Dec 032015

800px-Plimoth_Plantation_2002After 1630, Puritans began pouring in and setting up colonies around present-day Boston.  These new colonists were only barely tolerant of other Christian denominations and viewed the natives as savages and heathens with little interest in friendship or trade.  In 1637, they destroyed the Pequot and then in 1643 helped the Mohegan defeat the Narraganset.   For the next thirty-five years, new settlers flowed in and pushed the natives westward.  These new settlers had only contempt for the natives and saw them as standing in the way of progress.  In addition to their aggression, the new settlers brought alcoholism and new epidemics to the natives again and again devastating populations.

In the meantime, the Wampanoag Massasoit tried to acculturate with the English customs.  He had his son Wamsutta’s name officially changed to Alexander and younger son, Metacom, changed to Philip.  When he died in 1661 and Alexander took over, the Pilgrims were fearful and invited him to Plymouth for a counsel.  On his way home, he became violently ill and died.  The Wampanoag suspected that he had been poisoned.

King Philip's War begins

King Philip’s War begins

Alexander’s mild-mannered brother, Philip, inherited the position.  Philip believed that the Europeans threatened their culture, their religion, their way of life and their native land.  Something had to be done to stop them but he knew that the Wampanoag could not do it alone so he began visiting other tribes to form a stronger alliance.  In 1671, the Colonists got wind of his actions and summoned him to Taunton to sign an agreement requiring the Wampanoag to give up their firearms.  Philip signed the agreement but, remembering his brother, turned down their dinner and left.  He never delivered the firearms.

In March of 1675, a “Christian” Indian, John Sassamon, reportedly informed the Plymouth Governor that Philip was planning war against the colonists.  A week later, he was found dead in a pond and three Wampanoag warriors were arrested, tried and hung June 1675.  Rumors spread that the Colonists were coming after Philip so he called a council of war on Mount Hope.  The Nipmuck, Pocomtuc, Pennacooks, and Eastern Abenakis agreed to join the Wampanoag to wage ware against the English.  It would come to be known a “King Philip’s War”.

Great Swamp Massacre

Great Swamp Massacre

The Wampanoag and their allies attacked 52 of 90 English settlements and set them on fire.  Although many tribes offered to assist the English colonists, they distrusted the natives and turned them down.   As the war spread from Massachusetts, other tribes joined the fight.  The Narragansett had proclaimed neutrality, but when the colonists massacred 600 of them at the “Great Swamp Massacre”, they joined King Philip’s warriors under their leader, Canonchet.
Canonchet's Execution

Canonchet’s Execution

The winter of 1675-1676 hit Philip’s warriors hard and in the spring, the colonists mounted a fierce attack capturing Canonchet and executing him by firing squad.  His body was quartered and his head sent to Hartford, Connecticut for public display.  Philip managed to dodge his persuers but was finally surrounded at his hideout on Mount Hope.  Although he managed to escape, his wife  and nine-year-old son were captured and sent to the West Indies to be sold as slaves.  On August 12, 1676, he was surrounded again and killed.  They cut off his head and stuck it on a pole to be displayed in Plymouth for twenty years.

Only about 400 Wampanoags survived the war and the Narragansett wiped out as well.  Most of the male captives were sold into slavery in the West Indies while many of the female and children were kept for domestic slaves in New England.  Forty percent of the Native American population was killed in King Philip’s War compared to only five percent of the colonists. 

Today, some believe that the first Thanksgiving actually occurred decades later, shortly after the Pequot war in 1637, but most still support the 1621 date as recounted by Edward Winslow a member of the feast in 1621.  The event is remembered fondly and become a national holiday in 1963 when Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday during the Civil War.

The U. S. government set up a reservation for the Wampanoag on Martha’s Vineyard, and today, around 3,000 Wampanoag Indians still live in New England.  In 1970, several Native American organization declared Thanksgiving the “National Day of Mourning”. 

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