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King Philip's War & the Continued Presence of Native People

[Philip promised] that he would not sell no land in 7 years time, for that he would have no English trouble him."

- John Sassamon on behalf of King Philip, 1663

William Bradford died in 1657.  Massasoit died around 1660 and was succeeded by his son Wamsutta. With the passing of the first generation, the personal bonds which had maintained peace between the two very different groups were broken.

Tensions had long existed due to the two cultures’ different ways of life.  Colonists' livestock trampling Native cornfields was a continuing problem.  Competition for resources created friction.  Regional economic changes forced many Natives to sell their land.

In 1662, in an arrogant attempt to exert control, colonial forces took Wampanoag leader Wamsutta at gunpoint to Plymouth.  The Wampanoag were greatly angered when Wamsutta sickened and died shortly afterwards.  Wamsutta's brother Metacom (King Philip) became leader and ultimately led his people into war to preserve their traditional way of life.


"This cruel war... was attended by inexpressible calamities, each party making every possible effort for the total overthrow of its antagonist."

- James Thacher, 1832

Colonial families often had eight or more children. Puritans believed that parents must instill self-control in their children, so they would accept the discipline of the Lord. Reading, important for understanding the Bible, was generally taught at home. There was no official school in the Colony until the 1670s. Children did not have much time to play. Girls worked in the house with their mothers; boys worked with their fathers in the field or the workshop.


"Whereas you make choice at present to reside within the government of New Plymouth... You shall also submit unto & obey such good & wholesome law ... as are [established].

- Laws of Plymouth Colony

Colonist' hunger for land and their heavy-handed treatment of Natives led to one of the most disastrous wars in American history.  The mysterious murder of John Sassamon, a Native liaison between the two groups, resulted in a complete breakdown in relations.

In 1675, the war, named for the Wampanoag leader Metacom (or King Philip), broke out in the town of Swansea.  Hostilities spread north and west, soon threatening much of New England.


The son of Mayflower passengers Edward and Susanna (White) Winslow, wealthy and Harvard-educated, Josiah Winslow was a distinguished member of the "second generation." Winslow did not continue his father's good relationship with the Natives. He acquired lands by dubious methods. His high-handed treatment of Wamsutta earned him the hatred of Wampanoag leader Metacom (King Philip).

Elected the first American-born governor of Plymouth Colony in 1673, Winslow's volatile relationship with the Wampanoag leader did nothing to quell the tensions which exploded into King Philip's War in 1675. Winslow was appointed Commander of the New England forces. Winslow died in 1680.



"[Philip was] the most powerful enemy that was ever encountered ... [and] came near exterminating the whole English race in New England."

- Francis Baylies, 1830

King Philip's War lasted little more than a year. Beginning in Plymouth Colony in June of 1675, the war spread throughout New England. Boston itself was threatened. Colonial resources and manpower ultimately prevailed.

King Philip's warriors attacked the town of Swansea in western Plymouth Colony in June of 1675. Encouraged by success, they carried the war to neighboring Plymouth Colony towns. In August of 1675, hostilities expanded to the Connecticut River Valley; many settlements were burned. In December, Philip's winter quarters in Rhode Island's Great Swamp were destroyed in a crucial colonial victory. In February of 1676, Native forces swept east; Boston seemed threatened. War returned to Plymouth Colony, with a raid in Plymouth itself. Colonists considered abandoning the frontier, but time was on their side. By June of 1676, the tide of war had turned. Native forces, lacking food, manpower and arms, retreated. King Philip's death at Mount Hope in August 1676 effectively ended the war.

Not all Native Peoples sided with King Philip. Native soldiers joining with the colonists helped turned the tide of war. Those Natives who fought alongside the English or remained neutral were, however, not always trusted by the English. Many Native neutrals were interned on outlying islands under inhumane conditions.

The war ended in 1676 when Philip was killed by a Wampanoag soldier in Captain Benjamin Church's force.


"Resolved, That we, as a tribe, will rule ourselves, and have the right to do so; for all men are born free and equal, says the Constitution."

- Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, 1833

King Philip’s War resulted in the destruction of families and communities, Native and colonist alike, throughout New England. It took decades for the colonists to recover from the loss of life, the property damage and the huge military expenditures.

The war was devastating for Native Peoples. Entire families were sold into slavery abroad; others were forced to become servants locally. The Wampanoag had to adapt aspects of their culture to survive; their political independence ended. Nevertheless, Native Peoples continued to live in Plymouth Colony. Many maintained tribal ties and a strong sense of community.


"Research and writing... [are] positive ways in which we can valance the scale of history and establish pride in the Wampanoag identity."

- Russell Peters,
former Pilgrim Society Trustee and Mashpee Tribal Council President, 1997

Although the end of King Philip’s War spelled the end of Native political sovereignty, Native Peoples continued to live in the area and do to the present day.

For generations, Native heritage was preserved within families.



Zerviah Gould Mitchell, 1807-1898, was a descendant of Wampanoag leader Massasoit. Her pride in her heritage is evident in the book she published in 1878, Indian History and Genealogy.



Princess Red Wing, 1895-1987, wrote and lectured on her Pokanoket Wampanoag culture for six decades. In December of 1946, she became the first Native American to address the United Nations.

Native heritage is today explored in museums such as the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum (Connecticut), the Haffenreffer Museum (Rhode Island) and Plimoth Plantation.

Visit In Their Own Write: Native American documents from the collections of Pilgrim Hall Museum for transcriptions of 12 original documents from the collections of Pilgrim Hall Museum, dating between 1649 and 1803, that can help to illuminate the Wampanoag culture and language, widen our knowledge of the interactions between the colonists and the Wampanoag, and demonstrate the continuous presence of Native Americans in the southeastern Massachusetts area

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