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King Philip´s War

The English Colonists in New England had, for the better part of forty years after the Pequot War in 1637, managed their relations with the Native American tribes that were part of their lives on the edge of the vast forests of New England. There were many real friendships between the two peoples. They helped each other and depended on each other.

The colonies were fragile and quite vulnerable both economically and militarily, but for the most part they coexisted with their woodland neighbors. There came to be an interdependence between the two peoples, with the English eager to buy the fur pelts that the tribes could provide for them and the colonists paying for them in trade goods that the natives desired, such as iron pots and utensils, blankets and bolts of trade cloth that they very much desired.

It would not be unusual or alarming to see Wampanoag tribesmen walking down the street in Plymouth, or for a farmer in Newport to hire some Narragansett men to kill wolves that were harassing his flocks of sheep.

They had been living together side by side for almost half a century. The immigrant generation of Englishmen had great appreciation for the Native Americans´ help when the English were inexperienced newcomers to the land. As time went on, however, successive generations of English farmers and merchants found their primitive neighbors to be increasingly difficult to tolerate. The colonists expected them to conform to the English ways, which seemed to them so obviously better. The natives, on the other hand, found themselves richer in material goods but saw their territory shrinking around them as the English multiplied and continued to buy up tribal lands.

Many tribes had been persuaded by the English to subject themselves to the protection of the King of England to reduce the threat posed by tribes that were traditional rivals.

There were fundamental differences in how the Native Americans viewed government and the English concept of rulership. Allegiance to one King or Sachem was not considered to be necessarily a binding lifelong arrangement. The Sachems were from hereditary lines of tribal royalty, but in order to maintain a healthy group of followers a leader would have to demonstrate his ability to govern his people in a wise and fair manner. Small tribes would pay tribute to stronger ones and fall under their protection. These alliances were fluid, flexible arrangements. If a smaller tribe was dissatisfied with its lot in life it might switch loyalties to a group with a leader who might better suit their needs.

The English expected these "uncivilized" people to fall in line and behave like other subjects of the King of England.

The most important native leaders, the Great Sachems of the larger tribes viewed themselves as equals to King Charles of England. Their alliances with the English were always considered mutual defense agreements, with each party protecting the other. If these alliance came to be unnecessary or oppressive, the tribal leaders would naturally be looking for alternatives.

At no time did the tribes expect to be answerable to English governors or military leaders concerning their intertribal disagreements, or their behavior in general.

The English couldn't fathom why the natives were not jumping at the chance to be obedient English subjects. The Native Americans could not understand why the English insisted in interfering in their lives.

In 1675, the colonists in Plymouth became suspicious that the Great Sachem of the Wampanoag people, King Philip, was plotting against the English, despite the fact that no agreements had been broken. The Wampanoags were ordered to surrender their weapons as a show of good faith, which they did. When the weapons were not returned to them, the Wampanoags were stunned! How would they be able to hunt without their muskets? Who did the colonists think they were?

These were the seeds of discontent that burst forth into a devastating war that forever changed the lives of all involved. Englishman and Native American alike lost nearly everything he had.


Books in the King Philip´s War series:

    1676    A Brief History of the War With the Indians - Increase Mather

    1675    Easton´s Relation - Rhode Island Deputy Governor John Easton

    1887    The Ordeal of the Thomas Eames Family - Josiah Temple

    1675    Captain Oliver´s Narrative - Captain James Oliver

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