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The Tragedy Of King Philip And The Destruction Of The New England Indians

July 2024
46min read

The most serious threat to white colonization of New England was the Indian uprising of 1675-76, known as King Philip’s War. What follows is the story of the tragic man who led that futile struggle, Philip, chief of the Wampanoags. But perhaps it is just as much the story of Philip’s erstwhile friend and resourceful pursuer, Benjamin Church. This account is taken from George Howe’s superb history of Bristol, Rhode Island, Mount Hope, due in February from the Viking Press.

“Where there is love there is no fear”

Behind the present town of Bristol, Rhode Island, on Narragansett Bay, rises the aoo-foot hill called Mount Hope. East of it is an estuary dividing Rhode Island from Massachusetts; west of it is Bristol harbor, and west again, the peninsula of Poppasquash.

In 1620, when the Pilgrims landed forty miles to the east at Plymouth, Mount Hope was the seat of Massasoit, King of the Wampanoags. They were a branch of the Algonquin nation; the name of the tribe means “Eastern People,” and his own name means “Great Chief.” He was chief of all the lesser sachems from Cape Cod to Narragansett Bay. He lived comfortably in a tent village that he called Pokanoket, north of the hill. His lodges, framed on poles, were covered with reed mattings sewn together with hemp and bound tight at the smoke hole with walnut bark. Having a flap at each end, they caught the breeze whichever way it blew. The biggest of them, the long house, stretched a hundred feet. The village was built at the foot of Mount Hope, not on top of it, in order that the smoke of the campfire might not be mistaken for signals.

When the fish hawks arrived in March, Massasoit knew that scup had moved up from the sea. When the bud of the white oak had reached the size of a mouse’s ear, his squaws planted corn, laying a ripe herring at each hill for fertilizer. They hoed with quahog shells. His braves, who scorned labor, stalked deer on Poppasquash with bow and arrow, and netted tautog in the channel. There were soft-shelled clams in the mud at low tide for the digging, and eels, quahogs, and scallops offshore for the treading, all of which were brewed into a chowder called nasaump. Groundnuts, which are the roots of the wild bean, needed no labor at all; and huckleberries grew wild in the clearings. Over open fires, the squaws broiled roe, boiled succotash, baked corn bread, and refined the sugar of the maples. Winter was a season of semistarvation, but meat and fish, tanned in the sun the previous summer, saw the tribe through all but the hardest seasons. (The Indians never learned the use of salt to preserve their meat, though they were surrounded by sea water). Fifteen miles inland, at what is still called Fowling Pond, Massasoit had a winter game preserve. He might shift camp a little when his firewood gave out; even now, heaps of clamshells, marking a camp site, are sometimes dug up behind Mount Hope. But with fair weather he always returned to his hill. Mount Hope was his home and his throne.

On March 22, 1621, with his brother, Quadequina, and sixty of his braves, he visited the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The royal party walked all the way from Mount Hope; horses were unknown to them. The Mayflower , which had brought the Englishmen from England the previous autumn, still lay in the harbor; she was not to return till April 5. The King’s hair, high in front and long behind, was greased, and his face was painted with the royal mulberry. He looked like the gypsies the English had seen at home. He wore mooseskin moccasins, deerskin leggings, and a squirrel coat with the fur inside. A string of bone beads hung at his neck. He carried a knife in his coat-strap and a wooden tomahawk in his hand. As interpreter, he brought one of his subjects named Squanto. Seven years earlier, an English raider named Hunt had kidnapped Squanto from the coast and sold him to slavery in Spain. He had escaped to London, where he had learned English, and from London, as recently as 1619, he had escaped back to his own country.

Squanto stood beside the King on a rise above the Pilgrims’ stockade at Plymouth.

“Welcome, Englishmen,” he called down to them.

Governor Carver must have been astounded to hear his own language from a red man. He sent his young secretary, Edward Winslow, up to the hill with presents in his hand: a knife, a jewel for the ear, a pot of “strong water,” a good quantity of biscuit, and some butter. They were gratefully accepted.

“Do you dare to walk among us alone?” Squanto asked Winslow. “Where there is love there is no fear,” the secretary answered.

Winslow was detained on the hill as a hostage, while Massasoit followed Squanto down to the stockade. The newest cabin in the colony was made ready to receive him. It was not much better than the royal long house at Mount Hope. A green rug had been laid on the earth floor, with three or four cushions on it. Driftwood blazed in the clay fireplace. The room was lighted by paper windows, and, when darkness fell, by bayberry dips. Little Miles Standish, with a file of six men, presented arms. To the sound of a trumpet and drum, Governor Carver himself entered. He bent his chin over Massasoit’s hand and kissed it. He gave him a great draught of strong water, whereat the King’s whole body broke into a sweat. He had never tasted liquor before. Massasoit sat all afternoon beside the Governor, trembling with fear. Before he started home he had put his mark to a treaty of alliance with King James I of England. The white men who had landed on his shore, with cuirasses instead of leather for armor, with muskets and cutlasses for weapons instead of arrows, with sailboats and rum and tobacco, were lucky allies for him. He called them Wautoconoag , which means “men who wear clothes.”


Massasoit was a portly and dignified sachem of 41, grave of countenance and spare of speech. Once he had been subject to the Narragansetts, westward across the bay. A four-year plague, beginning in 1617, had so reduced his tribe that they were making ready to subdue him again. Once there had been three thousand Wampanoags; now there were hardly more fighting men than the sixty who attended the King to Plymouth. As a later governor put it, “Providence was visible in thinning the Indians to make room for the English.”

The dour John Winthrop in 1634 gloated that “The natives are neere all dead of the small poxe, so as the Lord hathe cleared our title to what we possess.” (There is reason to believe, however, that the plague was not smallpox, but jaundice.)

But the Pilgrims, so far, were the only Englishmen north of Virginia. They had hardly survived their first winter in the New World, and had nothing to lose by making friends with the Indians.

Four months later they sent an embassy to Mount Hope to return Massasoit’s visit. They brought him a horseman’s laced coat of red cotton, though he still had no horse, and a necklace of copper beads to serve as a passport for future visits. Since warm weather had come, the King had reversed his squirrel coat so the fur was on the outside. Not being forewarned of the visit, he had to do his hasty best. For the reception he donned his turkey-feather mantle, tied at the throat with twine. The English, squatting on skins outside his wigwam, shared the dried beef which the squaws brought from the storepit, and two tautog shot by the braves with bow and arrow. The King had forty guests that afternoon: two Englishmen and thirty-eight Indians. They smoked his pipe of hemlock and ground-up ivy. They played the dice game which their host called Hubbub.


The English ambassadors slept that night on the same plank bed with the King, his wife, and two of his chiefs.

“We were worse weary of our lodging,” they reported to Plymouth, “than with our journey. What with the savages’ barbarous singing (for they are wont to sing themselves asleep), with lice and fleas within door and mosquitos without, we could hardly sleep all the time of our being there.”

Claiming they must keep Sabbath at home, but actually “much fearing if we should stay any longer we should not be able to recover home for want of strength,” they started back on Saturday morning and rode into Plymouth on the same night.

In December, when the Pilgrims gave thanks for their first year of survival, Massasoit returned the visit. His braves killed four deer, and the King contributed them to the first Thanksgiving dinner.

Two years later, Winslow heard that Massasoit was on his deathbed. He visited him again. He found the royal wigwam so crowded with mourners that he could hardly elbow his way inside. Beside the pallet stood the King’s wife; his brothers, Ouadequina and Akkompoin; and his medicine men.

