King Philip’s War

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Expedition Against The Narragansetts

Indians Attacking a Garrison House
Indians Attacking a Garrison House, from an Old Wood Engraving This is likely a depiction of the attack on the Haynes Garrison, Sudbury, April 21, 1676

On the 2d of November it was agreed, by the same body, that an additional force should be raised, and active measures be taken against the Narragansetts. The reasons alleged for attacking this tribe were, that the stipulation made by those sachems, who had treated with the colonies to deliver up all of Philip s party who should take refuge at Narragansett, had not been fulfilled; but that women, children, and wounded men had been succored and received by them! In addition to this, some of the tribe had ex pressed satisfaction upon hearing of the Indian successes at Hadley, and it was “credibly reported” that they had killed and taken away many cattle from the neighboring English. These, with a detention of a Mr. Smith and his family, for a short time, no other harm being done them, were all the ostensible grounds upon which a formidable army was sent to exterminate the Narragansetts with fire and sword!

No doubt their sympathies were with those of their own race, and, had they fully joined the conspiracy, the addition of so numerous a tribe to the enemy might have turned the scale, and resulted in the annihilation of the whites.

Josias Winslow, governor of Plymouth colony, was chosen commander-in-chief of the English force. Church, at the request of Winslow, joined the expedition, although he would not accept of a commission. A considerable body of Mohegans, subjects of Uncas, accompanied the detachment from Connecticut.

After destroying many deserted wigwams, and taking a considerable number of prisoners in desultory warfare, a guide was obtained to pilot the invaders to the chief fort of the Narragansetts. The encampment covered five or six acres of elevated ground, forming an island in the midst of an extensive swamp. In addition to the natural defenses of the place, the whole village was surrounded by a strong palisade, and the only means of approach was by crossing the marsh upon a huge fallen tree. The wigwams within, to the number of five or six hundred, were rendered, to a great extent, bullet-proof by piling up tubs of grain and other stores about the sides.

It was upon the 19th of December, early in the after noon, that the English forces reached this place of retreat. “With determined and desperate courage they rushed to the attack. File after file of soldiers, with their officers at their head, was swept from the narrow bridge by the fire of a party within, posted in a log hut, from which the approach was commanded. They continued to press on, and succeeded in driving the Indians from this covert into the main enclosure. A scene of terrible carnage ensued for several hours; but the assailants steadily gained ground, driving many of the enemy into the swamp, and covering the area within with dead bodies.

Church, who had made an excursion, with a small party, into the swamp, to attack the Indians in the rear, and who, after doing good service, was severely wounded in the thigh, seeing some setting fire to the wigwams, made strenuous efforts to prevent their destruction. The weather was intensely cold; night was coming on; many of the troops were destitute of provisions; a heavy snowstorm was brooding; and sixteen miles must be traversed by the army, encumbered by their wounded, before they could reach shelter. He represented all these circumstances to the general, pointing out the advantages of obtaining plentiful supplies of food, and a warm cover where the wounded could receive requisite attention. We will hope that some feelings of humanity towards the unfortunate women and children, with which the huts were crowded, formed a part of his motives for this advice.

The general inclined to Church s counsel, but other officers, fearing that the Indians would rally and attack them in force, should the army take up their quarters for the night, vehemently opposed him, and the work of destruction proceeded. Now was reenacted the terrible scene at the fort of the Pequots. Great numbers of old men, women, and children were burned alive in the blazing wigwams, or mercilessly slain in their attempts to escape. Hubbard, the reverend historian of the Indian wars, speaks of this “firing of at least five or six hundred of their smoky cells,” as follows: The Indians were about preparing their dinner when “our sudden and unexpected assault put them beside that work, making their cook-room too hot for them at that time, when they and their mitchin fried together; and probably some of them ate their suppers in a colder place that night: most of their provisions, as well as huts, being then consumed with fire, and those that were left alive forced to hide themselves in a cedar swamp, not far off, where they had nothing to de fend them from the cold but boughs of spruce and pine trees.” The whole town was reduced to ashes; and, leaving the enclosure a smoking ruin, every where strewn with burned and mangled corpses, the army commenced a retreat, worn out by cold, fatigue, and hunger. Many perished by the way, and many more must have died from starvation, but for the fortunate arrival at their rendezvous of a vessel from Boston with provisions.

Eighty of their number were killed, and one hundred and fifty wounded in the engagement. Besides an untold number of the helpless occupants of the wigwams who perished in the flames, it was supposed that not far from three hundred Indian warriors were slain outright, and seven hundred wounded, of whom many died from expo sure during the storm and cold of that terrible night.

