A Brief History
On August 12, 1676, John Alderman, known as a “Praying Indian” because he was a Native American converted to Christianity, shot and killed Chief Metacomet of the Wampanoag people, thus ending the conflict known as King Phillip’s War.
King Phillip’s War, known also by a bewildering array of other names, including Metacom’s War, The First Indian War, Metacomet’s War, Pometacomet’s Rebellion, and Metacom’s Rebellion, was a conflict that lasted from June 20, 1675 until the death of Metacomet in 1676, although some fighting continued in the Northern areas of British colonies until April of 1678. The warring parties were the Native Americans of what we call the New England area and the British colonists in the same area. The Wampanoag war chief, Metacomet, was also known by the English name “Phillip,” a name he had taken since his father, Massasoit, had been quite friendly with the settlers that came to Massachusetts (Plymouth Colony) on the Mayflower. Phillip/Metacom/Metacomet had become Chief in 1662 and continued the good relations with the Europeans for only a short time before a disagreement developed over the British colonist demands that the Native people turn over their firearms to the colonists. A tipping point was reached when the colonists hanged 3 Wampanoag men who had been accused of murder.
Native American raids against colonial settlements and individual farms ensued, and the Plymouth Colony called out the militia to combat the warring Native Americans. The Native Narragansett people were officially neutral in the fight, although some of their members did take part in raids against the colonists. As the conflict grew, various tribes aligned with the Wampanoags under Metacomet, amounting to about 3400 warriors. The Colonial Militia was joined by friendly Native tribes, including the Mohegans and Pequots, and numbered about 3500 fighting men.
King Phillip’s War was the first large Native vs. Colonist warfare and cost about 3000 Native warriors aligned with Metacomet their lives. About 1000 European Americans were also killed, and the economies of both the Plymouth Colony and the Rhode Island Colony were devastated. Many colonial towns were ruined and abandoned. Not only the first major Native American vs. European (and Indian allies) war, King Phillip’s War may well be the costliest to the colonials in terms of percentage of White Americans killed and towns displaced.
Sadly, as we have noted in other articles, the relationship between Native Americans and the Europeans that sought to settle the “New World” has been a troubled one throughout the history of the United States and the Colonial period that preceded the establishment of this great country, as well as the other areas of the New World, Canada, Central and South America, and the various islands in the Western Hemisphere originally populated by Native people. Even to this day, politicians debate the “correct” manner in which to treat our Native citizens, trying to balance between allowing for the continuation of traditions and culture without erasing the (kind of) pure gene pool and Native ways, against welcoming Native people into an integrated homogeneous society in which those of Native American ethnic heritage can profit from the riches and wonders of the modern world without being kept in a state of perpetual poverty. Even the way some European Americans have referred to the War as a “Rebellion” is almost laughable, as if the Native People that were here first were necessarily subservient to the colonists!
As always, we welcome your opinions and/or questions on the subject of the “proper” way the United States and other Western Hemisphere countries should treat their Native People.
Question for students (and subscribers): Should the US government continue its current policy toward Native People or what changes should be made in that policy? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Brooks, Lisa. Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War. Yale University Press, 2019.
Seelye, James, Jr and Shawn Shelby, Editors. Shaping North America [3 volumes]: From Exploration to the American Revolution. ABC-CLIO, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a map by Whitesachem Miroslav Starý of Southern New England during King Philip´s War (1675-1676), has been released by the copyright holder of this work into the public domain worldwide.