A Relacion of the Indyan Warre
Reprinted in In Their Own Words: The Colonizers
Published in 1998
Edited by T. J. Stiles
"So the English were afraid and Philip was afraid and both increased in arms; but for forty years' time reports and jealousies of war had been very frequent, that we did not think that now a war was breaking forth."
By the mid-1600s, less than half a century after the English had opened the way for full-scale European settlement, serious crises were emerging in the American colonies. At first tensions were direct results of a steadily increasing population: massive influxes of settlers required more land, additional dwellings and other accommodations, greater food supplies, expanded trade and transportation networks, and more laborers. The immediate victims were Native Americans, who suffered mistreatment at the hands of colonists grabbing land and natural resources. Among the colonists themselves, religious differences escalated into confrontations, land squabbles caused rebellions, and class divisions bred unrest.
A major issue was the way the colonies were governed. This problem had emerged in the first few years of the settlement period and quickly gained momentum in the seventeenth century. By the late 1600s all thirteen colonies had come under the control of the English. Governing bodies therefore consisted either of proprietors (individuals granted ownership of a colony and full rights of establishing a government and distributing land) hired by wealthy investors or councils controlled by the monarchy (king or queen) and aristocracy (elite social class) in England. Many of the investors and aristocrats remained in England, while others took positions of power in colonial governments. Trade, treaties, and taxation were legislated for the benefit of England. The colonial population, however, was highly diverse, consisting of a complex mixture of ethnic, religious, and social groups (see The Propriety of Pennsylvania and "Impressions of New Jersey and New York"). During the eighteenth century a uniquely "American spirit" was taking shape. Colonists were not only questioning English rule but also rebelling against various forms of authority. Demanding the rights and freedoms—religious, political, economic, and individual—symbolized by the New World (European term for North and South America), Americans were setting the stage for revolution.
The first American rebels were the Native Americans. As previous documents have shown, Native Americans initially welcomed the European settlers, with whom they willingly shared their land and resources. Slowly they came to realize that the foreign invaders, by clearing vast territories for towns and farms, were violating native traditions. Native Americans believed that a Great Spirit had created a plentiful and harmonious world in which human beings are no more important than other creatures. Therefore they placed great emphasis on giving proper respect to nature. Native Americans managed their land so that it would accommodate all living creatures, taking only what they needed. For instance, to show their respect for nature they thanked a tree for dying and providing them with wood for a fire. They thanked an animal they had killed for giving up its flesh to feed them and its skin to clothe them. Native Americans were shocked to discover that the Europeans viewed humans as the dominant creatures in nature and thus felt free to change the world for their own advantage.
Native Americans were equally troubled about being forced to convert to Christianity and accept European customs. During the early colonial period they regarded the Christian God as simply another name for the Great Spirit. They saw no real need to change their own religious practices. Then, after being nearly annihilated (killed) by smallpox and other European diseases, they accepted the European view that believing in the Christian God was the only way they could save themselves. Moreover, they were dependent on European-made goods—weapons, cooking utensils, and tools—they received in exchange for jewelry, furs, and other trade items. Consequently they had no choice other than to cooperate with the Europeans.
After several decades of European domination, however, Native Americans throughout North America began raising concerns about the disappearance of their land and traditional culture. In fact, native resistance is a central theme in the history of colonial America. For instance, the Pueblo revolutionary Popé (d. 1692) led the first organized Native North American rebellion against Europeans when he drove the Spanish out of New Mexico (see "New Mexico Indians Eager for Conversion"). Although Spaniards eventually returned to the Southwest, the Pueblos are credited with halting Spanish expansion into territories that comprised the original thirteen colonies.
Native groups living near heavily colonized areas along the Atlantic coast staged similar efforts at resistance, but with less success. In spite of numerous treaties with colonists and powerful tribal alliances such as the Powhatans, the Five Nations, and the Hurons, Native Americans had difficulty holding onto their lands and traditions. Repeatedly they resorted to uniting with one European power against another in order to keep political power. From the earliest days of European settlement, Native Americans and colonists were continually engaged in minor skirmishes and prolonged battles. As time went on, these conflicts escalated into full-fledged wars, which usually ended in disaster for Native Americans. One of the most famous wars took place in New England, between the Puritans and the Wamapanoags.
