King Philip - John S. C. Abbott

The Indians Victorious

The Massachusetts government now employed two friendly Indians to act as spies. With consummate cunning they mingled with the hostile Indians, and made a faithful report to their employers of all the anticipated movements respecting which they could obtain any information.

Eleven days after the destruction of Lancaster, on the 21st of February, the Indians made an attack upon Medfield. This was a very bold measure. The town was but seventeen miles from Boston. Several garrison houses had been erected, in which all the inhabitants could take refuge in case of alarm. Two hundred soldiers were stationed in the town, and sentinels kept a very careful watch. On the Sabbath, as the people were returning from public worship, one or two Indians were seen on the neighboring hills, which led the people to suspect that an assault was contemplated. The night was moonless, starless, and of Egyptian darkness. The Indians, perfectly acquainted with the location of every building and every inch of the ground, crept noiselessly, three hundred in number, each to his appointed post. They spread themselves over all parts of the town, skulking behind every fence, and rock, and tree. They concealed themselves in orchards, sheds, and barns. King Philip himself was with them, guiding, with amazing skill and energy, all the measures for the attack. Not a voice, or a footfall, or the rustling of a twig was heard, as the savages stood in immovable and breathless silence, waiting the signal for the onset. The torch was ready to be lighted; the musket loaded and primed; the knife and tomahawk sharp and gleaming.

At the earliest dawn of day one shrill war-whoop was heard, clear and piercing. It drew forth the instant response of three hundred voices in unearthly yells. Men, women, and children sprang from their beds in a frenzy of terror, and, rushing in their night-clothes from their homes, endeavored to reach the garrison houses. But the leaping savage was everywhere with his torch, and soon the blaze of fifty houses and barns shed its lurid light over the dark morning. Fortunately, many of the inhabitants were in the garrisons. Of those who were not, but few escaped. The bullet and the tomahawk speedily did their work, and but a few moments elapsed ere fifty men, women, and children were weltering in blood. Though they promptly laid one half of the town in ashes, the garrison houses were too strong for them to take. During the progress of this awful tragedy King Philip was seen mounted on a splendid black horse, leaping the fences, inspiriting his warriors, and exulting in the havoc he was accomplishing.

At length the soldiers, who were scattered in different parts of the town, began gradually to combine their strength, and the savages, learning that re-enforcements were also approaching from Sudbury, were compelled to retire. They retreated across a bridge in the southwest part of the town, in the direction of Medway, keeping up a resolute firing upon their foes who pursued them. Having passed the stream, they set fire to the bridge to cut off pursuit. In exultation over their victory, Philip wrote, probably by the hand of some Christian Indian, the following letter to his enemies, which he attached to one of the charred and smoldering posts of the bridge.

"Know by this paper that the Indians that thou hast provoked to wrath and anger will war this twenty-one years, if you will. There are many Indians yet. We come three hundred at this time. You must consider the Indians lose nothing but their life. You must lose your fair houses and cattle."

The Indians now wandered about in comparatively small bands, making attacks whenever they, thought that there was any chance of success, and marking their path with flames and blood. Without a moment's warning, and with hideous yells, they would dash from the forest upon the lonely settlements, and as suddenly retreat before the least effectual show of resistance. Weymouth, within eleven miles of Boston, was assailed, and several houses and barns burnt. They ventured even into the town of Plymouth, setting fire to a house and killing eleven persons.

