- Historic Sites
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
The two men sat down to smoke while the others still snored. A curious sight they made to the moon: the naked old Indian and the young Englishman decked in his victim’s regalia. They talked the night through. Church let Anawon boast of the victories he had won for Massasoit in the old days, against the Narragansetts. Old soldiers are seldom so patient with each other.
Church sent Anawon and his troops to Plymouth under guard, with the promise that their lives would be spared. But the Governor was not so lenient. When Church got there himself, he found Anawon’s head on a pole. Beside it was that of Tispaquin, the Black Sachem, who had married Philip’s sister, Amie. He was the last straggler of the royal family to be captured.
Only Nanuskooke and her son were left alive. They had lain in Plymouth jail for a month. John Eliot, the old apostle, asked the General Court to set them free now that the war was over. Church agreed with him. He reminded the Governor that he had given him the right to pardon any Indian except Philip himself. Most of the colony, however, were for executing the two prisoners before the boy could grow up to avenge his father.
However, the General Court tempered justice with mercy, and made a little money for the colony besides. It ordered them sold into slavery in Bermuda. On March 20, 1677, Parson Cotton wrote casually to his brother. “Philin’s bov ffoes now to be sold.”
Nanuskooke and he were never heard of again. A century and half later, the orator Edward Everett flung Cotton Mather’s exultation back at him. “An Indian orincess.” he declaimed, “sold from the cool breezes of Mount Hope, from the wild freedom of a New England forest, to gasp under the lash, beneath the blazing sun of the tropics! Bitter as death? Aye, bitter as Hell! …”
In the fourteen months King Philip’s War had lasted, half the English settlements in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies had been attacked. It had cost them 600 men—a tenth of their fighting force —a thousand houses, and £100,000. The sale of 500 Indian slaves and of Philip’s land did not nearly pay for it, but the colonies asked for no help from England. Church complained that his troops were paid only four and sixpence apiece for the final campaign, with no more bonus for Philip’s head than the thirty shillings which ordinary ones brought. He did get his choice of acreage when the four proprietors divided the land into farmsteads, but he had to pay for it. He built a farmhouse for himself in the shadow of Mount Hope, and a town house on the harbor for his son, the huge stone chimney of which, until a few years ago, stood at the foot of Constitution Street.
He could never rest for long. Promoted to colonel, he fought on through the wars of King William and Queen Anne. In 1692 the Puritans absorbed the Pilgrims; Plymouth Colony, and Bristol with it, became part of Massachusetts. In 1705, when he was 66, he led a regiment on the Nova Scotia front against the French, though admitting he was “ancient and unwieldy.” At last he had to quit fighting. Forty years after he had killed Philip, he dictated his Entertaining History to his son. The lapse of time had not dulled his temper or his wit. Writing in the third person, he complained that: For his Colonel’s pay there were two shillings and fourpence yet due him. As for his Captains’ pay and his man Jack, he has received nothing as yet. Also, after he came home, some ill-minded persons did endeavor to have taken away his life. But His Excellency the Governor, the Honorable Council and House of Representatives saw fit to clear him and give thanks for his good service done …
In 1709 he deeded 200 acres, in what is now Fall River, to the Indians who had served under him. In 1717 he crossed from Bristol to visit his sister, Mrs. Irish, in Fall River, once part of Weetamoe’s old kingdom. Like the lands of Awashonks and Philip, it had long since belonged to the English.
“I have not long to live,” he told his sister solemnly when they parted, “but I hope to meet you soon in Heaven.”
Riding homeward, he had not gone half a mile before his horse stumbled and threw him over its head. Colonel Church, “being exceeding fat and heavy,” fell with such force that a vessel was broken and blood gushed from his mouth like a torrent.
Most of the surviving Wampanoags were sold into slavery. At the war’s end, when the supply was plentiful, their price averaged 32 shillings in silver, or, in barter, 12 bushels of corn or 100 pounds of wool. By 1750, when the paper currency had depreciated and the supply was low—for the Indians did not propagate well in captivity—an occasional one brought up to fifty pounds. They were intractable; the colonists were more than a little afraid of them, and often traded them for Negroes from Virginia or the West Indies. In 1774 only sixteen purebreds were left in town. By 1785, out of a population of 1,200, there were only two. When none of their own race offered, the red slaves married the black slaves. Their high cheekbones, straight black hair, and fine nostrils used to be seen, not many years ago, on a few copper-dusky faces in town.