In the Puritan colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, one of the primary goals was to promote Christianity among Native Americans. The Puritans were, in effect, a Protestant equivalent of the Spanish friars (a member of a religious order combining life as a monk and outside religious activity) in the Southwest (see "New Mexico Indians Eager for Conversion") and French missionaries in Canada (see "Jollietand Marquette Travel the Mississippi"). In the Plymouth Colony, Puritan officials enthusiastically promoted the activities of clergymen such as John Eliot (1604–1690), who established more than fourteen Native American "praying villages" for the Wampanoags, an Algonquian-speaking people. In these villages the Wampanoags were taught English customs and underwent religious instruction, often with Native American tutors. Eliot even compiled an Algonquian translation of the Bible for converts who could not read English. Eventually the Wampanoags resented efforts to Europeanize them. They became uncomfortable with the fact that they were offending the Great Spirit by converting to Christianity as well as needlessly slaughtering animals for the fur trade. In particular the heavy emphasis on furs disrupted their traditional culture and economy by fostering wars with neighboring tribes over trapping grounds. By 1675 Wampanoag leaders were ready to push the Puritans off their land and reclaim their own religion and culture.
At the forefront of this rebellion was Metacom (also Metacomet; c.1639–1676), a sachem (chief) the colonists knew as King Philip. Metacom was one of five children of Chief Massasoit (1580–1661), who had helped the Plymouth colonists (see "The Pilgrims' Landing and First Winter"). Massasoit died in 1661 and a year later Metacom, then in his mid-twenties, assumed leadership of the Wampanoags. He dedicated himself to maintaining the Wampanoag Confederacy, which consisted of many villages and families. As English population and power continued to grow, the confederacy began to splinter. This was due in part to the influence of colonial authorities and missionaries. Metacom's land formed a border zone between Plymouth Colony, Rhode Island, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony capital in Boston, each of which wanted to claim the territory. In order to hold onto his political influence, the sachem sold tracts of land to various colonists. Resulting conflicts over the borders of these lands, however, were rarely settled to his satisfaction. Colonial courts seemed biased and insensitive to the Native Americans' concerns. The tribes were also angered by colonists' efforts to influence Native American politics.
The conflict over land reached a crisis in 1667. In violation of an agreement with Metacom, the Plymouth Colony authorized the purchase of land inside Wampanoag borders for the town of Swansea. Tribal war parties, possibly led by Metacom, began to gather around Swansea in an effort to intimidate the colonists. In 1671 Plymouth officials demanded a meeting with the chief. When he arrived they forced him at gunpoint to surrender his warriors' firearms and to sign a treaty. This treaty placed the Wampanoags under Plymouth rule and challenged previous land sales to other colonies. Metacom complained to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but he received no support. Instead, both Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, which had formed the United Colonies several years earlier, forced him to sign the new treaty.
Around this time Metacom started planning the uprising that came to be known as King Philip's War. Although he received the backing of Wampanoag leaders, Metacom knew his tribe was too small to fight the English alone. Therefore, he sought support from other Native American groups. He managed to win over the Nipmucks, who were also bitter toward the colonists. He had difficulty, however, in forming an alliance with the Narragansetts, the most powerful tribe in the region and enemies of the Wampanoags. Metacom was now in a difficult position; he had not gained enough
Metacom saw no other alternative than to declare war on the Puritans. Colonial officials commanded Metacom to disarm his warriors, but he remained defiant. To head off a bloody conflict a group of Rhode Island colonists arranged to meet Metacom at Trip's Ferry in Rhode Island. One of the members of the delegation was John Easton, who wrote an account of the meeting, in which he described the positions of both the Wampanoags and the Puritans. This document gives modern readers an insight into the frustration and distrust that led each side to believe that outright war was the only way to resolve their differences.
Things to Remember While Reading A Relacion of the Indyan Warre:
- After reviewing the events that led up to the confrontation, in the fifth paragraph Easton began a description of the colonists' meeting with Metacom. Notice that they were initially "friendly together," and each side stated a desire to avoid a war. Easton wrote that the colonists were convinced the Wampanoags would accept arbitration, that is, they "might choose an Indian king, and the English might choose the governor of New York" as representatives who would resolve differences.
- Then Easton outlined the misunderstanding that led to the eventual failure of the negotiations. Since the colonists thought the Wampanoags had agreed to future arbitration, they assumed the meeting was postponed until a later date. Therefore they prepared to leave because they saw no need for any further discussion ("it was not convenient for us right now"). But when "Philip charged it to be dishonesty in us to put off the hearing of the complaints," the colonists agreed to listen to him.
