The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

Overview

Winner of the the 1998 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award of the Phi Beta Kappa Society

King Philip's War, the excruciating racial war—colonists against Indians—that erupted in New England in 1675, was, in proportion to population, the bloodiest in American history. Some even argued that the massacres and outrages on both sides were too horrific to "deserve the name of a war."

It all began when Philip (called Metacom by his own people), the leader of ...

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Overview

Winner of the the 1998 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award of the Phi Beta Kappa Society

King Philip's War, the excruciating racial war—colonists against Indians—that erupted in New England in 1675, was, in proportion to population, the bloodiest in American history. Some even argued that the massacres and outrages on both sides were too horrific to "deserve the name of a war."

It all began when Philip (called Metacom by his own people), the leader of the Wampanoag Indians, led attacks against English towns in the colony of Plymouth. The war spread quickly, pitting a loose confederation of southeastern Algonquians against a coalition of English colonists. While it raged, colonial armies pursued enemy Indians through the swamps and woods of New England, and Indians attacked English farms and towns from Narragansett Bay to the Connecticut River Valley. Both sides, in fact, had pursued the war seemingly without restraint, killing women and children, torturing captives, and mutilating the dead. The fighting ended after Philip was shot, quartered, and beheaded in August 1676.

The war's brutality compelled the colonists to defend themselves against accusations that they had become savages. But Jill Lepore makes clear that it was after the war—and because of it—that the boundaries between cultures, hitherto blurred, turned into rigid ones. King Philip's War became one of the most written-about wars in our history, and Lepore argues that the words strengthened and hardened feelings that, in turn, strengthened and hardened the enmity between Indians and Anglos. She shows how, as late as the nineteenth century, memories of the war were instrumental in justifying Indian removals—and how in our own century that same war has inspired Indian attempts to preserve "Indianness" as fiercely as the early settlers once struggled to preserve their Englishness.

Telling the story of what may have been the bitterest of American conflicts, and its reverberations over the centuries, Lepore has enabled us to see how the ways in which we remember past events are as important in their effect on our history as were the events themselves.

Awarded the 1999 Bancroft Prize for distinguished work in American History by Columbia University.

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Editorial Reviews

Barry O'Connell
A remarkable book. . .shaped by a transformative and original imagination. . .About what cultures see, what they remember, and what they forget.
The Boston Globe
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In King Philip's War of 1675, Algonquian Indians decimated more than half of the towns in New England, while the British massacred Indian settlements and shipped thousands of Algonquians out of the colonies as slaves. Though academic in style, this engrossing study by a Boston University history professor sheds new light on what is widely considered the most brutal and vicious war in American history named after the Wampanoag leader Metacom, or Philip, who attacked Plymouth Colony. Analyzing colonists' diaries, letters and chronicles as well as captives' narratives, Lepore probes the deep-seated anxieties of the English settlers, who measured themselves not only against the "barbarian" Indians but also against the Spanish, whom the English self-righteously condemned for cruelty to Mexico's natives and to Protestants during the Inquisition. Memories of the war, kept alive for two centuries in plays, epic poems and histories, nurtured racist attitudes about Indians, according to the author. This study is full of valuable material on early English-Native contacts, on the widespread sale of Indians into foreign slavery and on relations between England and the elite of Christian Indians who mistakenly believed they would be spared from slavery. Feb.
Library Journal
Shortly before his death in 1675, John Sassamon warned the governor of Plymouth Colony that Philip, a Wampanoag Indian leader, was about to attack English settlers. When Sassamon was found dead, indications pointed to murder. Three Wampanoag Indians were tried, convicted, and executed. Days later, Philip and his followers began attacking and destroying one English settlement after another. Colonial armies retaliated, killing Indian warriors on the battlefield and their families in the villages. Rather than providing a battle-by-battle description, Lepore history, Boston Univ. presents the war through the diaries, books, articles, and dramas written about it. Her major theme is that wars and their histories cannot be separated. Wars generate their own narratives, serving to define the geographical, political, cultural, and national boundaries between warring peoples. A unique approach to historical interpretation, this book will appeal to academic libraries and those that specialize in early American history. Illustrations not seen.Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora
Gordon S. Wood
A product [of] imaginative, and wide-ranging scholarship. . .a fascinating book. . .A meditation on the war . . .on what the war meant, not only for the English and the Indians of the 17th century but also for their heirs in the 19th and 20th centuries. . . A history [rich] in imagination, in moral ruminations about the meaning and justice of the war, and in literary and cultural theory.
New York Review of Books
Barry O'Connell
A remarkable book. . .shaped by a transformative and original imagination. . .About what cultures see, what they remember, and what they forget.
The Boston Globe
Edward Countryman
A fine narrative of the war's outbreak, process, denouement, and aftermath. But Lepore's contribution to a developing literature on historical American identity lies with her elucidation of how people attached meanings to the war's gruesome events. . .She captures the experience of war, for whites and Indians alike.
The New York Times Book Review
Atlanta Journal Constitution
A unique work.
Edward Countryman
A fine narrative of the war's outbreak, process, denouement, and aftermath. But Lepore's contribution to a developing literature on historical American identity lies with her elcidation of how people attached meanings to the war's gruesome events...She captures the experience of war, for whites and Indians alike. -- New York Times Book Review
Gordon S. Wood
...[A] meditation on the war ...on what the war meant, not only for the English and the Indians of the seventeenth century but also for their heirs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries...A history [rich] in imagination, in moral ruminations about the meaning and justice of war, and in literary and cultural theory.
New York Review of Books
Kirkus Reviews
A superb study of an all-but-forgotten war that, in the author's view, had a profound effect on Anglo-American perceptions of the Indian. First-time author Lepore (History/Boston Univ.) offers an account of the bloody war in 1675 between English settlers and Algonquian Indians in New England, a "short, vicious" conflict that, by proportion of population, "inflicted greater casualties than any other war in American history." Her account is peppered with more than the usual atrocities: Men, women, even children are tortured and murdered, whole cities burned. It is also riddled with mysteries; as Lepore notes, the war began thanks to rumor, an unsolved murder, and pent-up but vague hatreds among peoples who had become more and more like one another. The English, far from home, had adopted Native American customs and cuisine, had stopped attending church, had moved farther and farther inland and away from European settlements. The Indians, for their part, had taken to wearing Western clothes, living in houses, and reading the Bible. With identities thus confused, each side waged a war that the other condemned as brutal and savage, and thousands died in the bargain. Lepore's account of the war has the immediacy of journalism, as well as learned asides about anthropological theories of conflict, the effect of literacy on hitherto preliterate populations, the nature of ethnic strife, and, most important, the memory of King Philip's War in New England. That grim memory, she suggests, tempered later policies of war and removal. The war itself continues to resonate today as Native Americans press their claims for land first lost in the conflict's aftermath. "In the end, this book is justanother story about just another war," Lepore writes, with wholly undue modesty. Vivid and thoughtful, it is much more than that, and it holds the promise of much good work to come.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375702624
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 261,923
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Table of Contents

What's in a Name?...................................................ix
A Brief Chronology of King Philip's War............................xxv
Prologue The Circle.................................................3

PART ONE * LANGUAGE
PART TWO * WAR
PART THREE * BONDAGE
PART FOUR * MEMORY
Epilogue The Rock.................................................227
Abbreviations......................................................241
Notes..............................................................247
Acknowledgments....................................................327
Index..............................................................329

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

THE CIRCLE

They first cut one of his Fingers round in the Joynt, at the Trunck of his Hand, with a sharp Knife, and then brake it off, as Men used to do with a slaughtered Beast, before they uncase him; then they cut off another and another, till they had dismembered one Hand of all its Digits, the Blood sometimes spirting out in Streams a Yard from his Hand... yet did not the Sufferer ever relent, or shew any Signs of Anguish.... In this Frame he continued, till his Executioners had dealt with the Toes of his Feet, as they had done with the Fingers of his Hands; all the while making him Dance round the Circle, and Sing, till he had wearied both himself and them. At last they brake the Bones of his Legs, after which he was forced to sit down, which 'tis said he silently did, till they had knocked out his Brains.

