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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
King Philip's War

George Ellis and John Morris

Grafton Press,
New York, 1906

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 10
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p141  Chapter IX

The authors' map of colonial New England in 1675, marking all the most important sites of King Philip's War, may be useful for following along; it opens in its own window.

Such a situation as obtained throughout the colonies during the year 1675 could not exist in the New England of the period without a serious searching of heart and conscience. In the public mind such trials and tribulations were the punishment inflicted for the wickedness and sins of the whole people, and the General Court of Massachusetts in setting apart the second day of December as a day of humiliation and public prayer, gives voice to the orthodox conscience.

"Whereas God has not only warned us by his word but chastized us with his rods . . . and given permission to the barbarous heathen to rise up against and become a smart rod, a severe scourge to us, burning and depopulating several hopeful plantations . . . hereby speaking aloud to us to search and try our ways and turn again unto the Lord our God, from whom we have departed with a great backsliding."

The court enumerates a few of the offenses that have incurred the divine displeasure: The great neglect of discipline in the churches as regards the spiritual estate and instruction of the children. The sin of manifest pride made apparent by the wearing by the women of their hair long, "either their own or others hair," and by some women "wearing borders of hair, and their cutting, curling and immodest laying out of their hair, especially among the younger sort." A feeling of pride in apparel, "strange fashions in both rich and poor, with naked breasts and  p142 arms and superfluous ribbons." Shameful and scandalous sin of excessive drinkings and company keeping both of men and women, in taverns and ordinaries. "The sin of idleness, which is the sin of Sodom." And the court orders that better order be kept in the churches, that profanity and idleness and attendance of Quaker meetings be punished, that measures be taken to restrict the licenses of public houses and that the magistrates be more active in the discharge of their duties.1

This careful scrutiny of public morals, with its attendant measures of reformation, was accompanied by vigorous action looking to the security of the colonies and the organization of the forces for the winter campaign. The neutral Indians were ordered confined to the islands in Boston Harbor, the exportation of all provisions except fish was prohibited, and captains were appointed to the command of the various companies ordered for service.

Following the lead of Massachusetts, the Council of Connecticut issued orders for the levying of three hundred and fifteen men and the accumulation of food, powder, lead and flints, at Norwich, Stonington and New London.

Major Treat was named second in command of the united forces, the various companies were placed under the command of Captain Samuel Marshall,​2 Captain  p143 Mason, Captain Watts and Lieutenants Avery, Seeley and Miles,​3 and instructions were sent to the Reverend Mr. Fitch​4 of Norwich, to organize a body of Pequots and Mohegans as auxiliaries.5

By the 8th of December the Massachusetts and Plymouth forces were fully organized and Winslow, after a conference at Boston with Governor Leverett, proceeded with his staff, which included Benjamin Church, Joseph Dudley and a number of ministers, surgeons and volunteers, to Dedham, the rendezvous of the Massachusetts contingent, where were concentrated the forces called in from the valley, and the new levies. Here were Major Appleton and Captain Moseley with their veterans, Captain Isaac Johnson with the levies of Roxbury, Dorchester, Weymouth, Hull, and adjacent towns; Davenport​6 with the men of Cambridge and Watertown; Oliver with the men from Boston; Gardiner with the Essex County levies, and Thomas Prentice with a troop of horse, a total of  p144 465 foot, 275 horse, besides volunteers, teamsters and servants.7

Early on the morning of the 9th, Winslow took over the command from Major-General Denison​8 and, having promised the troops a gratuity in land, besides their pay if they should drive out the enemy from the Narragansett country, gave orders for the advance.

The evening camp was pitched at Woodcock's garrison, Attleboroº,​9 and by the evening of the next day they reached Seekonk,​10 where Richard Smith's sloop which had sailed from Smith's Landing to meet them, lay at anchor in the stream. Captain Moseley's command, Benjamin Church, Joseph Dudley and a few others, immediately embarked, while the remainder of the force, ferrying around to the head of the bay, joined Major William Bradford and Captain Gorham, with the one hundred and fifty-eight men of the Plymouth contingent, at Providence.

