SOLDIERS

IN

KING PHILIP'S WAR

 Introductory Chapter, Part I 

INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER

CONTAINING A CONCISE HISTORY OF THE INDIAN WARS
OF NEW ENGLAND FROM 1620 TO 1677

THE first event in the Indian wars of New England, as related to its settlement by our forefathers, occurred on the 8th of December, 1620, while a company of the Pilgrims were coasting along the shores towards Plymouth Bay, in their shallop. The story is briefly, but graphically, told by Nathaniel Morton, for many years clerk of the Colony, and the author of what he called "New England's Memorial."

After relating their experiences in Cape Cod Harbor, during the month of November, he says:

"On the 6th of December they concluded to send out their shallop again on a third discovery. The names of those who went upon this discovery were "Mr. John Carver Mr. William Bradford, Mr. Edward Winslow, Capt. Miles Standish, Mr. John Howland, Mr. Richard Warren, Mr. Stephen Hopkins, Mr. Edward Tilly, Mr. John Tilly, Mr. Clark, Mr. Coppin, John Allerton, Thomas English, and Edward Doten, with the master gunner of the ship, and three of the common seamen. These set sail on Wednesday, the sixth day of December, 1620, intending to circulate the deep bay of Cape Cod, the weather being very cold, so as the spray of the sea lighting on the coats they were as if they had been glazed; notwithstanding, that night they got down into the bottom of the bay, and as they drew near the shore, they saw some ten or twelve Indians, and landed about a league off them (but with some difficulty, by reason of the shoals in that place) where they tarried that night. Next morning they divided their company to coast along, some on shore and some in the boat, where they saw the Indians had been the day before, cutting up a fish like a grampus; and so they ranged up and down all that day, but found no people, nor any place they liked, as fit for their settlement; and that night, they on shore met their boat at a certain creek where they made them a barricado of boughs and logs, for their lodging that night, and, being weary, betook themselves to rest.

"The next morning about five o'clock (seeking guidance and protection from God by prayer,) and refreshing themselves in way of preparation, to persist on their intended expedition, some of them carried their arms down to the boat, having laid them up in their coats from the moisture of the weather; but others said they would not carry theirs until they went themselves. But presently, all on a sudden, about the dawning of the day, they heard a great and strange cry, and one otheir company being on board, came hastily in and cried, Indians! Indians! and withal, their arrows came flying amongst them; on which all their men ran with speed to recover their arms; as by God's good providence they did. In the meantime some of those that were ready, discharged two muskets at them, and two more stood ready at the entrance of their rendezvous, but were commanded not to shoot until they could take full aim at them; and the other two charged again with all speed, for there were only four that had arms there, and defended the barricado which was first assaulted. The cry of the Indians was dreadful, especially when they saw the men run out of their rendezvous towards the shallop, to recover their arms, the Indians wheeling about upon them; but some running out with coats of mail and cuttle-axes in their hands, they soon recovered their arms, and discharged amongst them, and stayed their violence. Notwithstanding there was a lusty man, and no less valiant, stood behind a tree within half a musket shot, and let his arrows fly amongst them; he was seen to shoot three arrows, which were all avoided, and stood three shot of musket, until one taking full aim at him, made the bark or splinters of the tree fly about his ears, after which he gave an extraordinary shriek, and away they went all of them; and so leaving some to keep the shallop, they followed them about a quarter of a mile, that they might conceive that they were not afraid of them, or any way discouraged.

"Thus it pleased God to vanquish their enemies, and to give them deliverance, and by his special providence so to dispose, that not any of them was either hurt or hit though their arrows came close by them; and sundry of their coats, which hung up in the barricado, were shot through and through. For which salvation and deliverance they rendered solemn thanksgiving unto the Lord."

This was the first battle with the Indians, and the scene of it was called by them at that time "First Encounter." This spot is in the present town of Eastham. They picked up eighteen of the Indian arrows and sent them home to England by "Master Jones." Some of the arrows were headed with brass, some with hart's horn, and some with eagle's claws. It was late at night, and in a heavy storm, that they with much difficulty made what is now Plymouth Harbor, and lay-to under the lee of the Island, which they named "Clark's Island," because Mr. Clark of their company was the first to step ashore next morning. Here they remained the next day, and here, on the next, kept the memorable Sabbath.

