PHILIP, CANONCHET AND THEIR INDIANS
A brief statement, from the side of the Indians, of their movements and plans so far as can be judged by the evidence we have, may help us to a better knowledge of the war, than any of the histories afford. All know that Metacom, or Pometacom, second son of the great chief Massasoit, whom the English named Philip, and who is known in history as King Philip, was the recognized instigator and leader in the great Indian war which has always been designated by his name.
Massasoit's eldest son Wamsutta, called by the English Alexander, succeeded to the dignity and possessions of his father in 1661, but lived only about a year in the enjoyment of his inheritance. His wife was Weetamoo (her name best known), who seems to have been not only an hereditary princess, but a very able and energetic woman. She was called the "Squaw Sachem of Pocasset," and derived that title either from her father or an earlier husband. She claimed to own all the country around Pocasset in her own right, and also the disposal and rule of her tribe. Weetamoo was a personage of importance and influence in the war, as, after the death of Wamsutta, she returned to her people, and retained her title and power amongst them; and it would appear that just before the breaking out of the war, she had some three hundred fighting men under her authority.
There is good evidence that Queen Weetamoo and Petonowowett, whom the queen married after the death of Wamsutta, were both opposed to the war, but could not control the young warriors who were attracted to Philip's war-dances, and were there inflamed with the war-passion of the chief. Weetamoo was the sister of Wootonekanuske, it is said, and as she was doubly sister-in-law of Philip, it is not strange that she followed the inclination of her warriors, and yielded to the craft and power of Philip, thus greatly strengthening his hands. Petonowowett would not join Philip, but withdrew to the English side and followed their fortunes throughout the struggle. Weetamoo further assisted the cause of Philip by renouncing her recreant husband, and marrying Quinnapin, a Narraganset chief, a near relative of Canonchet, and second in command at the great "fort-fight."
He was prominent in the attack upon Lancaster, becoming the master of Mrs. Rowlandson by purchasing her from her captor.
There are many proofs of the ability of Philip as a diplomat, in planning and preparing for the war. He succeeded his brother as the chief Sachem of the Wampanoags, about 1662. Judged by all that can be gleaned from history, Philip seems to us, not the terrible monster which our first historians painted him, but a leader of consummate skill, in bringing together the unwieldy and most unwilling forces, and pushing forward other bands of other tribes to bear the brunt and dangers which his own plotting had brought upon them. He was doubtless hurried into open hostilities by the ill-advised action of his young warriors, long before even his own tribe were prepared for the consequences of such rash action. Thousands of acres of corn were hastily abandoned by his people in their precipitate flight.
The Wampanoags, with all related and dependent bands, were overwhelmed by the unexpected forces sent against them, and were only saved from utter destruction, partly by the slow motion of the English troops under Capt. Henchman, but mainly by the adroit and secret management of Philip in "wafting" his whole active force over the water, leaving only one hundred of their women and children, and escaping into the Nipmuck country. All the fearful consequences which hung upon the issue of that escape, are known to us now, and it is clear that if the colonies had at all appreciated the gravity of the situation, the whole war might have been prevented, by holding Philip, by the retention of a few hundred men for a few days more at Rehoboth, or near by, with their Mohegan scouts.
As it was, Philip succeeded in eluding his pursuers, disposing his non-fighting people in various tribes, and, while holding a sufficient body-guard with himself, to inspire respect and insure a hearing, he had some of his ablest men visiting the more distant tribes, and everywhere persuading, bribing and threatening the chiefs into co"peration; so that before the end of September, he had practically all the Nipmucks, with the tribes of Massachusetts from the Merrimac to the Connecticut, pledged and already active in his service. But the impression from all known testimony is, that loyalty to Philip was inspired by fear, rather than love or admiration.
There is no proof known to me of any act of personal daring on his part, and I have not found any real evidence that he was personally engaged in any of the battles of the whole war, or that he led, in person, any attack, or raid, or ambuscade. The rumors of that day, and the statements of later historians, that he was present at certain fights, are not verified by evidence; and while there is little doubt that he directed and planned many of the most bloody and destructive attacks upon the settlements, he seems always to have kept at a safe distance from personal danger.
The successes of the Indians at Brookfield, Northfield and Deerfield, were won by the Nipmuck chiefs, who were by no means ready to accept Philip as a general, while they received him as an ally.
