In honor of Veterans’ Day, I’m
writing about my ancestors who served in King Philip’s War. I have such mixed
emotions about their service, as I empathize with the Native Americans. I believe both sides included many brave men who were fighting
for what they believed in and required the support and sacrifice of many women
as well. But both sides also commited unthinkable atrocities during the war,
particulary killing innocent women and children and selling people into slavery.
I’m by no means an expert on the war but do enjoy learning about it. I believe I
also have Native American ancestry from the 17th century but cannot
|Depiction of King Philip/Metacom|
King Philip was the name given
to Metacom (or Metacomet), son of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoags. Massasoit
had lived peacefully with the Plymouth settlers, although tensions existed.
After his death, his son Wamsutta was chief/sachem and after his death Metacom
ascended to power.
|Massasoit Statue, Plymouth|
As more settlers arrived in New
England, they continually encroached on the land occupied by the Native
Americans, the very people who had helped the Pilgrims learn to survive in their
new land. One major issue was cattle trampling Native’s corn fields.
The colonists also brought with
them many diseases that decimated some Native American tribes. Metacom felt his
brother’s death was suspicious—in an attempt to gain control the Plymouth court
summosed Wamsutta by gunpoint. He was released, but he sickened and died soon
Metacom also grew
increasingly angry at the Colonists’ refusal to stop buying land from the
Natives. It was common for white settlers to ply Native Americans with alcohol
to get them to sign (using a symbol) land deeds or to give them items of
comparatively low value in exchange for land. Many Native Americans sold land to
fund their increasing dependency on English goods.
The tipping point for Metacom
was the execution of three Native Americans for the 1674 murder of
Harvard-educated Indian John Sassamon who was a liaison between the two groups.
His body was found in a pond near Middleborough. Many Native Americans did not
want their own people tried in English courts. My ancestors Robert Wixon and
Jonathan Bangs were members of the jury, which also included Natives.
King Philip’s War lasted from
1675-76. It started in Swansea and spread from there to include much of New
England. It effectively ended with the death at Mount Hope of
Metacom/Philip in August 1676 at the hands of a Wampanoag soldier. Mount Hope is in present day Bristol, RI. Not all
Native Americans sided with Metacom—some fought with the Colonists and others
remained neutral. Many of the neutral Natives were interned in inhumane
conditions. Many other Natives were sold abroad as slaves (including Philip’s
wife and children) or forced to become servants.
|Stone marking the spot where King Philip fell at Mt. Hope|
|King Philip's Seat, where King Philip held meetings, Mt. Hope |
It was one of the bloodiest
wars to occur on what is now U.S. soil. Nearly half of New England’s 90 towns
were assaulted by native warriors; twelve towns were completely destroyed and
one in eleven families were left homeless. Large numbers of people on both sides
were killed, including 600-800 of the colony’s military (one in eleven men) and
many women and children. For each colonist killed, three or more Indians died—in
battles but also from starvation, exposure and disease.
When comparing total
populations, the death rate was nearly twice that of the Civil War and more than
seven times that of World War II. The colony’s economy lay in ruins as it was a
very expensive war to fund—it exceeded the value of all the personal property in
New England. Some 1,200 homes were burned, 8,000 head of cattle lost and stores
of food destroy. Many white settlers were captured and taken to Canada where
they were sold or ransomed.
|Depiction of the attack on Sudbury|
Some of the ancestors in my
direct line who served in King Philip’s War:
· William 2 Nickerson b. 1646, born Yarmouth, of Chatham,
son of William and Anne (Busby). He served on the fourth expedition with Capt.
Pierce and also under the command of Capt. Henry Gold.
· John Chase, b. 1649, Yarmouth, son of William 2 and
husband of Elizabeth Baker who was a Quaker. Served on the first expedition in
· Despite their pacificistic Quaker religion, it seems
that at least some of Elizabeth Baker Chases’s brothers (Daniel, William, Thomas
and Samuel Baker and possibly others) all served in the war. They were the sons
of Francis 1 and Isabel (Twining) Baker of Yarmouth. I descend from Daniel
andWilliam. It seems that Quakers during this time had to reconcile their
religious beliefs with the need to defend their towns and families.
