America's Most Devastating Conflict

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America's Most Devastating Conflict

King Philip’s War (1675-76) is an event that has been largely ignored by the American public and popular historians. However, the almost two-year conflict between the colonists and the Native Americans in New England stands as perhaps the most devastating war in this country’s history. One in ten soldiers on both sides were wounded or killed. At its height, hostilities threatened to push the recently arrived English colonists back to the coast. And, it took years for towns and urban centers to recover from the carnage and property damage.

The war is named for King Philip, the son of Massasoit and chief of the Wampanoag nation. In his language, his name was Metacom, Metacomet, or Pometacom. In 1662, the court at Plymouth Colony arrogantly summoned the Wampanoag leader Wamsutta to Plymouth. Major Josiah Winslow (later Colonel) and a small force took Wamsutta, Philip’s brother, at gunpoint. Soon after questioning, Wamsutta sickened and died and his death infuriated the Wampanoag nation.

Upon the death of his brother, whom the Indians suspected the English of murdering, Philip became sachem and maintained a shaky peace with the colonists for a number of years. Friendship continued to erode over the steady succession of land sales forced on the Indians by their growing dependence on English goods, and Plymouth’s continued unyielding policy toward Native leaders, it is reported by the Connecticut Society of Colonial Wars (www.colonialwarsct.org) and other sources.

Suspicions of the Indians remained, and in 1671, the colonists questioned Philip, fined him and demanded that the Wampanoag surrender their arms, which they did.

War Flames Are Ignited

In January 1675, the Indian John Sassamon died at Assawampsett Pond, about 15 miles north of present-day New Bedford. Sassamon was literate and a Christian convert. He may have been acting as an informer to the English and was murdered, probably at Philip’s instigation. Increase Mather, writing after the war, suggested he was killed “out of hatred for him for his Religion, for he was Christianized, and baptiz’d, and was a Preacher amongst the Indians...and was wont to curb those Indians that knew not God on the account of their debauchereyes” (1)

Events moved quickly, and on June 8 Sassamon's alleged murderers were tried and executed at Plymouth. Three days later, ...

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...in the Cumberland Massacre. His career was in corporate communications before returning to creative writing. He currently is working on an anthology of short stories that are stylistically reminiscent of O. Henry and a novel set in Taiwan during the Vietnam war. He lives in Connecticut and can be reached at w.giersbach@att.net.

References

1. Increase Mather, Brief History, 49-50, b. 1639-d. 1723, Mather was pastor of North Church in Boston and father of Cotton Mather.

2. Benjamin Thompson, New-England’s Crisis, p. 220

3. Jill Lepore, The Name of War, p. 85, First Vintage Books, 1999.

4 George Ingersoll to Leif Augur, Sept. 10, 1675.

5 Narratives of the Indian Wars 1675-1699, edited by Charles H. Lincoln, Ph.D: A World Wide Web Site Containing Information About the Biology, History, and Geology of New England's Largest River (http://www.bio.umass.edu/biology/conn.river/), University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

6 The battle in which Captain Michael Pierce lost his life is detailed in Drakes Indian Chronicles (pp. 220-222) (http://www.bio.umass.edu/biology/conn.river/massacre.html)

7 http://www.pilgrimhall.org/philipwar.htm, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA.

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