After coming to anchor in what is today Provincetown harbor in the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts, a party of armed men under the command of Captain Myles Standish was sent to explore the immediate area and find a location suitable for settlement.
In December, they went ashore in Plymouth, where they found cleared fields and plentiful running water; a few days later the Mayflower came to anchor in Plymouth harbor, and settlement began.
When the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620, the Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village abandoned four years prior after a deadly outbreak of a plague, brought by European traders who first appeared in the area in 1616. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them.
The English, in fact, did not see the Wampanoag that first winter at all, according to Tim Turner (Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of Native Plymouth Tours), “They saw shadows,” he said. The first direct contact was made by Samoset, a Monhegan from Maine, who came to the village on March 16, 1621.
Peace Treaty between Wampanoag and the Pilgrims (1621)
In the spring of 1621, Ousamequin, the Massasoit (a title meaning head chief) of the Wampanoag Indians, made a treaty with the Pilgrims who settled at Patuxet (in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts).
Massasoit, who led the Wampanoags for about a half-century, is best remembered for this diplomatic skill and for his successful policy of peaceful co-existence with the English settlers.
The Pilgrim-Wampanoag Peace Treaty was drafted and signed on March 22, 1621 CE between governor John Carver of the Plymouth Colony and the sachem (chief) Ousamequin (better known by his title Massasoit) of the Wampanoag Confederacy.
The main terms of the treaty: the Wampanoag promised to defend the Plymouth settlers against hostile tribes. The settlers promised to step in if the Wampanoag were attacked.
The treaty established peaceful relations between the two parties and would be honored by both sides from the day of its signage until after the death of Massasoit in 1661 CE. The peace treaty lasted for more than 50 years.
Then, War …
After Massasoit’s death in 1661, his eldest son Wamsutta, later named Alexander, succeeded him. In 1662, the English arrested Alexander on suspicion of plotting war. During questioning, he died, and Metacom (also known as Philip) came to power.
In January 1675, Christian Indian John Sassamon warned Plymouth Colony that Philip planned to attack English settlements. The English ignored the warning and soon found Sassamon’s murdered body in an icy pond.
A jury made up of colonists and Indians found three Wampanoag men guilty for Sassamon’s murder and hanged them on June 8, 1675. Their execution incensed Philip, whom the English had accused of plotting Sassamon’s murder, and ignited tensions between the Wampanoag and the colonists.
“This affair was the signal of war. The two parties had suspected each other so long, that all ties of friendship had been dissolved.”
“A second cause of war was the frequent demands of the settlers for the purchase of his lands. Philip was too wise not to discover that if these continued he would not have a home in all the territories which his father had governed. From a period long before the death of Massasoit, until 1671, no year passed in which large tracts were not obtained by the settlers.”
Between June 20 and June 23, 1675, the Wampanoag carried out a series of raids against the Swansea colony of Massachusetts, killing many colonists and pillaging and destroying property. English officials responded by sending their military to destroy Philip’s home village of Mount Hope, Rhode Island.
The war spread during the summer of 1675 as the Wampanoag, joined by Algonquian warriors, attacked settlements throughout Plymouth Colony.
On September 9, 1675, the New England Confederation declared war against “King” Philip and his followers.
A week later, around 700 Nipmuc Indians ambushed a militia group escorting a wagon train of colonists. Almost all colonists and militia were killed in the fighting, known as the Battle of Bloody Brook.
Hoping to prevent a spring Indian onslaught, Plymouth Colony’s Governor Josiah Winslow gathered the colonial militia and attacked a massive Narragansett and Wampanoag fortification near the Great Swamp in West Kingston, Rhode Island.
“Of the English, there were killed and wounded about two hundred and thirty; and of the Indians, one thousand are supposed to have perished.” (The History of the United States of North America)
Attacks and counterattacks continued into 1676.
Fear of Enslavement
“In early January 1676, during the height of King Philip’s War in New England, colonial magistrates sent two Christianized Indians into enemy territory as spies. The war had dragged on for more than half a year, and both sides were tired and possibly ready for peace.”
“In particular, the English magistrates wanted these spies to suggest to enemy native groups the possibility of peace and submission to the English, to gauge their openness to such an arrangement.”
