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King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1676

King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1676

by James D. Drake


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558492240
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date: 01/31/2000
Series: Native Americans of the Northeast Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 976,173
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 8.92(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

James D. Drake is assistant professor of history at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Read an Excerpt

King Philip's War

Civil War in New England, 1675-1676
By James D. Drake

University of Massachusetts Press

Copyright © 2000 James D. Drake
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1558492240

Chapter One

Chiefs and Followers

If we could have seen it, New England in the years before King Philip's War would have been nearly unrecognizable. The harbors and streams were cleaner, the forests thicker in spots, and temperatures a little cooler. The largest town, Boston, consisted of a few thousand people clustered on a patch of land that, depending upon the tide, had been an island at times. One out of four of the region's seventy-eight thousand inhabitants in 1675 was Indian. And if we could get into the heads of all of those people, we would undoubtedly be struck by their mindset. One of the hardest tasks that faces a historian is placing the reader into the perspective and context looming before the historical participants under discussion. When a person studies seventeenth-century New England, it is difficult to set aside the knowledge that its English and Indians were going to become embroiled in a climactic war in 1675. Although historians have gone so far as to explain the 1675 conflict as "virtually inevitable" once English settlers arrived in the region, colonists and Indians in previous years did not operate with the assumption that a tremendous war lay ahead in 1675. Rather, groups more often than not worked energetically to prevent the conflict that eventually ensued.

The emphasis on conflict rather than accommodation has stemmed partly from the concerns reflected in the writings of the English. As historian Jill Lepore has demonstrated, in the midst of hostilities colonists wrote more than they did when there were peaceful relations among the different English and Indian groups. To be sure, there was more tension in the region than its inhabitants would have liked. But widening the angle of vision and putting New England into a hemispheric context reveals relative peace and even remarkable parallels between English and Indian polities. The colonists and the Indians had the necessary mutual cultural traits to facilitate the intermeshing of their previously distinct societies. Understanding the extent to which various groups fused together is essential to understanding how they subsequently came apart.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Plymouth--the English colonies--had intricate ties to the Nipmucks, the Mohegans, the Narragansetts, the Pequots, and the Wampanoags--the largest Indian ethnic and political entities in the region. Although most of these designations are modern-day political units, they were not nearly so important or rigid in the seventeenth century. Then they constituted just a handful of the region's complex overlapping political entities. On one hand, both English and Indians drew their primary political identity from their local village or band rather than from any regional polity. On the other, regional leaders of both colonial governments and Indian confederations struggled against these centrifugal, localistic forces in efforts to reinforce the power of their regional polities. Within this context, both regional and local leaders entered their communities into voluntary, and sometimes overlapping, coalitions of perceived common political interests. It was both local communities and these voluntary coalitions that formed the true warp and woof of seventeenth-century political life in the Northeast. Recognition of the overlap among Indian and English polities sheds light on the linkages that led to the relatively peaceful coexistence of New England's inhabitants between 1620 and 1675, a covalent society.

A century earlier and thousands of miles removed from the arrival of Pilgrims in New England, the Spaniard Hernando Cortes led an expedition into central Mexico. By 1521, two years after first arriving, his party, numbering in the hundreds, had conquered Indians numbering in the millions. A decade later, a Spanish party under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro accomplished a similar feat when it made short work of the Inca empire. Remarkably, neither Spanish expedition had professional soldiers in it, and 90 percent of the men involved had no formal military training. In subsequent expeditions, adventurers from Spain and other European countries, fueled by visions of wealth and the relative ease with which Cortes and Pizarro had defeated the densest populations in the Americas, tried to replicate their results against other Indians in locations throughout North America. For most of these men, the past did not repeat itself.

The conquests of Cortes and Pizarro were largely ones of Indian labor, and it was the nature of the Indian societies they met that made conquest possible. Their actions were profitable because they gained access to Indian wealth in the form of encomiendas--most simply, the legal title to tribute that would have been due an Indian leader in preconquest society. In both central Mexico and Peru, the conquerors found social structures and tribute mechanisms upon which they could capitalize. Rather than try to destroy these, the Spanish found they could base the jurisdictions of their encomiendas on those of indigenous sovereign entities. In the early phases of postconquest society, Spaniards simply replaced the local leaders at the head of the social hierarchy. For Indian commoners, life went on much as it had in the past, the main difference being that the product of their labor ended up in the hands of a European. Since they lived sedentary lives, they did not consider fleeing or resisting Spanish invasion as an option, because it would have constituted a wholesale change in their way of life. Thus, submission to new rulers seemed the more palatable alternative; they had relatively little will to fight, so they surrendered even though they vastly outnumbered the invaders.