Massasoit, who suffered from constipation, had not eaten for two days. He lay among the howling sorcerers with his eyes closed. His sight had gone.

“Kéen Winsnow?” he asked faintly, meaning “Art thou Winslow?”

Indians could not pronounce the letter l .

“Ahhé,” Winslow answered for yes.

“Malta néen nanen, Winsnow.” (“Ah, Winslow, I shall never see thee again.”)

But Winslow had brought with him from Plymouth “a confection of many comfortable conserves.” He forced it between Massasoit’s stiffening jaws with his knife blade. When the King had swallowed a little of it, the ambassador washed out his mouth and scraped his furry tongue. Next day he sent couriers to Plymouth for some chickens, for poultry was unknown to the Indians. While they were gone, he brewed a vegetarian pottage out of strawberry leaves and sassafras—all he could find in March—which a squaw ground up with a little corn and boiled in a pipkin. He strained the broth through his own handkerchief and fed it to the King. The next meal was goose soup, thanks to a pretty bull’s-eye of his blunderbuss at 120 yards. (The Indian word for goose was honck .) The soup restored the King’s eyesight but was too rich for his stomach. He vomited, and bled for four hours from the nose. But after the nosebleed, he slept for six. When he waked, Winslow washed his face and suppled his beard. By the time the chickens arrived, the King was well enough to order them saved for breeding instead of being slaughtered for broth. His friends came from as far as a hundred miles to see the miracle of his recovery and listen to his praises of his Enerlish friends.


Massasoit begat three sons—Wamsutta, Metacom, and Suconewhew—and two daughters, one named Amie and one whose name is lost. He lived to see his two older sons marry two sisters from across Mount Hope Bay. Weetamoe, the wife of Wamsutta, was in her own right Queen of Pocasset—the hillside which is now Tiverton, Rhode Island.

Over the rest of his long reign, Massasoit recklessly ceded tracts of his depopulated kingdom to the Pilgrims in exchange for their weapons, horses, rum, and currency.

The English converted some of the Wampanoags to Christianity, and a good many more of the inland Nipmucks. Massasoit clung to his traditional gods: Kichtan, for good, and Abemecho, for evil. He believed vaguely that Heaven lay in the southwest, the direction of fair-weather winds. Kichtan had made the first man and woman out of stone; when they proved unsatisfactory, he destroyed them and made another couple out of a tree. The Pilgrims’ story of Noah and the flood was not much different. He was willing to let the Nipmucks, and even his own Wampanoags, accept the English God, provided he did not have to give up his own. He did not object when John Eliot, the Apostle to the Indians, carried away Sassamon, his secretary, to study the new religion at Harvard, nor even when his youngest boy, Suconewhew, went there, too. But for himself, he was too old to change.

Other sachems were more receptive. When the Pilgrims asked them “to worship ye only true God, which made Heaven and earth, and not to blaspheme Him,” one of them answered wistfully:

“We do desire to reverence ye God of ye English, and to speak well of Him, because we see He doth better to ye English than other gods do to others.”

The English always paid for their land, but they seemed always to buy the best. The deeds, written in English, were witnessed and recorded in the General Court at Plymouth. They took over the choicest fishing grounds and cleared the woods of game. When their trade goods had long been spent or drunk up, the land was still theirs. Even so, Massasoit was so grateful to his allies that he petitioned the General Court at Plymouth to assign English names to his two older sons. The Pilgrims would not grant them Christian names, and the only two close relatives from pagan history who came to mind were the warrior kings of Macedon. In 1656 Wamsutta became Alexander; Metacom became Philip. The brothers were flattered by the comparison. Aware that the Greek name Philip means “a lover of horses,” the governor gave the young prince a black stallion.

The English called their converts Praying Indians. They made them bailiffs and marshals in the villages around Boston, let them attend court and serve on juries, and even placed some of them over the white constables. The copper-skinned magistrate of the Praying Village at Natick issued this mandamus to his white assistant:

“You, you big constable! Quick you catch urn Jeremiah Offscow, strong you hold um, safe you bring urn before me—Waban, Justice of Peace.”

When a new magistrate asked Waban what he did when the non-praying Indians got drunk and quarreled with each other, he told him, “Tie urn all up and whip urn plaintiff, whip urn fendant, whip urn witness.”

The converted Indians hung around the fringes of the settlements, helping the English cultivate their corn, butchering their hogs in the fall, and digging clams or treading eels for them in exchange for food and rum. The English settlers at Weymouth, a village between Plymouth and Boston, complained that the Indians plucked their food from the kettles before they could get at it themselves.

Most of the sachems resented the conversions, and the tolerant Roger Williams at Providence agreed with them. In 1654 he wrote the Puritan governor of Massachusetts Bay: At my last departure for England, I was importuned by the Narragansett Indians to present to the high sachems of England that they might not be forced from their religions, and, for not changing them, be invaded by war. For they say they are daily visited with threatenings by [Praying] Indians that come from about the Massachusetts, that if they would not pray, they should be destroyed by war. Are not all the English of this land generally a persecuted people from their native land? And hath not the God of peace and Father of mercies made the natives more friendly to us in this land than our countrymen in our own? Are not our families grown up in peace amongst them? Upon which I humbly ask how it can suit with Christian ingenuity to take hold of some seeming occasions for their destruction.

“In the posture of war”

Massaoit died in 1661 at the venerable age of 81. The haughty Alexander, his oldest son, succeeded him. The Pilgrims at once ordered him to Plymouth to show proof that he would be as loyal as his father. They offered him a horse for the hot midsummer trip. Since they did not offer one to Queen Weetamoe too, he declined it and walked beside her, at the head of eighty braves, the whole forty miles of the Plymouth trail. The Pilgrims’ suspicions, which seem to have been well-founded, so outraged him that he broke into a burning fever before his trial began. Fuller, their doctor, gave him a “portion of working physic,” but it made him worse. Weetamoe got their permission to take her husband home for treatment by his own medicine men, leaving their two sons with the Pilgrims as hostages. She suspected Dr. Fuller had poisoned him. Alexander’s braves hoisted him on their shoulders and started westward through the woods. On Taunton River they saw that his end was near. Beaching their canoes, they laid him on a grassy mound beneath an oak tree. Weetamoe cradled his head as he died. He had reigned only a year.


Philip succeeded his brother. He was 24 years old. On the rock now called King Philip’s Throne, on the east side of Mount Hope, he donned the nine-foot stole of wampum, fringed with red deerskin and embroidered with beasts and birds, the headband with two flags behind, the breastplate engraved with a star, and the scarlet cloak that were his “royalties.” Paul Revere’s crude portrait of him, engraved a century later from imagination, and a hostile one at that, shows him as a square-set man of medium height, with a trace of a beard below his chin, standing before Mount Hope in his regalia, with bare legs above his moccasins, a musket in his hand, and a tomahawk and powder horn at his feet. But it is likely that he was taller than most of the English.

One of Philip’s hands was scarred from the explosion of a pistol. He had undergone the tests of manhood. He had spent the winter alone in the forest with only a bow and arrow, a hatchet, and a knife to defend himself against the wolves and wildcats. He had drunk the juice of poisonous herbs, with the medicine man standing by with emetics in case of danger, until he had proved himself immune. Legend says that, with the Devil to help him, Philip could throw a stone across the harbor from the crest of Mount Hope to Poppasquash, two miles away.