- Metacom—referred to as Philip throughout the document—presented the Englishmen with numerous grievances. He reminded them that his father, Massasoit, had helped them when they came to New England—He "was as a great man and the English as a little child." Not only did Massasoit protect the colonists from other tribes, he also gave them corn, taught them how to plant, and "gave them a hundred times more land than now the king had for his own people." In spite of this gracious treatment, the Wampanoags were dealt with unfairly by the English. If "twenty of [the Wampanoags'] honest Indians testified that an Englishman had done them wrong, it was as nothing," Philip said, "but if one of their worst Indians testified against any Indian or their king when it pleased the English, that was sufficient." Philip went on to charge that the colonists cheated the Native Americans out of land, both by ignoring treaties and taking advantage of their addiction to alcohol and getting them drunk. In fact, he said later, "the English were so eager to sell the Indian liquors that most of the Indians spent all [their money] in drunkeness." Another problem was that the Englishmen would not fence their cattle and horses, and the animals destroyed the Wampanoags' corn.
- Easton concluded by noting that the English had already been aware of these "grand grievances," but they had hoped to resolve their differences peaceably. Before leaving, the colonists warned the Wampanoags to "lay down their arms, for the English were too strong for them." They responded that "the English should do to them as they did when they were too strong for the English." Although the colonists "departed without any discourtesies, Josiah Winslow, the Plymouth governor soon notified them that he "intended in arms to conform [subdue] Philip." Within a week the "war thus begun."
A Relacion of the Indyan Warre
In the winter in the year 1674, an Indian was found dead; and by a coroner['s] inquest of Plymouth colony judged murdered. . . . The dead Indian was called Sassamon, and a Christian that could read and write. . . .
The report came that the three Indians had confessed and accused Philip so as to [have] employ[ed] them, and that the English would hang Philip. So the Indians were afraid, and reported that the English had flattered them (or by threats) to belie Philip that they might kill him to have his land. . . . So Philip kept his men in arms.
Plymouth governor [Josias Winslow] required him to disband his men, and informed him his jealousy was false. Philip answered he would do no harm, and thanked the governor for his information. The three Indians were hung, [but] to the last denied the fact; but one broke the halter, as it was reported then, desire[d] to be saved, and so was a little while then. [He] confessed they three had done the fact, and then he was hanged; and it was reported Sassamon, before his death, had informed [the English] of the Indian plot, and that if the Indians knew it they would kill him, and that the heathen might destroy the English for their wickedness as God had permitted the heathen to destroy the Israelites of old.
So the English were afraid and Philip was afraid and both increased in arms; but for forty years' time reports and jealousies of war had been very frequent, that we did not think that now a war was breaking forth. But about a week before it did we had cause to think it would; then to endeavor to prevent it, we sent a man to Philip that if he would come to [Trip's] ferry we would come over to speak with him. About four miles we had to come thither. . . .
He called his council and agreed to come to us; [he] came himself, unarmed, and about forty of his men, armed. Then five of us went over. Three were magistrates. We sat very friendly together. We told him our business was to endeavor that they might not reserve [intend] or do wrong. They said that that was well; they had done no wrong; the English had wronged them. We said we knew the English said the Indians wronged them, and the Indians said the English wronged them, but our desire was the quarrel might rightly be decided in the best way, and not as dogs decide their quarrels.
The Indians owned that fighting was the worst way; then they propounded how right might take place; we said by arbitration. They said all English agreed against them; and so by arbitration they had had much wrong, many square miles of land so taken from them, for the English would have English arbitrators. . . . We said they might choose an Indian king, and the English might choose the governor of New York, that neither had cause to say either were parties in the difference. They said they had not heard of that way, and said we honestly spoke; so we were persuaded [that] if that way had been tendered they would have accepted.
We did endeavor not to hear their complaints, [and] said it was not convenient for us now. . . . But Philip charged it to be dishonesty in us to put off the hearing of the complaints; therefore we consented to hear them. They said they had been the first in doing good to the English, and the English the first in doing wrong; [he] said when the English first came, their king's [Philip's] father [Massasoit] was as a great man and the English as a little child. He constrained other Indians from wronging the English, and gave them corn, and showed them how to plant, and was free to do them any good and had let them have a hundred times more land than now the king had for his own people. . . .
