New England’s Second Colonial Armed Conflict: King Philip’s War Remembered
In 1668 and 1669, Metacom or King Philip, was given the name by the English after the classical Greek conqueror “for his ambitious and haughty spirit;” and the title “King” to exaggerate his role in the war that bore his name. Philip was asked to sign a waiver of any land claim to ancient Wampanoag territories that would allow for full European expansion. This transparent and audacious request was met with refusal and tensions only mounted. In 1671, English authorities demanded Philip surrender his arms and “voluntarily” give up more land. In 1673, Peter Talman of Mount Hope, Rhode Island “won” his legal claim to more Wampanoag land. The crisis was at fever pitch in 1674 when a soldier of Metacom assassinated an Indian collaborating with the English. Three of Metacom’s soldiers, Wampapaquan, Mattashunnamo and Tobis, were arrested and hanged on June 8, 1675 for this crime. That was the final straw. On June 24, King Philip’s War broke out at Mount Hope and Swansea and swept across that area and on to Rhode Island where Providence, Cranston and Warwick were all attacked including Roger Williams’ house and papers. Many towns were burned, such as Taunton, Middleborough, Brookfield, Deerfield, Northampton, Springfield, Groton, Medfield and sixteen houses in Plymouth. More than half the ninety towns of New England were attacked in this campaign.
In 1675 in the Dartmouth area at Poneganset, being promised to be fairly treated, the Indians surrendered as requested. In fact, they were promptly transported to Plymouth and some 160 were sold as slaves to be exported. A culminating event was on December 19, 1675 during the Great Swamp Fight, when 700 Narragansetts, mostly women and children were killed near Kingstown, Rhode Island by 1,500 English soldiers lead by Commander Winslow. The Rhode Island militia did not actually participate. English losses were 93 and some 300 Indians were captured for sale as slaves in New England or for exportation. Slavery began early in the war in 1675 to refill coffers drained by military costs and the rebuilding of Providence.
The approach learned at the Pequot Massacre (1636-38) was to be repeated. Now some Nipmuck of the interior were drawn in to the fray and one Matoons was executed on Boston Common by another Nipmuck sachem to prove his new found loyalty to the English. Under the authority of Governor Josiah Winslow of Plymouth, 1,000 men attacked a defending force of 2,000 Narragansetts in their palisade fort at Mount Hope; and on August 12, 1676, Philip fled to the “miry swamp” where he was assassinated by one of Captain Benjamin Church’s Indian Rangers, John Alderman. Upon inspection of Philip’s body, Church is quoted as saying “a doleful, great, naked, dirty beast.” Philip was then butchered in a manner standard with English punishment for treason by drawing and quartering. He was left unburied and beheaded. His head was sent to Plymouth where it was posted for twenty years and a special “Thanksgiving” was celebrated. Some claim that his hand was nailed up in Boston Common for many years. Bourne adds that in King Philip’s War, Samuel Morely, a keen Indian fighter, managed to capture 54 Narragansett prisoners (near Wickford, Rhode Island) who he sold into slavery. It was now understood that slavery was the one of the factors for continuing the war and the reality of slavery becoming a major industry of the war.
During the war Connecticut and Rhode Island militias were engaged in some of the heaviest fighting in Massachusetts. Captain Roger Williams charged with administration of Providence headed a committee on August 14, 1676 to determine what to do with the captives and under his leadership slavery was recommended. The typical price for Indian slaves at this time was 32 shillings or twelve bushels of corn. In more “mopping up” Williams ordered the execution of the already wounded Narragansett leader named Chuff on August 25 and perhaps under his order Quinnapin, a cousin of Narragansett Cananchet was executed in Newport. On August 30, 1676, Roger Williams declared that the war was officially terminated, but some unfinished business remained. On September 11, two more leading soldiers of Metacom, namely Annawon and Tispaquin were shot and beheaded.
As King Philip’s War withered away into the fall of 1676 the sailing ship Seaflower that sailed from Boston Harbor with at least “180 Heathern Malefactors” that is, men, women and children, to be exported as slaves as a “reward of war” to be paid for the military expenses and simply move Indians off their lands for European settlement or force them to work for the settlers. According to the intense legal debate those Indians were being punished for treachery and rebellion against the King according to Governor John Leverett in a letter dated September 12, 1676. According to Leverett, Phillip had accepted the authority of the King and signed in 1671. Naturally, this would be hard to believe, but such would be the argument. Meanwhile, their sachems were deemed kings so how could this be resolved? Another legal twist, it was decided they were just local commanders of no kings. Others proposed the question that Indians were not even human or another race that did not qualify for legal protection.
Image courtesy Library of Congress
King Philip or Metacomet of Pokanoket, full-length portrait, standing, facing slightly right, with right hand on hip, holding rifle, other Indians and mountain in the background.
So what happened to those exported when Captain Thomas Smith’s Seaflower arrived in Jamaica in December 1676? Historian, Jill Lapore discovers it in the historic record when the French seized it in 1690 in Jamaica. Smith died in Boston in 1688 and is known for a self-portrait of a ship, and a skull used as a paper weight expressing some veiled sentiments of guilt. Other colonial authorities in Barbados and Jamaica soon passed legislation against imports of Indians from New England.
According to Lapore, Indians were taken to Deer Island off the Boston Harbor in November 1675. Many tried to escape and were killed. Others died there, and still more where exported as slaves. All this was done with official approval of the court. By December the population there was 400 starving and cold Indians. One Indian (Nepanent/Tom Dublett) was released from Deer Island to negotiate for the release of a European captive May Rowlandson. In 1676 some 70 Indians were reported sold by the Massachusetts Bay Authority. About 110 were sold from Plymouth. They were declared as “legal” slaves that could be sold or purchased.
Notable among the exported slaves were Philip, son of the King Philip and his wife Wootonekanuske. A dispute waged about them and the Boston Clergy proposed their execution, but a majority did not want to hang a 9-year-old boy. They looked to scripture for an answer and in March 1667 decided to sell him into slavery. Hundreds had already been exported by then. That was considered to be merciful. Certificates legalizing their enslavement were issued and carried on board to make it “correct.”
As late as 1683, Missionary John Elliot wrote that “a great number” of “surprised” Indians were carried away including those exported as far as Tangier (Morocco) where many live and are born there and expressed a wish to return home. The Seaflower returns to the historical record in 1696 when it is among the first Rhode Island vessels to import African slaves to Newport selling four there, out of a cargo of 47 souls.
From the first documented case of taken slaves from New England populations in 1605 to one of the last in the early 1700s the land-grab, genocide and slavery of these populations gradually replaced a massive intensification of the African slave trade. Micmacs from Maine went into slave ships along with Abenakis from northern New Hampshire, Montauks from Long Island; and Pequots from Block Island and Algonkians, Ossippes, Winnepsaukee, Pequawket, and Pennacooks. A slave revolt in 1708 in Long Island resulted in seven whites being killed, but two black male slaves, one black woman and one Indian slave were executed for this act of resistance.
But after King Philip’s War from 1675-1676, wars against and with Indians continued. King William’s War of 1689-1697; Queen Anne’s War in 1701-1713; King George’s War 1740-1748; and in contemporary times, the Narragansett Smoke Shop Raid of 2003, and the 2010 King Philip’s War Game protest against Multi-Man Publishing. Descendants of the Wampanoag, Narragansett and Pequot argue the game evokes memories of genocide. Clark Whistler, author of Indians of the United States said “it is not inaccurate to say that, in New England, one long war began with the first English settlements and continued until 1770.” I’d like to add that Indian wars are the longest wars fought in this country and still continue today.