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 prove that.
|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 after.
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 1675.
· 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 son.
· 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 ancestor.
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 possibility:
"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 thereunto...:”
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 Above:
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, 1896
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 Conflict, 2000