And another grievance was if twenty of their honest Indians testified that an Englishman had done them wrong, it was as nothing; but if one of their worst Indians testified against any Indian or their king when it pleased the English, that was sufficient. Another grievance was, when their kings sold land, the English would say it was more than they agreed to, and a writing must be proof against all them, and some of their kings had done wrong to sell so much. He left his people none; and some being given to drunkeness, the English made them drunk, and then cheated them in bargains. But now their kings were forewarned not to part with land for nothing in comparison to the value thereof. . . .
Another grievance: the English cattle and horses still increased that when they [the Indians] removed thirty miles from where English had anything to do, they could not keep their corn from being spoiled. They never being used to fence, and thought when the English bought land of them that they would have kept their cattle upon their own land. Another grievance: the English were so eager to sell the Indians liquors that most of the Indians spent all in drunkeness. . . .
We knew before these were their grand complaints, but then we only endeavored to persuade that all complaints might be righted without war. . . . We endeavored that, however, they should lay down their arms, for the English were too strong for them. They said the English should do to them as they did when they were too strong for the English.
So we departed without any discourtesies; and suddenly had [a] letter from Plymouth['s] governor, [that] they intended in arms to conform [subdue] Philip . . . and in a week's time after we had been with the Indians the war thus begun.
What happened next . . .
In July 1675 Metacom's men again assembled outside Swansea and King Philip's War was shortly underway. The uprising was apparently touched off more by the rage of Metacom's people than by any plan. When a colonial army tried to besiege Metacom near his home on Mount Hope, he escaped with his warriors and their families. Then, joining forces with Nipmuck allies, he attacked and burned villages west and south of Boston. Native American groups in the Connecticut River valley also rose in revolt when anxious colonists overreacted to the violence. Finally, in late December, the Narragansetts joined the uprising after English forces attacked their village. During the following winter, joint tribal raiding parties burned several colonial towns, sending English refugees streaming into Boston.
In the meantime, while Metacom was seeking new alliances in the Hudson River valley, Mohawk warriors and New York colonists attacked his party. All but forty of his men were killed, and his prestige was shattered. The Mohawks continued their attacks from the west and, joined by other Native American tribes and colonists, finally defeated Metacom. As the uprising lost momentum, some of the sachem's former supporters organized a squad and began tracking Metacom down. His wife and son were captured and apparently sold in the West Indies as slaves. Finally, on August 12, Metacom's dwindling band was surrounded, and he was shot by a Native American serving with the colonial forces. Metacom's head was cut off and hacked into quarters. The pieces were sent to the colonial capitals, where they were placed on public display for more than twenty years.
Metacom's defeat had disastrous consequences for the New England tribes. The Wampanoags and their allies were helpless against the colonists, who numbered seventy thousand and had a large supply of food and ammunition. The war had totally destroyed the Wampanoags' habitat, so they were not prepared for the upcoming winter. Colonial authorities pursued surviving tribes and either killed them or sold them into slavery. Any remaining native peoples were forced into isolated settlements. Within a brief period of time the Native American way of life had completely disappeared from New England.
Did you know . . .
- King Philip's War not only weakened the power of the Native Americans in New England but also had a devastating impact on the English colonies. Before the year-long conflict was over, twelve towns were destroyed and half of the remaining seventy-eight were seriously damaged. The colonies accumulated huge debts, which produced lasting economic hardship. About ten percent of the adult males in New England had been killed—making it the most costly war in American history (measured by the proportion of casualties to total population).
- The praying villages were additional casualties of King Philip's War. Although the majority of Christianized Native Americans were loyal to the colonists, Puritan officials herded them onto Deer Island near Boston, Massachusetts. At the end of the war only four villages remained, and any hope of achieving racial harmony was all but doomed.
- Wampanoag legend holds that Metacom's warriors stole his severed head and secretly buried it near Mount Hope. Some Wampanoags claim that Metacom's spirit still speaks to them.
For more information
Cwiklik, Robert. King Philip and the War with the Colonists. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Silver Burdett Publishers, 1989.
Josephy, Alvin M. "The Betrayal of King Philip," in The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of Native American Resistance. New York: Viking, 1969, pp. 31–62.
Middleton, Richard. Colonial America: A History, 1585–1776. Second edition. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, pp. 157–59.
Sewall, Marcia. Thunder from the Sky. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 1995.
Stiles, T. J., ed. In Their Own Words: The Colonizers. New York: Berkeley Publishing, 1998, pp. 231–33.