Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

King Philip's War

King Philip's War was a general Indian uprising in 1675-1676 to resist continued expansion of the English colonies in New England. It was the bloodiest of the Indian wars in terms of relative casualties, and several tribes were virtually or totally eliminated. Six hundred colonists were killed, which included about one-fifth of all the men fit for military service. Philip was the Christian name assigned to Metacomet, the sachem of the Wampanoag Indians. Massachusetts colonial settlers frequently referred to the Native chiefs as Kings.

Background

Tensions between the European settlers and American natives ebbed and rose, but were constantly present. All the Indians in the area were trapped in a decreasing area between the expanding colonies along the coasts and the even more hostile
Iroquois and Mohican tribes to the west. The smallpox epidemics and Pequot War of the 1630s had reduced native population and brought 40 years of relative peace.

Philip had become chief in 1662 and his habits increased to contact of the Wampanoag with the colonists. By 1670 the entire area from the Atlantic west to the Connecticut River Valley was still partially wilderness, but had 40 or 50 colonial towns and villages scattered through it. These were matched by a similar number of interspersed Indian settlements, sometimes side by side. After several incidents, the court in Plymouth forced Philip's band to turn over many of their firearms to the colony in 1671. But this only increased tensions.

Finally a colonist reported an Indian conspiracy to attack the settlements, and before the charges could be investigated, the informer was killed. Three Indians in the area were arrested, convicted of his murder, and hanged on June 8, 1675 at Plymouth.

The war

Philip led his warriors in an attack at Swansea on June 20. After a siege of 5 days, the town was destroyed. The colonists from Plymouth and Boston were quick to respond, and on June 28 they sent an expedition that destroyed the Wampanoag town at Mount Hope (modern Bristol, Rhode Island).

Early engagements

The war quickly spread, and soon involved the Podunk and Nipmuch tribes. During the summer of 1675 the Indians attacked at Mendon (July 14), Brookfield (August 2), and Lancaster (August 9). In early September they attacked Deerfield, Hadley, and Northfield. The New England Confederacy declared war on the Indians on September 9, 1675. The next colonial expedition was soundly defeated in the battle of Bloody Brook (near Hadley) on September 18. The attacks on frontier settlements continued at Springfield (October 5) and Hatfield (October 16).

The next expansion to the war came from the colonists. On November 2, Josiah Winslow led a force from Plymouth to attack the Narrragansett tribe. The Narragansetts had not yet been involved in the war, but they occupied desirable land throughout the colonies, and the colonial view was that any Indian was an enemy. Several Indian towns were burned, and in December the Narrargansett stronghold near modern South Kingstown, Rhode Island was taken. About 300 Indians were killed and winter stores destroyed, but most of the warriors escaped into the swamp. Facing a winter without food and shelter the Narragansett joined the uprising.

The Indian victories

Throughout the winter of 1675-1676 more frontier settlements were destroyed by the Indians. Attacks came at Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Groton, Lancaster, Marlboro, Medford, Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Sudbury, Warwick, Weymouth and Wrentham.

The high-water mark for the combined tribes came in the spring of 1676. They reached and attacked Plymouth Plantation itself on March 12. Even though the town stood the assault, they had shown that they could attack anywhere. All but five of the outlying settlements were deserted, and the colonists were thrown back on the seacoast. In May a militia force of 200, led by William Turner, set out from Springfield to destroy a camp of the Indians who had raided Hatfield. At down on May 14 they attacked the sleeping camp, and killed about 200 Indians. But they hadn't considered their withdrawal. Surrounding camps closed in, and half the force, including Captain Turner, never made it home. To compound this, in their absence, some braves got into Springfield and burned substantial parts of the town.

The colonial tide

But now the tide of war began to turn. This had become a war of attrition. and both sides were determined to eliminate the other. The Indians had nearly succeeded in driving their enemy into the sea, but their supplies were running out. The colonists continued to be supplied by sea, and although the war ultimately cost them over 100,000, they would emerge victorious.

The Indian hopes for supplies from the French were not met, except for some ammunition in Maine. The colonists now allied themselves with the Mohican tribe to the west, and King Philip found his forces surrounded. With the help of the Mohicans, the colonists won at Hadley on June 12, and scattered the survivors into the wilds of New Hampshire. Later that month, a force of 250 Indians was routed near Marlboro.

Philip's allies began to desert him. By early July, over 400 had surrendered to the colonists, and Philip himself had taken refuge in the Assowamset Swamp, below Providence, Rhode Island. He was ultimately defeated when he was shot and killed by an Indian paid by the English on August 12.

Aftermath

With Metacomet's death, the war in the south was largely ended. Over 600 colonists and 3,000 Indians had been killed. Several hundred more natives who had surrendered or been captured were sold as slaves in the Caribbean. Survivors were forced to join more western tribes, mainly as captives. The Narragansett, Wampanoag, Podunk, Nipmuch, and several smaller bands were virtually eliminated, while the Mohicans were greatly weakened.

Sporadic raids continued on the far northern frontier in Maine and New Hampshire. These were finally ended when Sir Edmund Andros negotiated a treaty with the northern bands on April 12, 1678.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were now fully open to European colonization, although western settlements would face raids until the American Revolution.

See also