The united force now pushed into Pumham's country, marching by night in the hope of surprising and capturing the sachem Pumham, formerly a most submissive and servile friend but now a stout-hearted ally of Philip. But the night was bitter cold, the guides lost their way in the darkness and the troops, worn out with floundering  p145 through the deep snow, gave over the quest and, turning southward with the thirty-five prisoners they had captured, reached the appointed rendezvous, Smith's Landing at Wickford, on the 13th.

Here they found Moseley and Church who, having established the camp, had already begun an aggressive campaign on their own initiative. Nearly two score prisoners, men, women and children (many of whom they subsequently sold to Captain Davenport for the sum of eighty pounds), had been taken and a number of the Narragansetts slain.

During Winslow's march there had come to him a Narragansett Indian named Peter Freeman, who having "received some disgust among his countrymen" now revenged himself by playing the traitor, acting as a guide to the English on several occasions and giving them full information of the Narragansett stronghold.

Nearly ten years later a reward which had been promised him was paid and the General Court of Massachusetts ordered that his daughter be sought and redeemed from slavery.11

The Connecticut contingent had not yet arrived, but on the following day Winslow led out his force to the nearby village of the squaw-sachem, Matantuck,​12 or the  p146 Saunk Squaw, burnt over one hundred and fifty wigwams, and, having killed seven Indians, returned with nine prisoners; at the same time a scouting party of thirty men sent out by Oliver, who had been left behind to guard the stores, killed an Indian warrior and squaw and took several prisoners.

At dawn on the 15th, came an Indian known to the whites as Stonewall or Stonelayer John,​13 professing authority to enter into negotiations. He was, however, a  p147 chief of minor importance, and Winslow, believing that he came only to gain time and spy out the numbers of the English, dismissed him with the brief reply, "We might speak with the sachems."

During his visit the Narragansetts were hovering around in considerable numbers, and on the departure of the ambassador began to pick off the troops, shooting down from behind a hill three men of Gardiner's company on the outskirts of the camp, and even firing from the shelter of a stone wall​14 upon a considerable force which had been sent out under Captains Moseley, Oliver and Gardiner to bring in Appleton's company from outpost duty; but repulsed here with the loss of one of their leaders they drew off towards evening.15

Some eight miles from Winthrop's camp, in a clearing on Tower Hill, lay the large stone house of Jirah Bull,16  p148 "a convenient large stone house with a good stone wall yard before it which is a kind of fortification to it,"​17 and which had been selected as the rendezvous of the army on the arrival of the Connecticut troops. Here, on the night of the 15th, had assembled some seventeen people; careless in the face of danger, and relying on the near presence of the troops, no watch was probably set, when, in the darkness, the Indians repulsed at Smith's Landing in the afternoon stole upon it, broke in the doors and massacred all but two of the inmates.

Captain Prentice, following the trail of the Indians the next day, saw smoke rising among the trees in the still winter air and the silent smoldering ruins told the tale of surprise and massacre.

Discouragement and humiliation fell heavily on the minds of Winthrop's men on the return of Prentice, but with the morrow came the welcome news that the Connecticut force, three hundred and fifteen troops and one hundred and fifty Mohegans and Pequots, had arrived and were encamped at Pettaquamscut.

On the 18th, as the short winter day was drawing to its close, Winthrop joined Treat at Pettaquamscut and assumed command over the largest army ever assembled up to that time in New England. As the weather was becoming unsettled and provisions were running low it was decided to make the attack on the Narragansett stronghold the next day. Fires were built and by this light the troops cleaned their guns and completed their preparations. The night was cold, the sky overcast, and  p149 the troops, unprovided with tents, lay out under the open sky. Clustered for warmth around the camp fires, whose flickering lights in the clearing cast the woods in deeper shadow, they heard the trees crackling in the frost and the long-drawn sough of the night wind. Sleep was almost impossible and before the gray dawn had come the camp was astir.

