1675 — King Philip's War

During King Philip's war, the colonists of Connecticut did not suffer much from hostile Indians, excepting some remote settlers high up the Connecticut River. They furnished their full measure of men and supplies, and their soldiers bore a conspicuous part in that contest between the races for supremacy.

Rhode Island found itself the victim of a war it had neither instigated nor declared and suffered as much as its Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth neighbors. Providence lost seventy-two homes and was deserted by most of its inhabitants. Warwick was burned to the ground except for one stone house, while places like Wickford and the ancient settlement of Pawtuxet were utterly destroyed. By March 1676, the area south of the Pawtuxet River had been largely deserted by the English, and by the war's end only the village of Portsmouth and the town of Newport had been spared the ravages of King Philip's War. Connecticut's military played a crucial role in the war, and the colony escaped assault with the exception of Simsbury, which was abandoned and burned to the ground. In all, more than half of New England's ninety towns were assaulted by native warriors. For a time in the spring of 1676, it appeared to the colonists that the entire English population of Massachusetts and Rhode Island might be driven back into a handful of fortified seacoast cities. Between six hundred and eight hundred English died in battle during King Philip's War. Measured against a European population in New England of perhaps fifty two thousand, this death rate was nearly twice that of the Civil War and more than seven times that of World War 11. The English Crown sent Edmund Randolph to assess damages shortly after the war and he reported that twelve hundred homes were burned, eight thousand head of cattle lost, and vast stores of foodstuffs destroyed.

King Philip

1675–76, the most devastating war between the colonists and the Indians in New England. The war is named for King Philip, the son of Massasoit and chief of the Wampanoag. His Wampanoag name was Metacom, Metacomet, or Pometacom. Upon the death (1662) of his brother, Alexander (Wamsutta), whom the Indians suspected the English of murdering, Philip became sachem and maintained peace with the colonists for a number of years. Hostility eventually developed over the steady succession of land sales forced on the Indians by their growing dependence on English goods.

Suspicious of Philip, the English colonists in 1671 questioned and fined him and demanded that the Wampanoag surrender their arms, which they did. In 1675 a Christian Indian who had been acting as an informer to the English was murdered, probably at Philip's instigation. Three Wampanoags were tried for the murder and executed.

Incensed by this act, the Indians in June, 1675, made a sudden raid on the border settlement of Swansea. Other raids followed; towns were burned and many whites--men, women, and children--were slain. Unable to draw the Indians into a major battle, the colonists resorted to similar methods of warfare in retaliation and antagonized other tribes.

The Wampanoag were joined by the Nipmuck and by the Narragansett (after the latter were attacked by the colonists), and soon all the New England colonies were involved in the war. Philip's cause began to decline after he made a long journey west in an unsuccessful attempt to secure aid from the Mohawk. In 1676 the Narragansett were completely defeated and their chief, Canonchet, was killed in April of that year; the Wampanoag and Nipmuck were gradually subdued. Philip's wife and son were captured, and he was killed (Aug., 1676) by an Indian in the service of Capt. Benjamin Church after his hiding place at Mt. Hope (Bristol, R.I.) was betrayed. His body was drawn and quartered and his head exposed on a pole in Plymouth. The war, which was extremely costly to the colonists in people and money, resulted in the virtual extermination of tribal Indian life in southern New England and the disappearance of the fur trade. The New England Confederation then had the way completely clear for white settlement.

Pow Wow

Brief Chronology of King Philip's War



29 John Sassamon dies at Assawampsett Pond.


8 Sassamon's alleged murderers are executed at Plymouth.

11 Wampanoags are reported in arms near Swansea.

14–25 Rhode Island, Plymouth, and Massachusetts authorities attempt negotiation with Philip and seek guarantees of fidelity from Nipmucks and Narragansetts.

24 Wampanoags begin attacking Swansea.

26 Massachusetts troops march to Swansea to join Plymouth troops.

26–29 Wampanoags attack Rehoboth and Taunton, elude colonial troops, and leave Mount Hope for Pocasset.

Mohegans travel to Boston and offer to fight on the English side.


8–9 Wampanoags attack Middleborough and Dartmouth.

14 Nipmucks attack Mendon.

15 Narragansetts sign a peace treaty with Connecticut .

I6–24 Massachusetts envoy attempts to negotiate with the Nipmucks.

19 Philip and his troops escape an English siege and flee Pocasset for Nipmuck territory.


2–4 Nipmucks attack Massachusetts troops and besiege Brookfield.

13 Massachusetts Council orders Christian Indians confined to praying towns.

22 A group of unidentified Indians kill seven colonists at Lancaster.

30 Captain Samuel Moseley arrests fifteen Hassanemesit Indians near Marlborough for the Lancaster assault and marches them to Boston.


1–2 Wampanoags and Nipmucks attack Deerfield. Massachusetts forces led by Moseley attack the town of Pennacook.

12 Colonists abandon Deerfield, Squakeag, and Brookfield.

18 Narragansetts sign a treaty with the English in Boston. Massachusetts troops are ambushed near Northampton.


5 Pocumtucks attack and destroy Springfield.

13 Massachusetts Council orders Christian Indians removed to Deer Island.

19 English repel Indians from Hatfield.


c. 1 Nipmucks take captive Christian Indians at Magunkaquog, Chabanakongkomun, and Hassanemesit, including James Printer.

2–12 Commissioners of the United Colonies order a united army to attack the Narragansetts.


7 Massachusetts Council prints a broadside explaining the case against the Narragansetts.

United colonial forces attack Narragansetts at the Great Swamp.



Philip travels westward to Mohawk territory, seeking, but failing to secure, an alliance.

14 Joshua Gift is captured by the English.

27 Narragansetts attack Pawtuxet.


10 Nipmucks attack Lancaster; Mary Rowlandson is taken captive.

14 Philip and Wampanoags attack Northampton. Massachusetts Council debates erecting a wall around Boston.

21 Nipmucks attack Medfield.

23 Massachusetts General Court debates the fate of Christian Indians. Indians assault sites within ten miles of Boston.


13 Nipmucks attack Groton.

26 Longmeadow, Marlborough, and Simsbury are attacked.

27 Nipmucks attack English forces near Sudbury.

28 Indians attack Rehoboth.

29 Providence is destroyed.


21 Indians attack Sudbury.


2–3 Mary Rowlandson is released and returns to Boston.

18 English forces attack sleeping Indians near Deerfield.

18 Indians attack Hatfield.

c-31 Christian Indians are moved from Deer Island to Cambridge.


12 Indians attack Hadley but are repelled by Connecticut soldiers.

19 Massachusetts issues a declaration of amnesty for Indians who surrender.

22 Captain Tom is executed in Boston.


2 Major John Talcott and his troops begin sweeping Connecticut and Rhode Island, capturing large numbers of Algonquians who are transported out of the colonies as slaves throughout the Summer.

James Printer surrenders in Cambridge.

4 Captain Benjamin Church and his soldiers begin sweeping Plymouth for Wampanoags.

Indians attack Taunton but are repelled.

17 Nearly two hundred Nipmucks surrender in Boston.


2 Benjamin Church captures Philip's wife and son.

12 Alderman, an Indian soldier under Church, kills Philip.

The Indians were warrior societies. Despite the imbalance of arms since they lacked cannon, and depended upon the English or French for muskets and powder, they were effective against European military formations. Colonial militia, which quickly adopted the Indian's style of combat, what we call guerrilla or insurgency warfare, were better able to deal with Indian tactics. Indian warfare often involved surprise raids on isolated settlements as a way of evening the odds. In King Philip's war (1675–1676), the Indian attacks left: "In Narraganset not one House left standing. "At Warwick, but one. At Providence, not above three. "At Potuxit, none left. … Besides particular Farms and Plantations, a great Number not be reckoned up, wholly laid waste or very much damnified. … And as to Persons, it is generally thought that of the English there hath been lost, in all, hellip; above Eight Hundred." This is followed by a claim that fearful atrocities were worked on the survivors, and the women raped.

Captured, King Philip was "taken and destroyed, and there was he (like as Agag was hewed in pieced before the Lord) cut into four quarters, and is now hanged up as a monument of revenging Justice, his head being cut off and carried away to Plymouth, his Hands were brought to Boston."

We should not be surprised that the colonists, often hard pressed to win these all-out assaults, developed not only a fear of Indians but a hatred as well. Treating with the Indians as equals, or even as psuedo-equals was quite beyond their comprehension or in most cases their abilities. This problem conflicted with the general imperial policy to improve relations, especially in peace time.

— Increase Mather

Indian Treatment of Captives

The "bonds of attachment" between the adopted English and Indian adopters and their tribe, whether as children or adults, sometimes became very strong, even within months and were maintained on both sides for a lifetime if circumstances at all permitted. Redeemed captives repeatedly testified that despite being powerless in captivity, they were not subjected to sexual advances. The general Indian taboo against incest protected the captive who was the future relative and the tribe as well as the individual was bound by the custom. Using violence to forcibly rape a captive would add more and greater dishonor. Of course this varied by tribe and some tribes thought otherwise.

Myths of Indian cruelty were likewise challenged by the captives. Indians were especially kind to children. The bonding between Indian parents and their adopted children was quick and deep. But first the captives had to be initiated into the tribe. Often the process involved three steps: "a purgative ceremony," a washing, and a clothing in Indian garb. The first, often a running of the gauntlet where tribe members beat them with sticks, appears to have served as "Revenge for their Relations who have been slain," and relieved their anger at the loss of family members in battle. The washing, often immersion, was a symbolic washing away of white blood. Clothing them as Indians marked their becoming Indian, members of the tribe and nation. They often replaced the dead relation in his or her place in their family, though sometimes genders or ages were mismatched, but that did not matter. The captives noted that the Indians treated them, enemies, as brothers. This further affected the younger captives, especially those whose own parents were dead. Not all captives wished to enter fully into Indian life, marrying and having children. Married captives were particularly unwilling to remarry. Their refusals were obviously disappointing to their Indian families, who urged them to change their minds, but force was not used. In this and most everything else, the captives, as full members of the tribe, had full choice.

1675 Bibliography