In December, 1675, Philip retired beyond the Connecticut, and before the first of January was encamped some forty miles above Albany. It is probable that he was there negotiating with the Mohawks, by his agents, for their co"peration in the spring, and it is believed that he had assurance from the French, of ammunition and arms, together with a body of Canadian Indians to reinforce him. But there were many things which might well discourage the chief at this time, notwithstanding all these promises of help, and the fact that the most of the tribes were committed to the war.
Canonchet, and his Narragansets, had not yet committed themselves, nor seemed inclined to do so, which was very depressing, not only to the leaders, but to those other chiefs and tribes who in one way or another had committed themselves to his cause. And again there was disaffection among the tribes and the chiefs who had been involved in the war by Philip's arts. But soon a new and tremendous impulse was given to the Indian side, when the scouts and advanced parties of the Narragansets began to come among the tribes in their hasty retreat, bringing news of their defeat and the disastrous destruction of their great fortress.
At first they were not believed, and were not received by the Nipmucks and their allies, because they had been looked upon as pledged by the English to remain neutral; and, as the denunciation of the great leader and his tribe for their indifference, had been rife in all the great war councils of the adherents of Philip, so now these advance parties of their retreat were not believed, and when they came to the camp at Meminimisset, they were repulsed, and their messenger shot at, being accused of treachery and of being friends of the English, although they brought English scalps and heads in proof of their story.
But when larger parties came, bringing more proofs of the same kind, and furnished confirmation from various sources, there was great rejoicing by the Indians that they had been thus struck down by the English, whom they had been so slow to fight. Their rejoicing was equally great, because of the immense acquisition of the strong tribe and valiant chief, the prestige of whose name and numbers turned all faltering and hesitation into willing and eager adherence. And as they had been last to break into hostility against the settlers, so their causes of hatred and desire for revenge were deeper.
At the beginning of "Philip's War," the Sachem of the Narragansets was Canonchet, son of Miantonimoh, whose tragic story has been told in the first chapter. He was an able, prudent and brave chief, who, though subjected to the tyranny of the colonies, and followed by the constant enmity and falsehood of old Uncas, had been able to maintain peace with the English and their allies, and to lead his people to prosperity and power; so that in 1675, he was by far the most powerful chief in New England, his fighting force being reckoned by some authorities, as high as four thousand warriors.
This estimate is probably double his actual force. It is said that he had encouraged Philip in the design to make a general revolution against the colonies, and had promised to be ready in 1676 to enter such war with his whole available force. When, however, Philip's men precipitated hostilities by the murder of Sausamon, first, and then by open and active preparation, when justice was dealt to the murderers, Canonchet restrained his people, and would not join Philip, but on the other hand would not assist in fighting him. When the troops had driven Philip and his people out from Mount Hope, and held them, as they thought, securely, in the Pocasset swamps, command came from Boston to march the army into the Narraganset country and demand a treaty at the point of the sword. That action seems to us now, as strategy, the height of stupidity; in spirit, the extreme of intolerance; and in result, entirely disastrous.
The only pretext for the invasion, was the rumor that the Narragansets were harboring some of the women and children of those who were in arms. They did not find Canonchet, or any of his Sachems, but only a few old men, whom they forced to act in behalf of the tribe. With these irresponsible persons, they formally enacted a treaty, remarkable only for its intolerance, and utter disregard of the rights of the Indians.
Canonchet seems to have ignored this treaty entirely, and probably looked upon it as one more instance of the crafty influence of Uncas, who had hastened forward to assist the English at his earliest opportunity. And yet the Narraganset chief held aloof from Philip's active operations, evidently strengthening his own people with arms, ammunition and provisions, besides training his warriors and fortifying his country in several parts, as if determined to withstand any attack which might be made upon him.
Canonchet, thus standing aloof from participation in the war, and fearing nothing from the English, who were constantly exercised against him by the wily arts of the Mohegans, was summoned to Boston, where he appeared before the Council and bore himself with manly dignity, but was constrained by his situation and by the threats of the Council, to sign a treaty binding him to fight against the hostile Indians, and to seize and deliver up all those Indians who had taken part in the war, and were now fled to his territories for shelter.
