The Years 1675 and 1676, will ever fill a gloomy Page in New England History, and be equally memorable for the desperate but ineffectual Efforts of its primitive People, to rid their Country of its European Inhabitants, and the efficient Measures adopted by the latter, against the Chances of future Hostilities.
The Details of these Events, have come down to us in the Narratives of several prominent Actors in them, and from them, we have been made familiar with the Scenes of Atrocity which distinguished the several Combatants in this War of mutual Extermination; but in one of these Accounts do we find Evidence of that earnest Desire to render a strictly impartial Statement of Events, which alone constitutes the highest Aim of History, and claims our strongest Regard. The Writers of these Narratives, p. viin their active Sympathies for the one party, have scarcely been willing to concede either Justice or Honor to the other. The Indian Leader who acted so prominent a Part in this War, is represented as a Monster in Iniquity, incapable alike of Generosity or Sympathy, waging an unprovoked and aggressive War upon inoffensive Settlers, violating the most solemn Engagement of Treaties, and wantonly butchering those who had extended to him the kindest Offices of Friendship.
The Account of the Origin of this War, given in the Following Pages, is believed to be the only one that has been printed, in which a contemporary Writer has appeared anxious to represent in a favorable Light, the Injuries that provoked the Natives to Acts of Hostility, or to concede to them Motives of Honor and Equity in previous Attempts to adjust the Grounds of Dispute without a final Resort to Arms.
The Government of Rhode Island, of which Mr. Easton was a Member, had been excluded from the Union of the New England Colonies, on account of her heretical Toleration of religious Freedom, and her open Advocacy of that Liberty of Conscience p. viiwhich has since become a distinguishing Feature of our Government. Her Territory was invaded by armed Forces without previous Notification or Consent, and her Magistrates seized and carried to Prisons beyond her Borders, for presuming to question the Right of these informal Inroads upon her Soil.
The Boundary between Connecticut and Rhode Island, was at this Time a Subject of Dispute, and upon it depended the Question of separate Existence, to the greater Part of the latter. This Controversy had excited a Feeling of Alienation between the two Colonies, as had a similar Question between the former and New York, and in some Degree prevented a cordial Coöperation, in Measures tending to the common Welfare of the English Colonies. This may perhaps have influenced the Writer of the following Narrative, in his Desire to prove that the Complaints of the Indians might have been peaceably settled, and that the immediate Cause of the War arose from the Indiscretion of their Neighbors. Whatever Weight this Motive may have had, there is found nothing either in the Narrative itself, or the Evidence of other Writers, to lead us to question p. viiithe Accuracy of the Facts therein stated, or to doubt that the Grievances complained of, were fully as real as by them represented.
Slighter Grounds of Difference between civilized Nations have often sooner led to open War, and we may perhaps find in this Case, no other Reason for patient forbearance under continued Wrongs, than the Fact that the Indians were dependent upon the Whites for the Means of commencing and prosecuting Hostilities, and were without those Facilities for Consultation and Coöperation which Education alone confers.
Prompted by that inherent Sense of Equality which has often led them to share equally with their Prisoners, the last Morsel of Food, the Indians had cheerfully given to the first Colonists a liberal Share of their Lands, and had not only supplied them with Provisions when they would otherwise have starved, but had taught them the Method of cultivating Corn, and the Time and Mode of catching Fish, which preserved them from Extremities to which there would have been no other Relief.2 Thus favored and assisted, the Colonists at Peace p. ixwith the native Tribes rapidly multiplied, and their Fields everywhere extended along the Valleys and over the Plains that had been the Haunts and the Homes of the primitive Owners. During more than fifty Years, they had been gaining steadily upon the Wilderness, and the Indians had proportionably wasted away, deriving few and doubtful Benefits from Civilization, but becoming daily more degraded by its Vices, and more dependent upon its Arts for the Means of Existence.
Massasoit, the chief Sachem of the Wampanoags, had been the early and constant Friend of the Whites, and towards the Close of his Life had taken his two Sons, upon whom his Authority was to descend, to a principal Settler to make them pledge their continued Friendship to the English. Alexander, the elder of these Brothers, was a few Years after summoned to appear and answer to Charges made against him upon Suspicion that he was plotting the Destruction of the Settlers; but not obeying promptly, he was surprised at an unguarded Moment, and taken towards Plymouth. Exasperated at this Treatment, he fell sick, was released p. xunder the Pledge of Hostages, but died on his Way Home.
The Chief Authority devolved upon Metacom,1 better known as Philip, on the Death of his Brother, and whatever may have been his early Feeling towards the English, there can be no Doubt that from this Period he harbored a secret Resolution of Vengeance, although Policy led him for a Season to conceal his Purpose under a Cloak of Friendship, and even to consent to repeated Renewals of the Treaties of Amity, which his Father had made.
With this Design he visited many Indian Tribes, portrayed in eloquent Language the steady Encroachments of the Settlers, reminded them of their ancient Power now rapidly wasting away, and invoked them by the Love of Country and Kindred, the Memory of their Forefathers, and their Duty to Posterity, to unite in driving from the Land these dangerous Rivals, whose past Encroachments foreshadowed the rapid and complete Destruction of their Race.
The Magnitude of this Enterprise, and the evident p. xiSuccess with which he privately advanced in its Arrangement, bespeaks a Mind capable of the most comprehensive Generalization, while his future Course proved him the Owner of Talents equal to the most pressing Emergencies that might arise in the Execution of its Details.
His Tact in enlisting the Narragansetts, the hereditary Enemies of his Tribe, in the general Scheme which he had formed, indicates the Possession of a fair Degree of diplomatic Skill, and a thorough Knowledge of the human Character.
The Circumstances attending the Conference related in the following Narrative, are particularly interesting, as showing the Wrongs which had for Years been practiced upon the unsuspecting Natives, and the lively Sense of Injustice which these Injuries had awakened. The simple confiding Ignorance of these untutored Sons of Nature, had led them on from one Concession to another, until they were brought to a forcible Realization of the Value of Land, by a pressing Sense of its Want, and found themselves in almost as feeble and dependent a Condition, as were the English upon their first Arrival.
p. xii There is something peculiarly refined and elevated in the Sentiment expressed by Philip, in answer to their Remark, that the Whites were now too strong for the Indians, when he replied, that then the English should do to them, as they did, when they were too strong for the English. In this was expressed the Spirit of that most sacred Injunction of Scripture, that "all Things whatsoever ye would that Men should do to you, do ye even so to them," with all the additional Obligation that a previous Performance of this Duty could impose.
His Plans, it is said, had been laid with Reference to their Development in the Spring of 1676, but were Prematurely hastened by Death of Sassamon, and the Executions which followed.
Perhaps fearing that he might be selected as the next Victim, Philip kept himself surrounded by his armed Followers, and finally yielding to their Impatience for Plunder, allowed them to commit Depredations. These by provoking an Attack from the Whites, relieved him from the superstitious Dreadº which he is said to have entertained of beginning the War, and active Hostilities quickly followed.
p. xiii The first Attack was made at Swansea upon People returning from public Worship. A Body of Troops arriving soon after, were fired upon, and one of the Party killed. The Indians fled, marking their Course by burning Houses, and fixing on Poles the Heads of those they had slain; but being pressed by the Troops, Philip left Mount Hope and retired to a Swamp at Pocasset, where he succeeded in repelling the English and killing sixteen of their Number.
Learning that his Enemy was preparing to guard every Exit from the Swamp and thus reduce him to Starvation, he escaped towards the Nipmucks in Worcester County, pursued by the People of Rehoboth and Providence. The Indians continued to hang upon the Outskirts of the Settlements in small Parties, committing frequent Murders, and generally evading Pursuit. Being intimately acquainted with every Locality, they could easily fall upon an unguarded Hamlet, murder its Inmates, and escape before an Alarm could be raised, or a Force collected. Mendon, Brookfield, Deerfield, Hadley, Northfield, Hatfield, Northampton and Springfield, became in Turn the Scene of desperate Encounters, in which p. xivFortune favored sometimes one and at other Times the other Party. Philip, who was generally present in these Engagements to direct his Men, evinced a Boldness mingled with Caution, that defied the utmost Efforts of the English to gain any signal Advantage.
It being no longer doubted that the Narragansetts were in secret Alliance with Philip, War was declared against them by the Commissioners of the United Colonies in November, and in December an Army of from fifteen hundred to two thousand Men, including Volunteers, Indians and a Troop of Horse, the whole under the Command of General Winslow, assembled in the Neighborhood of the Enemy. The Indians under Philip, were located on an Island in a Swamp in South Kingston, Rhode Island, and had surrounded their Camp with Palisades and an almost impenetrable Hedge of fallen Trees, with their Tops pointing outwards. Within this Inclosure, the Indians gathered with their Families to the Number of three thousand, comfortably supplied with Provisions and armed with Bows and Arrows, Muskets and Tomahawks.
