In 1662, Massasoit,1 Sachem of the Wampanoags, the old and faithful friend of the Pilgrims, was gathered to his rest. Forty-one years had passed since he had drunk the great draught of rum that had made him sweat all over and had pledged himself to peace and friendship. Two sons survived him, Wamsutta and Metacom, who, having declared their friendship for the English, had asked that English names be given them, and received those of the Greek conquerors, Alexander and Philip.
The eldest, Alexander, became sachem in the place of his father. He was naturally inclined to continue the policy established by Massasoit towards the English but circumstances, not the least of which was his constant opposition to all attempts to Christianize the Wampanoags, made a continuance of the old relations difficult.
Since the economic dependence of the whites upon the Indians had ceased, the two races had been steadily drifting apart. The Wampanoags, who in former years had exercised sovereignty over the territory stretching south from Plymouth and the head of Narragansett Bay, saw p37the ruin of their confederacy and power in the gradual Christianizing of the kindred tribes along Cape Cod, while they themselves were being slowly separated and crowded into the peninsulas.
Complaints of trespass, the loss of lands, the effect of which they had begun to realize, and a feeling of resentment at the constant interference of the English with their internal affairs, had sown a sullen bitterness in the Indian breast, which had troubled the last years of Massasoit.
Reports of the unrest and resentment of the Wampanoags, which lost nothing in the telling, were not long in reaching the ears of the authorities at Boston and Plymouth, borne on the tongues of Christian protégés and spies, and enhanced whenever the quarrels of the tribes or chiefs led to mutual accusations of conspiracy in the endeavor to win the assistance of the English.
Rumors from Boston of his unfriendliness and of negotiations on his part for an alliance with the Narragansetts, soon found credence in Plymouth, and Alexander was summoned to appear before the court and explain his intention. On his failure to attend, an armed force under Major Winslow2 and Major Bradford was sent to compel3 his compliance. Winslow took only ten men, p38expecting to recruit more from the towns on the way, but midway between Plymouth and Bridgewater, observing a hunting lodge on Monponsit Pond they rode up to it and found it occupied by Alexander and a number of his men and women. He agreed to return with them giving as his reason for lack of promptness that he had wished first to confer with a friend, Mr. Willet,4 who was absent in New York.
His explanation seems to have been satisfactory, but, seized with a fever while staying at Major Josiah Winslow's house at Marshfield, he was sent home at his own request and died during the journey, 1662, his sudden death giving birth to a belief among the Indians of his having been poisoned.
His brother Philip, then about twenty-three years of age and by nature less inclined than his brother to accept a position of dependence, succeeded him. A policy of conciliation might have won his goodwill, but the constant nagging to which he was subjected increased his resentment and nurtured in him a sullen distrust.
Summoned to Plymouth at the beginning of his sachemship, he had renewed the old covenant of peace and friendship. Five years later one of his own subjects accused him of a willingness to join the Dutch and French in order to recover his lands and enrich himself with the goods of the English.5
Philip declared the story was a fabrication of Ninigret,6 p39sachem of the Niantics. Both chiefs were consequently summoned to appear at Rehoboth before two commissioners appointed by Plymouth, and though the tale-bearer boldly repeated his accusations, Philip was not held, and at the next meeting of the court the arms he had surrendered were returned to him. In 1669, Governor Lovelace of New York warned Rhode Island that Philip was carrying on an intrigue with Ninigret, but the Niantic cleared both Philip and himself of the charge.7 Most of these accusations seem to have been based on suspicions inspired by Uncas, and evidence of a trustworthy character is lacking.
The attitude and measures of Plymouth throughout these transactions and those following were arbitrary and high-handed and were admirably adapted to bring about the very state of affairs they were intended to forestall. Three years later the Plymouth authorities, hearing of warlike preparations among the Wampanoags, the sharpening of hatchets, "the repairing of guns, suspicious assemblings and impertinent bearing towards Englishmen in diverse parts of the country," called peremptorily upon Philip to appear before them. Philip was at first uncompromising in his refusal. He demanded hostages as a guarantee for his own safety and even requested that Governor Prince8 should come to him; finally, on Richard p40Williams and James Brown remaining as hostages Philip consented to go, but on approaching Taunton, and noting military preparations on the part of the English, he took up his position near a mill on the outskirts with a large and well-armed following, but sent no messengers into the town. The commissioners sent from Massachusetts, William Davis, William Hudson and Thomas Brattle, to mediate between the parties, however, went out to meet him and, after an extended conference, induced him to meet Governor Prince and the Plymouth authorities on the 12th of April, 1671. On that date Philip and his chiefs entered the church at Taunton. "Both parties were armed: the Indians with their faces and bodies painted after their savage manner, with their long bows and quivers of arrows at their backs, with here and there a gun in the hands of those best skilled in the use of them; the English in the Cromwellian habit, slouched hats with broad brims, bandoliers, cuirasses, long swords and unwieldy guns."
