The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore
Winner of the Bancroft Prize
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." 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. 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.
Winner of the the 1998 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award of the Phi Beta Kappa Society
JILL LEPORE is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her books include the New YorkTimes best seller The Secret History of Wonder Woman and Book of Ages, a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
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
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
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
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
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.
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
What People are Saying About This
A profound and rewarding book that illuminates the social psychology of war in the American experience. . .It adds wonderfully rich new dimensions to the history of white-Indian relations in the United States.
A brilliant study of the different ways Americans have understood and told stories agout one of the great conflicts of their colonial past. Author of Changes in the Land
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, author of A Midwife's Tale Jill Lepore shows how language shaped as well as reflected the horror we know as 'King Philip's War.' Finding Algonquian voices within, behind, and beside the classic English narrative, she forces new engagement with the invasions, celebrations, and violence of New England history.
Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity 3.8 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
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.
More than 1 year ago
This is a revisionist, opinionated work. It is a simplistic view of three hundred year old events.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
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.
More than 1 year ago
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.
More than 1 year ago
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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