King Philip’s War, also known as Metacom’s War or the First Indian War, was an armed conflict between English colonists and the American Indians of New England in the 17th century.
It was the Native-American’s last major effort to drive the English colonists out of New England. The war took place between 1675-1676 in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts and later spread to Maine and New Hampshire.
The war is named for King Philip, also known by his Wampanoag name of Metacom, who was the son of the late Wampanoag chief Massasoit.
Philip led his tribe and a coalition of the Nipmuck, Pocumtuck and Narraganset tribes in an uprising against the colonists and their allies, the Mohegans and the Mohawks, that lasted 14 months.
It is a forgotten war, but probably the most significant event that happened outside of the founding of the colonies in the 17th century.
The war disrupted the lives of thousands of colonists and natives, ended long-standing alliances, and unified the New England colonies. Over 1,000 colonists died with Plymouth Colony suffering the most and thousands of Indians lost their life, freedom, and land after the struggle ended.
King Philip’s War: 1675
Siege of Brookfield: The battle consisted of an initial ambush on August 2, 1675, by the Nipmucs against Wheeler’s unsuspecting party. Following the ambush was an attack on Brookfield, Massachusetts, and the consequent besieging of the remains of the colonial force. The Nipmuc forces held the settlers for two days until reinforcements arrived and drove them away.
Battle of Bloody Brook: A battle between the Massachusetts Bay Colony militia and a band of Nipmuc Indians where the militia was ambushed by the Indians while escorting a train of wagons carrying the harvest.
Springfield: The next target was Springfield, Massachusetts which was the largest settlement on the Connecticut River. The Indians burned most of Springfield’s buildings to the ground and caused the settlers to take cover in the house of Miles Morgan. One of the Indian servants escaped past the Indians and alerted the Massachusetts Bay militia. The militia managed to drive off the Indians.
The Great Swamp Fight: Plymouth Colony governor Josiah Winslow led a combined force of colonial militia against the Narragansett tribe. Due to the cold winter, the Narragansett had retreated to a fort in the frozen swamp. The 1,000 militia and their Indian allies attacked the fort.
It is believed that the militia killed about 600 Narragansetts. They burned the fort, occupying over 5 acres and destroyed most of the tribe’s winter stores.
Mohawk Indian Attack: Metacomet established a winter camp in New York. His reason for moving into New York has been attributed to a desire to enlist Mohawk aid in the conflict. The Mohawk launched a surprise assault against a 500-warrior band under Metacomet’s command the following February.
The attack resulted in the death of between 70 to as many as 460 of the Wampanoag. His forces crippled, Metacomet withdrew to New England, pursued by Mohawk forces who attacked Algonquian settlements and ambushed their supply parties.
King Philip’s War: 1676
Lancaster Raid: Philip led a force of 1,500 Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Narragansett Indians in a dawn attack on the isolated village, which then included all or part of the neighboring modern communities of Bolton and Clinton. They attacked five fortified houses.
The house of the Rev. Joseph Rowlandson was set on fire, and most of its occupants were slaughtered—more than 30 people. Rowlandson’s wife Mary was taken a prisoner, and afterward wrote a best-selling captivity narrative of her experiences.
Many of the community’s other houses were destroyed before the Indians retreated northward.
Plymouth Plantation Campaign: Metacomet attacked Plymouth Plantation with his allies and were met with stiff resistance. Even though they were unable to succeed in their assault they did succeed in penetrating deep into the colonial territory.
They successfully attacked and raided three more settlements and killed a company of Massachusetts soldiers. The colonists rallied and pushed them back. Towns such as Springfield, Hatfield, Hadley, and Northampton, Massachusetts fortified themselves, reinforced their militias, and held their ground, though attacked several times.
The small towns of Northfield, Deerfield, and several others were abandoned as the surviving settlers retreated to the larger towns. The towns of the Connecticut colony were largely unharmed in the war, although more than 100 Connecticut militia died in their support of the other colonies.
Attack On Sudbury: The Indians surprised the colonists with a raid on Sudbury. This successful ambush took the lives of 30 men. However, the colonists were able to withstand the ambush and hold them off until the reinforcements arrived.