July 1676. King Philip's War is almost over. Houses have been burned, children murdered, men beheaded. Hatred has accumulated. And here, it seems, is a typical account of a typical torture--the inexorable slowness of it, the mocking. The torturers are Mohegan Indians. "Making a great Circle, they placed him in the Middle, that all their Eyes might at the same Time, be pleased with the utmost Revenge upon him." The typical spectacle, the typical torments; we can almost see the writhing English colonist, surrounded by men he considers barbarians, suffering stoically. But our imagination, swelled by too many Saturdays spent watching Westerns, has carried us away. The man in the middle is not an English-man. The account itself might have tipped us off: "'Tis said " that the fingerless, toeless man sat down silently while his torturers knocked his brains out. Said by whom? The Englishman whose words we read writes in the third person; he is not that fingerless, toeless, ultimately brainless man. Nor is he a captive forced to watch a gruesome preview of the fate that awaits him, only to be rescued at the last minute. He has only heard this story, secondhand, from someone who witnessed the scene and lived to tell the tale. Who, then, is the man in the middle, and where is the Englishman who watched him die?

The fingerless, toeless man is also nameless. He is called only "a young sprightly Fellow, seized by the Mohegins," though his sprightliness will soon fade. He is no Englishman; the English despise him. He is a formidable foe. "Of all the Enemies" of the war, "this Villain did most deserve to become an Object of Justice and Severity." He is, at first, boastful, too, and brags of shooting nineteen Englishmen dead and then, "unwilling to lose a fair Shot," killing a Mohegan to make an even twenty. "With which, having made up his Number, he told them he was fully satisfied." The Mohegans, after all, are allies of the English, and he who would kill one would as easily kill the other. The man in the middle of the circle could, perhaps, be a Frenchman, enemy to both. But instead he is a "cruel Monster" who has fought to oust the settlers from New England. The picture becomes clearer. The man in the middle, it turns out, is an Indian, a Narragansett.

But if both the sufferer and his tormentors are Indians, where, in this scene, are the English? They are watching, and paying close attention. Aided by the Mohegans, the English have just captured more than three hundred enemy Indians and now they must "gratify" their allies, who ask that this Narragansett man "be delivered into their Hands, that they might put him to Death" and thereby "sacrifice him to their cruel Genius of Revenge." The English quickly consent, "lest by a Denial they might disoblige their Indian Friends," and also, they admit, because they are curious for "an occular Demonstration of the Salvage, barbarous Cruelty of these Heathen." The English, then, have made this torture possible, and now they form part of the "great Circle" of onlookers to the event.

Truly the English are in a difficult position. Being the man in the middle, however horrifying, makes more sense to them, to their sense of themselves, than forming the circle. If they are to think of themselves as different from "these Heathen" whom they condemn for their "barbarous Cruelty," how can they consent to it? How can they stand shoulder to shoulder with Indians and watch as a man is tortured to death, knowing, as they do, that watching is the chief sport of it? Although they insist that the Narragansett man is tortured simply to humor the Mohegans, his suffering seems sublimely satisfying to the English as well. They never look away; this is the "occular Demonstration" they've been waiting for. In many ways, theirs is a safe pleasure. Their enemy is killed, yet they do not have to kill him. They are allowed to witness torture, yet they need not inflict it. Nor are they themselves physically threatened--it is not their legs that are being broken.

Still, there is danger here. "It is a signe of a barbarous and cruell man," according to an influential English Puritan theologian, "if any one bee given to warre simply desiring it and delighting in it." Or, as Thomas Aquinas had written, "brutality or savagery applies to those who in inflicting punishment have not in view a default of the person punished, but merely the pleasure they derive from a man's torture." To the extent that the English soldiers enjoy witnessing this scene of torture, they are relishing "savage" pleasures and thereby jeopardizing their identity as "civilized" men. And protecting that identity--as Christians and, most fundamentally, as Englishmen--is why they are fighting the war in the first place. From the time of their first arrival, in the 1620s and 1630s, the settlers had worried about losing their Englishness. However much they wanted to escape England and its corruptions, they still clung to their English ways--ways of walking, talking, dressing, thinking, eating, and drinking. Being away from England meant religious freedom, but it also meant cultural isolation. Even while in Holland they had complained that it was "grievous to live from under the protection of the State of England," likely "to lose our language, and our name of English." If living among the Dutch in a European city threatened English identity, how much more threatening was living among the Indians in the New World. Strange languages, strange people, strange land. Building a "city on a hill" in the American wilderness provided a powerful religious rationale, but on certain days, in many ways, it must have fallen short of making perfect sense. When the corn didn't grow, when the weather turned wild, when the wolves howled, when the Indians laughed at God, these are the times when the colonists might have wondered, What are we doing here? Discouraged and afraid, thousands of colonists simply left--as many as one in six sailed home to England in the 1630s and 1640s, eager to return to a world they knew and understood.

But those who stayed eventually learned to grow corn, predict the weather, shoot wolves, and ignore Indian blasphemies. And then they might have wondered, Who have we become?

The colonists' doubts about their own identity were magnified both by their distance from England and by their nearness to the Indians. Most especially, they worried about the Indians' origins and the reason for their barbarity. Either the Indians were native to America and more like an elm tree than an Englishman, or else they were migrants from Europe or Asia and then very much like the English, who were simply more recent migrants. If native, the Indians were one with the wilderness and had always been as savage as their surroundings. As Roger Williams reported, "They say themselves, that they have sprung and growne up in that very place, like the very trees of the Wildernesse." But if the Indians were migrants from Europe or Asia, then they had changed since coming to America and had been contaminated by its savage environment. If this were the case, as many believed, then the English could expect to degenerate, too. Urging the conversion of the Indians to Christianity, Daniel Gookin had warned, "Here we may see, as in a mirror, or looking glass, the woful, miserable, and deplorable estate, that sin hath reduced mankind unto naturally." Instead of being the stage for the perfection of piety, the woods of New England might in truth be a forest of depravity. Instead of becoming "visible saints" for all of Europe to see, the English might expect to become more savage with each passing year, not only less religious but also less and less like Englishmen. And more and more like Indians.

By the 1670s, in the years before King Philip's War broke out, there were many signs that the English had degenerated. Church membership and church attendance had declined. People were settling farther and farther from the coast, nearer to the Indians, and farther from the civilizing influence of English neighbors. Trade and contact with the Indians were increasing, though little of this contact involved sharing the good news of the gospel. In 1674, just a year before the war began, the Puritan minister Increase Mather published a sermon called The Day of Trouble is Near, in which he bemoaned the profligacy of his parishioners and the "great decay as to the power of godliness amongst us." It had become almost impossible, he complained, to tell the difference between church members and other men.

Mather's themes of decay and confusion were common concerns. At the farthest extreme, New Englanders worried that they might degenerate so much as to become indistinguishable from beasts. The same year that Mather published his Day of Trouble, Samuel Danforth printed a sermon on bestiality occasioned by a young boy's confession of copulating with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey in which he condemned the practice as a "monstrous and horrible Confusion" that "turneth man into a bruit Beast." Somewhere between these two fears--of mistaking godly men for ungodly men, or men for beasts--lay the colonists' principal fear: of mistaking Englishmen for Indians. Earlier English colonizers in Ireland had shared the same concerns, worrying, as Edmund Spenser did, that the English there might follow the fate of the original Norman invaders who "degenerated and growen allmoste meare Irishe yea and more malitious to the Englishe than the verye Irishe themselves." In both New England and Ireland, not a few colonists, after all, had run off to live with the natives, abandoning English society altogether. Nearby, in New France, Frenchmen seemingly "became Savage simply because they lived with them." Perhaps, the English New Englanders worried, they themselves were becoming Indianized, contaminated by the influence of America's wilderness and its wild people.

Meanwhile, many Algonquians had come to suspect the reverse, worrying that they themselves had become too much like their new European neighbors. Not only had the English taken Indian lands and disrupted traditional systems of trade and agriculture, but they also had corrupted the power of native rulers, or sachems, and attempted to eradicate the influence of powwaws, native religious leaders. When coastal populations became decimated by European diseases, many Indians had even decided to convert to Christianity and to live among the English. Those who resisted the influence of the English commonly attributed all of their people's problems "to the Departure of some of them from their own heathenish Ways and Customs." Philip himself believed that too many Indians had been Anglicized and Christianized, praying to an English God and even learning to read and write. During negotiations with several colonists from Rhode Island, Philip and his counselors claimed "that thay had a great fear to have ani of their indians should be Caled or forsed to be Christian indians. Thay saied that such wer in everi thing more mischivous, only disemblers, and then the English made them not subject to their kings, and by ther lying to rong their kings." Clearly, the boundaries between the two peoples had become blurred.