Sixteen miles to the west, by a circuitous route, lay the objective point of the expedition, a fortified winter village of the Narragansetts​18 situated on a hillock of some five or six acres, in the midst of a cedar swamp, which presents to‑day much the same aspect it then wore. Here were collected many warriors and a large number of women and children. Their bark wigwams were lined with skins and well supplied with their winter supplies of corn and dried fish. Joseph Dudley states, on the authority of a squaw, that there were assembled here, in addition to a thousand in the woods in reserve, 3,500 warriors and their women and children, which would have made a total of about 14,000 souls; a ridiculous estimate. Five or six acres would not have accommodated 2,000, and the Narragansetts could not assemble 1,000 to 1,200 fighting men all told.

Strong as the position was by nature — for the only approach  p150 was over a fallen tree, save when the severest weather froze the surface of the swamp — it had been fortified in a manner seldom employed by the Indians. They had often fenced in their villages with a stockade of logs set on end, but here a stockade more than usually strong and stout was reinforced with a hedge and inner rampart of rocks and clay, while numerous blockhouses and flankers commanded every approach with a cross fire.​19 The Narragansetts, according to Hubbard, were advised in the erection of their fortifications by a settler named Tiffe (or Teft).20

It was five o'clock Sunday morning, December 19th, when the army began its march along the uplands, a circuitous route but one less exposed to the possibilities of an ambuscade; the Massachusetts division in advance, the companies of Moseley and Davenport leading, Plymouth men in the center and the Connecticut contingent bringing up the rear, while the Mohegans and Pequot auxiliaries covered the flanks of the army or scouted ahead.

Keen eyes were watching them as they pushed on, guided by Peter, and as they neared the edge of the swamp shortly after the noon hour, scattering shots were fired upon them by warriors who fled ostentatiously toward the log which led to the principal entrance. It has been generally believed that the English forced their way in at this point. Such was not the case, for, either by chance or directed by their guide, the Massachusetts men in the  p151 van inclined their march a little to the right and came upon the weak point in the defenses, where an unfinished portion of the stockade commanded by a blockhouse, but unprotected by abattis, had been filled in with a large tree. "Wherefor the providence of Almighty God" says Hubbard, "is the more to be acknowledged, who, as he led Israel by the pillar of fire and the cloud of his presence to light a way through the wilderness, so it now directs our forces upon that side of the fort where they might only enter."

With a rush, the Massachusetts men, running over the frozen swamp, charged this entrance, but a deadly fire smote them in front and flank. Captain Johnson fell dead, with many of his men, at the entrance, while Captain Davenport, distinguished by a handsome buff coat, gained the fort only to face a volley that killed him and decimated his company.

The survivors of the three companies drew back in confusion to the edge of the swamp and threw themselves on their faces. Moseley and Gardiner reinforced them, but Gardiner himself was shot dead near the entrance and the men could make no headway until Major Appleton, with the remainder of the Massachusetts men, dashing forward with the cry "they run, they run," gathered them in the rush and the whole mass, storming over the tree together, drove the Indians out of the flanker on the left.

They were now somewhat protected from the sharpshooters in the nearby blockhouses, but many of them continued to fall, and the Narragansetts, rallying again, began to press them fiercely, when the Connecticut troops, suffering fearfully from the fire directed upon them, made  p152 their way in through the breach, though Gallop,​21 Marshall, and Seeley, among their leaders, fell dead and Mason was mortally wounded.

A short time later the Plymouth men also made their entrance. Little by little the stern and determined attack of the English told, and the Narragansetts fell back, foot by foot, though the warriors fought desperately from the shelter of the bags and the baskets of grain in the wigwams.