This demand, so impossible for him to fulfil, he was induced to promise, under the pressure of present danger, knowing well that a refusal to accede to their demands would be taken as confirmation of the charges against him, and would result in his detention and perhaps death. He had no idea of the sacredness of his promise in this treaty, and his experience with the English in former treaties, had not tended to give him exalted ideas of treaty promises. He was allowed to depart, having received the present of a coat, gaudily laced. We do not know how much effort he made to carry out his promise; we do know that he gathered his own people into the great fortress in the swamps, where, in December, he was overwhelmed by the Colonial army; in which battle great numbers of his people were destroyed.
The story of that fearful battle and its result to the English, and from their side, has been told. We know but little from the Indian side, and that only by accidental testimony. The English troops recruited at Wickford until the last of January, when, having been reinforced with fresh troops, they began the "Long March" through the Nipmuck Country, around to Marlborough, and then to Boston.
Canonchet and his Narragansets had profited by the time of the army's inactivity; they returned to their ruined forts and buried their dead, cared for their wounded, and quietly sent their women and children with their sick and wounded out of harm's way. Then with a strong band of his fighting men as a rear-guard, Canonchet hung about the army, and closely observed all its motions, keeping out his scouts in every direction, with a line of posts and temporary camps along the whole line of the great "trail," even to the vicinity of Quabaog, where he soon established relations of alliance with the hostile tribes gathered at headquarters at Meminimisset. But just upon the eve of the advance of the troops, the Narragansets made a swift descent upon Warwick, where they burnt the buildings and corn and hay of Mr. Carpenter, as we have seen. It is probable that the Indian leaders were somewhat disconcerted by the advance of the army, both as to time and direction.
The attack upon Mr. Carpenter was partly, perhaps, to turn the attention of the English in that direction. They succeeded in eluding the English, however, and were received into the great gathering of the tribes at their chief headquarters beyond Quabaog, as told above. There is evidence that old Canonicus, uncle of Canonchet, and many of the older chiefs of the Narragansets and their subject tribes, like Ninigret, chief of the Niantics, tried hard to restrain the warriors from open war. But the proud spirit of the younger Canonchet could not bow to the terrible blow they had received, and while the old chiefs were allowed to negotiate with the English about a treaty, Canonchet and the younger men, with Quinnapin as an able second, were training and preparing for war. After the junction was made with the Northern tribes, Philip having been apprised of it, and having promised plenty of ammunition from the French, the Narragansets were added as a part of the great hostile force of Indians gathered in the western parts. Canonchet became the real leader of the great unorganized army of the Indians. His warriors far outnumbered the other tribes, besides being better trained and equipped, despite the severe losses they had met at the great fort.
There is little doubt that the confederated tribes determined to drive the English out from the Connecticut valley, and to hold it. After locating his people in safe retreats, Canonchet, with a large party of his warriors, returned towards his own country, in order to recover some of the large quantities of corn secreted there, and especially for seed-corn to plant the English fields, from which they had driven the owners. A large raiding party from the various tribes came southward also. It is probable that the two companies were not far from each other, when Capt. Peirse arrived at Rehoboth, and they probably united in his destruction, as related above.
After the battle with Capt. Peirse (March 26, 1676) the Indians made a furious attack upon Rehoboth upon the 28th day, burning some forty houses and nearly as many barns. Upon the 29th they appeared at Providence, and though the aged Roger Williams, the life-long friend of the southern tribes, went forth to meet them, unarmed, and leaning upon his staff, he was met by their old men, and warned by them that it would not be safe, even for him, to venture amongst them; and they said also, that there were many "stranger Indians" mixed with their tribes. He was thus forced to retire to the garrison-house with the rest of the inhabitants, while the Indians advanced and burned some thirty houses of the town. Robert Beers was slain, it is said, at this time.
The Indians seem, after that, to have broken up into small prowling bands, which scouted upon the borders of the out-lying towns, making an assault here and there, as opportunity seemed to offer, -- April 9th at Billerica; April 19th at Andover, where they killed Joseph Abbot and captured his younger brother Timothy, burned the house of Mr. Faulkner and wounded Roger Marks; while another band, the same day, burned the deserted houses at Marlborough; and still another party appeared at Hingham and Weymouth, where they killed two men, one at each place.
On April 20th they renewed the attack upon Hingham, where they burned the houses of Israel Hobart, Anthony Sprague, Joseph Jones and Nathaniel Chubbuck. On April 21st the main body of the Indians in Massachusetts swept in around Sudbury, of which attack detailed account has been given heretofore. Account has been given also of other attacks and operations in the Northern parts.
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