In contrast to the conquests of central Mexico and the Incan empire, most subsequent European forays into the Americas dealt with less sedentary Indians. The results differed dramatically. When the Spanish headed north from central Mexico, they met the Chichimecs--nonsedentary Indians. To render these Indians profitable or even nominally Christian, Spaniards tried to institute wholesale changes in their way of life, imposing sedentariness to make them like their southern counterparts. They failed. Because they were nomadic, the Chichimecs viewed Spanish efforts to colonize their labor as fundamental challenges to their way of life. Their will to fight was strong. Facing inspired opposition, the Spanish had to adapt their techniques to the new circumstances. Efforts to conquer the nonsedentary Indians of northern Mexico led to paying European soldiers for their services--for the first time in the Americas. Since nomadic Indians did not have the same permanent infrastructure as the Nahuas of central Mexico, the Spanish had to build it (or force Indian slaves to do so). Hence, the presidio and the mission were born. Despite such measures, the Spanish were unable to replicate their feats in central Mexico and Peru; the Indians persistently rebelled against Spanish authority.

The Spanish example highlights the ability of indigenous cultures and institutions to shape the contact experience. A provocative synthesis of early Latin American history by James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz has gone so far as to argue that "Indian peoples and the resources of their lands were the primary determinants of regional differentiation." In broad brush strokes, Lockhart and Schwartz divide Indians of the Americas into three categories: sedentary, nonsedentary, and, somewhere between the two, semisedentary. They are admittedly arbitrary in breaking a continuum of lifeways down into three categories. Nevertheless, the categories do have predictive power when it comes to Indian-European contact. Sedentary Indians, usually with vast wealth recognized by Europeans, attracted the first colonists. These Indians lived in the societies that looked most familiar to Europeans, and they had populations in which Europeans saw the labor necessary to extract wealth from the Americas. Only in areas like central Mexico and Peru did the Spanish find people who lived lives relatively similar to those of Europeans, enabling them to establish lucrative encomiendas, Indian parishes, and functioning Indian municipalities. As Lockhart writes, "the Europeans and indigenous peoples of the central areas had more in common than either did with the other peoples of the hemisphere."

The most different from Europeans, regardless of nationality, were the nomadic peoples of the Americas. In places like northern Mexico, the Argentine Pampas, the American Great Plains, and the American Southwest, small numbers of indigenous peoples fought European and Euramerican domination well into the nineteenth century. In an instance known to most Americans, a small band of Apaches, including Geronimo, refused to succumb to a well-armed U.S. military force numbering in the thousands. These Indians gained a reputation as the "fightingest" of the United States. Nonsedentary Indians usually had the smallest and most mobile societal units, inhabited the lands least attractive to Europeans, and were the least willing to accept the changes that Euramericans tried to foist on them. When Euramericans and nomadic indigenous peoples met, relatively little accommodation occurred and conflict was the norm. The two groups had little cultural overlap and did not recognize much usefulness in one another.

Northern New England, what is now Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, was inhabited by relatively nonsedentary Indians. As might be expected, seventeenth-century English colonists never established much more than a minimal foothold in this region. Southern New England, what is now Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, was a different matter; natives there had semisedentary lifestyles. To be sure, there were local variations in the economies and political structures of southern New England's Indian groups, with Indians along the coasts and in the river valleys tending to be slightly more sedentary and living in more densely populated settlements than those in upland areas. But most of them subsisted on agriculture in combination with hunting or fishing, in contrast to northern New England's Indians, who relied much less on agriculture. It was the coastal and river Indians that the English colonists first met and had their most extended, intimate contact with. Like semisedentary Indians throughout the Americas, these Indians had an ability and a desire to resist European domination somewhere between that of sedentary and nonsedentary Indians. Rather than being easily conquered or resisting initially and indefinitely, southern New England's Indians explored the many areas of cultural overlap they had with the European newcomers. They tested the English political system, and many groups found that they could use it to their advantage. In some respects the arrival of the English "magnified" internal social and political trends that were in place before their arrival. For the English, in keeping with patterns demonstrated throughout the Americas, southern New England's Indians, as semisedentary peoples, could appear valuable, even familiar. The colonists, in Lockhart and Schwartz's words again, might "use the social structure of the semi-sedentary groups to their advantage to the extent that they were willing and able to become a part of it themselves." And so they did. Southern New England Indians and English colonists had social structures and lifestyles that enabled them to intermingle with relative peace--at least temporarily.