On the 13th of March, the Indians, in a strong party four hundred in number, made an attack upon Groton. The inhabitants, alarmed by the fate of Lancaster, had retreated into five garrison houses. Four of these houses were within musket-shot of each other, but one was more than a mile distant from the rest. The savages very adroitly formed, in the night, two ambuscades, one before and one behind the four united garrisons. Early in the morning they sent a small party of Indians to show themselves upon a bill as a decoy. The inhabitants, supposing that the Indians, unaware of their preparations for resistance, had come in small numbers, very imprudently left two of the garrisons and pursued them. The Indians retreated with precipitation. The English eagerly pursued, when suddenly the party in ambush rose and poured a deadly fire upon them. In the mean time, the other party in ambush in rear of the garrison rushed to the palisades to cut off the retreat of the English. Covered, however, by the guns of the two other garrisons, they succeeded in regaining shelter. A similar attempt was made to destroy the solitary garrison, but it was alike unsuccessful. The Indians, however, had the whole town except the garrisons to themselves. They burned to the ground forty dwelling-houses, the church, and all the barns and out-houses. The cattle were fortunately saved, being enclosed within palisades under the protection of the garrisons.

A notorious Nipmuck chief, Monoco, called by the English One-eyed John, led this expedition. While the church was in flames, Monoco shouted to the men in the garrison, assailing them with every variety of Indian vituperative abuse. He had been so much with the English that he understood their language very well.

What will you do for a place to pray in," said he, "now that we have burned your meeting-house? We will burn Chelmsford, Concord, Watertown, Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Boston. I have four hundred and eighty warriors with me; we will show you what we will do."

But a few months after this Monoco was taken prisoner, led through the streets of Boston with a rope round his neck, and hanged at the town's end.

On the 17th of March, Warwick, in Rhode Island, was almost entirely destroyed. The next day another band of Indians attacked Northampton, on the Connecticut. But by this time most of the towns had fortified themselves with palisades and garrison houses. The Indians, after a fierce conflict, were repelled from Northampton with a loss of eleven men, while the English lost but three.

On the Sabbath of the 26th of March, as the people of Marlborough were assembled at public worship, the alarming cry was shouted in at the door, "The Indians! the Indians!" An indescribable scene of confusion instantly ensued, as the whole congregation rushed out to seek shelter in their garrison. The terror and confusion were awfully increased by a volley of bullets, which the Indians, as they came rushing like demons over the plain, poured in upon the flying congregation. Fortunately, the savages were at such a distance that none were wounded excepting one man, who was carrying an aged and infirm woman. His arm was broken by a ball. All, however, succeeded in gaining the garrison house, which was near at hand. The meeting-house and most of the dwelling-houses were burned. The orchards were cut down, and all other ruin perpetrated which Savage ingenuity could devise.

The Indians, exultant with success, encamp that night in the woods not far from Marlborough, and kept the forest awake with the uproar of their barbarian wassail. The colonists immediately assembled a small band of brave men, fell upon them by surprise in the midst of their carousals, shot forty and dispersed the rest.

On the same day in which Marlborough was destroyed, a very disastrous defeat befell a party of soldiers belonging to the old Plymouth colony. Nanuntenoo, son of the renowned Miantunnomah, was now the head chief of the Narragansets. He was fired with a terrible spirit of revenge against the English, and could not forget the swamp fight in which so many of his bravest warriors had perished, and where hundreds of his women and children had been cut to pieces and burned to ashes in their wigwams. He himself had taken a large share in this fierce fight, and with difficulty escaped. This chieftain, a man of great intrepidity and sagacity, had gathered a force of nearly two thousand Indians upon the banks of the Pawtucket River, within the limits of the present town of Seekonk. They were preparing for an overwhelming attack upon the town of Plymouth.

The colonists, by no means aware of the formidableness of the force assembled, dispatched Captain Pierce from Scituate with seventy men, fifty of whom were English and twenty Indians, to break up the encampment of the savages. Nanuntenoo, informed of their movements, prepared with great strategic skill to meet them. He concealed a large portion of his force in ambush on the western side of the river; another body of warriors he secreted in the forest on the eastern banks. As Captain Pierce approached the stream, a small party of Indians, as a decoy, showed themselves on the western side, and immediately retreated, as if surprised and alarmed. The colonists eagerly crossed the stream and pursued them.

