This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Betrayals, Murders, and Hangings.
This was the most extensive and most important of the Indian wars of the early European settlers in North America. It led to the practical extermination of the Native Americans in New England.
This selection is from History of the United States by Richard Hildreth published in 1853. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Richard Hildreth was a historian of early America. Later historians consider his work to be highly accurate.
Except in the destruction of the Pequots, the native tribes of New England had as yet undergone no very material diminution. The Pokanokets or Wampanoags, though somewhat curtailed in their limits, still occupied the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay. The Narragansetts still possessed the western shore. There were several scattered tribes in various parts of Connecticut; though, with the exception of some small reservations, they had already ceded all their lands. Uncas, the Mohegan chief, was now an old man. The Pawtucket or Pennacook confederacy continued to occupy the falls of the Merrimac and the heads of the Piscataqua. Their old sachem, Passaconaway, regarded the colonists with awe and veneration. In the interior of Massachusetts and along the Connecticut were several other less noted tribes. The Indians of Maine and the region eastward possessed their ancient haunts undisturbed; but their intercourse was principally with the French, to whom, since the late peace with France, Acadia had been again yielded up. The New England Indians were occasionally annoyed by war parties of Mohawks; but, by the intervention of Massachusetts, a peace had recently been concluded.
Efforts for the conversion and civilization of the Indians were still continued by Eliot and his coadjutors, supported by the funds of the English society. In Massachusetts there were fourteen feeble villages of these praying Indians, and a few more in Plymouth colony. The whole number in New England was about thirty-six hundred, but of these near one-half inhabited the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
A strict hand was held by Massachusetts over the Narragansetts and other subject tribes, contracting their limits by repeated cessions, not always entirely voluntary. The Wampanoags, within the jurisdiction of Plymouth, experienced similar treatment. By successive sales of parts of their territory, they were now shut up, as it were, in the necks or peninsulas formed by the northern and eastern branches of Narragansett Bay, the same territory now constituting the continental eastern portion of Rhode Island. Though always at peace with the colonists, the Wampanoags had not always escaped suspicion. The increase of the settlements around them, and the progressive curtailment of their limits, aroused their jealousy. They were galled, also, by the feudal superiority, similar to that of Massachusetts over her dependent tribes, claimed by Plymouth on the strength of certain alleged former submissions. None felt this assumption more keenly than Pometacom, head chief of the Wampanoags, better known among the colonists as King Philip of Mount Hope, nephew and successor of that Massasoit, who had welcomed the Pilgrims to Plymouth. Suspected of hostile designs, he had been compelled to deliver up his fire-arms and to enter into certain stipulations. These stipulations he was accused of not fulfilling; and nothing but the interposition of the Massachusetts magistrates, to whom Philip appealed, prevented Plymouth from making war upon him. He was sentenced instead to pay a heavy fine and to acknowledge the unconditional supremacy of that colony.
A praying Indian, who had been educated at Cambridge and employed as a teacher, upon some misdemeanor had fled to Philip, who took him into service as a sort of secretary. Being persuaded to return again to his former employment, this Indian accused Philip anew of being engaged in a secret hostile plot. In accordance with Indian ideas, the treacherous informer was waylaid and killed. Three of Philip’s men, suspected of having killed him, were arrested by the Plymouth authorities, and, in accordance with English ideas, were tried for murder by a jury half English, half Indians, convicted upon very slender evidence, and hanged. Philip retaliated by plundering the houses nearest Mount Hope. Presently he attacked Swanzey, and killed several of the inhabitants. Plymouth took measures for raising a military force. The neighboring colonies were sent to for assistance. Thus, by the impulse of suspicion on the one side and passion on the other, New England became suddenly engaged in a war very disastrous to the colonists and utterly ruinous to the native tribes. The lust of gain, in spite of all laws to prevent it, had partially furnished the Indians with fire-arms, and they were now far more formidable enemies than they had been in the days of the Pequots. Of this the colonists hardly seem to have thought. Now, as then, confident of their superiority, and comparing themselves to the Lord’s chosen people driving the heathen out of the land, they rushed eagerly into the contest, without a single effort at the preservation of peace. Indeed, their pretensions hardly admitted of it. Philip was denounced as a rebel in arms against his lawful superiors, with whom it would be folly and weakness to treat on any terms short of absolute submission.
A body of volunteers, horse and foot, raised in Massachusetts, marched under Major Savage, four days after the attack on Swanzey, to join the Plymouth forces. After one or two slight skirmishes, they penetrated to the Wampanoag villages at Mount Hope, but found them empty and deserted. Philip and his warriors, conscious of their inferiority, had abandoned their homes. If the Narragansetts, on the opposite side of the bay, did not openly join the Wampanoags, they would, at least, be likely to afford shelter to their women and children. The troops were therefore ordered into the Narragansett country, accompanied by commissioners to demand assurances of peaceful intentions, and a promise to deliver up all fugitive enemies of the colonists — pledges which the Narragansetts felt themselves constrained to give.
Arrived at Taunton on their return from the Narragansett country, news came that Philip and his warriors had been discovered by Church, of Plymouth colony, collected in a great swamp at Pocasset, now Tiverton, the southern district of the Wampanoag country, whence small parties sallied forth to burn and plunder the neighboring settlements. After a march of eighteen miles, having reached the designated spot, the soldiers found there a hundred wigwams lately built, but empty and deserted, the Indians having retired deep into the swamp. The colonists followed; but the ground was soft; the thicket was difficult to penetrate; the companies were soon thrown into disorder. Each man fired at every bush he saw shake, thinking an Indian might lay concealed behind it, and several were thus wounded by their own friends. When night came on, the assailants retired with the loss of sixteen men.
The swamp continued to be watched and guarded, but Philip broke through, not without some loss, and escaped into the country of the Nipmucks, in the interior of Massachusetts. That tribe had already commenced hostilities by attacking Mendon. They waylaid and killed Captain Hutchinson, a son of the famous Mrs. Hutchinson, and sixteen out of a party of twenty sent from Boston to Brookfield to parley with them. Attacking Brookfield itself, they burned it, except one fortified house. The inhabitants were saved by Major Willard, who, on information of their danger, came with a troop of horse from Lancaster, thirty miles through the woods, to their rescue. A body of troops presently arrived from the eastward, and were stationed for some time at Brookfield.
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