Like Weetamoe, he believed that it was English poison, and not a broken heart, that had killed Alexander. He was determined to avenge his brother. So fierce were his loyalties that he had once pursued the Indian called John Gibbs all the way to Nantucket Island, across forty miles of open water, because he had spoken ill of the dead Massasoit. Somehow the traducer escaped him in the dunes, but Philip would not leave the island until the English gave him all the money they could scrape together. It came to nineteen shillings.


By Massasoit’s treaty, the English had agreed to respect the Indians’ land. There was certainly enough for both. The treaty made it illegal for an Englishman to buy land from an Indian without the consent of the General Court at Plymouth. This rule was designed to protect the Indians from fraud, for it had never occurred to them that they owned the land anyway; they simply occupied it. Massasoit’s generosity, and the greed of the colonists, made the law impossible to enforce. When Philip belatedly saw that he was not sharing his territory with the white settlers, but losing it to them, he determined to retain what little was left. His English friend John Borden reports that he told him:

“But little remains of my ancestor’s domain, I am resolved not to see the day when I have no country.”

One of his surviving letters to the Governor of Plymouth Colony, probably in the hand of John Sassamon, shows his state of mind: KING PHILIP desire to let you understand that he could not come to the Court, for Tom his interpreter has a pain in his back, that he could not travil so far, and Philip sister is very sick. Philip would entreat that favor of you and aney of the majestrates, if aney English or Enjians speak about aney land, he pray you to give them no answer at all. This last somer he made that promis with you, that he would sell no land in y yers time, for he would have no English trouble him before that time. He has not forgot that you promis him. He will come as sune as possible he can speak with you, and so I rest

Your verey loveing friend

Philip, dwelling at mount hope nek.

In 1671 he confirmed his father’s treaty at a conference in the Taunton meetinghouse, where the English sat on one side of the aisle and the Indians on the other. Later in the same year he even agreed to pay tribute to the Pilgrims, but did all he could to evade it by pleading poverty:

“I am willing and do promise to pay unto the government of Plymouth one hundred pounds in such things as I have, but would entreat the favour that I might have three years to pay it in, forasmuch as I do not have it at present. I do promise to send unto the Governor, or whom he shall appoint, five wolves’ heads, if I can get them; or as many as I can procure until they come to five wolves yearly.”

The settlers no longer needed the friendship of Indians. Three times they summoned Philip, as they had summoned Alexander, to answer charges of conspiracy. The first time, he meekly gave up the seventy guns his braves had brought with them. The braves were disgusted, for thev had almost forgotten how to hunt with bow and arrow, and even though they did not know how to repair their guns themselves, there was a friendly English blacksmith named Uriah Leonard, near Fowling Pond, who was always ready to forge their spare parts from the bog iron nearby, though he broke the law when he did so.


In return for the seventy muskets, the settlers promised that all future charges should be arbitrated by the Puritans of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The Puritans were richer, more numerous and sharper than their Pilgrim brethren at Plymouth, but Plymouth had the advantage of seniority, and was respectfully referred to as the Old Colony. The Puritans deferred to the sanctity of the Pilgrims, who in return were forever asking their help and advice. A saying grew up that the Plymouth saddle was always on the Bay horse.

The second time the settlers complained, Philip went to Boston direct, and convinced the Puritans that the charges against him were unfounded. The third time, he wrote angrily back to Plymouth:

“Your governor is but a subject. I shall treat only with my brother, King Charles of England. When he comes, I am ready.”

By 1671 there were perhaps 40,000 Englishmen in all New England, and only half as many Indians. Before long there would be none at all, unless the English were driven out. They were beginning to surround Mount Hope itself. They had built a garrison house at Swansea to the north, and settled in numbers on Aquidneck Island, to the south, across the channel. Queen Awashonks of Sakonnet, whose kingdom adjoined Queen Weetamoe’s, had sold land on the east side of Mount Hope Bay, within sight of King Philip’s lodges, to an English carpenter named Benjamin Church. Philip himself, in spite of his resolution, sold off the present New Bedford in 1665, and in 1670 granted 100 acres, only a mile west of Pokanoket, to a certain John Gorham. In all, he sold some thirty-five square miles in the nine years after his brother’s death, at an average price of elevenpence an acre. But legally, Mount Hope was still sovereign Indian territory, hemmed in on the north by the Baptist colony of Providence Plantations, on the south by the Quakers of Rhode Island, on the east by the Pilgrims themselves, and on the west by Narragansett Bay.

Philip had many grievances. The English let their cattle destroy the Indian cornfields, which were never fenced. In any lawsuit, they took the word of a single Praying Indian against that of twenty unconverted ones. As Philip told John Easton, a Quaker who ferried over from Aquidneck to pacify him:

“The English are so eager to sell the Indians liquor that most of the Indians spend all in drunkenness, and then raven upon the sober Indians.”

The Pilgrim clergy kept one eye on Heaven and the other on earth. This land, they sincerely believed, belonged to God. He had chosen them to bring it back to Him, and the Indians with it, if they would come. The Indians did not share this view—not even the Praying Indians.

The Wampanoags alone were too weak to attack the English, but Philip dreamed of an alliance with other tribes, from the Kennebec to the Hudson. They had never united before; it was their jealousies which had given the English their power, as the English themselves well knew. In the winter of 1674–75 he dispatched John Sassamon, his Praying secretary, across Mount Hope Bay by canoe, with half a dozen others of his council, to draw the Squaw Sachem Awashonks into his conspiracy. She had an army of 300. She honored his envoys with a ceremonial dance. But as it began, the unreliable Sassamon, with one of her own council named Honest George, slipped down to Church’s farm to warn him of the plot. Church, unarmed, alone, and uninvited, followed them back to her wigwam. He found Awashonks herself, in a foaming sweat—the phrase is his—leading the dance. When he walked through the tent flap, she broke off the festivities and called him before her.

Church was a married man of 35. If his Bristol descendants favor him, he was not bad-looking. Awashonks was the widow of a chief called Tolony. Her age is unknown now and was perhaps a secret even then. She had a grown son named Peter, so can hardly have been younger than her uninvited guest. Church does not boast, but Awashonks” behavior made it clear that he pleased her.


Inside the lodge, King Philip’s men crowded around him, “in the posture of war ” Their fares and chests were painted with totems of yellow and red. Their hair was trimmed to a coxcomb. Some wore rattlesnake skins down their backs. Their shot bags and powder horns hung from their shoulders. Church felt the shot bags and asked what they were for.

“To shoot pigeons with,” was the mocking answer.

Church turned to the Queen in their presence and told her:

“If Philip is resolved to make war, the best thing for Your Majesty will be to knock all these Mounthopes on the head and shelter yourself with me for protection. For my part, I desire nothing more than peace, yet if nothing but war will satisfy them, I believe I shall prove a sharp thorn in their sides.”

His boldness drew him a promise that Awashonks and her army would at least be neutral if war should come. Enraged at her defection, Philip had Sassamon murdered. (Among other knaveries, he had drawn up a will for Philip, who could neither read nor write, which left all the Mount Hope lands to himself.)

Philip’s assassins broke Sassamon’s neck on the shores of Middleboro Pond. There was still ice on the pond that March of 1675. To pretend he had drowned on a hunting trip, they pushed his corpse under the ice and left his gun and a brace of ducks on the bank nearby. The English caught them anyway and tried them before a mixed jury of white men and red. The Reverend Increase Mather from Boston attended the trial. (To the Plymouth Colony, Increase and his son, Cotton, were the very voice of God.) He reports that Tobias, one of the three accused Indians, was proved guilty by the fact that Sassamon’s body bled afresh when he approached it. All three were convicted. Two were hanged. The third was reprieved for a month, then shot.