The stratagem of the wily savage was thus perfectly successful. The colonists had advanced but a few rods from the banks, near Pawtucket Falls, when the Indians, several hundreds in number, rose from their ambush and rushed like an avalanche upon them. With bravery almost unparalleled in Indian warfare, they sought no cover, but rushed upon their foes in the open field face to face. They knew that the colonists were now drawn into a trap from which there was no possible escape. As soon as the battle commenced, the Indians who were in the rear, on the eastern bank of the narrow stream, sprang up from their ambush, and, crowding the shore, cut off all hope of retreat, and commenced a heavy fire upon their foe. Utter defeat was now certain. The only choice was between instantaneous death by the bullet or death by lingering torture. Captain Pierce was a valiant man, and instantly adopted his heroic resolve. He formed his men in a circle, back to back, and with a few words inspired them with his own determination to sell his life as dearly as possible. Thus they continued the fight until nearly every one of the colonial party was slain. But one white man escaped, and he through the singular sagacity of one of the friendly Indians.

Captain Pierce soon fell, having his thigh bone shattered by a bullet. A noble Indian by the name of Amos would not desert him; he stood firmly by his side, loading and firing, while his comrades fell thickly around him. When nearly all his friends had fallen, and the survivors were mingled with their foes in the smoke and confusion of the fight, he observed that all the hostile Indians had painted their faces black. Wetting some gunpowder, he smeared his own face so as to resemble the adverse party; then, giving the hint to an Englishman, he pretended to pursue him with an uplifted tomahawk. The Englishman threw down his gun and fled, but a few steps in advance of his pursuer. The Narragansets, seeing that the Indian could not fail to overtake and dispatch the unarmed fugitive, did not interfere. Thus they entered the forest, and both escaped.

A friendly Indian, pursued by one of Nanuntenoo's men, took shelter behind the roots of a fallen tree. The Indian who had pursued him waited, with his gun cocked and primed, for the fugitive to start again from his retreat, knowing that he would not dare to remain there long, when hundreds of Indians were almost surrounding him. The roots of the tree, newly-turned up, contained a large quantity of adhering earth, which entirely covered the fugitive from view. Cautiously he bored a small hole through the earth, took deliberate aim at his pursuer, shot him down, and then escaped.

Another of the Indian allies, in his flight, took refuge behind a large rock. This was a perfect shelter for a moment, but certain death awaited him in the end. His pursuer, with loaded musket, sure of his victim, quietly waited to see him start again. In this deplorable condition the beleaguered Indian thought of the following shrewd expedient. Putting his cap upon his gun, he raised it very gradually above the rock, as if he were endeavoring to peep over to discover the situation of his enemy. The sharp-eyed Narraganset instantly leveled his gun and sent a bullet through the cap, and, as he supposed, through the head of his foe. The fugitive sprang from his covert, and, advancing toward his unarmed enemy, shot him dead. Thus was escape effected. With the exception of one Englishman and five or six friendly Indians, all the rest were cut down. The wounded were reserved for the horrible doom of torture.

The Indians were exceedingly elated by this signal victory, and their shouts of exultation were loud and long-repeated. The next morning, with yells of triumph, they crossed the river, made a rush upon Seekonk, and burned seventy buildings. The next day they stormed Providence, and burned thirty houses. These devastations, however, were not accompanied with much bloodshed, as most of the inhabitants of Providence and of Seekonk had previously fled to the island of Rhode Island for protection.

The heroic Roger Williams, however, remained in Providence. He had ever been the firm friend of the Indians, and was well acquainted with the leading chiefs in this war-party. The Indians, while setting fire to the rest of the town, left his person and property unharmed.

Flushed with success, they assured him that they were confident of the entire conquest of the country, and of the utter extermination of the English. Mr. Williams reproached them with their cruelties, and told them that Massachusetts could raise ten thousand men, and that even were the Indians to destroy them all, Old England could send over an equal number every year until the Indians were conquered. Nanuntenoo proudly and generously replied,

"We shall be ready for them. But you, Mr. Williams, shall never be injured, for you are a good man, and have been kind to us."

