Monday, May 12, 2014

Paper: Metacomet's Kampf

Flash drive: Still lost. Me: Still publishing my papers online for the sake of academic integrity. (I'm presupposing that professors will Google papers to ensure they're not copied.)

This one was written while at Fordham U (undergrad). For a class called Dissent and Disinformation, about King Philip, AKA Metacomet.

Metacom’s Kampf: A Native American King’s Stand Against an American Empire
            When Plymouth colony was founded in 1607, the prospects for the settlers looked bleak. The pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 could have easily perished had it not been for the help of Native Americans such as Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how and what to cultivate in the New World. How quickly things change. As the colonist population grew, their settlements expanded, encroaching on more and more Native American land. Both parties needed land to live on; war, it seems, was inevitable. One man who rose against what would become the American Empire in defense of his people and his culture is Metacom, or “King Philip of the Wampanoags,” as the English colonists called him.
            Metacom was the sachem (or war chief) of the Wampanoags, a Native American tribe of southern New England. Metacom’s father, Massasoit (whose name means great sachem), is famous for having met and established an alliance with the Pilgrims. Massasoit, however, resisted the advancement of Christianity on his people by missionaries. This holding on to of his people’s beliefs and identity is something that he passed on to his sons. His eldest son was Wamsutta, also known as King Alexander by the English. Wamsutta became sachem of the Wampanoags after Massasoit’s death around 1661. As sachem he sold land to the colonies in an attempt to increase Wampanoag power and gained the distrust of the English as a result. In 1662, he is forced at gun point to Plymouth to stand trial for allegedly conspiring to attack English settlements. He becomes ill and dies shortly after leaving said court. His brother, Metacom, then, becomes sachem. Metacom believed, and almost certainly so, that his brother was killed by the English, which is sure to have fueled his animosity toward the English.
            The animosity between the Wampanoags and the English, however, was many years in the making. Things were already bleak; as Howard Zinn quotes from Wilcomb Washburn in A People’s History of the United States, “There was a genuine distress, genuine poverty. . . . All contemporary sources speak of the great mass of people as living in severe economic straits [in the New World]” (40). As mentioned, the growth of Plymouth colony was a serious problem, its population doubling every 25 years. Indeed, these people had to go somewhere, but the Native Americans were here first and they were now being forced out of the lands their ancestors have held for thousands of years. Their appeals went largely unheard.
            The colonists were not simply satisfied by taking Native American land, many also felt it necessary to replace the beliefs of the Native Americans with their own – i.e., Christianity. Missionaries such as John Elliot penetrated Native American villages with the sole object of conversion. There was some success along these lines as some Native Americans did convert, dubbed “praying Indians.” This was not enough either; the English set up “praying towns,” towns built for Native Americans to be taught Christianity and English. There was surely a sect of Native Americans that did not mind this at all. However, many tribes saw this as an English attempt to erase Native American culture altogether, which overtly implies a supposed inferiority of who they are. Needless to say, many felt the need to preserve what they had and resist the English.
            Disease also paid a major factor. Much of the Wampanoag (and by greater extent Native American) population was destroyed by diseases brought forth by the English (and other Europeans), namely small pox and measles. European populations had gone through several periods of pandemics, which have served over time as a catalyst for tougher genes to fight off diseases. On the other hand, the Native Americans had no such exposure. Therefore, they had not built up immunity to European diseases, nor had they modern medicine to deal with such outbreaks.
            All things, therefore, seemed destined for war. The spark that ignited the war was a praying Indian by the name of John Sassomon (converted by John Elliot). He was a key figure to this whole thing. Sassomon was raised as a servant in an English household. As is stated in History of King Philip, “he and his family were on the most intimate and friendly relations with the colonists” (188). He was taught English and Christianity. Sassomon was fluent in the English and Massachusetts languages. He, therefore, became vital to both the Plymouth colonists and the Native Americans in their quest to cross enemy lines, so to speak. As such, he became a confidant of Metacom.
            In December of 1674, Sassomon told Plymouth governor Josiah Winslow of an impending Native American attack Metacom was allegedly planning. “According to Indian code, the offender was deemed a traitor and a renegade, and was doomed to death; and it was the duty of every subject of King Philip to kill him whenever and wherever he could be found” (Abbott, 189). Before any investigation was had, Sassomon’s body was found in Assawompset Pond (January, 1675). A Native American told Governor Josiah Winslow that he saw three Pokanoket men (one of whom was a counselor to Metacom) murder Sassomon and throw his body into the pond. The three men were arrested and put on trial in Plymouth. They were found guilty and hanged in June of 1675. This implication that Metacom was involved infuriated many Native Americans.