Charged with warlike designs, the Wampanoag declared that his preparations were made against the Narragansetts and were entirely defensive, thereby strengthening the suspicions against him, as his relations with the Narragansetts were believed to be friendly.
After a long conference, a partial confession as to his failings and "naughtiness" was wrung from him and he agreed to renew the old covenant of peace and to surrender all firearms into the custody of the English so long p41as any suspicion against him remained.9 This pledge was valueless; he could have no intention of performing it and placing himself entirely at the mercy of the English, and he could not have carried out such a measure if he had desired. Muskets had become a necessity to the Indian and as the laws in the different colonies against the selling of arms had been gradually relaxed, and in Plymouth had been abolished altogether, the Indians had come in possession of large numbers and regarded them as the most valuable and necessary of their possessions. It is not surprising, therefore, that few arms were handed over; the council took measures to enforce compliance. The arms of the Assowomsett and Middleboro Indians were seized by force and declared to have been "just forfeited," and an order was issued to distribute them among the English towns "proportionately."10 Here was an end of the Philip's hope of their restoration as provided by the Taunton treaty. Whether or not the English would have lived up to this agreement had the Indians quietly delivered up their arms cannot, of course, be determined.
The Sagkonate (Saconet) Indians were also threatened with war unless they complied with the demands made upon them, and finally submitted themselves by treaty.
By September only seventy guns had been handed in and the Plymouth authorities, alarmed at their failure to receive their surrender, and the general attitude of the Indians, again summoned Philip to appear before them on the 13th of that month to give an account of his actions, threatening to employ force unless he complied with their p42demands and observed his agreements. The towns were ordered to make preparations for furnishing troops and supplies, and the people were bidden to carry their arms to meeting.
Secretary Morton11 sent word to Massachusetts and Rhode Island of the action taken, requesting advice and assistance,12 but adding that unless Philip submitted himself they "would send out forces to reduce him to reason," alone if necessary.
Philip, who had no doubt received information of their intentions, arrived at Boston on the same day as this letter and appealed to Massachusetts against the demands and threats of Plymouth, with temporary success. When the letters from Plymouth were read to him he expressed himself before the governor and council as follows: "That his predecessor had been friendly with Plymouth governors and an engagement of that nature was made by his father and renewed by his brother, and (when he took the government) by himself, but they were only agreements for amity and not for subjection. He desired to see a copy of the engagement they spoke of and that the Governor of Massachusetts would procure it for him. He knew not that they were subjects. Praying Indians were subject to Massachusetts and had magistrates and p43officers appointed; they had no such thing with them and therefore they were not subject."13
Massachusetts proposed that the difference be referred to commissioners from Massachusetts and Connecticut. They also took occasion to inquire into the nature of Philip's subjection to the government of Plymouth, and expressed themselves as unable to adopt Plymouth's idea of the matter.
"We do not understand how far he hath subjected himself to you, but the treatment you have given him and proceedings toward him do not render him such a subject as that if there be not a present answering to summons there should presently be a proceeding to hostilities: and the sword once drawn and dipped in blood may make him as independent upon you as you are upon him."
Governor Leverett14 of Massachusetts, Governor Winthrop15 of Connecticut, and others of the commissioners, p44finally went to Plymouth at the request of Governor Prince and his council, to inquire into the matters.16
The charges against Philip were as follows:
1. He had neglected to bring in his arms.
2. He carried himself insolently and proudly, refusing to come down to our court when sent for.
3. He harbored and abetted divers Indians, not his own men, but vagabonds and our professed enemies.
4. That he had endeavored to insinuate himself unto the Massachusetts magistrates and misrepresented matters to them.
5. He had shown great incivility, especially unto Mr. James Brown and Mr. Hugh Cole.17
Philip claimed that he and his people were subjects to the king equally with the Plymouth colonists, but were not subjects of Plymouth colony, whereas Plymouth claimed that his acknowledgement of himself as subject to the king made him a subject to the colony. The claim that his refusal to obey his neighbors whenever they had had a mind to command him, and into the justice of whose mandate he was not to inquire, was a hostile act and against the treaties, was a sorry one. Philip's appeal to Massachusetts was in accordance with the terms of the Taunton treaty which had made the Massachusetts council the arbitrator of future misunderstandings. These questions, in view of the practice among all the colonies except Providence Plantations, are largely academical, and Massachusetts and Connecticut were not likely to p45take issue with Plymouth over a self-conferred prerogative that they were themselves continually making use of.
On September 29th a new treaty was entered into and Philip humbled himself to the court and agreed to pay tribute of one hundred pounds value in kind, and five wolves' heads a year, if he could get them, to go to Plymouth in case any differences arose and not to engage in war with the other Indians or sell any lands without the consent of the Plymouth government.18 The question of guns was allowed to drop, but he was told that "if he went on his refractory way he must expect to smart for it."
During the next three years the relations between them were interrupted by no event of importance, and Narragansetts, Wampanoags and Nipmucks seemed to have resigned themselves to the inevitable domination of the English. There were those who suspected that the calm was that which comes before the storm. Hunters and Christian Indians spoke of the sullen demeanor of the independent Indians, but the great body of the colonists seemed to have been lulled into security; many of the exposed towns on the frontier had been left unstockaded, and so low had the interest in military matters fallen in Massachusetts that the election of military officers had given place some time before to appointment by the general court.