A day of trouble was indeed near, as Increase Mather had warned. "Ye shall hear of wars, and rumours of wars," he preached, quoting from Matthew 24:6. Calamities showing God's judgment were almost always at hand in Mather's mind, but this time, in 1674, he had a point. It is not entirely clear just exactly how or why the war started when it did, in June 1675, but from the firing of the first shots, both sides pursued the war with viciousness, and almost without mercy. "Christians in this Land have become too like unto the Indians," Increase Mather would later write, "and then we need not wonder if the Lord hath afflicted us by them." The Indians, Wampanoags, Narragansetts, and Nipmucks, as well as Pocomtucks and Abenakis, attacked dozens of English towns, burning as many houses and killing as many inhabitants as they could. And the English, with occasional help from Mohegan, Pequot, Mohawk, and Christian Indians, burned wigwams, killed women and children, and sold prisoners into slavery. Both sides practiced torture and mutilation of the dead.

New England's Algonquians waged war against the English settlers in response to incursions on their cultural, political, and economic autonomy and, at least in part, they fought to maintain their Indianness. Meanwhile, New England colonists waged war to gain Indian lands, to erase Indians from the landscape, and to free themselves of doubts about their own Englishness. For many colonists this was a struggle ordained by God, in which He "in wisdom most devine" would "purg ther dros from purer Coyne." But if the English hoped to do away with enemy Indians by torturing some, killing most, and selling the rest as slaves, there was a catch: that was what the Spanish had done. And to behave as the Spanish had would again jeopardize the colonists' identity as Englishmen.

Spain's brutal conquest of Mexico was widely known in both Old and New England, largely through a work titled The Tears of the Indians and commonly referred to as "Spanish Cruelties," but actually a translation of the Spanish friar Bartolome de Las Casas' sixteenth-century treatise "In Defense of the Indians." Las Casas had spared no details in documenting the atrocities perpetrated by the conquistadors, and "Spanish Cruelties" invited English readers to define their colonial ventures in opposition to that model. In the seventeenth century, the widespread printing and distribution of works such as "Spanish Cruelties" fueled the growth of nationalism in Europe, a development that was predicated on the invention of the printing press. As one New England colonist wrote in 1676, "all men of reading condemne the Spaniard for cruelty ... in destroying men & depopulating the land." Translations of Las Casas were, in fact, part of a propaganda war among the competing imperial powers, Spain, Holland, England, and France, much of which, from the English perspective, centered on proving who was most Christian, and most civilized, in their interactions with America's native inhabitants. When Richard Hakluyt listed for Queen Elizabeth the reasons for planting American colonies, he suggested that the English might easily win the favor of Indians desperate for liberation from Spain's cruelties:

The Spaniards governe in the Indies with all pride and tyranie; and like as when people of contrarie nature at the sea enter into Gallies, where men are tied as slaves, all yell and crye with one voice Liberta, liberta, as desirous of libertie or freedome, so no doubt whensoever the Queene of England ... shall seate upon that firme of America, and shalbe reported throughout all that tracte to use the naturall people there with all humanitie, curtesie, and freedome, they will yelde themselves to her government and revolte cleane from the Spaniarde.

Sir Walter Ralegh even planned to bring Las Casas' "booke of the Spanish crueltyes with fayr pictures" on his voyage to Guiana in the 1590s, hoping to show it to the natives and impress them with the wisdom of welcoming the kinder, gentler English.

Part of the mission of New England's "city on a hill," then, was to advertise the civility of the English colonists and to hold it in stark contrast with the barbarous cruelty of Spain's conquistadors and the false and blasphemous impiety of France's Jesuit missionaries. Books not only about the Spanish conquest but also about the Spanish Inquisition, both of which illustrated the depravity and cruelty of Spaniards, and of papists in general, were printed and made widely available to English readers "Spanish Cruelties" was even subtitled "Inquisition for Blood," to make the connection more explicit. The French, on the other hand, were derided not so much for cruelty as for hypocrisy and sacrilege in their meaningless baptisms of Indians ignorant of the gospel. A popular English joke told of a Jesuit missionary who, having lived in New France for a quarter century, wrote to a friend in Europe to ask him "to send him a Book called the Bible, for he heard there was such a Book in Europe; which might be of some use to him."