Nanuntenoo had about fifteen hundred warriors under his command. Thinking that the English were very effectually driven from the region of Seekonk, he very imprudently took but thirty men and went to that vicinity,, hoping to obtain some seed-corn to plant the fields upon the Connecticut from which the English had been expelled. But the English, alarmed by the ravages which the Indians were committing in this region, sent a force consisting of forty-seven Englishmen and eighty Indians to scour the country. Most of the Indians were Mohegans, under the command of Oneco, a son of Uncas.

As this force was approaching Seekonk they encountered two Indians with their squaws. They instantly shot the Indians and took the squaws captive. Their prisoners informed them that Nanuntenoo was in a wigwam at a short distance, with but seven Indians around him. His hut was erected at the bottom of a hill, upon the brow of which he had stationed two sentinels. These cowardly savages, when they saw the English approaching in such force, precipitately fled, without giving their chieftain any warning. The sachem, from his wigwam, saw their flight, and sent a third man to the hill-top to ascertain the cause. As soon as he arrived upon the brow of the hill he saw the glittering array of more than a hundred men almost directly upon him. Appalled by the sight, he also fled like his predecessors. Nanuntenoo, amazed by this conduct, dispatched two more to solve the mystery. These last proved more faithful to their trust. They came running back in breathless haste, shouting, "The English are upon you."

Not a moment was to be lost in deliberation. The enemy was already in sight. Nanuntenoo leaped from his wigwam, and, with the agility of a deer, bounded over the ground in a hopeless attempt to escape. Nearly the whole army, English and Indians, like hounds in fall cry, eagerly pressed the chase.

With amazing speed, the tall, athletic sachem fled along the bank of the river, seeking a place to ford the stream. In his rapid flight he threw off his blanket, his silver-laced coat, and his belt of wampum, so that nothing remained to obstruct his sinewy and finely-molded limbs. A Mohegan Indian was in advance of all the rest of the company in the pursuit. Nanuntenoo plunged into the narrow stream to cross. His foot slipped upon a stone, and he fell, immersing his gun in the water. This calamity so disheartened him that he lost all his strength. His swift-footed pursuer, Monopoide, was immediately upon him, and grasped him almost as soon as he reached the opposite shore. The naked and unarmed chief could make no resistance, and, with stoicism characteristic of his race, submitted to his fate.

Nanuntenoo was a man of majestic stature, and of bearing as lofty as if he had been trained in the most haughty of European courts. A young Englishman, but twenty-one years of age, Robert Staunton, following Monopoide, was the first one who came up to the Narraganset chime taro after his capture. Young Staunton, in the pert spirit of Young America, ventured to question the proud monarch of the Narragansets. Nanuntenoo, looking disdainfully upon his youthful face, after a short silence, said,

"You are too much of a child—you do not understand matters of war. Let your chief come; him I will answer."

He was offered life upon condition that he would submit to the English, and deliver up to them all the Wampanoags in his territory.

"Let me hear no more of this," he replied, nobly. "I will not surrender a Wampanoag, nor the paring of a Wampanoag's nail."

He was taken to Stonington, where be was sentenced to be shot. When informed of his doom, he replied, in the spirit of an old Roman,

"I like it well. I shall die before my heart is soft, or before I have said any thing unworthy of myself."

He was shot by one of the Indians who were in alliance with the English, his head was cut off by them, and his body quartered and burned. The Indians who aided the colonists were always eager for any work of blood, and considered it a great privilege to enjoy the pleasures of executioners. They often implored permission to torture their enemies, and several times the English, to their shame be it recorded, allowed them to do so. In this case, "The mighty sachem of Narraganset," writes Cotton Mather, the English wisely delivered unto their tawny auxiliaries for them to cut off his head, that so the alienation between them and the wretches in hostility against us might become incurable."

