I must admit this is a conflict I knew nothing about – until reading this book I hadn’t even realised that the King Philip of the war was actually a Native American, and had assumed that it was similar to the later colonial wars, named after European monarchs of the day. Instead it turns out that King Philip was the Wampanoag leader Metacomet, a militant leader who realised that the only way to save his people’s lands or way of life was to expel the English puritan colonists from New England. In the fifty-five years since their arrival they had grown from a handful of people in struggling coastal communities into a population of around 80,000, in four colonies, and had slowly pushed the Native Americans out of increasingly large areas. At the same time Europe diseases had caused a massive collapse in the Native American population, and by the time of the war only 10,000 were left, about one fifth of whom sided with the Colonists.
The author is a little too positive about the Puritans for me, ignoring their own tendency towards religious bigotry and persecution, and at one point even suggesting that their victory in the war was because of their Puritan faith, despite having already demonstrated that it owed more to their superior numbers (mainly thanks to epidemics of European diseases that had almost wiped out the local tribes), their possession of major fortified coastal towns that would have been impossible for the Indians to capture, and their total control of the seas, which meant that they were constantly being resupplied.
We start with a brief history of New England, and a look at the early, more positive, relationship with the Native Americans. This soon began to break down as the Puritans expanded inland, imposing English law on their Native American neighbours, and generally becoming more self-confident as they expanded. As the prospect of war came closer we thus get examples of then sending out demands for the Native Americans to hand over all of their muskets, as if they were under the authority of the colonists! The war itself begins with a series of Native American victories, in which they were able to force the colonists to abandon some of their more isolated settlements, and also inflicted a number of costly defeats in battle, but the Colonists soon adapted their plans to reflect the reality of war in the wilderness, and Metacomet never really appears to have any chance of achieving his objectives.
This is an interesting account of this war, which may be better know to American readers than to British, but that was entirely unknown to me. I hadn’t realised that there was resistance to the early colonists on quite this scale, but despite Metacomet’s early successes, it soon became clear that the attempt was made too late.
Origins of the Campaign
The Battlefields Today
Author: Gabriele Esposito