Countering these visions of colonial failures, early published accounts of the English colonists' adventures in New England stressed the pleasantness of their interactions with Indians; the fairness of their treaties; and, especially after 1640, the success of their efforts to convert the Indians to Christianity by teaching them to read the Bible. New Englanders' fame as missionaries to the Indians was so well publicized that by 1654 Roger Williams was able to dissuade his fellow colonists from waging war against the Narragansetts by pointing out that their reputation was at stake:

it Can not be hid, how all England & other Nations ring with the glorious Conversion of the Indians of New England. You know how many bookes are dispersed throughout the Nation of that Subject ...: how have all the Pulpits in England bene Commanded to Sound of this Glorious Worcke.... I beseech you consider how the name of the most holy & jealous God may be preserved betweene the clashings of these Two: Viz: The Glorious Conversion of the Indians in New England & the Unnecessary Warrs & cruell Destructions of the Indians in New England.

Fearful of "Unnecessary Warrs & cruell Destructions," those New England colonists who had read or heard of Las Casas' "Spanish Cruelties" had a vivid idea of what not to do in the New World. In a prefatory address "To all true English-men," the translator of a 1656 English edition of "Spanish Cruelties" asked his readers to imagine watching the horrors of the conquest, to imagine, in a sense, standing in a circle of spectators to that event:

had you been Eye-witnesses to the transcending Massacres here related; had you been one of those that lately saw a pleasant Country, now swarming with multitudes of People, but immediately depopulated, and drown'd in a Deluge of Bloud: had you been one of those that saw great Cities of Nations and Countries in this moment flourishing with Inhabitants, but in the next, totally ruin'd with such a General Desolation, as left neither Person living nor Houee remaining: had you seen the poor innocent Heathens shaming and upbraiding, with the ghasdiness of their Wounds, the devilish Cruelties of those that called themselves Christians: had you seen the poor creatures torn from the peace and quiet of their own Habitations, where God had planted them, to labour in a Tormenting Captivity ... your Compassion must of necessity have turn'd into Astonishment: the tears of Men can hardly suffice...."

Compassion, astonishment, and tears. In 1656, when this "Spanish Cruelties" was printed, these were the only proper responses of "true English-men" to the torture and slaughter of Indians.

Twenty years later, those "true English-men" who lived in New England found themselves in a very tricky spot. Barbarism threatened them from every direction: if they continued to live peaceably with the Indians, they were bound to degenerate into savages, but if they waged war, they were bound to fight like savages. Their dilemma was further complicated because, along with the lessons of "Spanish Cruelties," New Englanders were also influenced, however indirectly, by the representation of German, Irish, and Catholic cruelties in English books and stories. In the 1640s England had itself experienced and inflicted some of the worst atrocities of warfare during its civil wars. Meanwhile, Germany's own religious violence warned that England might meet a similar fate and descend into grotesque and enduring civil strife. At the same time, England's experience in Ireland, especially during the Irish Rebellion of 1641, contributed to the powerful tradition of Protestant martyrdom by emphasizing English Protestants' sufferings at the hands of the "wild" and "heathen" Irish and also established a precedent allowing Christian Englishmen to ignore the laws of war when fighting against people England considered "barbarians." Several of these traditions, of course, contradicted one another. The lesson of "Spanish Cruelties" commanded New Englanders to shun cruelty against the Indians, while the English suppression of the Irish Rebellion suggested that cruelty against barbarians might not really be cruelty at all. Yet what linked Spanish, German, and Irish cruelties was that they were all written about at great length, and put into print. This was the lesson New England's colonists would take to heart: as the Boston poet Benjamin Tompson would write in 1676, "All cruelties which paper stained before / Are acted to the life here o'er and o'er.

Here, then, was the solution to the colonists' dilemma between peacefully degenerating into barbarians or fighting like savages: wage the war, and win it, by whatever means necessary, and then write about it, to win it again. The first would be a victory of wounds, the second a victory of words. Even if they inflicted on the Indians as much cruelty as the Spanish had, New Englanders could distance themselves from that cruelty in the words they used to write about it, the same way the English had when writing about the Irish. They could save themselves from both Indian and Spanish barbarity; they could reclaim their Englishness.

Recall now the scene with which we began. It is July 1676; King Philip's War is almost over. Houses have been burned, children murdered, men beheaded. The Indian population has been decimated. It could be said that many have been "torn from the peace and quiet of their own Habitations" and that many now "labour in a Tormenting Captivity." Here, English soldiers and their Mohegan allies stand in a circle while a Narragansett Indian has his fingers and toes chopped off, his legs broken, his brains dashed to the ground. No longer do the English have to imagine watching these "Spanish Cruelties." They are there; these cruelties are their own. But even here, the only proper response is the response of "true English-men": compassion, astonishment, and tears.

The way the story is told, we know that the English are disgusted by the cruelty they witness, and as both anthropologists and historians have pointed out, disgust is one way that one culture differentiates itself from another. The story's expression of disgust goes a long way toward preserving the Englishness of the soldiers present. But the other side of disgust is desire, and, despite their protestations to the contrary, clearly the English feel that, too. Their disgust takes the form of revulsion, their desire fascination. While they may find it painful to watch as a young man has his fingers sawed off, they also find it pleasurable. But for an English soldier to confess his fascination, to admit his pleasure, is to become indistinguishable from the Indian beside him.

Now contrast this scene with another, the torture of several Englishmen by Wampanoag Indians in April 1676:

They took five or six of the English and carried them away alive, but that night killed them in such a manner as none but Savages would have done. For they stripped them naked, and caused them to run the Gauntlet, whipping them after a cruel and bloudy manner, and then threw hot ashes upon them, cut out the flesh of their leges, and put fire into their wounds, delighting to see the miserable torments of wretched creatures. Thus are they the perfect children of the Devill.

In this scene, where the English are the sufferers rather than the spectators, who is "savage" and who is "civilized" is much clearer. The torture is what "none but Salvages would have done." And the smug conclusion, "Thus are they the perfect children of the Devill," implies its own antithesis: "Thus are we the perfect children of God."

Yet the key to both of these scenes is not who is being tortured but who is being pleased. When the Englishmen run the gauntlet, the Wampanoags are said to be "delighting to see the miserable torments of wretched creatures." And when the Narragansett man is butchered, the Mohegans "delight" in this brutish and devilish Passion." "Delight" is in fact their chief sin--any good Puritan would have been familiar with Psalms 68:30: "Scatter thou the people that delight in war." Although the English soldiers watch, they make it dear that they themselves are "not delighted in Blood."This, in fact, is the only way to excuse their presence: We may be watching, they say, but that doesn't mean we like it; in fact, it makes us sick. What pleases Indian eyes pains English ones. The Mohegans encircle the tormented man so that all eyes might "be pleased" with a good view, but the English admit to no such pleasure; they can only weep at the grisly sight, "it forcing Tears from their Eyes." These are the very same tears that, had they imagined themselves witnesses to the Spanish conquest, they would have shed in abundance.

Instead of admitting their pleasure, the English displace it onto the Mohegans standing next to them. Again and again they point out that it is the Indians who are "delighted," not the English. But even that move is not enough. The line between Englishman and Indian is still too thin. To thicken it, the pain of the event must be displaced, too. The Indian in the middle of the circle does not himself "shew any Signs of Anguish." Instead, the English do. He bleeds but they cry. The scene is so painful to the English that it is torture just to watch it. By feeling the pain of the fingerless, toeless man, feeling it even more than he does, the English onlookers put themselves in his place. Desperate to distinguish themselves from the "heathen" Mohegans, they figuratively hurl themselves back into the center of the circle, where their identity as the tormented victims of barbarous savages is reestablished. Their Englishness has been preserved.

WHAT THE ENGLISH representation of this scene utterly fails to understand, of course, is the elaborate meanings of the Indians' behavior. Yet, if the Indians' perspective on this scene goes unstated or uncomprehended in the English account, it need not remain unstated or unexamined here. Interpreted in the context of Algonquian ritual, the Mohegans, whom the English condemn for their "delight," are not enjoying the victim's agonies as much as they are admiring his stoicism, his failure to "shew any Signs of Anguish," and the circle they form has social and spiritual significance, uniting the group in collective catharsis. Since captives may have symbolically replaced a recently deceased lost tribe member, torture, for the tormentors, was both an expression of dominance and a release of mourners' emotions. And, for the sufferer who endured it, torture was a ritual of initiation, a test of perseverance, and a spiritual journey. His singing and dancing were expressions of defiance that brought worldly respect and otherworldly rewards both to himself and to the tribe member whom he had symbolically replaced. For the Indians, then, this event was an elaborately ordered ceremony.