Archaeological evidence shows that before they met the English, Indian communities in southern New England had been in flux. In the centuries just before European arrival, they had developed more densely populated, complex societies. This change was especially pronounced in coastal regions, where population growth stressed the supply of shellfish around 1300. Facing food shortages, coastal Indians put more resources into agriculture. By the time the Europeans arrived, maize cultivation had been adopted by most of southern New England's indigenous peoples. Intensification of agriculture had led to competition for land even before English colonization. Historically, growing population and competition for resources has been a catalyst for political centralization and stratification across cultures, and New England's native peoples were no exception. Increasingly powerful leaders rose to authority through competition based on the ability to provide their group with productive land. Others rose to prominence by controlling the supply or production of wampum, beads made of shells that became more economically and spiritually important during this period. The result of political centralization and consolidation was the crystallization of many of the sovereign Indian entities in New England that we are familiar with today, such as the Wampanoags, the Narragansetts, and the Mohegans. In the seventeenth century, these units functioned as chiefdoms.

Anthropologists and archaeologists concur that a chiefdom is a centrally organized regional polity with a population in the thousands. These societies contain a certain amount of heritable social status and stratification based on access to strategic resources. They usually evolve out of more simply organized community groupings and sometimes form an intermediate step toward what might be recognized as a state. Chiefdoms, however, do not always unilinearly evolve out of simpler societies. Rather, as the Danish archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen has argued, "[m]any 'autonomous' chiefdoms and tribes may simply be devolved societies, temporarily cut off from the larger system of which they had historically been a part.... Within such a world system, the regional systems maintain a degree of autonomy, despite their dependency on remote regions for supplies of metal, prestige goods, and ritual information." Within such a world system and societal evolutionary or devolutionary framework, the New England colonies, like the region's Indians, also demonstrated the political dynamics of chiefdoms. This meant that the two could see similarity in their political cultures.

The most vexing problem facing students of chiefdoms is explaining why individuals cast their loyalty with a regional polity. Why should the subjects of a chiefdom allow others to have power over them? What prevents these subjects from "voting with their feet" against the society's leadership? The English migration of the 1630s largely represented resentment against the encroachment of centralized rule. The historian Timothy Breen notes that migrants to Massachusetts "departed England determined to maintain their local attachments against outside interference, and to a large extent the Congregational churches and self-contained towns of Massachusetts Bay stood as visible evidence of the founders' decision to preserve in America what had been threatened in the mother country." Breen argues that village localism persisted in North America and that freemen--individuals who could vote--usually resisted centralized control such as the efforts of Gov. John Winthrop, Sr., and the General Court of Massachusetts to impose on the towns colonywide taxes, militias, and religions. Although the colonial legislature developed a town-based system for the distribution of land, ordinary colonists within the towns implemented it. Rarely did colonial governments meddle in the affairs of townspeople. Winthrop walked a delicate balance trying to maintain authority over ten thousand to fifteen thousand subjects with a government much weaker than the one they had already defied. In several cases he failed; subjects voted against him with their feet and created factional offshoots. Thus, "New England was not a single, monolithic 'fragment' separating off from the mother country. It was a body of loosely joined fragments, and some of the disputes that developed in the New World grew out of differences that existed in the Old."

In the Northeast, these fragments found Indians eager to use them for their own political purposes. Shortly before the establishment of permanent English settlements, epidemics scoured the region, their devastation distributed unevenly. By 1620 the Pequots and the Narragansetts, left virtually unscathed by disease, had a newfound power relative to other Indians in the region. From their lands in what are now Connecticut and Rhode Island, respectively, these two groups exerted a strong influence throughout southern New England and even into Iroquois territory in New York. Central to Narragansett and Pequot influence was the control of wampum, beads made of shells found predominantly along Long Island sound. Since the Narragansetts and the Pequots had a nearly exclusive access to these shell beads that were highly valued by the Iroquois and the Algonquians for ceremonial purposes and as a medium of exchange, they were powers to reckon with. The Pequots exacted tribute from Indians along the Connecticut River to the north of them in exchange for military protection. Similarly, the Narragansetts expanded their authority over smaller Indian groups such as the Cowesits, the Shawomets, the Pawtuxets, and some Nipmucks to their north and the Eastern Niantics to their east in the 1620s and early 1630s. In many instances, smaller groups looked to the political leaders of these relatively powerful groups for military protection and access to trade goods and land; in others they felt threatened by them.

