King Philip's War

views updated May 08 2018


KING PHILIP'S WAR (1675–1676). White New Englanders who coveted farmland but needed help surviving in harsh conditions built uneasy partnerships with neighboring American Indians during the seventeenth century. By 1660, however, most Anglo-American communities had achieved economic and demographic stability, and white New Englanders who valued agriculture and fishing over the fur trade increasingly downplayed their economic partnership with Indians and justified seizures of Indian land. Conversely, many Indians suspected English motives, resisted English laws, and resented Puritan missionary efforts. When Massasoit died (1662), new Indian leaders rejected alliances with Anglo-Americans, who in turn accused the Indians of conspiring against them.

According to white settlers, the chief conspirator was Massasoit's son, Metacomet, or Philip, sachem (chief) of the Wampanoags. Philip renewed the peace covenant with Plymouth Colony, but repeated reports of plots with the Narragansets and the French heightened tensions with Plymouth leaders. Philip avowed peaceful intentions and agreed to surrender firearms. A tentative peace followed, but when whites executed three Wampanoags for murdering a Christian Indian informer, warriors attacked and plundered nearby farms. On 18 June 1675, Wampanoag marauders provoked Swansea settlers to begin hostilities. The war that ensued actually was a series of Indian raids with retaliatory expeditions by the English.

The English counterattack was ill planned and indecisive and antagonized other tribes. Jealous colonial commanders and troops cooperated badly, soldiers were poorly equipped and ignorant of Indian warfare, and troops lacked scouts to track the enemy and refused at first to employ friendly Indians. When Plymouth and Massachusetts forces drove Philip from Mount Hope into Pocasset swamps, he easily slipped into central Massachusetts. Then, colonial forces raided Narraganset territory and compelled a few lingerers to sign a treaty of neutrality, but Narraganset warriors had already joined in Philip's War. When the English sold captives into West Indian slavery and slaughtered Christian Indians, they drove many former allies into opposition—although these Indians never united under one leader.

Before the end of 1675, disaster overtook New England on all sides. Mendon, Brookfield, Deerfield, North-field, and other Massachsuetts towns were devastated, abandoned, or both. Indians had ambushed and destroyed two colonial forces, and similar raids devastated New Hampshire and Maine settlements. During the winter of 1675–1676, the Indians planned to attack the eastern settlements to concentrate English forces there while they planted crops in the Connecticut Valley. In February they attacked Lancaster—where Mary Rowlandson was captured—and threatened Plymouth, Providence, and towns near Boston.

Meanwhile, the colonies reorganized their forces, destroyed Narraganset food supplies, and captured and executed Narraganset warrior Canonchet in April. The Mohawks threatened to attack the Connecticut Valley Indians from the west, thereby helping the English. In May an English force of 180 men surprised and massacred the Indians at Deerfield and broke their resistance in the valley. Soon, the tide turned in the west. English scouts harried Philip and his followers in swamps near Taunton and Bridgewater. In August they captured Philip's wife and son, surrounded his camp, and shot and killed Philip as he tried to escape. Philip's death marked the end of the war, although hostilities continued in New Hampshire and Maine, where the Abenakis and others, with French support, attacked English settlements.

The war was disastrous for both the English and the Indians. It wreaked havoc on the New England economy. Sixteen English towns in Massachusetts and four in Rhode Island were destroyed. No English colonist was left in Kennebec County (Maine), and the Indian population of southern New England was decimated. Although Indians no longer posed a threat to colonists in southern New England, tension between Indians and white settlers persisted to the northeast and northwest, where these conflicts merged with political and territorial clashes between England and France.


Carroll, Peter N. Puritanism and the Wilderness: The Intellectual Significance of the New England Frontier, 1629–1700. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000.

Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity. New York: Knopf, 1998.

Slotkin, Richard. Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1800. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1973; New York: Harper-Perennial, 1996.


Raymond P.Stearns

See alsoFrontier Defense ; Indian Policy, Colonial ; Warfare, Indian .

King Philip's War

views updated May 18 2018

King Philip's War (1675–77).The first large‐scale military action in the American colonies, King Philip's War pitted bands from various tribes against the New England colonists and their Indian allies. The causes of the war were rooted in the frictions between an expanding, assertive culture and a threatened, increasingly dependent one. Native Americans, whose currency (wampum) was losing value, had to sell land to acquire trade goods. Tribal leaders also resented the imposition of European authority and the decline of their own power. Indians had other grievances as well.

The war began in Plymouth Colony in 1675, then spread throughout New England. Although colonists blamed “King Philip,” principal sachem of the Wampanoags, for starting hostilities, his warriors probably acted independently, not as part of an intertribal conspiracy. The colonists' clumsy reaction to a local uprising soon produced a major rebellion. Nipmucks, Pocumtucks, Abena kis, and other resisting groups either cooperated with Philip's few hundred Wampanoags or conducted their own operations. A preemptive campaign by Josiah Winslow's 1,000‐man army against the menacing but officially neutral Narragansetts resulted in the fiery destruction of the tribe's fort and the killing of hundreds of men, women, and children. But colonists' victories were rare in the first half of a war that saw more than a dozen towns burned and entire companies ambushed by Indian marksmen firing flintlock muskets. Had warriors not been reluctant to assault garrison houses, colonial losses would have been even higher.

Distrust of Indian auxiliaries handicapped militia units for crucial months. Europeans who trained to fire volleys on open battlefields were unprepared for fights with warriors who aimed at individuals from behind trees and used stealth, surprise, and mobility. Eventually, resourceful officers put Native Americans to work as scouts, fighters, and informants. Adopting Indian raid and ambush techniques, companies hunted down their starving enemies. Philip fell in 1676, shot by an Indian in Benjamin Church's mixed force. The Mohawks in New York also contributed to the defeat of the insurgents by preventing outside assistance or escape.

Resistance finally ended in 1677. Thousands had perished, including approximately 500 colonial soldiers. It took years to rebuild frontier towns. The war caused higher taxes and damaged the economy, particularly the fur trade. All the southern New England tribes lost cultural autonomy and political and military influence. Nevertheless, the tactical lessons learned from Indians in this costly war had a lasting impact on American military doctrine.
[See also Native Americans: U.S. Military Relations with; Native American Wars: Wars Between Native Americans and Europeans and Euro‐Americans.]


Douglas E. Leach , Flintock and Tomahawk, 1958.
Russell Bourne , The Red King's Rebellion, 1990.
Patrick M. Malone , The Skulking War of War, 1991.
Jill Lepore , The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity, 1998.

Patrick M. Malone

King Philips War

views updated May 21 2018

King Philip's War (1675–76) War between English settlers and Native Americans in New England. The Wampanoags, under their chief Philip (Metacomet), rebelled against increasing white aggression. Colonial forces eventually gained the upper hand and wreaked still greater destruction on native settlements. King Philip was killed in 1676.

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King Philips War

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