The execution enraged Philip. He claimed that foreigners had no right to punish Indians who murdered other Indians. Worst of all, the trial exposed his conspiracy. Now he dared wait no longer to attack, though he was not quite ready for war. He spent the rest of the spring, afoot or in a canoe or astride his black horse, hurrying among the tribes as far west as the Connecticut River, bribing and cajoling them to join him and rid the country of the English forever. His father’s old enemies, the Narragansetts, across the bay, promised him 4,000 fighting men, though it is doubtful they had that many. The Nipmucks from the west promised to attack the exposed English settlements along the Connecticut.

Philip held a two-week war dance atop Mount Hope. The visiting chieftains, the medicine men, and the oldest squaws squatted in a ring around the bonfire. The braves stood behind them and die rabble milled on the outskirts. Each brave, as the name of an English settlement was called out, picked up a firebrand, danced around the circle in a mock battle with the flame, and finally conquered the town by quenching the torch in the earth.

Philip was ruthless and sentimental, wily and indecisive, noble and niggardly, all at the same time. His sorcerers, in snakeskin cloaks and wooden masks, consulted their oracles—the notes of the whippoorwill? the entrails of the owl?—and reported that no Englishman would ever kill him. That was enough for him. He sent a canoe up Mount Hope Bay to warn his English friend Hugh Cole to fly before it was too late. It was a favor that might have cost him the war, if Cole had warned his fellow Englishmen. Then he let the war begin, though it is said he threw himself weeping to the ground as he gave the command.

It was a superstition that the side which drew first blood would lose. On Sunday, June 20, 1675, while the settlers of nearby Swansea were at meeting, the Indians shot some of their cattle. This did not count as bloodshed, perhaps, but was enough to drive the white men from their scattered thatch-roofs to the shelter of their garrison house. Philip ransacked their farmsteads without hindrance. On Wednesday a lad named John Salisbury, emerging from the garrison to salvage his geese, found their necks wrung and a band of Indians searching his father’s keeping room for rum. He fired into the band and wounded an Indian. First blood was thus drawn by the English. Next day the Indians returned. They murdered the boy and his father.

The frightened settlers sent a messenger to Plymouth for help. A troop of 36 under Captain Matthew Fuller (not the doctor who had physicked King Alexander) reached Swansea on the twenty-eighth. Benjamin Church was second in command. Weighted down by their heavy buffcoats, their breastplates, swords, carbines, and pistols, they had taken four days to march from the Old Colony. Behind the infantry lumbered the pack train. The troops’ ration was biscuit, dried fish, pork, oil, raisins, sugar, peas, wine, and rum. Another “army” arrived from Boston, under command of General Cudworth. It was equipped with hunting dogs. One-third of each troop was armed with fourteen-foot pikes; and two-thirds with matchlock muskets so long that they required a forked rest for the barrel. It took 56 separate motions to fire a matchlock.

By the time the two details converged at Swansea, six Englishmen had been tomahawked in the village. The troops killed six Indians in revenge. Marching down the Kickemuit River, one hundred and seventysix strong, to besiege Mount Hope, they found eight more flayed heads on poles, and the torn leaves of a Bible scattered blasphemously on the ground below. It did not reassure them to see an eclipse that night, with a shadow on the moon in the shape of a human scalp.


Although General Cudworth of the Massachusetts militia was ranking officer, this was a Plymouth war. Command devolved on Captain Fuller, but he excused himself from action as being “ancient and heavy.” He sent Lieutenant Church ahead with half of the army to attack Mount Hope frontally, and set the other half to building a fort in case Philip should attack him . Church did not believe in static warfare. He fought as the Indians did themselves. He had heard one of them say, “The English always keep in a heap together, so it is as easy to hit them as to hit a house.”

Church’s troop of Englishmen crept down to Mount Hope, sometimes waist-deep in the swamp and sometimes on their bellies in the grass, but always deployed at a distance from one another.

They found the hill deserted. Philip was too wily to let himself be trapped on a peninsula. He had shipped the squaws and papooses across Narragansett Bay to shelter with his allies on that side of the water.

Church decided that there was only one direction Philip could have taken: eastward across Mount Hope Bay to the kingdom of his sister-in-law, Weetamoe. He ferried across to Aquidneck Island and wheeled left to the straits which divide it from Pocasset. On the far side he caught sight of the enemy, lurking in the bushes at the top of the hill. Church was a humorist as well as a soldier and a diplomat. In his Entertaining History of King Philip’s War he writes: The Indians had a fort on the opposite side of the river, and showed themselves, and acted all manner of mockery to aggravate the English, they being at more than a common gunshot off. At one time one made his appearance, and turned his backside in defiance as usual; but someone having an uncommonly long gun fired upon him and put an end to his mimicry.

He lashed some logs together into a raft and led a detail of seventeen men across the strait. On the far side he took cover under the fence’in John Almy’s peasefield. There were more Indians on the hill than he had thought: 300 of them, it turned out afterward. The “Battle of the Peasefield” lasted six hours. The English advanced as far as a well on the far side of the field, but were driven back by a rain of bullets from the stumps and boulders above them. At last their ammunition gave out, and they retreated to the shore. By luck, a Quaker sloop from Aquidneck Island came sailing through the strait just in time to rescue them. Two by two she took them oft’ in a canoe, but not before Church, under fire, made his way alone once more across the peasefield to retrieve his hat and cutlass, which he had left behind at the well.

A few days later, with some reluctant reinforcement from Captain Fuller, he made another assault on the hill. This time he had better luck. The Indians fled before him. At the Pocasset cedar swamp, in the kingdom of Queen Weetamoe, the first of the royal family fell: Philip’s young brother, Suconewhew, who had studied at Harvard.

Church. drove the Indians northward toward the Taunton River, where an English fort commanded the ford. He hoped to trap them between two fires, but Philip outflanked the fort by crossing the river above it on a raft at low tide. He escaped to the open west with his dogs and his black horse. His army was almost intact.

He was now outside the borders of Plymouth Colony. Except for a skeleton guard over the prisoners taken in the Pocasset cedar swamp, the armies of Plymouth and Massachusetts, which had taken the field on June 24, disbanded on July 19. The campaign had been short. Church got back to his farm in Awashonks’ kingdom in time for the fall harvest.

“So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord!”

The strategists of the two colonies saw that Philip’s escape meant that the war might spread westward toward the Hudson, and that he might return with reinforcements to attack them again. On July 15 they forced a treaty on the Narragansetts, who were still sheltering the Wampanoag women and children. It promised them immunity and set a bounty of two yards of cloth, worth five shillings the yard, for each Wampanoag scalp they brought in, four yards for each live Wampanoag, forty for Philip’s scalp, and eighty for Philip alive. Trusting to the treaty, 150 Narragansetts trudged into Plymouth to put themselves under the colony’s protection. No Wampanoag scalps were ever delivered, but for three months the Narragansetts were at least neutralized.

Philip himself was 120 miles to the northwest. From a camp on the Hudson among the Mohawks, at what is now Schaghticoke, New York, he directed the summer campaign. Though there is no record that he appeared in battle himself, all the western reaches of the English colonies were terrorized by the lightning raids of his warriors. On August 4 they besieged Brookfield. In September they burned Deerfield and attacked Hadley and Northfield. On the eighteenth they killed ninety Englishmen guarding a provision train from Deerfield to Hadley. On the twenty-eighth, at Northampton, they scalped Praisever Turner and Unzakaby Shakespeare when they ventured too far from the garrison house in search of firewood. On October 5 they burned 32 houses in Springfield, and on the nineteenth, with a troop of 800, they attacked Hatfield, but were repulsed.