Into this context of political fluidity, consolidation, and rivalry among Indians, came Dutch and English colonists. The Dutch arrived first and established a fairly successful trade along the southern coast of New England, taking advantage of the competition between the Narragansetts and the Pequots. After landing at Plymouth in 1620 and at Boston in 1630, English colonists tried to replicate the economic aspects of earlier European colonization efforts while improving upon them morally. Like the Spanish, they hoped to take care of their material needs by tapping into the existing local economy; unlike the Spanish--at least the Spanish of their perceptions--they hoped to avoid atrocities. More than simply imitating Spanish actions in the Americas, New England's settlers strove to be superior colonizers. The Black Legend, propaganda condemning Spanish conquistadors for barbarous cruelty and spread by the likes of the Spanish friar Bartolome de Las Casas, shaped the English colonists' treatment of Indians throughout the hemisphere. The Puritan settlers of Providence Island in the Caribbean, for example, expected the nearby Indians to seek solace from Spanish brutality by submitting to English rule. Spanish atrocities, although undoubtedly exaggerated at times in the Black Legend, led the English colonists to try to demonstrate the righteousness of their cause.

In addition to trying to avoid the atrocities that they perceived the Spanish had committed against Indians, the migrants to New England hoped not to repeat the mistakes they felt had been made by their brethren in the Chesapeake. John Winthrop believed that efforts at Jamestown had been strife-riven because "their mayne end which was proposed was carnal and not religious." The colonizers of Virginia included "a multitude of rude and misgoverned persons the very scumme of the land," who aimed for "profitt and not the propagation of religion." Those who migrated to New England felt that their venture offered hope for a fresh attempt at colonization in which the mistakes of the Spaniards and even fellow Englishmen would not be repeated.

Initially, the political flux among Indian groups worked to their advantage in this endeavor. Unlike the Chesapeake in 1607, where Indians had not seen an epidemic in decades, New England Indians had been dying in droves just the year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. This led some Indians to seek English assistance. In 1620, Squanto linked his fate to the survival of Plymouth in order to cope with the reduced strength of his Patuxet band, which had been decimated by disease, and carve out a measure of autonomy under the shadow of the more powerful Wampanoags, led by Massasoit. Similarly, in March 1621 Massasoit submitted to the English at Plymouth Colony to prevent Narragansett expansion, resulting in the famous treaty. Following suit, the Massachusetts leader Chickataubut also established a relationship with the English to stem the tide of the Narragansetts. In 1631 an Indian leader in the Connecticut River Valley invited Bostonians to settle in the region, probably in an effort to bolster Algonquian defenses against attacks from the Iroquois to the west and, more importantly, to restore a balance of power in his relations with the Pequots, to whom he owed tribute. The Indians, jockeying for political position in the aftermath of the intensification of agriculture and the devastation caused by disease, looked upon the Europeans as being similar to themselves and, in many cases, as being valuable trade partners and political allies. The Europeans saw the Indians as valuable trade partners whose support was necessary if they were to establish a foothold in the region.

With time, colonists flocked to those parts of southern New England that they found most desirable, largely avoiding the north. The first map of New England produced in the Americas supplemented one of the first histories of King Philip's War, and English perceptions of the differences between southern and northern New England are carved into its woodcut. Only a few English settlements appear in the north, and those hug the coast at the mouths of rivers, on which they usually ran sawmills. A wilderness pins the small settlements against the coast on the map. Unlike southern New England, the northern sections include strange-looking animals. There are also two figures between the coastal settlements and the forest beyond. The people lack permanent residence and carry muskets on their shoulders. Perhaps hunters, trappers, or traders--but definitely not farmers--the two appear isolated in the wilderness as either Indians or Indianized Englishmen. Unlike the south, where Indians have been thoroughly marginalized, the north seems to be under native control. The sparseness of settlement, the wild animals, and the nomadic character of the people all suggest that for the map's maker, John Foster of Cambridge, the north was a fearful, untamed frontier.