Even yet the issue might have been doubtful, but, either through chance or deliberately fired by some English hand, the Indian wigwams caught fire and the wind swept the fire in a mighty wave of flame through the crowded fort. An indiscriminate massacre must have followed "for the shrieks and cries of the women and children, the yelling of the warriors, exhibited a most horrible and appalling scene, so that it greatly moved some of the soldiers. They were much in doubt and they afterwards seriously inquired whether burning their enemies alive could be consistent with humanity and the benevolent principle of the gospel."22

But though the Narragansetts had been driven out of  p153 the village they still hung on the outskirts of the swamp, firing continuously at the English from the shelter of the woods, and Captain Church, who had had little share in the storm, sallying out, beat them back but was himself wounded. The victory had been won, but the price paid had been heavy.

The short day was fast drawing into a wild winter's night when the surviving commanders gathered around Winslow in the glare of the blazing wigwams. Their figures, turning white in the swift-falling snow, were silhouetted against the flames, and among the dead and wounded English and warriors around them, lay many an Indian woman and child.

The debate was long and earnest. Church vehemently urged that they should camp where they stood, collect the wounded in the shelter of the blockhouses and give the weary troops needed rest and food.​23 An eighteen-mile march through a broken trail, encumbered with the wounded and exposed to the fierce blast of the storm, was folly. Others saw more clearly than he. Their position was at best precarious. They had, it was true, inflicted heavy loss on the Narragansetts and destroyed their winter shelter and supplies, but their own losses had been very heavy. Six captains and over twenty men were already dead. One hundred and fifty wounded were upon their hands. The blazing village offered little shelter or provision, the food and ammunition were well-nigh exhausted and the base of communication lay eighteen miles away, and who knew but the Narragansetts, rallying on the morrow, might be upon them. Better to  p154 expose the wounded to the storm than risk a siege or ambuscade in the morning. Now, when the foes were dispirited and their plans unformed, was the time to return. Such was the deciding opinion and the tired and weary troops, leaving twenty of the dead in the fort to deceive the Indians as to their loss, and carrying the wounded on litters made of muskets and saplings, filed out of the smoldering ruins into the woods and storm, lighted for three miles of their journey, as the author of the old Indian chronicle assures us, by the flames of the burning wigwams.

It was a terrible march. The fierce blast blew the snow in their faces; sometimes they stumbled over the logs and trees that lay across their path and heard the agonized groans of their wounded comrades brought to ground, twenty-two of them dying on the march. The trail was indistinct and often they sank to their knees in the drifted snow, while the heavily-laden boughs slashed them in the face. Faint from hunger and fatigue, weighed down with their wounded, and blinded by the storm, well it was for them that the older chiefs turned a deaf ear to the appeals of the young warriors that they should be followed and attacked on the march.

It was two o'clock in the morning before the main body struggled into Wickford. Many lost their way and wandered amid the storm all night. Winslow with forty men did not reach the camp until seven the next morning. Seven of their captains and about seventy-five of the men were dead or died during the next few days.

The number of the Indians killed has been greatly exaggerated by the historians. Mather says there were  p155 one thousand killed.​24 Hubbard, seven hundred fighting men killed, three hundred more died of wounds, besides women, old men and children beyond count. No effort was made after the fight to count the Indian dead. Tifft, on his capture, stated it to have been ninety-eight killed and forty-eight wounded, besides women and children. The Narragansetts told the Indians at Quabaug that they had lost "forty fighting men and a sachem killed, and some three hundred old men, women and children burnt in the wigwams, which were mostly destroyed.​25 Considering the fact that the Indians fought from shelter and that though there was, according to Hubbard, "but one entrance into the fort, the enemy found many ways to come out," their own statement seems the most reliable. The desire of the young men to pursue the English is very good proof that their losses in men were not as great as reported by the English.

The provisions of the Indians for the winter had been destroyed, their shelter burnt and themselves driven out into the woods in the dead of winter to face famine. The hornet's nest had indeed been scorched, but the hornets were loose and the plight of the troops, without shelter or provisions, exhausted and exposed to the fury of the elements, was little better than that of the Indians, and only the fortunate arrival of Captain Richard Goodale26  p156 of Boston with a sloop load of provisions, at Smith's Landing the same night, saved them from terrible suffering.