· Isaac Pierce, born abt 1641, probably in Duxbury, of
Middleborough, son of Abraham 1 and Alice (___) Pierce/Peirce,
· Luke Perkins, son Abraham, b. about 1640, in Hampton
(now New Hampshire), son of Abraham 1 and Mary (____) Perkins. He served in
Capt. Thomas Prentice's Company, listed on a treasurer's report dated 24 April
1676, under the command of Lt. Edward Oakes. Luke was of Charlestown.
· Jonathan Bangs b. 1640, probably in Eastham, son of
Edward 1 and Rebecca (___) Bangs. He was a Captain.
· Thomas Howes b. abt. 1634, of Yarmouth, son of Thomas 1
and Mary (?Burr) Howes. In 1675 Captain Thomas Howes led nine men from Yarmouth
on the third expedition; he led 21 men in fifth expedition. On third expedition
Captain Thomas Howes took the place of their fallen leader Capt. Gorham* for
which he was paid 6 pounds.
· Samuel Howes, son Joseph 2 Howes, b. ca 1653, Yarmouth,
served as Corporal in 1675 and in Capt. Nathaniel Davenport’s company in 1676.
He was later called a Captain.
· Daniel Cole b. abt 1615 in England, of Eastham. Bodge
wrote that Daniel Cole's heir (son-in-law Jonathan Grew -- maybe a mistake for
Jonathan Bangs), claimed land in 1733 at Gorham Maine, that was given to Daniel
for his service in King Philip's War. This is the only source I’ve seen giving
Daniel as serving in the war and I wonder if he was confused with his
· Daniel’s son, Timothy Cole, b. 1646, Eastham, did
serve. In 1675 he served under Capt. John Gorham and fought in the
Narragansett Expedition. After the war he was granted land at
Narragansett Township (Gorham, Maine). Timothy, or his
descendants, was granted lot 41, about 30 acres.
· John 2 Davis b. 1623, of Haverhill and later of Oyster
River (now Durham, NH), son of James and Cicely (?Thayer). Was an Ensign and
later a Captain. Served in later Indian/Colonial wars as well. He built a
garrison house in Oyster River. His wife, Jane (Peasley), and other members of
his family were killed by Indians during King William’s War.
· John Freeman, b. ca 1627, Eastham, son of Edmund 1 and
Bennet (Hodsoll). Was a Major and granted land at Gorham, Maine.
· Benjamin 1 Nye, b. 1620, England, of Sandwich. Benjamin
was in Capt. Michael Peirse's Company. On 25 Feb 1676, Indians attacked
Weymouth. On 12 March 1676, they attacked Plymouth and destroyed Clark's
garrison house and plundered the area. Plymouth Colony ordered a company of men
to be impressed on 8 Feb 1675/76, under Peirse's command. On 25 March, there was
a skirmish with Indians at Seekonk. Despite warnings from Indian allies, Peirse
continued on and the company was ambushed. All were killed, including Benjamin
Nye of Sandwich.
· Jonathan Sparrow, Capt, b. abt 1629, Eastham, son of
Richard 1 and Pandora (____) Sparrow. He served as an Ensign in the war and
later was a Captain in the French Indian War.
· Paul Sears, b. about 1637 in Marblehead, son of Richard
1 and Dorothy (Jones) Sears. Captain in the Yarmouth militia; made claim for
horse lost in the Narragansett War (i.e. King Philip’s War), although there are
no records of his service.
*John Gorham is my
10th great granduncle.
I would imagine there is even
more as men were required to be members of the local Militia and it is sometimes
difficult to know with more common names whether the person who served is my
An example of what one of the
soldiers, Luke Perkins, may have experienced:
The Middlesex Troop was
commanded by Capt. Thomas Prentice, who was born in England about 1620 and lived
at Cambridge. He was appointed captain 24 June 1675 of a special Troop and went
out with Capt. Henchman. They arrived at Swansey, at Miles' garrison, and were
fired upon by Indians. Mr. Church was also with them.** Several were wounded, so
they withdrew. Next day they were fortified by Capt. Mosely's volunteers, and
they charged across a bridge and drove the Indians from the "Neck." On June 30
they rode to Rehoboth. The next day the troop was divided, with one division
serving under Lt Edward Oakes. It seems both troops rode back by the same route.
