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Metacom's War

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Metacom's War

Just 50 years after the first Thanksgiving, the expansion of English colonies into Native American territories ignited the bloodiest conflict (per capita) in North American history. Native American tribes under Wampanoag Chief Metacom conducted destructive raids into English colonial territories, while colonists formed militias to defend their towns and people and hunt down their foes in the wilderness. Metacom's War was a troubled period in North American history, setting the stage for a future of many bloody interactions between natives and colonists.

Metacom's War Cause

Underlying Causes of Metacom's War

Metacom's War (also referred to as King Philip's War) was caused by rising tensions between Native Americans and English colonists. Between the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and the onset of Metacom's War in 1675, English settlers and Native Americans constructed a unique North American society and economy together. Although they lived separately, natives collaborated with colonists as much as they clashed.

Metacom's War Raid Settlers Study SmarterArt depicting Native Americans raiding English colonists. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Both parties were dependent on trade with one another, exchanging food, furs, tools, and guns. The English colonists brought their Christian faith with them to the new world, converting many natives to Christianity. These people became known as Praying Indians. Some natives, such as those in the Wampanoag tribe, willingly inherited English and Christian names. Such was the case with Metacom, chief of the Wampanoag; his Christian name was Philip.

Who was Metacom?

Metacom (also known as Metacomet) was born in 1638 as the second son to Wampanoag Sachem (chief) Massasoit. After his father died in 1660, Metacom and his brother Wamsutta took upon themselves English names; Metacom became known as Philip, and Wamsutta was given the name Alexander. Later, when Metacom became the leader of his tribe, the European colonists began calling him King Philip. Interestingly, Metacom often wore European-style clothes.

The Event that Caused Metacom's War

Although the English colonists and Native Americans coexisted in North America, they quickly grew suspicious of one another's intentions. Separated by land, culture, and language, the colonists feared native raids and the natives feared continual colonial expansion.

Metacom's War Metacom Portrait Study SmarterPortrait of Metacom (King Philip). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

John Sassamon, a Praying Indian, traveled to Plymouth in 1675 to warn its governor of Metacom's supposed plans to attack the colonists. Governor Josiah Winslow dismissed Sassamon, but within a month the Native American was found dead, murdered by three Wampanoag men. The suspects were tried and hanged under the laws of the English court, an act that outraged Metacom and his people. The spark had been ignited, and Metacom's War was set to begin.

Metacom's War Summary

Metacom's War took place from 1675 to 1676 and saw a coalition of Native American Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Narragansett, and Pocumtuck tribes battle against English Settlers bolstered by the Mohegan and Mohawk tribes in New England. The conflict began with a Native American raid on Swansea in Massachusetts. Houses were burned down and goods were plundered while settlers fled the scene in terror.

Metacom's War Battle of Bloody Brook Study SmarterThe Battle of Bloody Brook in Metacom's War. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In late June of 1675, English militiamen stormed Metacom's base at Mount Hope in Massachusetts, but the Native leader was not there. Hope for a swift end to the conflict was lost.

Metacom's War AP World History:

In the scope of AP World History, Metacom's War may seem like a rather small and inconsequential event. This article will discuss its significance later, but for now, consider the importance of Metacom's War in a greater historical context:

  • How does Metacom's War compare with other resistances to colonialism?
  • How far back can you draw the causation of Metacom's War? (Can you clearly draw it back to the reign of English King Charles I?)
  • What changed in North America from before Metacom's War and after? What stayed the same?

Deadly Battles in Metacom's War

Native Americans waged constant assaults on wagon trains and colonial towns resting on the frontier. These small raids were often swift and deadly, leaving anywhere from a handful to dozens dead in a matter of minutes. Larger confrontations also occurred, such as in September 1675, when hundreds of Nipmuck tribesman victoriously ambushed a militia-defended wagon train at the Battle of Bloody Creek. Colonists also saw victory in combat, as seen in the brutal attack on a native encampment led by Governor Josiah Winslow in the Great Swamp Fight of December 1675.

Here the barbarous villains shewed their insolent rage and cruelty, more now than ever before, cutting off the heads of some of the slain, and fixing them upon poles near the highway, and not only so, but one (if not more) was found with a chain hooked under his jaw, and so hung up on the bough of a tree. . .

-From "A Narrative of the Troubles with Indians in New England," by William Hubbard in 1677.

After a year of warring, both sides were already becoming weary. Native Americans became plighted with famine and disease, the men split between waging war on the colonists and hunting game for their families. The English colonists, though somewhat calloused by the Native Americans, were equally tired and constantly worried by sudden raids on their homesteads.

Native American Subjugation in Metacom's War

In Massachusetts, fear of Native Americans became greater than ever during Metacom's War. On August 13th, all Praying Indians (Indians who converted to Christianity) who lived in Massachusetts were ordered to relocate to Praying Camps: separate villages for Native Americans to live in. Many were sent to Deer Island and left without food on the cold plot of land. Local natives were not trusted, and Native Americans who lived outside of English settlements were demonized by the settlers, a sentiment that would not go away anytime soon.

Metacom's War Outcome and Effects

Metacom's War ended in August 1676, when troops led by Benjamin Church became aware of Metacom's position in a village near Mount Hope. By then, the fighting in the war had slowed down, and an inability among the disparate Native American tribes to collaborate in a united war effort had proven that a final Native American victory would be difficult. It was when Church and his men attacked Metacom's position that the war would see its end. Pulling the trigger of his rifle, a Praying Indian named John Alderman under Church's command shot and killed Metacom, Chief of the Wampanoag.

Metacom's War Metacom's Death Study SmarterArt depicting the death of Metacom at the hands of John Alderman and Benjamin Church. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Some Native Americans continued to fight after Metacom's death, but the resistance was largely unorganized. Metacom's War was nothing short of devastating. Hundreds of English colonists lost their lives. Thousands of homes had been burned, and entire settlements destroyed. Trade plummeted, bringing the colonial economy to a grinding halt.

An estimated 10% of the Native population in Southern New England was directly killed during the war, with another 15% of the total population dying from spreading diseases. With other Native Americans fleeing the territory or captured into slavery, the native population was all but wiped out in the region.

Metacom's War Significance

Philip’s war had admirably prepared the colonies for this result. They had suffered, but they had also triumphed; and the triumph was of that sure nature which leaves for the victor no future apprehensions of his foe. That foe was extinct; he had left the wilderness, and the hunting-ground, and the stream from whose waters he had often drawn his daily food. . .

-From "History of King Philip's War", by Daniel Strock.

The aftermath of Metacom's War opened the door for further European colonization in the New England region of North America. Although stifled immediately after the end of the costly war, the colonists would continue to expand westward, unimpeded, until they came into conflict with more Native American tribes. In many ways, Metacom's War signified a story that would often repeat itself throughout the future American Indian Wars: disparate Native Americans failing to resist the expansion of dominant colonial powers.

Metacom's War - Key takeaways

  • Metacom's War was a late 17th-century conflict between Native Americans under Metacom (also known as King Philip) and English colonists in New England.
  • Metacom's War began when three Wampanoag tribesmen, suspected of murdering a Christian Native American, were tried and executed in an English court of law, outside of the hands of their leader Metacom. Tensions existed beforehand, caused by Native American resistance to colonial expansionism.
  • Metacom's War was an extremely bloody engagement, leaving many casualties and economic ruin on both sides. Colonists hated, distrusted, and were terrified of Native Americans during and well after the war.
  • The war ended when Metacom was shot and killed by a Christian Native American in August 1676. The Native American defeat opened the door for greater colonial expansion in the New England region.

Frequently Asked Questions about Metacom's War

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Metacom's War began when three Wampanoag tribesmen, suspected of murdering a Christian Native American, were tried and executed in an English court of law, outside of the hands of their leader Metacom. Tensions existed beforehand, caused by Native American resistance to colonial expansionism. 

At the cost of many lives, homes, and villages, the English colonists won Metacom's War. The Native American population was devastated, and those who survived moved out of New England, opening the region for greater colonial expansion. 

Metacom's War devastated the Native American population in New England and created a reputation for Native Americans as savages among the English colonists. The colonial economy struggled for a time, but it eventually recovered. 

Metacom's War opened New England to greater colonial expansion. The war signified a story that would repeat itself throughout the future American Indian Wars: disparate Native Americans failing to resist the expansion of dominant colonial powers. 

Final Metacom's War Quiz

Question

In what century and continent did King Philip's War take place? 

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Answer

17th century, North America 

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Question

What was the term used for Native Americans converted to Christianity? 

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Answer

Praying Indians 

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Question

What was the nature of existence between English colonists and Native Americans before Metacom's War? 

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Answer

Uneasy co-reliance; the two parties relied on each other economically and often found themselves culturally influencing one another. But tensions were always beneath these collaborations. 

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Question

What was the underlying motive for the Native Americans in Metacom's War? 

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Answer

A fear of continued colonial expansion; they wanted to keep their land. 

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Question

Why did John Sassamon travel to Plymouth in 1675? 

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Answer

To warn the governor of Metacom's intentions to initiate a war with the colonists. 

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Question

Name a major battle in Metacom's War. 

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Answer

Battle of Bloody Creek OR Great Swamp Fight

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Question

Why were many Praying Indians relocated to Deer Island during Metacom's War? 

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Answer

To separate them from the English colonists. The English colonists distrusted Native Americans, even those who were Christian. 

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Question

What can be considered ironic about the beginning and end of Metacom's War? 

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Answer

It began over the killing of a Praying Indian, and it ended when a Praying Indian named John Alderman killed Metacom. 

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Question

What percent of the Native American population in Southern New England was directly killed in the fighting during Metacom's War? 

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Answer

10%

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Question

What was the significance of the results of Metacom's War? 

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Answer

The Native American defeat opened the door for further European colonization in the New England region of North America 

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