Nor should we allow the Narragansett man in the middle of the circle to remain nameless and speechless simply because he is so rendered in the English account. Although his identity cannot be reliably determined, some evidence suggests that he may have been Stonewall John, a Narragansett Indian named for masonry skills he acquired while living among the English. At the start of the war, Stonewall John abandoned the English, joined enemy Indians, and participated in several attacks on English towns. Most notoriously, he was thought to have coordinated the construction of an Indian fort at the Great Swamp. And when Roger Williams attempted to negotiate with Stonewall John and other Indians during an attack on Providence in March 1676, they told him, "You have driven us out of our own Countrie and then pursued us to our Great Miserie, and Your own, and we are Forced to live upon you."

ULTIMATELY, it is not at all surprising that the English have failed to record evidence that might explain the reasons why this man, a "cruel Monster," fought against the English during the war, or to recognize the layers of meaning that might make his torturers' "delight" something other than "savage." The English account, after all, is concerned only with explaining English meanings. In that regard, its strained and twisting moral posturing is not unusual; indeed, it is typical of writing about war. A great deal is at stake when people are trying to kill one another, and the language used to write about it can be very complicated indeed. So much was at stake for the English colonists, in fact, that they had to tell stories like this over and over again. This scene, they say, is an example of "unheard of Cruelty," but it does not go unheard of for long. "'Tis said" that the young Narragansett man sat down silently while his torturers knocked his brains out. Said by whom? Said, no doubt, by many. Clearly, this story made the rounds. People were eager to hear it, and the soldiers were eager to tell it. Often, those who related this torture scene, or the story of the expedition of which it was a part, went out of their way to exonerate the English soldiers. The Rhode Islander William Harris claimed that the English had been "provoked by the barbarous inhumanety they have heard of: & Seen hath bin done to the English whose dead bodyes they founde in the woods." Fearful that the actions of the English soldiers "Should be thought too great Severity," Harris went on to provide a detailed descriptions of "the cruelty of the Indians" that had so provoked them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2004

    Great narrative about a long-forgotton war

    King Philip's war is a war that few Americans (even those who have been through the American educational system) have heard about. But Lepore does a good job illustrating the effects of the war on colonial New England and settler-native relations for years to come. If you want to learn about how colonial race relations and cultural history, do yourself a favor, and read this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2001

    More Than An Academic Work

    I have just purchased a second copy of this book to send to a friend. The work deserves a much wider audience than that of adademia. It is deep meditation, not just on this war, but on war itself, on what causes wars, on how opponents differently perceive the experience, and on how the description of war by historians changes the experience itself. More than anything I have ever read before, this book also humanizes the plight of American Indians as a population faced with a massive physical and cultural invasion. At the same time, it provides some shocking insights into how, in war, even apparently civilized people rapidly descend into barbarism, while managing somehow to rationalize their conduct into something justifiable and just. Finally, the book does not have an academic tone. It reads like a mystery story - clear, fast-paced and dramatic. And the mystery is that of human perversity. I recommend it highly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Hones in on hidden USA origins

    This is very informative but i was extremely disappointed that only 1 brief mention was made of Philip's(Metacomet.Metacom,Pometacom) older brother Alexander(Wamsutta) being murdered by poisoning at the hands of Governor Bradford prior to the start of the war. Nan Apashamen of the Wamanoag and deceased historian at Plymouth Plantation was working on research which suggested that "Moanam" was a later name for Alexander and that Alexander was in fact Philip's father, not his brother. Alexander, Philip,Sassamon and others went to the newly formed Harvard College. Alexander had been summoned at gunpoint to see Bradford, who was a military man. He was in excellent health. Three days after sequestered interrogation by Bradford, he returned to die.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2004

    Interesting combination

    This is an intersting combo of cultural and military history. She sometimes goes beyond her evidence in extrapolating, but not too far (as is common in cultural history) to be incredible. The biggest fault is the lack of a coherent narrative of the war itself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2010

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