Mid-seventeenth-century Maine has been described by one of its historians as "A World on the Edge." Another asserts that in the second half of the seventeenth century it was a "rural backwater, an economic hinterland of Puritan Massachusetts ... a frontier war zone, a buffer between New England and its enemies, the native people of northern New England and their French allies." Puritan minister and contemporary historian of King Philip's War William Hubbard saw the north as "a barren and rocky Country ... that whole Tract of Land, being of little worth." Accordingly, growing crops proved difficult for seventeenth-century Englishmen and native inhabitants in the north. The soil was far less fertile and more acidic, and the growing season was shorter than in southern New England. These conditions meant that farmers needed more land in order to subsist; therefore, when they settled they did so even farther from their neighbors than their southern counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the development of English settlement patterns was a far cry from the Puritan ideal of a "city on a hill." A number of writers observed the lack of community among Maine's colonists. The town of Kittery was to William Hubbard "a long scattering Plantation made up of several Hamlets." John Josselyn noted that Blackpoint was "scatteringly built." And Samuel Maverick reported in Casco Bay and along the Kennebec River "many scattering Families settled." For orthodox Puritans, especially in Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies, these observations had deep meaning. The necessity to live scattered or isolated and not belong to a community meant that inhabitants became a part of the very wilderness that the English were trying to tame. Puritans believed their culture would best expand only through the establishment of coherent communities. To be sure, the reality never quite matched the Puritan ideal in either north or south, and settlements were far more scattered than the English leadership desired. On numerous occasions in the seventeenth century, New England colonies tried to legislate tight settlement patterns. Although these efforts can be seen as failures, they appear to have done better in the south, based on southerners' perceptions of northerners. Southern New Englanders saw northern individuals as even more lacking in community ties than themselves.

The same environmental conditions that sparked the colonists' sparse settlement patterns had influenced the culture of northern New England's Indians for centuries. The Eastern and Western Abenakis relied less on horticulture than the Indians to the south did. Also, the farther north Indians lived, the less important agriculture became; beyond the Kennebec River subsistence was based solely on hunting, gathering, and fishing. Northern New England's Indians thus had smaller social units and more mobile settlement patterns. Small family bands were the primary social unit, and the larger chiefdoms found in the south were absent.

Based on larger patterns in the history of American colonization, wherein less sedentary groups are usually more hostile toward Europeans than the more sedentary, it is not surprising that the English had their most troubled relations with northern New England's native inhabitants. Because the northern Indians were not organized into chiefdoms, colonists found fewer parallels in their political culture. They did not find groups organized under the "monarchies" that they interpreted in southern political culture. Indian social structures in the north were "fundamentally egalitarian," according to historian Harald E. L. Prins. To the colonists this must have appeared as relative chaos. The fragmentation of the population into family bands without higher-level chiefs made achieving the formal submission of most of the people impractical if not impossible, especially since the English lacked centralized settlement in the region. Northern New England Indians, in turn, viewed the colonists' political culture as more foreign than did the southern Indians. To intermesh their communities with those of the English would have required a fundamental change in their lifestyles. For this reason they resisted both conquest and the formation of a covalent society. When they fought against the English and their Indian allies during and after King Philip's War, it did not represent the dissolution of a single society but an effort to prevent becoming a part of one. It was frontier war, not civil war.

Although the English found the land and the Indians in the southern part of the region to be most compatible with their desires, relations there were not always peaceful. Intercultural trade led to tragedy, at least for some. In 1637 the Pequot War served as a clarion call to Indians throughout the region, announcing that European-style warfare was very different from their own. The conflict centered on the Dutch and English efforts to take advantage of the trade rivalry between the two tribes that, because of their control of wampum, were dominant economic players, the Narragansetts and the Pequots. The Dutch were the premier European power in the region in the 1620s, with ties to both the Pequots and the Narragansetts. As the English expanded into the region in the 1630s, the Dutch tried to solidify their claim to its commerce by building a trading post and purchasing land in the lower Connecticut River Valley. The Dutch could not, however, ease discontent within those Indian groups with which they traded. Some of the communities that had tributary relations with the Pequots looked to cooperation with the English as a way of breaking these ties. Some signed separate trade agreements with the English or even ceded them land. Others, such as the Narragansetts, partially under the influence of English religious dissenter Roger Williams, eventually allied with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Hostilities broke out when the Pequots sought revenge against a Dutchman who, against their wishes, had traded with some of their tributaries. But instead, probably by accident, they killed an English ship captain, John Oldham. The English set out with Narragansett and Mohegan allies to subdue the Pequots, who, not coincidentally, occupied some of the most valuable land in New England. The conflict climaxed in May 1637 after the English and their Indian allies surrounded a palisaded Pequot village on the Mystic River. They attacked one morning before dawn, and in the ensuing chaos the village was torched. As for those Pequot men, women, and children who managed to flee the flames, Englishmen, to the horror of their Indian allies, shot them down with their muskets. By the end of the day, six hundred to seven hundred Pequots had died. Most were noncombatants, and most were burned alive.