Here, on the 18th of December, was fought the p. xvmost bloody Battle recorded in the early Annals of New England, in which seven hundred Indian Warriors were slain and three hundredº wounded; three hundred more and as many Women and Children taken Prisoners. The Number of Women and Children that perished in the Flames was never known. The English lost six Captains and eighty Men in killed and one hundred and fifty in wounded.
The Weather was intensely cold, and the English suffered extremely from Cold and Fatigue while traveling in deep Snows. Philip fled, and is supposed to have passed the Winter upon the western Borders of Massachusetts. The Winter was remarkably mild, and upon the Hudson River opening unexpectedly in February, the Governor of New York sent up several Sloops laden with Soldiers and military Stores, to resist any Attack which Philip might make in that Quarter. Sudbury, Lancaster and Medfield were attacked in February.
The Spring opened with renewed Hostilities, and Parts of Groton, Marlborough, Warwick, Rehoboth and Providence were burned. A memorable Engagement occurred in Rehoboth, on the p. xvi26th of March, known as the "Pierce Fight," in which Capt. Michael Pierce, of Scituate, at the Head of a Band of 63 English and a few friendly Indians, was led into an Ambuscade, in which 55 English and 10 of their Indian Allies were slain on the Spot, but not without destroying several Times this Number of their Enemies.
The Indians scattering in small Parties, were enabled to distract the Attention of the English Forces by simultaneous Attacks in different Quarters. In March, a Body of Volunteers from Connecticut, succeeded in capturing Conanchet,º Sachem of the Narragansetts, who was scarcely less formidable than Philip, and Expeditions upon the Strongholds of the Indians were constantly reducing their Numbers and rendering their Prospects more gloomy.
On the 18th of May, Capt. Turner, with 180 Men, surprised a large Party of Indians at the great Falls in the Connecticut River, above Deerfield. They found the Camp entirely unguarded, and slew great Numbers, while others rushed into the River, only to meet a watery Grave. The English lost but one, while the Indians afterwards admitted the Loss of 300 Men in killed and drowned, some of p. xviithem being principal Sachems. In returning, the English in their turn experienced heavy Reverses at the Hands of another Lodge of Indians, in which Capt. Turner was killed, and before reaching Hatfield, their Numbers were reduced to thirty-eight Men.
The Slaughter at the Falls proved a death Bow to the Hopes of Philip, and from this Time Misfortunes closed thickly upon him. There still, however, remained sufficient Force to seriously annoy the Settlements. On the 30th of May, six or seven hundred Indians invaded Hatfield, burned several Houses without the Fortification, and killed five Men, but were repulsed with the Loss of five Times this Number.
On the Morning of the 12th of June, about seven hundred Indians made a furious Assault upon Hadley, and the Inhabitants were thrown into great Confusion and Alarm. The Indians succeeded in forcing the Palisades and gaining Possession of one House, but were beaten back with Loss. Suddenly, a Man of noble Mien, peculiar in Dress, venerable in Appearance and manifestly familiar with military p. xviiiAffairs, assumed the Command, ordered the English to rally in the Manner best adapted to meet the pressing Emergency, and by his Voice and Example inspired them to new Activity and Courage. Under his Direction the Indians were at length repulsed with Loss, and driven into the Woods. The mysterious Stranger as suddenly disappeared, and it was long reported and believed that an angel from Heaven had led them to Victory. It was afterwards found, that this Person was Col. Goffe, the Regicide, who had for fifteen Years, with Whalley his Father-in‑law, been concealed in the Colony, and who was then living in strict Seclusion in the Family of Mr. Russell the Minister.
The Indians began to lose their Courage with these Failures, and their Attacks were thenceforth made with less Bravery. They also found new Enemies in the Mohawks of New York, who willingly listened to Propositions from the English to engage in a War against the eastern Indians. They did this the more readily, from having discovered an Act of Treachery on the Part of Philip.