His head, a ghastly trophy of victory, was sent by the Mohegans to the Common Council at Hartford, in token of their love and fidelity to the English. The spirit of the times may be inferred from the following comments upon this transaction in the narrative written by Hubbard: "This was the confusion of that damned wretch that had often opened his mouth to blaspheme the name of the living God and those that made profession thereof."

We cannot take leave of Nanuntenoo without a tribute of respect to his heroic and noble character. "His refusal," writes Francis Baylies, "to betray the Wampanoags who had sought his protection is another evidence of his lofty and generous spirit, and his whole conduct after his capture was such that surely, at this period, we may be allowed to lament the unhappy fate of this noble Indian without incurring any imputation for want of patriotism."

The inhabitants of New London, Norwich, and Stonington, being in great peril in consequence of their near vicinity to the enemy, raised several parties of volunteers and ranged the country. They succeeded in these expeditions in killing two hundred and thirty-nine of the enemy without incurring the loss of a single man. As most of the inhabitants of the towns had found it necessary to take refuge in garrison houses, prowling bands of Indians experienced but little difficulty in setting fire to the abandoned dwellings and barns, and the sky was every night illumined with conflagrations.

On the ninth of April a small party made an attack upon Bridgewater. They plundered several houses, and were commencing the conflagration, when the inhabitants sallied forth and put them to flight. It is said that Philip had given orders that the town of Taunton should be spared until all the other towns in the colony were destroyed. A family by the name of Leonard resided in Taunton, where they had erected the first forge which was established in the English colonies. Philip, though his usual residence was at Mount Hope, had a favorite summer resort at a place called Fowling Pond, then within the limits of Taunton, but now included in the town of Raynham. In these excursions he had become acquainted with the Leonards. They had treated him and his followers with uniform kindness, repairing their guns, and supplying them with such tools as the Indians highly prized. Philip had become exceedingly attached to this family, and in gratitude, at the commencement of the war, had given the strictest orders that the Indians should never injure a Leonard. Apprehending that in a general assault upon the town his friends the Leonards might be exposed to danger, he spread the shield of his generous protection over the whole place. This act certainly develops a character of more than ordinary magnanimity.

King Philip's War


On the 18th of April an immense band of savages, five hundred in number, made an impetuous assault upon Sudbury. The inhabitants, warned of their approach, had abandoned their homes and taken refuge in their garrisons. The savages set fire to several of the dwellings, and were dancing exultingly around the flames, when a small band of soldiers from Watertown came to the rescue, and the inmates of the garrison, sallying forth, joined them, and drove the Indians across the river.

Captain Wadsworth, from Boston, chanced to be in the vicinity with about seventy men. Hearing of the extreme peril of Sudbury, although he had marched all the day and all the night before, and his men were exhausted with fatigue, he instantly commenced his march for that place. Painfully toiling on through the night by the road leading from Marlborough, early on the morning of the 19th he arrived within a mile and a half of the town. Here the Indians, who by their scouts had kept themselves informed of his approach, prepared an ambush. As the English were marching along with great caution, a band of about a hundred Indians crossed their path some distance in advance of them, and fled, feigning a panic. The English pursued them impetuously about a mile into the woods, when the fugitives made a stand, and five hundred Indians sprang up from their concealment, and hurled a storm of lead into the faces of their foes.

The English, with singular intrepidity, formed themselves into a compact mass, and by unerring aim and rapid firing kept their foes at bay while, slowly retreating, they ascended an adjacent hill. Here for five hours they maintained the conflict against such fearful odds. The superior skill of the English with the musket rendered their fire much more fatal than that of their foes. Many of the savage warriors were struck down, and they bit the dust in their rage and dying agony, while but five or six of the English had been slain.