“Accordingly, Christian Indians James Quannapaquait and Job Kattenanit set out on a dangerous, month-long trek from Deer Island in the Boston Harbor west into native territory. When they returned, they were full of information regarding the provisions of the “enemy” Indians, their numbers, and their whereabouts.”
“But with regard to the question of surrender, the news did not favor the English.”
“In this short report, Quannapaquait captured one of the most difficult realities of King Philip’s War for native populations fighting against the English: slavery, whether actual or threatened.”
“Unlike most enslaved Africans, who were largely unaware of their destination when they were shipped out from the West African coast, New England Indian captives not only knew where they might be sent, but they often stated it outright: Barbados.”
“And Barbados was not the only destination. … Being shipped out of the country as a slave was perhaps the worst possible fate, but even local slavery and servitude struck fear into the hearts of Indians and threatened to undermine the entire social fabric and kinship networks of regional communities.”
“The threat of enslavement weighed heavily on the psyche of New England’s natives, particularly during King Philip’s War. Far from being a minor consideration, the threat of enslavement was one of the key factors when it came to natives fighting and – later in the war – surrendering.”
Summer 1676 Sees the End of King Philip’s War
By the summer of 1676, fighting was slowly drawing to a close but King Philip still remained at large and the war would not end until he was captured.
Then, in August of 1676, an Indian deserter told Church and his troops that Philip had returned to an old Wampanoag village called Montaup near Mount Hope.
On August 12, Church led a company of soldiers to the area and found Philip’s small camp of warriors near the spot that later came to be known as King Philip’s seat.
Philip tried to flee but a native named John Alderman, an Indian soldier under Church, opened fire on Philip … “the Indian presently shot him through his venomous and murderous heart …”
The war didn’t immediately end with the death of Philip though. In the summer of 1676, the war had spread to Maine and New Hampshire, where the Abenakis attacked some of the towns where colonial traders had cheated them.
Random raids and skirmishes continued in northern New England until a treaty was signed at Casco Bay in April 1678. (Fisher)
Scope and Scale of the Impacts of King Philip’s War
“The Pilgrims had come to America not to conquer a continent but to re-create their modest communities in Scrooby and in Leiden. When they arrived at Plymouth in December 1620 and found it emptied of people, it seemed as if God had given them exactly what they were looking for.”
“But as they quickly discovered during that first terrifying fall and winter, New England was far from uninhabited. There were still plenty of Native people, and to ignore or anger them was to risk annihilation.”
“The Pilgrims’ religious beliefs played a dominant role in the decades ahead, but it was their deepening relationship with the Indians that turned them into Americans. By forcing the English to improvise, the Indians prevented Plymouth Colony from ossifying into a monolithic cult of religious extremism.”
“For their part, the Indians were profoundly influenced by the English and quickly created a new and dynamic culture full of Native and Western influences. For a nation that has come to recognize that one of its greatest strengths is its diversity, the first fifty years of Plymouth Colony stand as a model of what America might have been from the very beginning.” (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War)
“Without Massasoit’s help, the Pilgrims would never have survived the first year, and they remained steadfast supporters of the sachem to the very end. For his part, Massasoit realized almost from the start that his own fortunes were linked to those of the English.” (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War)
“Philip’s local squabble with Plymouth Colony had mutated into a regionwide war that, on a percentage basis, had done nearly as much as the plagues of 1616–19 to decimate New England’s Native population.” (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War)
“During the forty-five months of World War II, the United States lost just under 1 percent of its adult male population; during the Civil War the casualty rate was somewhere between 4 and 5 percent; during the fourteen months of King Philip’s War, Plymouth Colony lost close to 8 percent of its men.”
“But the English losses appear almost inconsequential when compared to those of the Indians. Of a total Native population of approximately 20,000, at least 2,000 had been killed in battle or died of their injuries; 3,000 had died of sickness and starvation, 1,000 had been shipped out of the country as slaves, while an estimated 2,000 eventually fled to either the Iroquois to the west or the Abenakis to the north.”
“Overall, the Native American population of southern New England had sustained a loss of somewhere between 60 and 80 percent.” (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War)
Click the following link to a general summary about King Philip’s War:
One of my ancestors was executed for helping the Narragansett people during the Great Swamp Fight of 1675. He was English, but married a local girl. Nathaniel Philbrick (best known for ‘In the Heart of the Sea’) wrote an excellent book on the Mayflower settlers through King Philip’s war.