Native American's Story


From the beginnings of English settlement in America, cultural differences played a pivotal role in creating the tensions that would eventually turn to conflict. The Native American tribes saw themselves at the center of a struggle to defend their land and way of life. King Philip’s War started in 1675 after years rising tensions between Native American tribes and English settlers. The resistance was spearheaded by the Wampanoag leader, whom the English had themselves called Philip; and was by ironically the son of chief (Sachem) Massasoit who had helped the original Pilgrims survive at Plymouth Colony.

Cultural Conflict

Eliot talking with the Natives

John Eliot, an English missionary known as “The apostle to the Indians” speaks to the Natick natives.

John Eliot Speaks to the Natick Indians by Hollis Holbrook

        Since the arrival of English colonist at Plymouth in 1620, Native Americans living in modern day New England had been in a constant conflict to protect their land, and their traditional way of life. Native Americans had to not only deal with physical loses, which included loss of land and the destruction of their crops from English livestock, but also had to deal with cultural loss. English settlers had challenged the Natives’ and their way of life by attempting to convert the Natives’ language, goods, dress, practices, and religion to match their English ways. Native Americans had to combat with the ideological belief held by the English that Western society was not only superior to their own, but that it was the settler’s duty to assimilate others into their culture. The English had felt they were doing their god’s work. Increase Mather, a Puritan Minister, preached that the English were failing to follow “the blessed design of their fathers” to spread Christianity to the “savage” Native Americans.

Almost literally, the Natives were facing an ideological clash that saw them as barbaric and needing to be saved. By the time the Wampanaog Sachem and English ally Massasoit died in 1661, there are about 40,000 settlers living in New England, outnumbering the Native population two to one. By now, there were Natives working for the English settlers, as labourers or servants. These workers were held to, and expected to act in accordance to Puritan standards and traditions, and faced discipline for acting on their own. Both sides grew mistrustful of one another, highlighted by Wamsutta’s death in 1662; (Known to the English as Alexander) who was the eldest son of Massasoit and at the time, Sachem of the Wampanaog. Metacomet took his place as Sachem and believed his brother was poisoned at the hands of the English. ““My brother came miserably to die, by being forced to Court and poisoned.” Metacomet alleviated his fellow Native Americans’ calls to for a violent revenge for Wamsutta’s death and instead opted to tell the English he wouldn’t be selling them Native land for seven years. Metacomet understood the importance land played in the relations between the English and the Native Americans.

Loss of Land, Loss of Arms and Other Possessions

        As more colonist came from England, more native land was being seized and used by English settlers. By the start of the war the region had seen its settler population boom to over 80,000 people in over 100 separate towns / settlements. Early on, the English and Native Americans found themselves engaging in agreements over land. However, a fundamental philosophical difference undermined many such agreements: the English had believed that it was possible to own land outright, while the Native Americans believed that only the right to use, benefit, and benefit from the land could be granted. The situation was further complicated by the French custom, which was eventually adopted by the English, of providing native communities with gifts on a seasonal or annual basis. What the colonizers intended as a act of goodwill, the Natives interpreted as comparable to rent. unsurprisingly legal disputes about who owned the land would happen, but these procedures often favored the English settlers. They would take place in English courthouses, would be written in English (which most Natives could not read or write) and used as a means to cheat the Natives out of their land. John Easton, an Englishman and attorney general for the colony of Rhode Island, had the opportunity to talk to Metacomet himself in June of 1675. Easton had had hoped to negotiate a peace deal with Metacomet, however the Wampanaog leader noted of the resentment that came from their relations with the English:

“..another Greavance was, if 20 of their honest Indians testified that a Englishman had dun them Rong, it was as nothing; and if but one of their worst Indians testified against any Indian or their King, when it pleased the English it was sufficient... Another Grievance was, when their King sold Land, the English would say, it was more than they agreed to, and a Writing must be prove against all them, and some of their Kings had dun Rong to sell so much. He left his Peopell none, and some being given to Drunknes the English made them drunk and then cheated them in Bargains, but now their Kings were forewarned not for to part with Land, for nothing in Comparison to the Value thereof... Another Grievance, the English Catell and Horses still increased; that when they removed 30 Miles from where English had any thing to do, they could not keep their Corn from being spoiled, they never being used to fence, and thought when the English bought Land of them they would have kept their Catell upon their owne Land."

Land Treaty

Metacomet unwillingly signs a peace treaty that includes the surrender of Native American owned firearms, Taunton Massachusetts 1671

Metacom (King Philip), Wampanoag sachem, meeting settlers, illustration c. 1911.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital file no. cph 3c00678)

Metacomet further explained his vision that it would take a violent uprising to force the English hand in changing their ways: “...we only endeavored to persuaid that all Complaints might be righted without War, but could have no other Answer but that they had not heard of that Way for the Governor of Yorke and an Indian King to have the Hearing of it. We had Cause to think in that had bine tendered it would have bine accepted.”

Likewise, the English had also used their court system to limit the Native’s abilities to fight back. Particulary, in 1671, Metacomet was summoned to Taunton, Massachusetts, where he was humiliated and forced to sign a peace agreement that included the surrender of Native American firearms; which they had been originally acquired in trades with the English. Eventually, much like other treaties with Natives signed before and after this one, the English infringed upon it, taking up more land, and disregarding the Native Americans along the way.


How did the Native Americans go from passive resistance to armed conflict, and how did engage in combat?

The Battle Plan and Aftermath

Brookfield burning

Brookfield, MA burning.

King Philip's War - Capture of Brookfield, Massachusetts - Mid - 19th century

Source: Sutro Library, San Francisco, USA

        The Native Americans used their knowledge of the land to quickly move about from one area to another. The first raid by the Native Americans was on June 20, 1675 when Swansea was looted by Pokanoket men and several homes are looted and destroyed. The attacks on Swansea became a blueprint of what would be the Native American’s tactics used to combat the English colonist and their settlements. Early on in the war, the Natives found themselves at a slight advantage due to their knowledge of the terrain, and what the English consider an unorthodox fighting style. While the English had fought in traditional manner (Marching, and firing together, a very European style of warfare) the Natives took advantage of New England’s terrain with hilly landscape and thick woods . The Natives hid behind trees, bushes, and boulders and individually shot either muskets or bows and arrows at specific, individual targets. The Native soldiers attacked both English settlements, and ambushed English forces moving in the wooded areas. The English were quickly dispatched by often unseen Indians hiding in the unfamiliar woods.

        After the raids on Swansea, fighting then moved Westerward across predominantly Massaschusetts land, eventually looping back towards Mount Hope in Rhode Island, where Metacom originally, (and the towards the end) had his base of operations. At the beginning of 1676, after returning to Massachusetts from an attempt to ally with Mohawk tribes, Metacom set up a temporary base of operations on Mount Wachusett. From there he would command a series of attacks that were targeted from his vantage point. Eventually, Metacomet moved his base back to his home at Mount Hope, where he was killed on August 12th of 1676.