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King Philip's War

The 1675 conflict with the Indians known as King Philip's War had resulted in more deaths relative to the size of the population than any other war in American history. Before the European settlement of southern New England the the Narragansett tribal government was the sovereign authority over their people and their general welfare. They educated their children, cared for their sick, and fished in the bay that now bears their name. In 1675 their way of living would come to an end with an event known as the King Philip's War.

The European colonists, who had long coveted the lands of the Narragansetts, expanded a feud they had with another tribe and attacked the Narragansetts. The result for the colonists was a clear victory. The result for the tribe was they lost most of their land, many members were killed, and still more were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

In the 1650s and 1660s John Eliot, minister of Roxbury, managed to convert several hundred Indians to Christianity. But when Eliot tried to preach to Philip, the influential Wampanoag sachem and son of Massasoit, Philip ripped a button off of Eliot's coat, held it up before his eyes and told Eliot that he cared for his gospel just as much as he cared for that button. Far from eagerly awaiting Christianity, many Algonquians in this "New England" were willing to risk everything to rid their home of its newcomers, and particularly, to destroy the newcomers' religion. In 1675 and 1676, Wampanoags, Narragansetts, Nipmucks, Pocumtucks, and Abenakis all began attacking English towns in a war that would prove to be, in proportion to population, the most fatal war in American history. That war, named King Philip's War after Philip, who led the initial uprising, nearly destroyed the Massachusetts Bay colony, wiping out every English settlement west of Concord.

King Philip's War (1675-77) was a total war for survival, and involved extensive operations by both provisional and standing militia units. King Philip's War was fought in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. During King Philip's War, up to one third of America's white population was wiped out. The fire and ruin, the blood and agony of the tomahawk and the flaming arrow were spread up and down the Connecticut River Valley, barbarous and pitiless the dripping hatchet plunging into the brains of women and children Philip [his Indian name was Wamsutta] counseled his allies, "burn every house, destroy every village, kill every white man." The war cut away the last restraints of the English. All their own disciplined ferocity was now let loose.

King Philip's War was the first conflict in which the Indians had modern flintlock firearms. This proved an important advantage because some of the American militias were only equipped with matchlocks and pikes, and because the Indians were excellent marksmen. The Europeans had arrived in North America during a time of military revolution in Europe: European soldiers brought the new weapons and techniques of this revolution with them to North America and by 1675 had provoked a military revolution of a sort among Native Americans, a revolution that for 140 years gave them a tactical advantage over their more numerous and wealthier opponents.

Central Falls is the smallest city in the smallest state in the nation, but a rich heritage is contained within the city's 1.2 square miles. Pierce's Fight Site and Riverwalk Park was the site of one of the fiercest battles of King Philip's War fought between the English Colonists and the Wampanoag, Nipmuc and Narragansett tribes. Narragansett warriors ambushed Captain Michael Pierce's column here in one of the greatest victories for the Native Americans in the war.

New England's English settlers won King Philip's War, and never again faced such a horrifying Indian war on their soil. Wilderness conditions accentuated the flintlock musket's advantages. By 1675 nearly every colony required its militiamen to own flintlocks rather than matchlocks: American armies thus completed this transition a quarter of a century before European armies. A war scare with the Dutch had led to 23 May 1666 amendments to stiffen weapons-owning requirements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and to clarify (restated on 7 October 1674) that the Major General was responsible for supervising non-regimental companies. The modernization of weaponry continued on 10 October 1666 when body armor for pikemen was ruled unnecessary, and, in a key step which placed the colony well ahead of contemporary European armies, on 24 May 1677, after the bloody experience of King Philip's War, when every soldier was required to own a flintlock firearm.

The Pequots remained allies of the English during King Philip's War, as did the Mohegan and the Eastern Niantic. On December 17, 1675, the Connecticut contingent that joined Winslow to attack the Narragansett included about 150 Mohegan and Pequot led by Oneco [Oweneco].

When King Philip's War broke out along the New England frontier in 1675, most Pennacooks followed their sachem Wannalancit north into the New Hampshire woods to avoid hostilities. After their victory, the colonists forced the Indians still living in eastern Massachusetts to move to a few permanent villages, including Wamesit in what is now downtown Lowell. Even so, settlers continued to encroach upon Pennacook lands, and in 1686, Wannalancit formally sold his tribe's rights to land along the Merrimack and Concord Rivers. The remaining Pennacooks moved on to New Hampshire or Canada, and their former lands were absorbed into Chelmsford.

In contrast to the massacres and bloodshed in other communities during King Philip's War when many settlers abandoned their towns altogether as a result of the threat or the reality of Indian attack, in Aquinnah, white settlers armed their Indian neighbors and made them the sentries and guards to warn of possible attacking tribes. This responsibility the Indians of Aquinnah (previously known as Gay Head) carried out faithfully and there was very little if any damage done in the town during those turbulent times.

In 1975 the Narragansetts filed a land claim seeking restoration of their aboriginal lands in and around Charlestown. The State and Federal Government consented to the proposal and codified this agreement in the 1978 Rhode Island Indian Claim Settlement Act.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 04-09-2017 16:26:03 ZULU