Clad in the wamus , a slipover buckskin hunting jacket, and shod with noiseless moccasins, they shot flaming arrows into the settlers’ thatched roofs. They pushed fire wagons against the log walls, edging them forward at the end of lashed poles from as far away as seventy yards. That distance was about the effective range of the colonists’ muskets. When they broke through, they had no mercy.

Luck was not always on Philip’s side. Sometimes a providential rain extinguished the firebrands. The settlers’ own muskets, if the range was close enough, accounted for many of the enemy. At the attack on Hadley, says legend, a bearded stranger emerged from Parson Russell’s attic, rallied the defenders, and vanished as mysteriously as he had appeared. They thought he was an angel. Long afterward they learned that he was William Goffe, one of the Roundhead judges who had condemned Charles I to the axe in 1649. He was hiding now in the New World from the long-armed vengeance of Charles II.

The Indians were merciless to the men they captured, but never mistreated the women. At Northfield they hung up two Englishmen on chains, with hooks under their jaws. The colonists, whose status as God’s chosen exempted them from conscience, were no less cruel. At Springfield they ordered an old squaw “to be torn in pieces by dogs, and she was so dealt withal.” At Natick they massacred 126 Indians, including a squaw whom Increase Mather describes as “an old piece of venom.”

Crudest of all were the Indians who fought for the English. In Boston once, the Puritans were in the long process of executing an Indian prisoner by hoisting him to the gallows with a rope at his neck, and letting him down again three or four times to prolong his departure. Another Indian, a friend of his, stepped forward, drove a knife into him, and sucked out his heart-blood. He explained to the spectators, “Me stronger as I was before. Me be so strong as me and he too. He be very strong man fore he die.”

The war was no longer local. It was known that the Narragansetts had a great fort in the swamp west of what is now Kingston, Rhode Island. Hospitality was sacred to them. Beside the women and children whom they already sheltered, and in spite of the bounty offered by the July treaty, they gave refuge to Philip’s wounded and the aged who could not keep up with his fast-moving campaign. There was a chance that Philip might himself be in the camp, for he had not been seen since his escape at Pocasset. Spies reported that Weetamoe, his sister-in-law, was surely there, with her current husband. The fact that the Narragansetts had not surrendered her was excuse enough for the English to attack them. As one colonist put it, “If she be but taken, her lands will more than pay for all the charges we have been at in this unhappy war.”

Canonchet, the Narragansett sachem, was summoned to Boston. On October 18 he signed a second treaty, agreeing to give her up within ten days. The governor of Plymouth, Josiah Winslow (he was the son of Massasoit’s friend, Edward), gave him a silvertrimmed coat as a reward. The ten days passed, but Weetamoe was not delivered. The ultimatum having expired, Plymouth sold off the 150 Narragansetts who had surrendered in July. They were shipped to Cadiz, Spain, as slaves—“sent off by the Treasurer,” in the politer words of the official record. They averaged two shillings and twopence a head.

On November 2 the United Colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Connecticut declared war on the Narragansetts. (The peaceful Quakers of Aquidneck Island and the Baptists of Providence, separated from each other by Mount Hope itself, took no part in the hostilities.) They mustered an army a thousand strong, under the command of Governor Winslow. There were 158 from Plymouth, 527 from Massachusetts Bay, and 315 from Connecticut, not counting teamsters, servants, and “volunteers.” Winslow offered Benjamin Church the command of a company. Church, who had no taste for the classic warfare that was the only kind the Governor understood, declined. But he promised, as he puts it, to “wait upon him through the expedition as a Reformado,” which means what is now called a guerrilla.

The three contingents were to make contact at Richard Smith’s garrison house, which still stands, greatly altered, near Wickford on the west shore of Narragansett Bay. Church got there by sloop several days before they arrived overland. He had captured eighteen Indians by the time the regulars marched in.

The regulars were uniformed in leather jerkins and breeches, and wore Monmouth caps on their heads. Each man carried a six-foot flintlock musket and a bandolier which held a pound of powder, twenty bullets, and two fathom-length of match. They had no tents; each night of the march down from Providence they had slept under blankets on the frozen ground. But they had taken 47 prisoners themselves. Captain Nathaniel Davenport of the 5th Massachusetts Company bought them in for his own account as slaves at a bargain: eighty pounds for the lot.

The Narragansett fortress, which was under Canonchet’s command, covered a four-acre rise in the middle of the trackless swamp, eighteen miles inland from the garrison house. The English might not have found it at all if Peter Freeman, one of Church’s Indian prisoners, had not guided them. It was hidden from sight, even on a clear day, by a jungle of cedars. On December 19, 1675, the day of the assault, it was snowing hard, and there was a two-foot fall by afternoon. That was almost the shortest day of the year, with the sun setting by four o’clock. The fort had been designed by an Indian engineer called Stonewall John, with the help of Joshua Tift, a renegade white man. Inside it, 3,000 Indians were crowded into 500 wigwams. Their winter provisions, in tubs hollowed out of sawn-off butternut trunks, were stacked against the walls to deaden the English bullets. The fort was even equipped with a forge for the repair of ordnance. Around its perimeter a sixteen-foot abatis of felled trees, with the branches forward, was backed by a stockade of logs. The only bridge between the fort and the tussocks of the swamp was a single log, with the inner end set between four-foot palisades with loopholes in them.

The attack began at two in the afternoon while the squaws were preparing dinner inside the fort. As fast as the English ventured onto the log, the Indians shot them from the loopholes, and they toppled into the icy stream. Six captains went down. Among them was Davenport, who had just paid eighty pounds for his slaves.

Away from the stream, the stagnant swamp was frozen over. Church, who had been stationed on solid ground with the governor’s staff, saw his chance. With thirty men, he crossed the ice and broke into the fort from the flank, through the tangle of the abatis. It was a feat that, under heavy armor, would have been impossible in a thaw, and was almost a miracle now in the twilight and the snow. In his own modest words, He encouraged his company and ran right on, till he was struck with three bullets; one in his thigh, which was near cut off as it glanced on the joint of his hip-bone; another through the gatherings of his breeches and drawers with a small flesh wound; a third pierced his pocket and wounded a pair of mittens he had borrowed of Capt. Prentice, which, bring wrapped together, had the misfortune of having many holes cut through them with a single bullet.

His troop poured through the breach behind him. After a hopeless hand-to-hand fight, the Indians fled through the dark across the ice into the fastness of the swamp. “They run, they run!” someone shouted over the tumult. A few squaws strapped their papooses to their backs and plodded away through the drifts. They had no time nor strength to carry anything else into the blizzard. Most were left behind, cowering in the wigwams.

The regulars prepared to fire the camp. Church tried to dissuade them, if only because the English would need the shelter and provision for themselves. Since he was only a “reformado,” no one listened. In the darkness and terror, it was easier to burn the wigwams than to spare them. He dragged himself back to Governor Winslow, who also bore the title of general, to plead against the burning.

The general [his story goes on] moved toward the fort, designing to ride in himself and bring in the whole army; but just as he was entering it one of his captains met him, and asked whither he was going. He told him, “Into the fort.” The captain laid hold of his horse and told him his life was worth a hundred of theirs, and that he should not expose himself. The general answered that he supposed the brunt was over, and that Mr. Church had informed him the fort was taken, and he was of the mind that it was most practicable for him and his army to shelter themselves therein. The captain replied in a great heat that Church lied, and told the general that if he moved another step toward the fort he would shoot his horse under him.