The following Monday they explored Plymouth Bay and resolved on this locality for their settlement, and so returned to their ship at Provincetown Harbor.

The Landing of the Pilgrims was made on Dec. 21, 1620, at the place known to the Indians as Patuxit, now Plymouth.

During the terrible scenes of the following Winter, the Indians, from time to time, showed themselves at a long distance watching their movements, but not troubling. In March, however, the famous Samoset came boldly into their midst and addressed them in broken English. He made them understand that he was from the Eastern part of the coast, and had known certain English fishermen, from whom he had learned the language. He was very friendly and helpful to the Pilgrims ever afterwards, in many ways. He told them of another Indian, Squanto or Tisquanto, of the tribes near this place, who had been in England, and could speak English better than himself. Kindly entertained by the English, he came to them again shortly afterwards, bringing some other Indians with him, and announced a visit to be made in a few days by the great Sachem, Massasoit, who came five days later, with the above-mentioned Squanto, and the chief of his friends and attendants. 

Massasoit was Sachem of what had been a large and powerful people, but now greatly weakened by the fearful devastations of a plague, which had swept away a large part of his tribes along the coast, a few years only before the English landed at Plymouth. His residence, at this time, was at Sowams, or Sowamset (now a part of Barrington, R.I.). His dominion extended over the Massachusetts tribes as far as the Charles River, and it is supposed that the Pawtucket was the boundary between his people, known as the Wampanoags, and the Narragansets. The Cape Indians gave him allegiance, and all that part of Rhode Island east of Narraganset Bay. One residence of his was at Mount Hope, not far from the present city of Fall River, which became afterwards the permanent residence of his son Philip, or Metacom. 

On the occasion of Massasoit's visit, a treaty of peace was arranged between him and the English. This treaty was for help against other tribes and outside enemies: a league, indeed, for natural protection. It was the first treaty ever made in New England, and was the most important. The Wampanoags, in their present weakened condition, feared the power of the strong and warlike Narragansets, so that this league of defence was as necessary to them as to the English; and to the small band of Pilgrims it meant nothing less than their salvation, since it threw their frontier fifty miles away instead of one, and united their interests with a great tribe, who were made strong by this league itself. After this treaty, Squanto remained at Plymouth as the interpreter and counsellor of the English. The treaty was faithfully kept by Massasoit while he lived. The dominion properly belonging to the Wampanoags was known as Pokanoket.

The next trouble had with the Indians, after this treaty, was caused by an Indian chief named Corbitant, who lived near Nemasket, now Middleborough. Squanto had been joined at Plymouth by another friendly and influential Indian named Hobomak, and the two were sent out as agents of the English, among the tribes, to manage their trade in fur and other commodities. Corbitant provoked a quarrel, and attempted to stab Hobomak, who escaped to Plymouth and reported the assault, and his fears that Squanto had been slain. Immediately Capt. Miles Standish and fourteen men marched to the Indian town and beset the wigwam of Corbitant, but found him gone. But they found Squanto had not been killed. In the attack upon Corbitant's wigwam, two or three of the natives were unintentionally wounded, and these were brought to Plymouth, and kindly cared for by the English. 

After this, several of the surrounding chiefs came in and declared their friendship, and Corbitant himself, through Massasoit, sought to make peace with them. In September of this year (1621) a shallop was fitted out with ten men, and Squanto as guide and interpreter, and explored Massachusetts Bay along the shores of Dorchester, Boston, and the peninsula between the Mystic and the Charles Rivers. They were welcomed to this vicinity by Obbatinewat, the Sagamore of Shawmut. He accompanied them across the Charles River, and they tried to find the Squaw-Sachem of the remnants of the Massachusetts tribes, widow of the great Sachem, Nanepashemet, but were unsuccessful.