Most of the survivors of the tribe fled to the Nipmucks, after some inconclusive negotiation for peace with the English. The old sachem Ninigret seems to have been inclined to make terms, but Canonicus, or Canonchet, a son of Miantonimo, and a brave and energetic chief, nourished the most unyielding hostility towards the destroyer of his people.

On the 10th of January, an Indian was found concealed in a barn, “but after he was brought to the head-quarters” (in the words of Hubbard) “he would own nothing but what was forced out of his mouth by the woolding of his head with a cord, wherefore he was presently judged to die, as a Wampanoag.”

One Tift, an English renegade, who had joined the Indians, married one of their women, and assisted them in their battles with the whites, was taken and put to death.

Winslow, in the latter part of January, pursued the Narragansetts into the Nipmuck Country, whither they had fled, committing divers depredations on the route, and killed about seventy of those whom he could come up with. The larger portion, however, succeeded in joining the forces of the Nipmucks, while the English were compelled to return to the settlement for want of provisions.

Philip On The Hudson

Philip is supposed to have fled about this time as far west as the Hudson river, where, it is said, “the Mohags (Mohawks) made a descent upon him, and killed many of his men, which moved him from thence.” Some authors, notwithstanding, speak of him as having been present at various places in Massachusetts, attacked by Indians during the latter part of the winter.

About the 10th of February, (old style,) Lancaster was destroyed by a large force of the enemy, consisting of Nipmucks, Nashawas, and Narragansetts, under the noted Sag amore Sam. The house of Mr. Rowlandson, the minister, which was garrisoned, and contained fifty-five persons, was set on fire, and the inmates were killed or made captives. More than twenty women and children fell into the hands of the assailants. They were, most of them, well treated during their captivity, the Indians “offering no wrong to any of their persons save what they could not help, being in many wants themselves.” Mrs. Rowlandson, wife of the minister, was among the prisoners, and her account of Indian manners and peculiarities, witnessed during the three months of her captivity, are exceedingly interesting.

Church says that Philip s next “kenneling place” was at the falls on the Connecticut, and he probably gave directions concerning many of the devastations committed in February and March, if not personally present at them.

Destruction Of Lancaster, Medfield, Seekonk, Groton, Warwick, Marlborough, Etc.

On the 21st of February, the town of Medfield, only about twenty miles from Boston, was mostly destroyed. The Indians had concealed themselves, during the previous night, in every quarter of the place, and, at early dawn, fired about fifty buildings simultaneously. One hundred and sixty soldiers were quartered in the town, but so sudden and well concerted was the attack, that it was impossible to save the buildings which had been set on fire. Nearly forty of the inhabitants were killed or wounded.

Being compelled, at last, to retreat across Charles river, the Indians burned the bridge behind them, and left a paper, written by some of their number who had received education from the English, to the following effect: “Know, by this paper, that the Indians whom thou hast provoked to wrath and anger, will war this 21 years if you will. There are many Indians yet. “We come 300 at this time. You must consider the Indians lose nothing but their life: you must lose your fair houses and cattle.”

One account states that Philip himself was seen at this action, ” riding upon a black horse, leaping over fences, and exulting in the havoc he was making.”

Through the months of February and March, the savages met with signal success. Seekonk, Groton, and Warwick were destroyed; Northampton was assaulted; one house was burned in the very town of Plymouth, and a number of buildings at Weymouth, only eleven miles from Boston, shared a similar fate. Thirty houses were burned at Providence. Captain Pierce, of Scituate, who had been sent with a party of fifty whites and a number of friendly Indians on an excursion against the enemy, was slain, with the entire company of English. Only a few of the Indian allies escaped.

On the same day, Marlborough was destroyed, with the exception of the houses which had been garrisoned. This attack was probably made by Philip himself, with the Nip-muck and Narragansett Indians. Continuing their march, they did much damage at Sudbury, and ” met and swallowed up valiant Captain Wadsworth and his company,” consisting of fifty men, with whom he was hastening to the relief of the town.

One of the first severe reverses experienced by Philip, was the capture and execution of the younger Canonicus or Canonchet, the noblest and most influential of the Narragansett sachems. This was accomplished by a party led by Captain Dennison, from Connecticut, consisting of English, Nehantic Indians, subject to Ninigret, and Mohegans, under the command of Owenoco, son of Uncas. Canonchet, with a small band of warriors, came to Narragansett early in April, for the purpose of procuring seed-corn for his people in the western settlements. Dennison, having heard from a captive squaw, of the sachem s proximity, pursued and took him.