Then bristled up another gentleman, a certain doctor, and opposed Mr. Church’s advice, and said that if it were complied with, it would kill more men than the enemy had killed. And looking upon Mr. Church, and seeing the blood flow apace from his wounds, told him that if he gave such advice as that was, he should bleed to death like a dog before he would endeavor to stanch his blood.

They prevailed against Mr. Church’s advice. Burning up all the houses and provisions in the fort, the army returned that night [to Smith’s garrison house] in the storm and cold. And I suppose that everyone who is acquainted with that night’s march deeply laments the miseries that attended them, especially the wounded and dying men. Some of the enemy that were then in the fort have since informed us that near a third of all the Indians belonging to the Narragansett country were killed by the English or by the cold of that night; that they fled out of their fort so hastily that they carried nothing with them; and that if the English had kept in the fort, the Indians would certainly have been necessitated either to surrender themselves or to have perished by hunger and the severity of the season.

As it was, 207 of the colonial militia were killed that day or died that night, jolting through the blizzard to the garrison house on sapling stretchers slung from the muskets of their comrades. The Indians lost perhaps 500 fighting men. Another 500 women, children, and invalids, in spite of Church’s effort to spare them, were burned to death. Only a few survived. Cotton Mather exulted: We have heard of two and twenty Indian captains slain, all of them brought down to Hell in one day. When they came to see the ashes of their friends, mingled with the ashes of their fort, and the Bodies of so many of their Country terribly Barbikew’d , where the English had been doing a good day’s work, they Howl’d, they Roar’d, they Stamp’d, they Tore their hair; and though they did not swear (for they know not how) yet they Curs’d, and were the pictures of so many Devils in Desperation.

And his father, Increase, exclaimed, “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord!” 76

“God hath sent us the head of Leviathan”

A“ter the victory, the colonies again foolishly disbanded their army. Queen Weetamoe escaped from the swamp. King Philip, after all, had not been in it, but in his camp on the Hudson. Canonchet led the surviving Narragansetts westward to join him. There was no doubt now which side he was on. On the way across the Nipmuck country, he joined forces with Philip’s field commander, Anawon, whom Church describes as “a great surly old fellow.” For four months, while Church recovered from his wounds at home, the two tribes harried the English settlements almost without hindrance.

The Mohawks of the Hudson had given Philip no help. When he attacked three of their men in the woods near the Schaghticoke camp, hoping the English would be blamed, one of them recovered and accused him instead. The angry Mohawks set upon him, and he just escaped with his life. He fled eastward, desperately short of provisions. At what is now South Vernon, Vermont, Weetamoe and the few survivors of the swamp fight met him on March 8, 1676.

In the Nipmuck country in the valley of the Connecticut, Philip’s spring campaign promised well. At a war council in Northfield, Canonchet and he decided to strike still farther east, into the heart of the colonies. This time Philip took the field himself. Astride the black horse, he leaped the fences of the English rather than waste time in opening the gates. He burned Medfield, just outside Boston. After the attack, a Praying Indian still loyal to his race, James the Printer (he had helped Apostle Eliot with the Bay Psalm Book), posted this defiance on the bridge across the Charles:

“Know by this paper that the Indians whom thou hast provoked to wrath and anger will war these 21 years, if you will. There are many Indians yett. We come three hundred at this time. You must consider that the Indians lose nothing but their lives, while you must lose your fair houses and cattle.”

Philip raided Bridgewater, Scituate, and Rehoboth once, and Marlborough and Sudbury twice. At Marlborough the squaws scalped and mutilated two Englishmen. At Sudbury he annihilated a whole company under Captain Wadsworth and prevented reinforcements from reaching them by setting fire to the windward meadows. He burned eighty houses in Providence, and would have burned the remaining twenty, except for the pleas of the aged Roger Williams, who had been his father’s friend. He killed no one in the village but a man named Wright, described as being “of a singular and sordid humour.” The braves disemboweled him and stuffed his Bible in his belly. Philip even struck at Plymouth itself and burned Clark’s garrison house only two miles from town. Yet he gave orders to spare the village of Taunton, for it was there that Leonard, the friendly blacksmith, had his forge.

In April, Canonchet was captured by the English. They taunted him with his broken promise to deliver the Wampanoag scalps.

“I shall not give up a Wampanoag or the paring of a Wampanoag’s nail,” he told them.

When they sentenced him to be shot, he said, “I like it well. I shall die before my heart is soft, or I have said anything unworthy of myself.”

The English divided the privilege of his execution among three tribes in their service. A Pequot shot him, a Mohegan quartered him, and a Niantic burned his corpse. His head was sent to Connecticut “as a token of love and affection.”

Worst of all for Philip, Church’s wounds were healing. Governor Winslow offered to put him in command of sixty men as soon as he should be well enough to take the field. Church answered that he would need 300, half of whom must be friendly Indians. He knew that he could never win without Indians, and added that if the English intended to defeat Philip, they must make a business out of war as he did. The governor answered that the colony could not afford so large a force and would not recruit Indians in any case.

While they argued, Philip struck again. On May 11, astride his black horse, he burned sixteen more houses in Plymouth. Governor Winslow, outraged and frightened by this second raid on the capital, yielded to Church. He offered him a captain’s commission, the command of 60 Englishmen and 140 Indians (if they could be found), and the right, which Church demanded, to grant clemency to any of the enemy except Philip himself. It was Church’s very softheartedness that had so far slowed up his promotion.

His first task was to recruit his 140 Indians. The obvious source was Queen Awashonks, if only because she was his neighbor. He knew better than to approach her directly, but arranged a meeting through her son Peter and Honest George, the courtier who, with the late Sassamon, had invited him to her dance before the war began. The parley was set for the beach at Sakonnet Point in her kingdom. Church arrived by sea and was rowed ashore from his sloop to meet the Queen. Her troops, fully armed, stood sullenly behind her on the dunes. Church carried nothing with him except a twist of tobacco and a calabash full of strong water. The result of this parley was that Awashonks’ chief captain stood up and said to Church with a bow:


“Sir, if you will please to accept of me and my men, and will head us, we will fight for you, and will help you to Philip’s head before the Indian corn be ripe.”

Church understood swamp warfare as well as Philip himself, and the Indian character a little better. Awashonks’ men were as good as bloodhounds at following a trail. They led the force, skimming the tussocks as lightly as the enemy ahead of them. The English came ponderously behind for fear of being mired. A whistle from Church was the signal of danger; every man dropped to the ground when he heard it.

He tracked Philip to the Bridgewater swamp, between Plymouth and Mount Hope. They made contact on Sunday, July 20, 1676. In the action he captured or killed 173 Indians. Among the captives were Philip’s wife and son: the lusterless Nanuskooke, so dim beside the lusty Weetamoe and the coquettish Awashonks; and the princeling whose very name is unknown. Philip’s uncle, Akkompoin, was killed. Philip just missed death himself, crossing a tree trunk with his hair loosened for disguise. Church recognized him, but an instant too late to bring the musket to his shoulder. The King escaped again.

“It must be as bitter as death to him,” Mather gloated, “to lose his wife and only son, for the Indians are marvelously fond and affectionate toward their children.”

Church sent 153 prisoners into Bridgewater pound that afternoon. Being well treated with victuals and drink, he says, they had a merry night, and the prisoners laughed as loud as the soldiers, not having been so well treated for a long time before.

