King Philip’s War—also known as the First Indian War, the Great Narragansett War or Metacom’s Rebellion—took place in southern New England from 1675 to 1676. It was the Native Americans' last-ditch effort to avoid recognizing English authority and stop English settlement on their native lands. The war is named after the Wampanoag chief Metacom, later known as Philip or King Philip, who led the fourteen-month bloody rebellion.
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New England Confederation
After the Pequot War (1636-1637), the New England colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and New Haven realized the need to form a military alliance to defend against their common enemies. After much debate, they formed the New England Confederation on May 19, 1643.
Over the subsequent years, the New England Confederation fought the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Pocumtuck and Narragansett Indians during King Philip’s War. The Mohegan and Mohawk tribes, however, fought for the English.
King Philip’s Rise
Metacom was the second son of Wampanoag chief Massasoit, who had negotiated a peace treaty with the colonists at Plymouth Plantation. But the agreement wasn’t enough to stop the colonist’s encroachment on Indian lands.
After Massasoit's death in 1661, his eldest son Wamsutta, later named Alexander, succeeded him. In 1662, the English arrested Alexander on suspicion of plotting war. During questioning, he died, and Metacom—now known as Philip, as many Wampanoags took English names—came to power.
Betrayal Incites War
In January 1675, Christian Indian John Sassamon warned Plymouth Colony that Philip planned to attack English settlements. The English ignored the warning and soon found Sassamon’s murdered body in an icy pond.
A jury made up of colonists and Indians found three Wampanoag men guilty for Sassamon’s murder and hanged them on June 8, 1675. Their execution incensed Philip, whom the English had accused of plotting Sassamon’s murder, and ignited tensions between the Wampanoag and the colonists, setting the stage for war.
Between June 20 and June 23, 1675, the Wampanoag carried out a series of raids against the Swansea colony of Massachusetts, killing many colonists and pillaging and destroying property. English officials responded by sending their military to destroy Philip’s home village of Mount Hope, Rhode Island.
The war spread during the summer of 1675 as the Wampanoag, joined by Algonquian warriors, attacked settlements throughout Plymouth Colony.
Battle of Bloody Brook
On September 9, 1675, the New England Confederation declared war against “King” Philip and his followers.
A week later, around 700 Nipmuc Indians ambushed a militia group escorting a wagon train of colonists. Almost all colonists and militia were killed in the fighting, known as the Battle of Bloody Brook.
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Great Swamp Fight
Hoping to prevent a spring Indian onslaught, Plymouth Colony’s Governor Josiah Winslow gathered the colonial militia and attacked a massive Narragansett and Wampanoag fortification near the Great Swamp in West Kingston, Rhode Island, on December 19, 1675.
It is estimated that 300 Indians, including women and children, were either killed in the attack or died from exposure to the winter elements; some were burned alive at the stake. The battle forced the weakened Narragansett, who had tried to remain neutral, to join King Philip’s fight under the leadership of Chief Canonchet.
After the Great Swamp Fight, King Philip set up camp in New York, possibly to enlist the Mohawk’s assistance. But the Mohawk attacked the Wampanoag and forced them to retreat to New England, with the Mohawk in hot pursuit.
During the winter of 1676, King Philip’s confederacy continued to assault English colonies throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maine, proving there was no safe place for colonists to hide. The Indians attacked Plymouth Plantation and forced most of its citizens to the coast and, led by Chief Canonchet, annihilated Providence, Rhode Island.
In an attack known as the “Nine Men's Misery" incident, Narragansett Indians ambushed around 60 colonists and 20 Christian Wampanoag Indians. The Indians killed almost all the colonists; however, nine men were captured and gruesomely tortured to death.
King Philip’s Death
Throughout the spring of 1676, the tide began to turn for the English. In April, Chief Canonchet was captured, handed over to the Mohegans and shot, beheaded and quartered, leaving the Narragansett without a leader. In May, the militia attacked and killed up to 200 Narragansett at the Battle of Turner Falls at Peskeompscut near the Connecticut River.
By mid-summer, the English started giving amnesty to some Indians. A lot of war-weary Indians surrendered; however, the English sold many into slavery. By late summer, King Philip and his allies were weakened and on the run.
The English-Indian soldier John Alderman shot and killed King Philip on August 20, 1676, at Mount Hope. King Philip was hung, beheaded, drawn and quartered. His head was placed on a spike and displayed at Plymouth colony for two decades.
King Philip’s death effectively ended the war, although clashes continued throughout New England until the Treaty of Casco was signed in 1678.
King Philip’s War is considered the bloodiest war per capita in U.S. history. It left several hundred colonists dead and dozens of English settlements destroyed or heavily damaged.
Thousands of Indians were killed, wounded or captured and sold into slavery or indentured servitude. The war decimated the Narragansett, Wampanoag and many smaller tribes and mostly ended Indian resistance in southern New England, paving the way for additional English settlements.
1675-King Philip’s War. The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut.
King Philip’s War. World History Project.
History of King Philip’s War. History of Massachusetts Blog.
Who Was Metacom? History of Massachusetts Blog.