King Philip's War resulted in the bloodiest conflict of the 17th century between English settlers and Native Americans. It began in southern New England in 1675, when a Wampanoag sachem, Metacomet, who the English called King Philip, waged war on English settlements. Although he initially attempted to keep the peace, Metacomet’s grievances with the colonists over the loss of land led to war (See Resource 1).
Pilgrims and Puritans
English immigration into New England began and greatly expanded during the the 17th century, primarily by religious refugees seeking separation from the Church of England (See Reference 1). The first such group were the occupants of the Mayflower, commonly called the Pilgrims, who established the Plymouth colony in 1620 in Massachusetts (See Reference 2). In the 1630s, Puritans began arriving in large numbers forming a settlement soon to be called Boston (See Reference 3). Initially, as the colonies restricted themselves to the coastline, resident Native Americans groups largely kept the peace. However, as immigration increased and the English settlements expanded, Native American groups began to feel pressure from the land-hungry colonists.
King Philip's War
Massasoit, Metacomet's father, worked hard to maintain peace with the English. After his death, King Philip eventually became leader of the Wampanoags. Unlike his father, the English distrusted Metacomet's dedication to peace (See Reference 4). Much of this was outside of King Philip's control, as his people felt increasing pressure from colonial expansion making peace became harder to maintain. Things came to a head in 1675, when John Sassamon, a Christian Native American and interpreter for Metacomet, was murdered by the Wampanoag because they believed him to be an English informant (See Reference 9). In retaliation, three Wampanoags were executed by the English, and Metacomet soon launched a war in which over half of the English settlements in southern New England were attacked (See References 4 and 5).
A Regional Conflict
What began as a dispute between Metacomet and the Plymouth colony quickly expanded. Metacomet was able to bring neighboring tribes, the Nipmuck and later the Narragansett, into the war making it a regional conflict. In particular, the Narragansett changed the tone of the war by being forced to abandon their neutrality. At the onset of the war, they provided refuge to Wampanoag women, children and elderly. As a result, a large English force attacked the Narragansett villages in Rhode Island, which brought them into the war (See Reference 6). The war also expanded to groups known as "praying Indians," or Christian converts. The English had begun converting Native Americans beginning in the 1640s, and the Christian converts settled into villages used as buffer zones between the white colonies and the non-converted groups further inland (See Reference 7). The colonists did engage their native allies somewhat against Metacomet, but not widely as the English settlements tended to distrust all Native Americans during the war (See Reference 7).
The war lasted for 14 months until Metacomet was murdered, and the result was devastation and thousands of deaths on both sides. King Philip’s War had a great deal of significance for the New England colonies, particularly the southern New England region centered around Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It took several years for the English settlements to rebuild to their pre-war levels, but immigration continued and intensified (See Reference 8). Land pressures continued to build against the native villages, and many vanished completely. The lasting result of the war was that it put the English in complete control of southern New England (See Reference 5).
- Independence Hall Association: The New England Colonies
- Independence Hall Association: The Mayflower and Plymouth Colony
- Independence Hall Association: Massachusetts Bay -- "The City Upon a Hill"
- The Society of Colonial Wars: 1675 -- King Philip's War
- Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association: Metacom's (King Philip's) War
- National Park Service: Roger Williams: King Philip's War
- Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst: Praying Indians
- Pilgrim Hall Museum: King Philip's War & the Continued Presence of Native People
- Dorchester Atheneum: John Sassamon
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images