It was not his long retreat that broke Philip’s spirit “so that he never joyed after,” nor Canonchet’s death, nor even the capture of his wife and son, but the knowledge that many of his own tribe had deserted to the English. Even before Bridgewater, 300 of them had begged Governor Leverett of Massachusetts Bay to intercede with Plymouth for pardon. They seem to have thought that the Puritans would be more lenient than the Pilgrims.

If Leverett did plead for them, he was unsuccessful. Plymouth spared their lives, but sold them into slavery at the new low price of one pound apiece or seven bushels of corn in trade.

Church’s own magnanimity was repaid. At Bridgewater he captured Lightfoot and Littleyes, two of Philip’s men who had threatened to kill him the night of Awashonks’ dance. Instead of hanging them, as his own Indians urged, he spared them. He even made Lightfoot a sergeant. It was not Englishmen’s fashion, he said, to seek revenge; they should have the same quarter as other prisoners. He would go up to a likely-looking prisoner, clap him on the back, and say: “Come, come; you look wild and surly, but that means nothing. My best soldiers, a little while ago, were as wild and surly as you are now. By the time you’ve been with me a day or two you’ll love me, too, and be as brisk as any of them.”

It was true. He sent a file of them on Philip’s track, with Lightfoot in command, and bade them quit themselves like men. Away they scampered on the trail, like so many horses. Three days later they caught Philip at breakfast in Swansea, where the war had started. But he escaped again, leaving the kettles boiling on the campfire and the meat roasting on the wooden spits. On August 6, Weetamoe was drowned trying to float a raft to her kingdom of Pocasset. The tide washed her naked old body ashore, and the English added her head to the row of poles at Plymouth. Philip fled through the salt meadows toward Mount Hope as if he must, like her, go home to die.

Even then he would not surrender. With his own tomahawk he killed one of his braves for suggesting peace. Church could afford to wait, for Philip could not escape. A Connecticut troop blocked him on the west, the armies of Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth on the north and east, and the sea itself on the south.

Church had sent his wife, Alice, to stay with the Quakers on Aquidneck for safety during the campaign. He deserved a visit with her. After breaking contact with Philip, he made his leisurely way overland to the Island, across the kingdom of the dead Weetamoe. En route he beat up the cedar swamp where he had fought the year before, and took supper with John Almy, overlooking the peasefield where he had so nearly lost his life. His wife fainted with surprise when he walked into her lodging.

The Indian whom Philip had slain for talking peace left a brother named Alderman. On the morning of August 11, Alderman stole down the two miles from Philip’s camp at Mount Hope to the ferry. He signaled over to the Island that he had news. (The abutment of the Mount Hope Bridge now rests on the sandspit where he stood.) Church, summoned by messenger the eight miles from his wife’s lodging on Aquidneck Island, left her at once. The vindictive Alderman paddled across the ferry to tell him that Philip and Anawon, with 180 braves, were encamped on an upland rise above the miry swamp at the foot of Mount Hope. It was a spot which Church knew well; he could see it from where he stood. His wife must be content with a short visit, said he, when such game was ahead. Having collected what men he could in one afternoon—eighteen Englishmen and twenty-two Indians—he paddled across to the mainland in the darkness.

It was a summer of drought. On Mount Hope a little corn had sprouted from the ears that he had trampled down the summer before, but its leaves were curling on the prostrate stalks. For coolness, Philip slept out that night on the flat top of the forty-foot rock called his throne. It faces the east. Anawon lay beside him. Their bed was a heap of the barren cornstalks.

Philip slept badly that night. He waked out of a nightmare to tell Anawon that he dreamed Church had caught him. Then he resumed his uneasy sleep.

At dawn on the twelfth, Church deployed his men in pairs, an Englishman and an Indian in each, to close in below the camp. As the swollen sun was rising over Pocasset, he sent a pair of scouts up the hill. At their first shot, the camp became alive. Philip leaped from the bed with nothing on but his breechclout and stockings. He seized his gun and slung his shot bag and powder horn over his shoulder. Only a few yards away, through the morning drizzle, he saw Church’s scouts. He rolled down the west face of the hill like a hogshead. By a miracle, he broke no bones and did not even lose his gun. When he struck the grass, he got to his feet and ran dizzily westward through the brush. He ducked into the swamp for shelter and halted twenty yards from the gun muzzles of a pair of Church’s beaters.

The Englishman was Caleb Cook; the Indian was Alderman. On the crest of the hill, Anawon shouted the war cry Iootash! Iootash! to rally the braves. (The word meant “Stand fast!”) He was too late. Cook’s gun misfired because of the dampness; but Alderman’s, which had two barrels, sent one bullet through Philip’s heart and another two inches above it. The King fell on his face in the mud, with his gun under him. The oracles were proved right: it was not an Englishman who killed him. But as Cotton Mather put it, the English had prayed that bullet through his heart.

Church did not relax his ambush at the news, but Anawon had seen the death from the hilltop. He guided the fifty survivors—all that were left of the Wampanoag tribe—through the trap over the very path the English had made when they set it. Soon the sun dried the dew; it was now too late to track him.

Church called his company together on the ledge where Philip and Anawon had slept. When he told them Philip was dead, the whole army, he says, gave three loud huzzas. His Indians pulled the body from the mud by its heels and dragged it before him. He knew it was Philip’s from the scarred hand.

“And a doleful great dirty naked beast he looked like,” says the Entertaining History .

When Cotton Mather heard the news of Philip’s death, he exclaimed from the pulpit, “God hath sent us the head of Leviathan for a feast.” The head actually was sent to Plymouth and set on a pole. It stayed there for 25 years. The body was quartered, and a piece hung on each of four trees. Church gave the scarred hand to Alderman as a reward. For months thereafter he exhibited it in a pail of rum “to such gentlemen as would bestow gratuities on him.”

“The last that war against the English”

Anawon, who had escaped with the remnant of the tribe, had vowed never to be taken alive. It seemed hardly worth pursuing him now that Philip was dead. Captain Church had surely earned a rest. He went back to his wife on the Island. Two weeks later word reached him that Anawon had begun to raid the long-suffering settlements of Rehoboth and Swansea. He learned through a deserter that the old chief was kenneled at the base of a steep rock a few miles above Mount Hope. It was surrounded on all sides but one by the dismal Rehoboth swamp. Its only entrance was across a felled tree, screened by birch bushes, and down a steep crevice in the rock to a platform at the foot. Only one man could pass at a time.

Church found the hiding place without trouble. He asked Caleb Cook, who had missed his chance of glory on the morning of Philip’s death, whether he would follow him down the ravine that very night.

“Sir,” Cook answered, “I am never afraid of going anywhere when you are with me.”

Church, with Cook and the deserter beside him, waited on the edge of the swamp until dark, when Anawon would have stacked his guns for the night. By luck, he caught a brave returning from the swamp after a tryst with a young squaw. He held the two of them for decoys. When the moon had risen, he forced the brave to sound the wolf call which was the password of the camp. An answering howl came back from the rock. He could hear someone pounding corn in a mortar at the foot of it. The noise covered the scraping of Church’s clumsy boots. With his hatchet in one hand, he pushed the squaw and her lover ahead of him as a screen, and then crashed down the fissure himself, clutching at the bushes on the side with the other hand to steady himself. Cook and the deserter tumbled down behind him.

Anawon and his young son, who had been asleep by the campfire, started up. When they saw Church, the boy whipped his blanket over his head and shrank up into a heap. Anawon cried out “Howoh!” which meant “They’ve caught mel”

Church stationed Cook in front of the stack of guns. With the deserter translating for him, he ordered Anawon’s fifty men to toss their tomahawks alongside, and they obeyed. He turned to Anawon.