The English and their Indian allies had contrasting views of the day's events. The English for the most part saw the carnage as a sign of divine favor in their struggle against the "savages." As the English captain John Mason declared, "God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn making them as a fiery Oven.... Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies." For Indians, even if they had allied with the English, it was a different story. They had never seen warfare of the scope or scale waged by the English at the Pequot village. Their culturally prescribed rules of war had in the past dictated low-casualty conflicts characterized by hit-and-run tactics--often with the aim of acquiring live captives. The torching of the village and shooting of inhabitants as they fled prompted a complaint about "the manner of the Englishmen's fight ... because it is too furious, and slays too many men." They were not likely to forget the war. Indeed, their lingering memory of it probably made them cautiously avoid conflict in subsequent years.

Although many Indians were shocked at the conduct of the Pequot War, some Indian leaders were highly satisfied with its results. The Mohegan leader Uncas is the quintessential example of a New England native who vied for political power and successfully used the assistance of those from another continent to get it. As relatively new entities, the "tribes" that Uncas and others belonged to were fluid and often lacked rigid boundaries. Moreover, intermarriage across group lines was common, and many Indians freely shifted loyalty from one to another as political conditions changed. Before the Pequot War, Uncas's Mohegans were linked to the Pequots by intermarriage and a tributary status. Uncas himself claimed to be the rightful leader by birth of both the Mohegans and the Pequots. Leadership of the Pequots was not entirely hereditary, however; it was based partially on elections. In the first half of the 1630s, Uncas had tried several times to depose the Pequot leader Sassacus, only to fail repeatedly. When the English arrived looking to avenge John Oldham's death, Uncas found a power that could tilt the political balance in his favor. The aftermath of the Pequot defeat in 1637 saw Uncas's emergence as the grand sachem of the Pequots and the Mohegans.

The Pequot War also helped Uncas establish strong ties of mutual obligation with the English colony of Connecticut. In 1640 Uncas ceded all of the land of his band and its tributaries to Connecticut. This deal benefited both Uncas and Connecticut. Thereafter the colony lent overwhelming support to Uncas's efforts to gain hegemony over smaller bands to the north and east; the main benefit to Connecticut resided in the official deed, which offered some of the same benefits as a royal patent. Like a charter, this document helped legitimate the colony's existence and provided legal protection against the encroachment of other colonies. Connecticut's relationship with Indians solidified its political authority.

Uncas found his relationship with the English to be a potent one. He could and did count on English assistance whenever trouble arose between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts. After the Pequot War, Uncas on numerous occasions made false accusations to Connecticut concerning the Narragansetts. Through these accusations he gained the military assistance of the United Colonies--a military coalition consisting of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Plymouth, and the short-lived New Haven Colony--to defend himself from the Narragansetts in 1645, 1657, and 1658. In 1643, when the Narragansett sachem Miantonomo began calling for an Indian rejection of the English and their ways, Uncas made a call on the English legal system. As a result he got the United Colonies to convict Miantonomo of murder and allow Uncas to personally enforce the death sentence. The relationship of Uncas and the English colonies continued to follow trajectories of this sort, with both increasing in power throughout most of the seventeenth century.