The Author's Notes:

1 Massachusetts Records, Vol. V, page 59.

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2 Captain Samuel Marshall of Windsor, 1637, was a tanner. Freeman, 1654. He had a short but honorable service in the war against Philip, and November 30, 1675, was made captain in the place of Benjamin Newbury who was disabled. — Stiles' History of Windsor, Vol. II, page 466.

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3 Lieutenant John Miles was born October, 1644, and lived in New Haven. He was admitted freeman in 1669, made lieutenant 1675, and later captain. He died November 7, 1704. — Savage.

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4 Rev. James Fitch of Saybrook was born December 24, 1622, at Bocking, County Essex, England. He was ordained in the ministry in 1646. His wife died in 1659 and he removed the next year with a large part of his Saybrook church to the settlement of Norwich. He gave up his office in 1696 and removed to Lebanon, where he died November 18, 1702. — Savage.

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5 Connecticut Records, Vol. II, pages 383‑387. Allotment 110 men to Hartford County; New Haven, 63; Fairfield, 72; New London, 70.

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6 Captain Nathaniel Davenport was a native of Salem. His father was for many years commander of the Castle at Boston, and the son naturally acquired experience in military matters, and at the time of the fitting out of the Narragansett expedition in Philip's war, he was summoned to take command of the 5th company in the Massachusetts regiment.

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7 Hubbard, Vol. I, page 139.

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8 Daniel Denison, Cambridge, 1633, born in England about 1612, was freeman April 1, 1634. Removed to Ipswich with the early planters; its representative 1635 and seven years after; speaker several years. Artillery Company, 1680, and every rank in the militia to the highest. Assistant from 1654 till his death September 19, 1682. — Savage.

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9 Located at the north end of the present village of North Attleboro, and its foundation stones and cellar hole may still be seen.

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10 Seekonk was upon the river of that name in what is now the town of East Providence, about a mile or a little more below its northern limit. It was practically identical with old Rehoboth.

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11 Mass. Col. Records, Vol. V, page 477.

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12 Queen Magnus was the widow of Mexanno, who was the eldest son of Canonicus. She was sister to Ninigret the great Niantic chieftain. This squaw sachem had several successive names, thus, Quaiapen, Magnus, Matantuck, the Saunk Squaw (meaning the wife of a sachem), and the "Old Queen" of the Narragansetts. She was the mother of Quequaganet, the sachem who sold the Pettaquamscot lands to the English. She was related by marriage with the most distinguished sachems of the Niantic and Narragansett tribes, and succeeding Canonchet, became the great squaw sachem of the Narragansetts, and her last stronghold was the "Queen's Fort." She was killed and her band destroyed, July 2, 1676, near Nachek on the Patuxet River, by Major Talcott and his forces. William Harris of Providence wrote of her personal character: "A great woman; yea, ye greatest yt ther was; ye sd woman, called ye old Queene." — The Lands of Rhode Island, by Sidney S. Rider, pages 240, 241.

The Queen's Fort. — This rude fortification stands upon an elevation exactly on the line separating North Kingston from Exeter. It is two miles in a northwest direction from Wickford Junction station on the N. Y., N. H. & H. R. R., and about three and one-half miles from the Smith garrison house. It occupies the top of the elevation, the hill falling away from the walls on all sides. The builders taking advantage of huge boulders, laid rough stone walls between them, making a continuous line. "There is a round bastion or half moon on the northeast corner of the fort, and a salient or V‑shaped point, or flanker, on the west side." It was in this neighborhood, a little to the southeast of the fort, near the headwaters of the little river Showatucquere, that the Narragansetts had a considerable village, undoubtedly the deserted village destroyed by the army on the 14th of December, 1675. (See Bodge, Soldiers in King Philip's War, page 180.) The Lands of Rhode Island, by Sidney S. Rider, page 236.

[image ALT: A very rough low wall of basketball-sized stones meandering thru a dense tangle of thin trees. It is an early-20c photograph of the masonry of Queen Magnus' Fort near Wickford, Rhode Island.]