“What have you got for supper, Captain?” he asked through the interpreter. “I’ve come to eat with you.”

“Taubut,” Anawon answered in his deep voice (the Word meant “Welcome”). “I have cow-beef and horsebeef.”

Church chose cow-beef. It was soon got ready by the squaws. Church seasoned his supper—and Anawon’s, too—from the bag of salt that he always carried.

He had been on his feet for sixty hours. After supper he ordered Cook to stand watch while he rested. But he could not sleep. After lying some time beside Anawon, he opened his eyes. Cook was fast asleep, and so were all the Indians except Anawon himself.

For an hour the two soldiers stared at each other in silence. Church spoke only a few words of Algonquin, and supposed that Anawon spoke no English. At last Anawon stood up with a groan, throwing off his blanket. With nothing on but his breechclout, he walked out of sight around a corner of the rock. Church, supposing he went to ease himself in private, let him go, but took care just the same to lift a gun from the stack and shelter himself behind Anawon’s son in case of a trap.

Then by the moonlight he saw the old warrior returning with a deerskin pack in his hands. Church stood up, grasping the gun. Anawon dropped to his knees before him.

“Great Captain,” he said in his slow, but perfectly plain English, “you have killed Philip and conquered his country. I and my company are the last that war against the English. The war is ended by your means; therefore these things belong to you.”

He opened the pack. It held Philip’s regalia. He draped the wampum stole on Church’s neck. Its fringe reached the ground at the Captain’s boots. He laid the red cloak on Church’s shoulder, the breastplate on his chest, the fillet on his head. He offered him two hornfuls of glazed powder and a red blanket.

The two men sat down to smoke while the others still snored. A curious sight they made to the moon: the naked old Indian and the young Englishman decked in his victim’s regalia. They talked the night through. Church let Anawon boast of the victories he had won for Massasoit in the old days, against the Narragansetts. Old soldiers are seldom so patient with each other.

Church sent Anawon and his troops to Plymouth under guard, with the promise that their lives would be spared. But the Governor was not so lenient. When Church got there himself, he found Anawon’s head on a pole. Beside it was that of Tispaquin, the Black Sachem, who had married Philip’s sister, Amie. He was the last straggler of the royal family to be captured.

Only Nanuskooke and her son were left alive. They had lain in Plymouth jail for a month. John Eliot, the old apostle, asked the General Court to set them free now that the war was over. Church agreed with him. He reminded the Governor that he had given him the right to pardon any Indian except Philip himself. Most of the colony, however, were for executing the two prisoners before the boy could grow up to avenge his father.

However, the General Court tempered justice with mercy, and made a little money for the colony besides. It ordered them sold into slavery in Bermuda. On March 20, 1677, Parson Cotton wrote casually to his brother. “Philin’s bov ffoes now to be sold.”

Nanuskooke and he were never heard of again. A century and half later, the orator Edward Everett flung Cotton Mather’s exultation back at him. “An Indian orincess.” he declaimed, “sold from the cool breezes of Mount Hope, from the wild freedom of a New England forest, to gasp under the lash, beneath the blazing sun of the tropics! Bitter as death? Aye, bitter as Hell! …”


In the fourteen months King Philip’s War had lasted, half the English settlements in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies had been attacked. It had cost them 600 men—a tenth of their fighting force —a thousand houses, and £100,000. The sale of 500 Indian slaves and of Philip’s land did not nearly pay for it, but the colonies asked for no help from England. Church complained that his troops were paid only four and sixpence apiece for the final campaign, with no more bonus for Philip’s head than the thirty shillings which ordinary ones brought. He did get his choice of acreage when the four proprietors divided the land into farmsteads, but he had to pay for it. He built a farmhouse for himself in the shadow of Mount Hope, and a town house on the harbor for his son, the huge stone chimney of which, until a few years ago, stood at the foot of Constitution Street.

He could never rest for long. Promoted to colonel, he fought on through the wars of King William and Queen Anne. In 1692 the Puritans absorbed the Pilgrims; Plymouth Colony, and Bristol with it, became part of Massachusetts. In 1705, when he was 66, he led a regiment on the Nova Scotia front against the French, though admitting he was “ancient and unwieldy.” At last he had to quit fighting. Forty years after he had killed Philip, he dictated his Entertaining History to his son. The lapse of time had not dulled his temper or his wit. Writing in the third person, he complained that: For his Colonel’s pay there were two shillings and fourpence yet due him. As for his Captains’ pay and his man Jack, he has received nothing as yet. Also, after he came home, some ill-minded persons did endeavor to have taken away his life. But His Excellency the Governor, the Honorable Council and House of Representatives saw fit to clear him and give thanks for his good service done …

In 1709 he deeded 200 acres, in what is now Fall River, to the Indians who had served under him. In 1717 he crossed from Bristol to visit his sister, Mrs. Irish, in Fall River, once part of Weetamoe’s old kingdom. Like the lands of Awashonks and Philip, it had long since belonged to the English.

“I have not long to live,” he told his sister solemnly when they parted, “but I hope to meet you soon in Heaven.”

Riding homeward, he had not gone half a mile before his horse stumbled and threw him over its head. Colonel Church, “being exceeding fat and heavy,” fell with such force that a vessel was broken and blood gushed from his mouth like a torrent.

Most of the surviving Wampanoags were sold into slavery. At the war’s end, when the supply was plentiful, their price averaged 32 shillings in silver, or, in barter, 12 bushels of corn or 100 pounds of wool. By 1750, when the paper currency had depreciated and the supply was low—for the Indians did not propagate well in captivity—an occasional one brought up to fifty pounds. They were intractable; the colonists were more than a little afraid of them, and often traded them for Negroes from Virginia or the West Indies. In 1774 only sixteen purebreds were left in town. By 1785, out of a population of 1,200, there were only two. When none of their own race offered, the red slaves married the black slaves. Their high cheekbones, straight black hair, and fine nostrils used to be seen, not many years ago, on a few copper-dusky faces in town.

King Philip’s War was soon forgotten. A century later, in the Revolution, the British war office issued a guide for troops sent overseas to the rebellious colonies. Its author confused the long-dead Wampanoag chief with the Spanish kings of the same name.

“Bristol,” he wrote, “is remarkable for King Philip of Spain having a palace nearby and being killed in it.”

We shall never know what Benjamin Church looked like, or King Philip either. Paul Revere engraved portraits of them both, but at the time of his famous ride, Philip had been dead 99 years and Church, 57. His portrait of Philip looks as if it had been drawn to frighten children. When he came to Church, he did not even invent. He copied a likeness, frame and all, of the English poet Charles Churchill. The process of engraving reversed the original. Revere added a powder horn at the neck, but that was all. It is easier to believe that Benjamin Church looked like his Bristol descendants of today: bluff, straight, and ruddy, with an occasional aquiline nose and jetblack eye that hint a drop of Wampanoag blood.

Philip’s quartz throne still rears up from the eastern shore; his cold spring still flows. His only relics are the lock of his musket, preserved in Boston, and his iron kettle in Rehoboth. In 1913 a group of Bristol boys dug up a Wampanoag burial mound in Warren. They found, among wampum and arrowheads and flawless human teeth, a copper necklace that may have been Winslow’s gift to Massasoit, and a soapstone pipe, shaped like a manikin, that may have been Philip’s. Guarding them, in the museum on Mount Hope, was ranged the world’s largest collection of cigar-store Indians: 200 of them, more warriors than stood by Philip on the morning he was shot. But in 1957 even they were sold at auction in New York. They brought one hundred thousand dollars.

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