The rise of the Mohegans under Uncas and their close relations with the colonies helped foster a delicate balance of power between some of southern New England's Algonquians and the Iroquois in eastern New York. If this balance had not involved peoples to the west, New England's covalent society could not have developed. The Mohawks, the easternmost group of Iroquois, demanded vast quantities of wampum for use in diplomacy and in rituals to console those who were mourning the loss of relatives to increasing rates of disease and warfare. In the 1640s and 1650s, the Mohawks maintained an alliance with the Indians along the middle and upper Connecticut River and the Narragansetts to ensure the flow of wampum from Narragansett Bay toward Iroquoia. The Mohawks reciprocated with furs obtained in part through wars with neighbors to the north and west. The Narragansett-River Indian-Mohawk alliance had enough power to thwart English efforts to encroach on the Narragansetts. Rhode Island's founder, Roger Williams, warned the Massachusetts General Court that the Mohawks and the Narragansetts "are the two great bodies of Indians in this country, and they are confederates." Williams implied that the colonies should not advance Mohegan or English interests at the expense of the Narragansetts, no matter how much Uncas or land-hungry colonists might have wanted them to do so. So long as the Narragansetts, the River Indians, and the Mohawks maintained their alliance, the power of the Mohegans and their English allies was held in check.

Within this tangled web, Uncas and other Indian leaders like him acted in ways that not only facilitated a temporary peace and the survival of English colonies, but in the long run also laid the groundwork for King Philip's War. Uncas, of course, ceded land directly to the colonies in exchange for political ties. Indians in the Connecticut River Valley similarly offered land as collateral for English goods received on credit with the promise of future payment in furs. As the supply of furs eventually dwindled, they could not make their payments and lost their land. From the English perspective, trade with the Indians had proved inadequate to support their material needs. English colonists therefore increasingly sought Indian land, rather than trade or tribute, as time progressed. This helped stabilize the colonies and at the same time threatened the long-term viability of many Indian communities. Private property in land became one of the institutional arrangements that allowed the New England colonies to thrive. As historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman has shown, the ventures of colonists culturally similar to those of New England in other parts of the world, such as those in the Caribbean's Providence Island in the 1630s, failed in part because they did not institutionalize private landholding. For most Indians, of course, the growth of English landholding intensified preexisting tensions over land allocation.

One of the principal ways the English expanded their landholdings was through the founding of new towns. This process largely involved the entrepreneurialism of a select, skilled few, who, like Uncas, rose in power--as chiefs of sorts, although never called such--through their abilities to allocate lands for their followers' use. Because establishing towns posed tremendous challenges, only prominent individuals who had greater access to resources such as wealth, political power, religious authority, or, perhaps most importantly, the ability to deal with the Indians--either diplomatically or militarily--had the capacity to found a town. These elites oftentimes did not live in the town that they helped to establish, opting instead to reap profits as absentee landowners. Men notable for their colonial leadership such as William Pynchon, Benjamin Church, John Mason, Richard Smith, and Roger Williams epitomized the character of some of New England's early town founders. It is no coincidence that these men also earned reputations for their skill in diplomacy or warfare with Indians. Their skills in dealing with Indians enabled them to become leaders at the colony level. They, like southern New England Indian leaders, functioned as chiefs.

Like chiefs, colonial leaders struggled for the loyalty of their subjects, facing the ever-present threat that their followers might reject their rule. Leaders at the colony level often had residents who challenged their authority, much as Sassacus had to confront Uncas's insurrections. The English who came to the Americas culturally preferred localistic, homogeneous villages and feared the encroachment of centralized power. Working in favor of colonial leaders, however, the environment in which the colonists set up their communities often demanded the external assistance of a centralized power or individual. This need led the English in New England to show some loyalty to their colonies' general courts. Nevertheless, as Timothy Breen has shown, the relationships between towns and general courts were tense: residents struggled to keep the town's power as autonomous as possible without completely severing connections to the central authority. Most legal disputes among colonists, for example, were resolved in local county courts. Rarely did cases arise on appeal to the Court of Assistants or the General Court. Efforts to maintain tight-knit, autonomous communities often succeeded, as is evidenced by Kenneth A. Lockridge's study of seventeenth-century Dedham, Massachusetts. He describes that town as a "coherent social organism."

The regional fragmentation and resulting localism of the English who migrated to New England becomes especially apparent when one examines doctrinal disputes. English differences over separatism, radical spiritualism, anabaptism, millenarianism, and Quakerism shattered the hopes of regional leaders who aspired toward establishing a monolithically orthodox religious and political community. In desperate efforts to maintain homogeneity within their community, leaders of Plymouth and Massachusetts banished perceived heretics, but that only further undermined the attempts to maintain orthodoxy within the region. To the chagrin of those who banished Roger Williams, he did not return to England, as expected, but instead fled to what is now Rhode Island, providing a refuge for subsequent dissenters.