Thus repulsed from the Connecticut, Philip returned to the Plymouth Colony, still following out his Purpose of Extermination, but daily losing his Counselors and Friends, his Captains and Warriors. He continued to struggle against Fate, and to gather new Energies from the Desperation in which his Affairs were plunged. His Wife and Children were seized or killed, and many of his Followers gave up in Despair and threw themselves upon the Mercy of the English. Retiring to Mount Hope, his former Residence, he took Refuge in a Swamp with about two hundred of his Men. Some Time before he had slain one of his Followers, who presumed to propose Submission to the English, and the Brother of this Indian, in Revenge betrayed the Secret of his Retreat. Captain Benjamin Church, who had been distinguished throughout the War for his Courage and Success, surrounded the Swamp on the 12th of August, 1676, and but sixty of the Indians escaped. Philip was shot by an Indian and fell with his Face in the Mud. His Head was cut off and exhibited as a Trophy.
p. xx Annawan, his principal Captain, was taken August 28th, in Rehoboth, which ended the War in this Section of New England although Hostilities continued one or two Years later, in the northeastern Part of the Colonies.
The Indians, everywhere broken and scattered, either submitted to such Terms as the English might dictate or removed North and joined the French in Canada; and the exhausted Colonies were left to a realization of the Ravages which this vindictive War had occasioned. Famine would have followed close upon the Miseries of the Torch and Tomahawk, but for timely Charities from Dublin and London, obtained through the Letters of Dr. Increase Mather. One eleventh of the able bodied Men of New England are said to have been slain during these two Years, and according to another Writer, almost every Person in the two Colonies, had lost a Relation or near Friend, so that every Family was in deep Mourning.a
We have already alluded to the Jealousies then existing between New York and Connecticut, on account of disputed boundaries. The first News of Indian Hostilities, naturally filled the Country p. xxiwith an Alarm which was frequently renewed during the Progress of the War, as Rumors of projected Massacres, magnified by the Fears of the Timid or the Exposed, were circulated among the Settlers or reported to the Governor. Although the Province of New York escaped the Calamities which fell upon the New England Colonies, the occasional Intercourse of its Indians with those to the Eastward, especially the tributary Dependance in which the Tribes upon the east End of Long Island were held by the Narragansetts, gave just Reason to suspect that these Indians might be in secret Alliance with their powerful Masters, and justified the Measures that were adopted for their Security.
A prominent Source of Irritation between New England and New York, arose from the Charges publicly made by the former, that the hostile Indians were supplied with Powder and Arms by the latter. The Documents which follow, exhibit the Grounds upon which this Allegation was made, and the Spirit with which it was repelled. They also prove that the Indians were in some Degree at least assisted by the French in Canada, with whom the English were then nominally at Peace.
p. xxii The Government of New York pursued an undeviating Line of Policy with regard to the Indians within her Borders, and claimed at all Times the exclusive Management of their Affairs; asserting sometimes rudely, at other Times respectfully, but always firmly, her sole Right of negotiating with them. Every Attempt of the neighboring Colonies to treat with the New York Indians, for Aid against the eastern and northern Tribes, was met with a prompt Refusal, unless conducted in the Presence of the Governor or his authorized Agents.
This Policy, and the Grounds upon which it was based, were not understood by those who had Occasion to deal with these Indians, and the unpleasant Feeling which followed the Failure of informal Attempts at Negotiation, has in some Degree influenced the public Mind, and imparted to the historic Page a Tinge of Prejudice against the Conduct of New York, which is by no means deserved. A careful Study of these Documents will convince the Reader, that whenever proper Courtesy was shown to New York in this Transactions, the Subject of Request received proper Attention.
The warlike Mohawks needed but slight Entreaty p. xxiiito engage in a Pursuit so congenial to their Tastes, and had Hostilities continued, would doubtless have aided in an effectual Manner, in the War against Philip. Indeed upon several Occasions after the Peace, they made Inroads upon the Christian Indians of Natick and other Villages, mistaking them for the late Enemies to the English; and it became necessary to explain to them that their Services were not further needed, and to dissuade them from Hunting in that Quarter, leastº they might injure the friendly Natives.
The rude and unadorned Style and Language of these Documents afford an interesting View of the Period and the Events to which they relate, and we are enabled to catch a Glimpse of the Manners of the Age, the Relations existing between the Whites and the Indians, the Hopes and Fears of the Colonists, and the Light in which these Events were regarded by the Government of New York, more satisfactorily perhaps than could have been done by any other Means. Should they in any Degree answer this Purpose, the Object of their Publication will be accomplished.
F. B. H.
1 Sometimes written Metacomet, and said to be a Contraction from Pometacom.
2 See Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantations, p100.
a Here end the editor's remarks pertaining to Easton's Narrative; we now shade in to his introduction to the other documents published by him after the Narrative, in the same volume, and which in fact constitute the bulk of the book. I haven't reproduced these documents onsite; they may be found in the facsimile at Google Books.
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