Glimpse of the Old Queen's Fort

Near Wickford, Rhode Island. While the wall of the fort may be traced in its entirety, the dense growth of trees and brush, together with the innumerable boulders scattered over the surface of the ground, make a picture of more than a small portion impossible

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13 Stonewall John is said by Sidney S. Rider to have been the builder of the ancient stone fort known as the "Queen's Fort." He quotes Mr. Samuel G. Drake (Book of the Indians, Vol. III, page 77): "one writer of his time observes that he was called the stone layer, for that, being an active, ingenious fellow, he had learned the masons' trade and was of great use to the Indians in building their forts, and" Mr. Rider adds that "he and he alone of the Indians could do such things." Stonewall John's Indian name has been lost to us. He was killed in Talcott's attack on the encampment of Queen Magnus, at Nachek, July 2, 1676. — Lands of Rhode Island.

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14 Sidney S. Rider says the stone wall here mentioned was probably the wall of the Queen's Fort. "It may be stated, with a reasonable degree of historical accuracy, that the Queen's Fort was the spot around which lay the great 'town' of the Narragansetts in 1675, and from behind the stone walls of which the Indians fired thirty shots upon the advance post of the English army on the 15th of December of that year."

The fort was just three and a half miles from Smith's garrison, the distance at which Appleton's company lay, and it appears to be the only place that can be made to fit the description. — Lands of Rhode Island, page 240.

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15 Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, Vol. I, page 301. Captain Oliver's Letter.

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16 Jirah Bull, son of Governor Henry, born at Portsmouth, R. I., September, 1638. Kept a garrison house on Tower Hill at Pettaquamscut. This was about two and a half miles northwest from the present village of Narragansett Pier, and perhaps a mile and a half east from the village of Wakefield.

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17 Letter of Waite Winthrop to his father, Governor John Winthrop, of Connecticut, July, 1675. — Connecticut Colony Records, Vol. II, page 338.

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18 The great Narragansett Swamp is located in the town of North Kingston, R. I., and is crossed by the line of the N. Y., N. H. & H. R. R. between the stations of Kingston and Kenyon. The island upon which the fort was located lies between Usquapaug River and Shickasheen Brook, now known as Queen's River and Muddy Brook, and may be reached by a drive of two and a half miles from Kingston station. A causeway has been constructed between a point of elevated land reaching out in near proximity to the "island," to the island itself, enabling one to reach this point of interest dry-shod.

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19 Old Indian Chronicle, page 181.

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20 Captain Oliver's Letter. Rider thinks that Stonewall John may have been the engineer of the Narragansett fort, and says, "We may hazard but little in his conjecture." — Lands of Rhode Island, page 242.

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21 Captain John Gallop, Boston, 1637. He served in the Pequot war, for which Connecticut made him a grant of one hundred acres of land. He removed to New London in 1651, but had been in Taunton for a short time in 1643. He finally settled in Stonington and was representative from that town in 1665 and 1667. — Savage.

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22 Manuscript of the Rev. W. Ruggles.

Note. — Details of this campaign are to be found at considerable length in the letters of Captain Oliver given in Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, Vol. I, page 300; the letters of Joseph Dudley to Governor Leverett, December 15th, Massachusetts Archives, Vol. LXVIII, page 101; and December 21st, Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, Vol. I, page 302.

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23 Church's Entertaining History, page 16.

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24 "We have heard of two and twenty Indian captains slain, all of them, and brought down to hell in one day." — Mather's Prevalency of Prayer, page 265.

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25 James Quanapohit's Relation. — Conn. War, 1 Doc. 35b.

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26 A letter from John Dudley to Governor Leverett, written from Smith's garrison, December 21st, 1675, credits Captain Goodale with bringing the needed relief, though Church in his Entertaining History (page 62) says that it was Captain Andrew Belcher whose vessel arrived at that time. It is more than probable, however, that Dudley's statement, written at the very time of the event, is more reliable than that of Church written forty years later. Both Goodale and Belcher were contemporary merchants and vessel owners.

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