King Philip's War (1675-76) - Part 1 of 2
King Philip's War (1675-76) was the almost two-year conflict between the colonists and the Native Americans in New England that was considered to be one of the most devastating wars in this country's history. One in ten soldiers on both sides was either wounded or killed. At the height of the war, hostilities even threatened to push the English colonists back to the coast. In the aftermath of the war, it took years for towns to recover from the loss of life and property damage.
The war is named for King Philip, the son of Massasoit and chief of the Wampanoag nation. After the death of his brother in 1662, whom the Indians suspected the English murdered, Philip became sachem. He maintained a shaky peace with the colonists for a number of years. However, peace eroded after the steady succession of land sales forced on the Indians and by their growing dependence on English goods.
By 1671, the English colonists grew suspicious of Philip and questioned him, fined him, and demanded that the Wampanoag surrender their arms. Following that indignation, a Christian Indian (who was an informant to the English) was murdered in 1675, probably at Philip's instigation. For that murder, three Wampanoag were tried and executed. These events led up to the official beginning of the war in June of 1675, where in retaliation to their tribesmen’s execution, the Wampanoag raided the border settlement of Swansea. Other Indian raids followed, where towns burned to the ground and many colonists were viciously slain.
The Wampanoag were joined by the Nipmuc and Narragansett Indians, and soon all the New England colonies were involved in the war between colonists and “hostile Indians”. On the other hand, “Praying Indians” (Native Americans of New England who converted to Christianity) pledged loyalty to the colonists and provided invaluable service to the militias. Sadly, the great majority of these Praying Indians were persecuted due to distrust and misinformation. By March 1676, in the panic caused by heavy colonial losses, four hundred innocent Christian Indians were forcibly removed to Deer Island in Boston Harbor, where many died of hunger and exposure.
The war declined after Philip’s unsuccessful attempt to secure aid from the Mohawk to the west. The consequence of the war, which was extremely costly to the colonists in both people and money, was the end of tribal Indian life in southern New England and the disappearance of the fur trade. Westward expansion of the colony would face virtually no resistance as the Indians no longer inhabited the frontier border lands or posed an imminent threat.
NEXT WEEK - Part II: "How Did King Philip's War Play Out Locally?"
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Beth Finch McCarthy