King Philip's War, Legacy of
KING PHILIP'S WAR, LEGACY OF
King Philip's War cataclysmically ended a generation of peaceful interdependence among New England's various groups of English colonists and American Indians. After the Pequot War, the New England colonies and American Indian tribes had coexisted in a delicate balance of power with their communities linked economically and politically. The English population grew rapidly, however, to the point that colonists outnumbered Indians three to one. The resulting pressures on American Indian land, combined with divisions among the Indians over the spread of Christianity, created fissures in the biracial society.
What began with a minor skirmish in June 1675 escalated into a war that involved all of New England and was far more harsh than any American Indian-English conflict preceding it. Indians fought on both sides of the conflict, and though the English colonies did not fight against one another, their unity was fragile. The English had at least several hundred casualties and had to abandon many of their western settlements. American Indians fared far worse, with their populations shrinking by roughly 60 percent. Many of those Indians who did not die of battle wounds or disease either fled New England or found themselves transported to the Caribbean as slaves by the English. The war devastated the Indian population to the point that New England had only one American Indian for every ten colonists at conflict's end.
Though American Indians did not vanish entirely from the region, their demographic collapse resulted in its political, cultural, and social reorganization. Tribes lost most of their power, creating a political vacuum that spurred bickering among factions of English in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Rhode Island. The colonists argued over topics ranging from colonial boundaries to blame for the bloody conflict from which they had just emerged. This factionalism eventually drew the attention of England's imperial authorities who, until this point, had largely ignored the activities of New Englanders. In 1686, Royal officials finally created the Dominion of New England, which put the New England colonies under the rule of New York's Governor Edmund Andros. Ironically, even though New England's colonies had prevailed on the battlefield, King Philip's War led to the loss of much of their political autonomy.
witches and satan
The New England colonists also faced spiritual challenges that can be traced directly to King Philip's War and sub-sequent frontier violence in Maine. The New England colonists were devout Puritans who saw themselves as God's chosen people. In turn, they usually interpreted their wars with Indians as a sign of God's displeasure. Many English refugees from these Indian wars sought safety in towns like Salem and Boston. Their fear of both American Indians and the Devil turned into hysteria during the infamous Salem witchcraft trials of 1692.
Pivotal individuals in the trials such as George Burroughs and Abigail Hobbs had been terrorized by wars with the Indians. Though they did not equate American Indians with witches, they and their neighbors did come to associate the visible assaults of Indians with the invisible attacks of the Devil. In their confessions, accused witches would describe the devil as resembling an American Indian. Their fear of Indians, having grown exponentially since the outbreak of King Philip's War, had heightened their fear of witches, which eventually led to the execution of twenty individuals.
That American Indians and the Devil had become intimately entwined in the minds of many colonists indicates just how much King Philip's War had reinforced racial identity and the divide between English colonists and native peoples. This new mentality had a lasting impact on future colonists and even the United States. The New England colonists wrote far more about King Philip's War than did other English colonists about their conflicts with Indians. They waged a war with their pens that justified their actions and cast all American Indians as the enemy. All of the ink these colonists spilled created a lasting, however skewed, memory of the war that shaped American culture and subsequent American Indian-white relations.
literature and culture
Shortly after the war, for example, Mary Rowlandson wrote about her life as an Indian captive in The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682). It became America's first best seller and the most widely read captivity narrative ever published, helping to establish many of the genre's key elements. It offered a gripping tale of Rowlandson's capture during an American Indian attack on the town of Lancaster and how she endured months of captivity, never losing faith in God and resolutely clinging to the superiority of English ways. The most enduring legacies of the work were the reinforcement of the Anglo-American belief of American Indians as savages and masking the lack of attention paid to American Indian captivity experiences.
Rowlandson's work was only the first of many highly popular depictions of King Philip's War. In the 1830s writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Edwin Forrest, and William Apess, a Pequot American Indian, drew on the memory of King Philip's War in ways that made readers and theater viewers think about contemporary American Indian policy. They presented fictional and romanticized accounts of Indian resistance to English expansion. They presented conflict between English and American Indians as inevitable, and, in many cases, provided a rationale for the Indian removals under President Andrew Jackson.
Drake, James D. King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675–1676. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity. New York: Knopf, 1998.
Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. New York: Knopf, 2002.
Salisbury, Neal, ed. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson. Boston, MA: Bedford Books, 1997.
James D. Drake