The first Pilgrims came to Massachusetts Bay Colony in Plymouth in 1620. They lost nearly half of their number to sickness and starvation in the first winter. The Pokanoket people (an indigenous people of the Wampanoag Tribe) felt sympathy for the Pilgrims’ and helped them, showing them how to and what to plant in the New World. Although they were the native people mythicized in the first Thanksgiving feast, they, in fact, broke no bread with the English settlers.
Fifty-five years later, they’d go to war with the English and attack over half the towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Pokanoket would get progressively more upset with the influx of English settlers in the ensuing years, that they’d go to war with them.
At the cessation of hostilities, the Pokanoket people would refuse to sign the Treat of Casco in 1678. The first shots were fired in King Phillip’s War on this day in June 1675.
The Wampanoag chief, Metacomet had adopted an English name, Phillip because his father had been on good relations with the English since the Mayflower days. But tensions had been steadily rising as the native Americans were being steadily pushed out of their ancestral lands.
But things began to unravel quickly. Metacomet had succeeded his older brother Wamsutta, also known as Alexander by the English. Wamsutta had sold part of Wampanoag land in what is now Rhode Island to Roger Williams. The colonists in Plymouth were outraged and passed a law forbidding any trading with the Wampanoag and briefly arrested Wamsutta. However, the Wampanoag lived outside of the English colony and therefore, they exerted no rights over them.
In 1671, the latest treaty with the English, signed at Taunton, forced the Metacomet and the Wampanoag to give up their guns.
Metacomet/Phillip referred to as King Phillip by the English, as they considered the Native American chiefs as kings, couldn’t restrain his people much longer and began to conspire with Algonquin tribes to the west against the English at Plymouth.
The English dragged Metacomet before a Plymouth tribunal and although having no proof, threatened the Wampanoag with the loss of their lands and guns if they found any further evidence of conspiring against them. The Wampanoag interpreter John Sassamon was a convert to Christianity. He was an early graduate of Harvard and it was he who told the English governor of the plot with the Algonquin.
Not long after, Sassamon was found dead next to a nearby pond. When English officials in Plymouth charged and hanged three Wampanoag for the murder of Sassamon on June 6, it ignited the powder keg.
The war started on June 20, 1675, when members of the Pokanoket attacked several homesteads in the small Plymouth colony settlement of Swansea. Surrounding the small town, five days later, they attacked in force and destroyed it.
The English mobilized the militia from Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies and burned the Wampanoag village of Mount Hope (present day Bristol, Rhode Island). Other native American tribes soon joined the fray, the Podunk and Nipmuc tribes joined Metacomet and the Wampanoags.
The English militia had about 16,000 eligible men available during this time. Generally, they were poorly trained. Leaders were elected from the rolls of the troops. Mostly they fared poorly against the Indians except in cases where they were fortified with members of the friendly Indian tribes acting as advisors and scouts in fighting a war they were ill-equipped and trained for.
The Indians began a series of attacks across Massachusetts. During the bloody summer of 1675, they attacked Middleborough and Dartmouth, Mendon, Brookfield, and Lancaster. In early September, they attacked the towns of Deerfield, Hadley, and Northfield.
During a two-day siege of Brookfield, Indians ambushed a company of militia killed eight soldiers before being driven off with the arrival of fresh troops. The English sent an 80-man company of militia along with 17 teamsters to recover crops along the Connecticut for the winter.
The Nipmuc chief Muttawmp ambushed the wagon train, killing 40 of the militia and 17 teamsters before laying siege to Springfield. Most of the town, the largest in the Connecticut River colony, was burned to the ground.
During the winter of 1675-76, about 1000 militia laid waste to a series of Narragansett Indian villages in the area of South Kingston, Rhode Island killing 600 of the Native Americans. The militia lost 70 of their own with 150 wounded.
The Indians however regrouped and attacked Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Groton, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Medford, Portland, Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Suffield, Simsbury, Sudbury, Warwick, Weymouth, and Wrentham, including modern-day Norfolk and Plainville.
Lancaster was the scene of a slaughter of 30 colonists during a siege there. With the burning of the Providence and Warwick settlements, the colonists combined their citizens into the Newport and Portsmouth.
The Mohawk, from present day New York, traditional enemies of the Wampanoag began attacking their villages in the western part of Massachusetts. Many of Metacomet’s native American allies began to desert him and 400 surrendered to the English in July 1676.
Before the war ended, the colonists in New England lost nearly 8 percent of the adult male population which was a tremendous loss of life. Losses for the Indians were far worse. Over 2000 men were killed, with another 3000 dying of sickness, disease, and starvation with 1000 either forcibly moved or sold into slavery.
The war in New England reduced the native American population in the area by 40 to 80 percent. In the north, the war would drag on for decades as the northern tribes became allied with the French in Canada and become hostile to the English.
Six more wars would be fought with the Indian tribes in the next 75 years in the region. The colonists, until this time ignored by the Crown in London, began to develop more interest as the English government sought to capitalize monetarily on the plucky colonists who built and defended a new area on their own. The English established the Anglican Church in Boston in 1686 and ended the Puritan monopoly on religion in the new world. The exploitation would continue for another 90 years until the colonists rejected the English rule for good in 1776.
Illustration courtesy of Brittanica