During November, 1621, a messenger came from the Narragansets, bearing a challenge to war, as Squanto explained it, -- a snake-skin filled with arrows. For answer, Gov. Bradford filled the snake-skin with powder and bullets and sent it back to the Sachem, Canonicus, with the word that he was ready for either war or peace. Then the Pilgrims fortified their houses with palisades and set a guard at night, and arranged their fighting force in order for defence. During the Summer of 1622 they built a timber fort, "strong and comely, with flat roof and battlements;" upon this, ordnance was mounted, and a watch kept. The fort also served as a place of worship. The "unruly" company, which came in Robert Cushman's ship, in 1621, and had lived upon the hospitality of the Pilgrims through the Winter and Spring, reducing their Colony to the verge of a famine, went away in August, to form a new plantation at a place since called Weymouth, under the grant to Mr. Thomas Weston. 

These colonists proved to be an indolent and wayward set, abused the confidence of the Indians, and finally caused a threatened outbreak, which rumor having come to the ears of the Governor, by a message from Massasoit, by Hobomak, Capt. Miles Standish, with a company of eight men, with Hobomak as guide, -- for he would not excite the suspicions of the Indians with a larger company, -- marched to Wessaguscus (Weymouth), whence a certain Phineas Prat had fled, half famished, and disclosed a pitiful story of the destitution of Mr. Weston's colony. Capt. Standish found these men in great suffering, but not suspecting any plot of the Indians. Hobomak had discovered that the general assault upon the settlers was to be begun here upon the weakened and helpless men of Wessaguscus, and then this should be the signal for a general attack of all the tribes in the league, no less than seven distinct tribes being in the plot. 

Soon after the arrival of the Captain and his men, an Indian came into the settlement as if for trade, and soon went away without molestation; but the Captain suspected that he knew the purpose of their coming. Soon after, Peksuot, a chief of bold spirit, came in and told Hobomak that he understood that Capt. Standish had come to kill him and the rest of the Indians there, and dared him to begin. Then Wittuwamet and other Indians, in increasing numbers, began to come amongst them, growing more and more insulting, flourishing their knives and boasting of their strength. Finally, after bearing with their insults a long time, the Captain and his men managed to get Peksuot and Wittuwamet into a room together, with a few others, and then made a sudden attack upon them, disarmed and killed them, Peksuot being slain with his own knife, in the hands of the Captain, and Wittuwamet by the others. They then gave orders to Weston's men to kill the Indians with them, of whom they killed two. Then the Captain and his men began a general hunt for all Indians about, intending to make a sweep of all; but the Indians, getting news of the intention, fled. Winslow and Standish have been blamed for this sanguinary performance, but it was probably a question of killing or being killed, with them.

The English believed that for their own safety they must try to strike terror to the tribes, so they set the head of Wittuwamet upon the battlements of their block-house. The terror inspired by the English guns was so great, that many of the Indians fled into the swamps and woods, and many perished from cold and hunger, in their wanderings. However harsh these measures may appear to us now, we have to remember the precarious situation in which the Pilgrims were placed, -- a small hamlet on the shore of a vast unknown wilderness, with countless hosts of savages swarming about, and only restrained by a wholesome fear of the English firearms and the sturdy courage of Standish and his "men-at-arms." 

The Pilgrims themselves had hitherto treated all Indians who came in a friendly manner, with kindness and justice. The roystering sailors, who had spent a Winter in the Colony, and the unruly elements of Weston's men, had cajoled, cheated, quarrelled with, and abused the Indians who came to trade, and those Indians, who were jealous of Hobomak and Squanto and Massasoit, took these occasions to organize a revolt, by which there was good evidence to show that they meant the total destruction of the English settlements. Wary and prompt action was a necessity at that time. The event proved the strategic wisdom of the action, however unchristian it seems; for such dread of the English, and respect for their prowess, was inspired, that for many years there were no notable revolts of the neighboring Indians.

HTML by Debbie

Special thanks to Fred for his wonderful graphics.

You are the 7126th Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site™ Since April, 2001.

3419 Visitors before this counter was installed

[King Philip's War Index Index][NY][VT]