Although it is not as well known as the American Revolution or the Civil War, King Philip's War was one of the deadliest wars in American history. The war was America's first major conflict with Native Americans, and it resulted in the destruction of both colonial and native communities. The war marked the end of a fragile peace between settlers and Native Americans that would never be reestablished.
Background of King Philip's War
The English population grew from about 100 settlers to more than 50,000 between the Mayflower arrival in 1620 and 1675. However, the indigenous population, once numbering more than 140,000, declined to just 10,000 primarily because of disease. The Native American population was increasingly forced to recognize English sovereignty and obey English courts. The decline of the fur trade gave indigenous people little bargaining power, and they were often compelled to sell much of their land to colonists. Puritans were increasingly aggressive in converting Native Americans to Christianity. By 1675, the natives were frustrated, and the chief of the Pokanokets, Metacomet, also known as King Philip by the English, rallied nearly two-thirds of New England's native tribes into a war with the colonists. For 14 months, natives attacked and pillaged English frontier settlements, and the English struck back with strong military force. By the Fall of 1675, King Philip was captured and beheaded.
Loss of English Life
While the war began in southeastern New England, it quickly spread to vulnerable and poorly-defended frontier towns in the west. In the Connecticut River Valley, settlements at Northampton, Springfield and Hatfield were attacked by the nearby Agawam tribe. This culminated in one of the most destructive events of the war, the burning of Springfield. By war's end, 12 out 90 New England settlements were destroyed. In addition, 5 percent of New England's pre-war population was dead. King Philip's War had the highest percentage of loss of life due to war in American history.
Loss of Native Life
The Native American population faced harsh consequences from King Philip's War. Some estimates suggest that as much as 40 percent of New England's native population was either killed or fled as a result of the war, according to the University of Houston's Digital History site. Many of those who survived the war were captured by soldiers, and sold into slavery. In some instances, these native slaves were sold off to owners as far away as the West Indies. Throughout the war, numerous native villages were destroyed. By the war's end, New England's native population of was reduced to a series of scattered settlements throughout the region.
Long Term Social Impact
The Puritan English saw their victory over Native Americans as a sign from God. The Puritans were confident in their settlements and ready to expand. The natives, on the other hand, were reduced to an insignificant presence in New England. Any independence they had maintained from the colonists before the war was lost. Thereafter, they were under the legal and political structures of the colonies and unable to maintain separate governments. Almost all native lands were acquired by the colonists, and many natives were kept as slaves in the region.
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