It is impossible to trace Philip's actions during these years, but contemporary historians imply that he endeavored to reach some agreement with the sachems of the Narragansetts and the tribes of the Nipmucks.
To the Narragansetts and Canonchet he could recall p46the death of Miantonomah, awakening the thirst for vengeance. To Weetamoo, queen of the Pocassets and widow of his brother Alexander, he could appeal to the memory of bitter suspicion. With the Nipmucks there were other chords to be touched, and if long-continued feuds and suspicions made any definite or formal alliance almost impossible, yet the voice of an Indian sachem, even of another tribe, calling to mind the high-handed interference, the stern threats, the loss of lands, and their own declining power could not fail to touch a sympathetic chord and inflame the passions of his hearers on subjects long brooded over.
No general conspiracy certainly was entered into. Doubts as to their own power and suspicions of each other made each tribe hesitate to commit itself before the others. Philip himself lacked those personal qualities of leadership which made Pontiac and Tecumseh formidable, and the Indian nature, liable to alternate outbursts of passion and despondency, lacked the genius for combined and concerted effort. Inflammable substances were plentiful, however, and it needed but a spark to fire the train.
1 Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe, was born about 1580. This tribe occupied the country in what is now Massachusetts, between the ocean and Narragansett Bay. It is supposed that the tribe was once numerous but before the landing of the pilgrims it had been greatly reduced by disease. The residence of Massasoit was at Sowams upon what is now the Warren River. Morton says "he was a very lusty man in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance and spare of speech."
2 Josiah Winslow of Marshfield, was the son of Governor Edward, and was born in Plymouth in 1629. He was commissioner of the colonies for thirteen years, was deputy, and many years assistant, till 1673, when he was elected Governor of Plymouth and held that office until his death. — Gen. Register, Vol. IV, page 299.
3 Hubbard says that Major Bradford and his force seized the arms of the Indians to prevent resistance and compelled Alexander to accompany them to Plymouth at the muzzle of their guns. We have preferred the account given in a letter by John Cotton to Increase Mather, who quotes the testimony of Major Bradford. — Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Vol. VIII, page 233, Fourth Series.
4 Captain Thomas Willet of Wannamoiset (Riverside, R. I.), afterwards first English Mayor of New York.
5 Plymouth Records, Vol. IV, pages 151, 164‑166.
6 Ninigret was sachem of the Niantics, a tribe of the Narragansetts whose principal residence was at Wekapaug, now Westerly, R. I. He was cousin to Miantonomah. At the time of Philip's war he was an old man and took no part in the hostilities, but always professed friendship for the English.
7 Rhode Island Records, Vol. II, pages 263, 267, 284.
8 Governor Thomas Prince (Prence) was born in England in 1601. He came to New England, and settled in Duxbury about 1634, but a year previous to that time he was appointed "master" of a trading house then established near Sowams, the home of Massasoit. He was several times chosen Governor and occupied that office at the time of his death, March 29, 1673.
9 Plymouth Records, Vol. V, page 63.
10 Plymouth Records, Vol. V, pages 63‑74.
11 Nathaniel Morton of Plymouth, born in England about 1613, came with his father in the Ann in 1623. He became secretary of the colony December 7, 1647, and held that office until his death, June 29, 1685. Almost all of the records of Plymouth colony are in his handwriting. He wrote a valuable history called "New England's Memorial, a brief relation of the most memorable and Remarkable passages of the Providence of God manifested to the Planters of New England." Printed at Cambridge in 1699. — Pope.
12 Plymouth Records, Vol. V, page 76.
13 Hutchinson, Vol. I, page 281 note.
14 Governor John Leverett of Boston was born in England in 1616. He came with his father, Thomas, arriving in Boston September 4, 1633. He was many times chosen delegate and assistant, and on the 7th of May, 1673, was elected Governor and remained in that office until his death, March 16, 1678/79. See New England Register, Vol. IV, page 125.
15 Governor John Winthrop of Connecticut was the eldest son of Governor John of Massachusetts. He was born at Groton, County Suffolk, and bred at Dublin University, 1622‑25. He assisted his father in the work of colonizing Massachusetts; came in the Lion, arriving at Boston, November 3, 1631. In 1632 he was chosen an assistant. He was the founder of New London (Conn.) in 1645, though he was for a number of years thereafter an assistant of the Massachusetts Court. He was elected Governor of Connecticut in May, 1657, and every year until his death, April 5, 1676. — Savage.
16 Plymouth Records, Vol. V, page 78.
17 Mr. Cole having come upon Philip during a dance is said to have called him to account for some offense, whereupon Philip knocked off his hat. — Letter of James Walker to Governor Prince.
18 Plymouth Records, Vol. V, pages 77‑79.
Images with borders lead to more information.
King Philip's War
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 1 Jan 09