Prentice's men came upon Indians burning a house, but could not get at them,
because of a delay caused by having to tear down fences that were in the way,
giving the Indians time to retreat to a swamp. Lt Oakes' forces discovered them
and chased them over a plain, killing two of Philip's top men and losing one of
their own men. Capt Prentice's men spent the next few days searching the swamps,
but then went with the army to Narraganset. After they returned to Swansey and
learned that Philip was hiding in Pocasset Swamp, the main body of Massachusetts
troops was sent to Boston. Capt. Prentice and his troop were ordered to scout
towards Mendon, where the Indians had lately made an assault upon the people,
killing several. The troops met Capt. Johnson's company at Mendon. On 3 Dec
1675, Capt. Prentice was appointed to command a troop of horse in the
Narraganset campaign, seeing much action, including battle at Bull's garrison
and scouting raids.
** Captain Benjamin Church, who
was a prominent figure in the war, was my first cousin 10 x removed. He was
friendly with many Indians, so he understood them well and recruited some to
fight with him. They helped the English learn to fight the way the Indians did,
a form of guerilla warfare. He was injured in the Great Swamp Fight and it was
one of his Indian allies that killed Philip.
Thomas Howes’ will that he
prepared before going to war shows how the soldiers knew dying was a distinct
"To all Christian people to
whom these presents shall come Thomas Howes of the Towne of Yarmouth in the
Collony of Plymouth in New England sendeth Greeting and further know yee that I
the said Thomas Howes being called and desired to Goe forth to warr in the
present expedition: against the Indians Called Narragansetts; and forasmuch as
such servis exposeth a person to Danger of line I doe therfore make and Declare
my last will as followeth..." He then lists his wishes, that his land be divided
between his two sons Thomas and Jonathan 'but in case the Child which my wife is
bigg withall be a sonne, then my will is that the whole of my land and housing
to be equally divided betwixt the three brothers..." To each of his children,
including Thomas, Jonathan, Rebekah, and Sarah, as well as the unborn chid, he
leaves 20 pounds. To his motherless niece who lives in their household,
Elizabeth Sparrow, whose father will accompany him on this dangerous expedition,
he leaves 15 pounds.*** He mentions his mother Prence (widow Mary Howes) who had
been married for a second time to Thomas Prence. He forgives her for a small
debt to him and asks that she "Injoy without molestation during her Naturall
life the house shee Now lives in with the orchyard belonging
Thomas went to Wickford (Rhode
Island) with six other Yarmouth men where others were stationed. They left there
and searched but did not find Indians, suffering from cold and wet conditions.
Supplies were inadequate and several of the horses were eaten to prevent
starvation. They were led by General Winslow and ended at Boston on February
5th, known as the "Hungry March." All the men returned alive although somewhat
weakened in health. Thomas Howes died of an unnamed epidemic which cut down many
of the town's young citizens, perhaps something brought home from the pursuit of
the Indians. He was buried on the 20th of November 1676, per Yarmouth records,
identified as Captain Howes.
***Elizabeth was the daughter
of Jonathan Sparrow
Sources Not Listed
George Madison Bodge,
Soldiers in King Philip's War, A Critical Accounting of That War with a
Concise History of the Indian Wars of New England from 1620-1677,
James W. Hawes, Thomas 1
Howes of Yarmouth, Mass., and Some of His Descendants, Together with the Rev.
John Mayo, Allied to Him by Marriage, Library of Cape Cod History and
Genealogy, No. 31, 1917
Various town histories,
including Swift’s History of Old Yarmouth, Nancy Thacher Reid’s history of
Dennis, Deyo’s history of Barnstable County.
Eric Schultz and Michael
Tougias, King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten