mount Hope. It was surrounded on all sides but one by the dismal Rehoboth swamp. Its only entrance was across a felled tree, screened by birch bushes, and down a steep crevice in the rock to a platform at the foot. Only one man could pass at a time.
Church found the hiding place without trouble. He asked Caleb Cook, who had missed his chance of glory on the morning of Philip’s death, whether he would follow him down the ravine that very night.
“Sir,” Cook answered, “I am never afraid of going anywhere when you are with me.”
Church, with Cook and the deserter beside him, waited on the edge of the swamp until dark, when Anawon would have stacked his guns for the night. By luck, he caught a brave returning from the swamp after a tryst with a young squaw. He held the two of them for decoys. When the moon had risen, he forced the brave to sound the wolf call which was the password of the camp. An answering howl came back from the rock. He could hear someone pounding corn in a mortar at the foot of it. The noise covered the scraping of Church’s clumsy boots. With his hatchet in one hand, he pushed the squaw and her lover ahead of him as a screen, and then crashed down the fissure himself, clutching at the bushes on the side with the other hand to steady himself. Cook and the deserter tumbled down behind him.
Anawon and his young son, who had been asleep by the campfire, started up. When they saw Church, the boy whipped his blanket over his head and shrank up into a heap. Anawon cried out “Howoh!” which meant “They’ve caught mel”
Church stationed Cook in front of the stack of guns. With the deserter translating for him, he ordered Anawon’s fifty men to toss their tomahawks alongside, and they obeyed. He turned to Anawon.
“What have you got for supper, Captain?” he asked through the interpreter. “I’ve come to eat with you.”
“Taubut,” Anawon answered in his deep voice (the Word meant “Welcome”). “I have cow-beef and horsebeef.”
Church chose cow-beef. It was soon got ready by the squaws. Church seasoned his supper—and Anawon’s, too—from the bag of salt that he always carried.
He had been on his feet for sixty hours. After supper he ordered Cook to stand watch while he rested. But he could not sleep. After lying some time beside Anawon, he opened his eyes. Cook was fast asleep, and so were all the Indians except Anawon himself.
For an hour the two soldiers stared at each other in silence. Church spoke only a few words of Algonquin, and supposed that Anawon spoke no English. At last Anawon stood up with a groan, throwing off his blanket. With nothing on but his breechclout, he walked out of sight around a corner of the rock. Church, supposing he went to ease himself in private, let him go, but took care just the same to lift a gun from the stack and shelter himself behind Anawon’s son in case of a trap.
Then by the moonlight he saw the old warrior returning with a deerskin pack in his hands. Church stood up, grasping the gun. Anawon dropped to his knees before him.
“Great Captain,” he said in his slow, but perfectly plain English, “you have killed Philip and conquered his country. I and my company are the last that war against the English. The war is ended by your means; therefore these things belong to you.”
He opened the pack. It held Philip’s regalia. He draped the wampum stole on Church’s neck. Its fringe reached the ground at the Captain’s boots. He laid the red cloak on Church’s shoulder, the breastplate on his chest, the fillet on his head. He offered him two hornfuls of glazed powder and a red blanket.