King Philip's War
Digital History ID 77
For nearly half a century following the Pequot War, New England was free of major Indian wars. During this period, the region's indigenous people declined rapidly in numbers and suffered severe losses of land and cultural independence. During the first three-quarters of the seventeenth century, New England's indigenous population fell from 140,000 to 10,000, while the English population grew to 50,000. Meanwhile, the New England Puritans launched a concerted campaign to convert the Indians to Protestantism. John Eliot, New England's leading missionary, convinced about 2000 to live in "praying towns," where they were expected to adopt white customs. New England Indians were also forced to accept the legal authority of colonial courts.
Faced with death, disease, and cultural disintegration, many of New England's native peoples decided to strike back. In 1675, the chief of the Pokanokets, Metacomet (whom the English called King Philip), forged a military alliance including about two-thirds of the region's Indians. In 1675, he led an attack on Swansea, Massachusetts. Over the next year, both sides raided villages and killed hundreds of victims. Twelve out of ninety New England towns were destroyed.
The last major Indian war in New England, King Philip's War was the most destructive conflict, relative to the size of the population, in American history. Five percent of New England's population was killed--a higher proportion than Germany, Britain, or the United States lost during World War II. Indian casualties were far higher; perhaps 40 percent of New England's Indian population was killed or fled the region. When the war was over, the power of New England's Indians was broken. The region's remaining Indians would live in small, scattered communities, serving as the colonists' servants, slaves, and tenants.
In 1637, England dispatched Edward Randolph (1632-1703) to determine the conflict's causes and assess the damage. As Randolph notes, the government of Puritan Massachusetts viewed the Indian attacks as punishment for their own sins. This idea of divine punishment derives from the Old Testament, which continually interprets attacks on the ancient Israelites as punishment for sin. This provided a model for the Puritans and their descendants down to Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, which pictured the Civil War as God's punishment on the American people for the sin of slaveholding.
Various are the reports and conjectures of the causes of the present Indian warre. Some impute it to an imprudent zeal in the magistrates of Boston to christianize those heathen before they were civilized and enjoining them the strict observation of their laws, which, to a people so rude and licentious, hath proved even intolerable, and that the more, for that while the magistrates, for their profit, put the laws severely in execution against the Indians, the people, on the other side, for lucre and gain, entice and provoke the Indians to the breach thereof, especially to drunkenness, to which those people are so generally addicted that they will strip themselves to their skin to have their fill of rum and brandy....
Some believe there have been vagrant and jesuitical priests, who have made it their business, for some years past, to go from Sachem to Sachem, to exasperate the Indians against the English and to bring them into a confederacy, and that they were promised supplies from France and other parts to extirpate the English nation out of the continent of America. Others impute the cause to some injuries offered to the Sachem Philip; for he being possessed of a tract of land called Mount Hope...some English had a mind to dispossess him thereof, who never wanting one pretence or other to attain their end, complained of injuries done by Philip and his Indians to their stock and cattle, whereupon Philip was often summoned before the magistrate, sometimes imprisoned, and never released but upon parting with a considerable part of his land.
But the government of the Massachusetts...do declare these are the great evils for which God hath given the heathen commission to rise against them.... For men wearing long hair and perewigs made of womens hair; for women...cutting, curling and laying out the hair....For profaneness in the people not frequenting their meetings....
With many such reasons...the English have contributed much to their misfortunes, for they first taught the Indians the use of arms, and admitted them to be present at all their musters and trainings, and shewed them how to handle, mend and fix their muskets, and have been furnished with all sorts of arms by permission of the government....
The loss to the English in the several colonies, in their habitations and stock, is reckoned to amount to 150,000 l. [pounds sterling] there having been about 1200 houses burned, 8000 head of cattle, great and small, killed, and many thousand bushels of wheat, pease and other grain burned...and upward of 3000 Indians men women and children destroyed.
Albert B. Hart, ed., American History Told by Contemporaries (New York, 1897), Vol. 1, 458-60
Source: Albert B. Hart, ed., American History Told by Contemporaries (New York: Macmillan 1897), Vol. I, pp. 458-60.
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