The winter was unfavorable to the Indians; the leafless woods no longer concealed their lurking attacks.
Continuing King Philip’s War,
our selection 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. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in King Philip’s War.
An attempt had lately been made to revive the union of the New England colonies. At a meeting of commissioners, those from Plymouth presented a narrative of the origin and progress of the present hostilities. Upon the strength of this narrative the war was pronounced “just and necessary,” and a resolution was passed to carry it on at the joint expense, and to raise for that purpose a thousand men, one-half to be mounted dragoons. If the Narragansetts were not crushed during the winter, it was feared they might break out openly hostile in the spring; and at a subsequent meeting a thousand men were ordered to be levied to cooperate in an expedition specially against them.
The winter was unfavorable to the Indians; the leafless woods no longer concealed their lurking attacks. The frozen surface of the swamps made the Indian fastnesses accessible to the colonists. The forces destined against the Narragansetts — six companies from Massachusetts, under Major Appleton; two from Plymouth, under Major Bradford; and five from Connecticut, under Major Treat — were placed under the command of Josiah Winslow, Governor of Plymouth since Prince’s death — son of that Edward Winslow so conspicuous in the earlier history of the colony. The Massachusetts and Plymouth forces marched to Petasquamscot, on the west shore of Narragansett Bay, where they made some forty prisoners.
Being joined by the troops from Connecticut, and guided by an Indian deserter, after a march of fifteen miles through a deep snow they approached a swamp in what is now the town of South Kingston, one of the ancient strongholds of the Narragansetts. Driving the Indian scouts before them, and penetrating the swamp, the colonial soldiers soon came in sight of the Indian fort, built on a rising ground in the morass, a sort of island of two or three acres, fortified by a palisade and surrounded by a close hedge a rod thick. There was but one entrance, quite narrow, defended by a tree thrown across it, with a block-house of logs in front and other on the flank.
It was the “Lord’s day,” but that did not hinder the attack. As the captains advanced at the heads of their companies the Indians opened a galling fire, under which many fell. But the assailants pressed on and forced the entrance. A desperate struggle ensued. The colonists were once driven back, but they rallied and returned to the charge, and, after a two-hours’ fight, became masters of the fort. Fire was put to the wigwams, near six hundred in number, and all the horrors of the Pequot massacre were renewed. The corn and other winter stores of the Indians were consumed, and not a few of the old men, women, and children perished in the flames. In this bloody contest, long remembered as the “Swamp Fight,” the colonial loss was terribly severe. Six captains, with two hundred thirty men, were killed or wounded; and at night, in the midst of a snow-storm, with a fifteen-miles’ march before them, the colonial soldiers abandoned the fort, of which the Indians resumed possession. But their wigwams were burned; their provisions destroyed; they had no supplies for the winter; their loss was irreparable. Of those who survived the fight many perished of hunger.
Even as a question of policy this attack on the Narragansetts was more than doubtful. The starving and infuriated warriors, scattered through the woods, revenged themselves by attacks on the frontier settlements. Lancaster was burned, and forty of the inhabitants killed or taken; among the rest, Mrs. Rolandson, wife of the minister, the narrative of whose captivity is still preserved. Groton, Chelmsford, and other towns in that vicinity were repeatedly attacked. Medfield, twenty miles from Boston, was furiously assaulted, and, though defended by three hundred men, half the houses were burned. Weymouth, within eighteen miles of Boston, was attacked a few days after. These were the nearest approaches which the Indians made to that capital.
For a time the neighborhood of the Narragansett country was abandoned. The Rhode Island towns, though they had no part in undertaking the war, yet suffered the consequences of it. Warwick was burned and Providence was partially destroyed. Most of the inhabitants sought refuge in the islands; but the aged Roger Williams accepted a commission as captain for the defense of the town he had founded. Walter Clarke was presently chosen governor in Coddington’s place, the times not suiting a Quaker chief magistrate.
The whole colony of Plymouth was overrun. Houses were burned in almost every town, but the inhabitants, for the most part, saved themselves in their garrisons, a shelter with which all the towns now found it necessary to be provided. Captain Pierce, with fifty men and some friendly Indians, while endeavoring to cover the Plymouth towns, fell into an ambush and was cut off. That same day, Marlborough was set on fire; two days after, Rehoboth was burned. The Indians seemed to be everywhere. Captain Wadsworth, marching to the relief of Sudbury, fell into an ambush and perished with fifty men. The alarm and terror of the colonists reached again a great height. But affairs were about to take a turn. The resources of the Indians were exhausted; they were now making their last efforts.
A body of Connecticut volunteers, under Captain Denison, and of Mohegan and other friendly Indians, Pequots and Niantics, swept the entire country of the Narragansetts, who suffered, as spring advanced, the last extremities of famine. Canochet, the chief sachem, said to have been a son of Miantonomoh, but probably his nephew, had ventured to his old haunts to procure seed corn with which to plant the rich intervals on the Connecticut, abandoned by the colonists. Taken prisoner, he conducted himself with all that haughty firmness esteemed by the Indians as the height of magnanimity. Being offered his life on condition of bringing about a peace he scorned the proposal. His tribe would perish to the last man rather than become servants to the English. When ordered to prepare for death he replied: “I like it well; I shall die before my heart is soft or I shall have spoken anything unworthy of myself.” Two Indians were appointed to shoot him, and his head was cut off and sent to Hartford.
The colonists had suffered severely. Men, women, and children had perished by the bullets of the Indians or fled naked through the wintry woods by the light of their blazing houses, leaving their goods and cattle a spoil to the assailants. Several settlements had been destroyed and many more had been abandoned; but the oldest and wealthiest remained untouched. The Indians, on the other hand, had neither provisions nor ammunition. While attempting to plant corn and catch fish at Montague Falls, on the Connecticut River, they were attacked with great slaughter by the garrison of the lower towns, led by Captain Turner, a Boston Baptist, and at first refused a commission on that account, but, as danger increased, pressed to accept it.
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