Williams essentially established an independent chiefdom. Rhode Island became a haven for those not loyal to Massachusetts, Plymouth, or Connecticut. To establish the colony, Williams relied on close ties with the resident Indians that legitimated his claims to land. His relationships with them served as a political foundation of the colony, proving that Williams, like Uncas, was willing to use others, regardless of "race" or ethnicity, for his own political purposes. These relationships usually took the form of the submission of a group of Indians to an English colony and, indirectly, to the king of England. Rhode Islanders effectively used the Narragansetts and the closely related Eastern Niantics in 1644 to help protect themselves from the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven, which had formed a military alliance in 1643. Both Samuel Gorton and Roger Williams worked hard to gain the loyalty of the Narragansetts and the Niantics, and once they succeeded they immediately took their case that Massachusetts had no right to their lands to the English Parliament. Both men argued that Massachusetts, under its charter, had no right to Indian lands lying outside its predefined jurisdiction. Williams, in particular, sought and acquired a new charter for Rhode Island that was based on the consent of the region's indigenous inhabitants.

When Williams applied for Rhode Island's charter in 1643 and 1644, he presented two documents supporting his case. The first, Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, accused Massachusetts of abusing religious heretics. The second, A Key into the Language of America, demonstrated Williams's belief that English settlers needed Eastern Algonquian aid and knowledge for their very survival. Unlike the preceding New England travel narratives and colonial writings about Indians in general that, according to literary critic Mary Louise Pratt, controlled and domesticated Native Americans for a reading population in Europe, Williams crafted his Key in a way uniquely suited to aiding actual interactions with Indians. Williams also differed from contemporary English writers in that he did not offer the standard preface stating that the author would draw his authority from either the monarch or the Bible; rather, Williams allowed the Narragansett language to stand as his authority. His text centered on oral, rather than written, exchanges, thus recognizing the power and authority of Narragansett speech. In short, Williams's Key provided a means for Colonists to meet natives on native terms. By trying to facilitate such cross-cultural interactions, Williams conceded that English settlers, and especially Rhode Island dissenters, depended upon Indians for their very survival.

Like the leaders of Connecticut and Rhode Island, those of Massachusetts and Plymouth also sought Indian "subjects." In the case of Massachusetts it was mainly to legitimate their competing claims to parts of what is now Rhode Island. In this endeavor they had the help of two Narragansett sachems, Pomham and Sacononoco, who departed from the majority of the Narragansett confederation and swore allegiance to the colonial government of Massachusetts. Massachusetts claimed that these leaders represented the desires of the majority of the confederation, whereas Rhode Island claimed that only the sachem Miantonomo had the power to speak for the group. Similarly, Plymouth received the loyalty of many Wampanoags in 1639 when Massasoit submitted to that colony and when Metacom, subsequently known as Philip, formally renewed this submission in 1662 and 1671. Plymouth, like other colonies, saw Indian submissions as pivotal factors in land disputes. So powerful were Indians in shaping the jurisdictions of colonies that Roger Williams feared that Wampanoag claims to parts of Rhode Island might lead Plymouth to claim authority over its largest town, Providence.

Thus, colonists did not just come to the Americas and create a "New" England. They had to intermesh their communities with the region's indigenous inhabitants. Southern New England's chiefs and followers--English and Indian--worked hard to advance their interests and avoid war. The fluidity of New England politics and the tensions between regionalism and localism challenged New England's most talented leaders. The covalent society that emerged was based on a fragile interdependence among various New England groups and a balance of power created by the Pequot War and relations with peoples to the west.


Excerpted from King Philip's War by James D. Drake Copyright © 2000 by James D. Drake.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1 Chiefs and Followers16
2 Peace35
3 Symbol of a Failed Strategy57
4 Fault Lines75
5 "Barbarous Inhumane Outrages"109
6 Victory and Defeat140
7 Legacies168

What People are Saying About This

Barry O'Connell

What one has here is the genuine article--colonial history that is fully about all the peoples in region. This is neither 'white' nor 'Indian' history. It is the first serious, scholarly history of King Philip's War in well over a generation. Drake is a historian who knows how to write, how to make his subjects fully human, tell multiple stories, and keep his readers eager for more.

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