Whomping Wampanoags

King Philip’s War was a 15-month conflict fought in 1675-76 which ended any hopes Natives might have had of either vanquishing the Europeans, or co-existing with them on an even footing. Life around Narragansett Bay in the 1670s was complex. In addition to the Rhode Island colony, there were Wampanoag, Narragansett, and other Indian tribes, as well as the nearby Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies. Wampanoag chief Massasoit had long been a friend to Roger Williams and other colonists. However, Massasoit died in 1661, and his son, Metacomet (aka King Philip), became disenchanted with the steady loss of Wampanoag lands to the Plymouth Colony, as well as the increasing subjugation of the Wampanoag people at the hands of the Puritans.
The conflict began with a June 1675 Wampanoag raid on Swansea (then a part of Plymouth Colony). Clashes continued for months, and the Narragansett provided refuge for many Wampanoag in a fortified settlement surrounded by swamp in what is now South Kingstown. In December 1675, over 1,000 soldiers from the Plymouth, Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies attacked this encampment, battling Narragansett warriors and burning dwellings, killing hundreds of women and children. This siege came to be known as the “Great Swamp Fight,” and it was just one episode in an ongoing war that caused most white settlers to flee mainland Rhode Island.

Shown here are two accounts (one famous, one infamous) of the Indian wars in New England, including King Philip’s War. One is an edition of William Hubbard’s important Narrative of the Indian Wars in New England (first published in 1677), published in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1801. The other is the first edition of a history of the United States by Henry Trumbull viewed through the lens of conflict with the Indians. Besides the figures named in the title, the narrative has sections on Daniel Boone and George Washington, and contains much information on Indian customs, reproductions of primary documents (i.e. letters between generals), and exact lists of casualties. One critic mercilessly lampooned this book as “a well-nigh worthless production of a seventeen-year-old lad which enjoyed wide favor by an uncritical public.”

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