            On June 20, the English settlement at Swansea was attacked by vengeful Pokanoket for five days, settlers were killed and Swansea was completely destroyed. Boston and Plymouth officials responded by calling on the local militia to take on this indigenous threat. The native village of Mount Hope, a retreat of Metacom, was subsequently destroyed – men, women and children slaughtered indiscriminately. This attack, however, only served to strengthen Native American unity as the Nipmuck and the Podunk, for instance, join Metacom’s forces. From July to September, this unified Native American force attacks several English settlements: Middleborough, Dartmouth, Mendon, Brookfield, Lancaster, Deerfield, Northfield.
            War is officially declared by the Plymouth Colony Confederation on September 9, 1675. King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, as it has come to be called, was fought between Metacom’s unified forces and the colonists and militia of New England (Plymouth, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) and their Native American allies (Mohegan, Mohawks, and Pequot). From the outset, Metacom and his men seemed doomed; their opponents were more numerous and technologically advanced. This is one of the best testaments to the heart, courage, and conviction of Metacom and the Native Americans who faced such persecution and injustice.
            The Battle of Bloody Brook was the biggest defeat for the English in this war. It began as 100 or so Englishmen were collecting crops in an abandoned field to stock up for the coming winter. They were ambushed, and over 60 of them were killed.
            The Great Swamp Fight was another key battle. It began as an expeditionary force of over a thousand men from the Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Connecticut colonies (150 of who were Pequot and Mohegan) attack a Narragansett fort on December 19, 1675. Although the Narragansett were neutral in the war, the English distrusted and disliked them because they had been known to provide shelter and food to the Wampanoags. A large battled ensued, and when the English gained the upper hand, they burned down the fort, a huge structure (being several acres in size) housing not only vital food supplies but also some 300 women, children, and elderly (those who could not fight), who subsequently burned to death. In all, some 70 Englishman died. The Narragansett were now forced into the war.
            Metacom’s forces, despite their disadvantages, provide a serious threat to the colonists and make some key achievements in their war cause. On March 12, 1676, they manage to attack Plymouth Plantation, proving that they could penetrate deep into enemy lines and bring the fight home to the English. Also, on March 29, 1676, they burn Providence (Rhode Island’s capital) into the ground.
            The tide begins to shift, however, in favor of the English following the killing of Canonchet, the chief of the Narragansett in April of 1676. The Narragansett are completely defeated soon after.
            Metacom now became a fugitive as almost all his allies deserted him, losing the will to fight; he remained indomitable – even after his son and wife were sold off as slaves in Bermuda (Abbott, 356).  Finally, on August 12, 1676 Metacom himself was killed by a praying Indian called John Alderman via shot to the head. He was subsequently beheaded, drawn and quartered. His head was displayed on a pole in Plymouth for over 20 years. The fight was essentially over. Some minor fighting continues until April 12, 1678 when a treaty at Casco Bay was signed.
So what? Why should we care? Well, first, unbeknownst to many, this war is one of the bloodiest and costliest of American history. Only 400 Wampanoags survive the war. 5,000 Native Americans died (40 percent of their population). Two and a half thousand Englishmen die (about five percent of the total population). In fact, percentage-wise, this is the bloodiest war ever for the English in the Americas. Moreover, as is stated on The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut, after the war, Edmund Randolph, sent to assess the damage, reported to England that “twelve hundred homes were burned, eight thousand head of cattle lost, and vast stores of foodstuffs destroyed” (“1675-King Philip's War”).
The war was also foretelling of future Native American conflicts, such as the French and Indian Wars and Wounded Knee.
This war was particularly important because it allowed the English to expand their boundaries without restriction, which later became American expansionism; a precedent to follow was set, if you will. For Native Americans, this struggle serves as something to look back on and claim as their own, an instance where Native Americans fought back instead of conceded.
Lastly, Metacom’s struggle is important because it symbolizes what I like to call the “Spirit of Dissent.” He lost in his struggle but that is not what is important. He fought to end injustice and preserve his people’s identity and culture, their way of life, despite the almost certainty of defeat. He fought because he knew that some things are worth fighting for.

Works Cited
Abbot, John. History of King Philip, sovereign chief of the Wampanoags Digital Scanning Inc. 2001. Fordham University Library Catalog. Ebrary. Fordham U Lib. April 27, 2010. <>.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States of America. New York: Harper, 1999.

1675-King Philip's War.” The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut. 2007. April 27, 2010. < >.

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