Battle of Turner’s Falls: The Massachusetts Militia and a group of about 150 militia volunteers attacked an Indian fishing camp at Peskeopscut on the Connecticut River, now called Turners Falls, Massachusetts.
The colonists killed 100–200 Indians in retaliation for earlier Indian attacks against Deerfield and other settlements and for the colonial losses in the Battle of Bloody Brook.
Battle of Mount Hope: Metacomet’s allies began to desert him. By early July, over 400 had surrendered to the colonists, and Metacomet took refuge in the Assowamset Swamp below Providence, close to where the war had started.
The colonists formed raiding parties of militia and Indians. They were allowed to keep the possessions of warring Indians and received a bounty on all captives. Metacomet was killed by one of these teams when he was tracked down by Captain Benjamin Church and Captain Josiah Standish of the Plymouth Colony militia at Mount Hope in Bristol, Rhode Island.
He was shot and killed by an Indian named John Alderman on August 12, 1676. Metacomet’s corpse was beheaded, then drawn and quartered, a traditional treatment of criminals in this era. His head was displayed in Plymouth for a generation.
Northern Campaign: Richard Waldron and Charles Frost led the English colonial forces in the northern region, while Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin instructed the tribal chiefs in the Wabanaki Confederacy. Three major campaigns were launched by the Indians in 1675, 1676, and 1677, most of which led to a massive colonial response.
Throughout the campaigns, a Wabanaki leader named Mugg Hegone repeatedly attacked towns such as Black Point, Wells, and Damariscove, building an Indian navy out of the approximately 40 sloops and a dozen 30-ton ships previously armed by the militia.
Many of Maine’s towns were burned, and most of the population left. Maine’s fishing industry was completely destroyed by the Wabanaki flotilla. Mugg Hegone was eventually killed on his third raid on Black Point. With their leader gone, most of the Indian flotilla broke up and was hunted down by New York privateers and Royal Navy vessels.
By the end of the war, the Northern Campaigns saw approximately 400 settlers die, Maine’s fishing economy gone, and the Indians maintaining power in eastern and northern Maine.
The war in southern New England largely ended with Metacomet’s death. More than 1,000 colonists and 3,000 Indians had died. More than half of all New England villages were attacked by Indian warriors, and many were completely destroyed.
Several Indians were enslaved and transported to Bermuda, including Metacomet’s son. Members of the sachem’s extended family were placed among colonists in Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut.
Other survivors joined western and northern tribes and refugee communities as captives or tribal members. Some of the Indian refugees returned to southern New England.
The Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Podunks, Nipmucks, and several smaller bands were virtually eliminated as organized bands, and even the Mohegans were greatly weakened.
For a time, King Philip’s War seriously damaged the prospects of most second- and third-generation colonists in New England. But they repaired all the damage, replaced their losses, rebuilt the destroyed towns, and continued to establish new towns within a few years.
The colonists’ successful defense of New England with their own resources brought them to the attention of the British royal government. Before King Philip’s War, the colonies had been generally ignored, thought to be uninteresting and poor English outposts.
The English authorities soon tried to exploit the colonies and their resources for their own gain—beginning with the revocation of the charter of Massachusetts Bay in 1684. An Anglican church was established in Boston in 1686, ending the Puritan monopoly on religion in Massachusetts.
Connecticut hid their charter inside the cavity of an oak tree in late 1687 when Andros tried to revoke it and take over the militia. In 1690, Plymouth’s charter was not renewed; its residents were forced into the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. The Colony of Rhode Island maintained its charter.
Plymouth Colony lost close to eight percent of its adult male population and a smaller percentage of women and children to Indian warfare or other causes associated with the war.
Indian losses were much greater, with about 2,000 men killed or who died of injuries in the war, more than 3,000 dying of sickness or starvation, and another 1,000 Indians sold into slavery and transported to other areas. As a result of King Philip’s War, the Indian population of southern New England was reduced by about 40 to 80 percent.
In the north, the Indian raids continued for decades with the support of the French. It would come to an end during the French and Indian War when the French were defeated and removed from Canada.