- 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
King Philip’s War was soon forgotten. A century later, in the Revolution, the British war office issued a guide for troops sent overseas to the rebellious colonies. Its author confused the long-dead Wampanoag chief with the Spanish kings of the same name.
“Bristol,” he wrote, “is remarkable for King Philip of Spain having a palace nearby and being killed in it.”
We shall never know what Benjamin Church looked like, or King Philip either. Paul Revere engraved portraits of them both, but at the time of his famous ride, Philip had been dead 99 years and Church, 57. His portrait of Philip looks as if it had been drawn to frighten children. When he came to Church, he did not even invent. He copied a likeness, frame and all, of the English poet Charles Churchill. The process of engraving reversed the original. Revere added a powder horn at the neck, but that was all. It is easier to believe that Benjamin Church looked like his Bristol descendants of today: bluff, straight, and ruddy, with an occasional aquiline nose and jetblack eye that hint a drop of Wampanoag blood.
Philip’s quartz throne still rears up from the eastern shore; his cold spring still flows. His only relics are the lock of his musket, preserved in Boston, and his iron kettle in Rehoboth. In 1913 a group of Bristol boys dug up a Wampanoag burial mound in Warren. They found, among wampum and arrowheads and flawless human teeth, a copper necklace that may have been Winslow’s gift to Massasoit, and a soapstone pipe, shaped like a manikin, that may have been Philip’s. Guarding them, in the museum on Mount Hope, was ranged the world’s largest collection of cigar-store Indians: 200 of them, more warriors than stood by Philip on the morning he was shot. But in 1957 even they were sold at auction in New York. They brought one hundred thousand dollars.