The proud chief, upon his capture, being addressed by a young man of the party, according to Hubbard, “looking, with a little neglect upon his youthful face, replied in broken English: you much child: no understand matters of war; let your brother or your chief come: acting herein as if, by a Pythagorean metempsychosis, some old Roman ghost had possessed the body of this western Pagan.” He was carried to Stonington, and there shot: his head was sent to Hartford as a trophy. He approved his sentence, saying that “he should die before his heart was soft, and before he had spoken any thing unworthy of himself.” He had been Philip s faithful ally to the last, and ever refused to “deliver up a Wampanoag, or the paring of a Wampanoag s nail,” to the English. Dennison and his men afterwards made further spoil of the enemy, killing and capturing a large number of the Narragansetts.

During the months of April and May, twenty or thirty buildings were burned in Plymouth; Taunton and Scituate were attacked, and Bridgewater sustained no small injury from an assault by three hundred Indians, under the sachem Tisguogen.

Great numbers of hostile Indians having congregated at the falls of the Connecticut, during the month of May, for the purpose of fishing, a strong force of soldiers and inhabitants of the towns on the river, under the command of Captains Holyoke and Turner, made a descent upon them. The Indians were encamped in careless security, and, the attack being made in the night, some two hundred were killed, or drowned in attempting to escape across the river. In the midst of this success it was reported to the English, by an Indian, that Philip in person, with an immense force, was coming upon them. Commencing a retreat, upon this news, the Indians recovered from their panic, and pursuing the party from which they had so recently fled in con fusion, killed from thirty to forty of their number.

On the 30th of May, six hundred Indians attacked Hatfield, and burned many buildings, but the place was bravely defended, and the enemy was driven off. A still larger number, about a fortnight later, assaulted Hadley, but, by the assistance of troops from Connecticut, the in habitants successfully repelled them.

Philip’s Return to Pokanoket

Philip’s power was now upon the decline: his forces were discontented, and in separate bodies wandered about the country, undergoing much hardship and privation. Losing influence with the river Indians, and unable to concentrate the various tribes, with effect, he returned to his old quarters in the vicinity of Narragansett bay, accompanied by the trusty warriors who still adhered to him.

Major Talcott’s Successes

Major Talcott, from Connecticut, with a body of mounted men, accompanied by many Mohegans and Pequots, signalized himself during the month of June, by several incursions into Narragansett. On a single occasion, he killed a great number of the enemy, and took from one to two hundred prisoners. To the everlasting disgrace of the whites of this company, they allowed their Mohegan allies, upon one occasion, to torture to death a young warrior who was made prisoner. “The English,” says Hubbard, “at this time were not unwilling to gratify their humor, lest, by a denial, they might disoblige their Indian friends partly, also, that they might have an ocular demonstration of the savage, barbarous cruelty of the heathen.” This young warrior had killed, as he averred, many Englishmen, and now, the narrative proceeds, “this monster is fallen into the hands of those that will repay him seven-fold.”

The Mohegans cut round the joints of his fingers and toes successively, and then “broke them off, as was formerly the custom to do with a slaughtered beast.” The victim bore all unflinchingly; replying to their taunts, with asseverations that he “liked the war well, and found it as sweet as the Englishmen do their sugar.” They compelled him to dance and sing in this condition, till he had ” wearied himself and them,” and then broke his legs. Sinking, in silence, on the ground, he sat till they finished his miseries by a blow. Meanwhile, the English stood by, and, although the sight brought tears into the eyes of some of them, none offered to interfere.

Famine, disease, and exposure had, by this time, begun to do their work upon the miserable outcasts who had so long kept New England in terror.

A large body fled westward, pursued by troops from Connecticut, and, after sustaining considerable loss, succeeded in joining the Mohicans of the Hudson, with whom they united, and formed thereafter a portion of that tribe.

The colonial authorities now offered terms of peace to the enemy, promising good treatment to all who should surrender and deliver up their arms, with the exception of notorious offenders. Within a few weeks from this proclamation, five or six hundred of the Indians came in and submitted to the English. Some of their chiefs, and noted warriors, and those who had been chiefly concerned in the outrages upon the settlements, were put to death; the others had lands assigned them; were disarmed, and kept under the surveillance of overseers.


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MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 18 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/king-philips-war.htm - Last updated on Feb 18th, 2013


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