The wind was high, and a drought had rendered the leaves of the forest dry as powder. Some shrewd savage thought of the fatal expedient of setting the forest on fire to the windward of their foes. The stratagem was crowned with signal success. A wide sheet of flame, roaring and crackling like a furnace, and emitting billows of smothering smoke, rolled toward the doomed band. The fierceness of the flames, and the blinding, suffocating smoke, soon drove the English in confusion from their advantageous position. The Indians, piercing them with bullets, rushed upon them with the tomahawk, and nearly every man in the party was slain. Some accounts say that Captain Wadsworth's company was entirely cut off; others say that a few escaped to a mill, where they defended themselves until succor arrived. President Wadsworth, of Harvard College, was the son of Captain Wadsworth. He subsequently erected a modest monument over the grave of these heroes. It is probably still standing, west of Sudbury causeway, on the old road from Boston to Worcester. The inscription upon the stone is now admitted to be incorrect in many of its particulars. It is said that one hundred and twenty Indians were slain in this conflict.

King Philip's War


These successes wonderfully elated the Indians. They sent a defiant and derisive message to Plymouth:

"Have a good dinner ready for us, for we intend to dine with you on election day."

In this awful warfare, every day had its story of crime and woe. Unlike the movement of powerful armies among civilized nations, the Indians were wandering everywhere, burning houses and slaughtering families wherever an opportunity was presented. They seemed to take pleasure in wreaking their vengeance even upon the cattle. They would cut out the tongues of the poor creatures, and leave them to die in their misery. They would shut them up in hovels, set fire to the buildings, and amuse themselves in watching the writhings of the animals as they were slowly roasted in the flames. Nearly all the men who were taken captive they tortured to death. "And that the reader may understand," says Cotton Mather, "what it is to be taken by such devils incarnate, I shall here inform him. They stripped these unhappy prisoners, and caused them to run the gauntlet, and whipped them after a cruel and bloody manner. They then threw hot ashes upon them, and, cutting off collops of their flesh, they put fire into their wounds, and so, with exquisite, leisurely, horrible torments, roasted them out of the world."

On the 20th of April a band of fifty Indians made an attack upon Scituate, and, though the inhabitants speedily rallied and assailed them with great bravery, they succeeded in plundering and burning nineteen houses and barns. They proceeded along the road, avoiding the block-houses, and burning all that were unprotected. They approached one house where an aged woman, Mrs. Ewing, was alone with an infant grandchild asleep in the cradle. As she saw the savages rushing down the hill toward her dwelling, in a delirium of terror she fled to the garrison house, which was about sixty rods distant, forgetting the child. The savages rushed into the house, plundered it of a few articles, not noticing the sleeping infant, and then hastened to make an assault upon the garrison. A fierce fight ensued. In the midst of the horrid scene of smoke, uproar, and blood, Mrs. Ewing, with heroism almost unparalleled, stole from the garrison unperceived, by a circuitous path reached the house, rescued the babe, still unconsciously sleeping, and bore it in safety to the garrison. Soon after this, the savages, repelled from their assault, set fire to her house, and it was consumed to ashes. All the day long the battle and the destruction continued in different parts of the town. There were several garrisoned houses which the Indians attacked with great spirit, but in every case they met with a repulse. Many of the savages were shot, and a few of the English lost their lives.

On the 8th of May a band of three hundred Indians made a very fierce attack upon Bridgewater. The inhabitants had fortunately received warning of the contemplated assault, and had most of them repaired to their garrisoned houses. The savages, hoping to take the place by surprise, with fearful yells rushed from the forest upon the south part of the town. Disappointed in finding all the inhabitants sheltered in their fortresses, they immediately commenced setting fire to the buildings. But the inhabitants boldly sallied forth to protect their property, and the Indians, though greatly outnumbering them, fled before their determined valor. They succeeded, however, in burning some thirteen houses.

The condition of the colonists was at this time deplorable in the extreme. During the campaign thus far the Indians had been signally successful, and had effected an inconceivable amount of destruction and suffering. The sun of spring had now returned; the snow had melted, and the buds were bursting. It was time to plow the fields and scatter the seed; but universal consternation and despair prevailed. Every day brought its report of horror. Prowling bands of savages were everywhere. No one could go into the field or step from his own door without danger of being shot by some Indian lying in ambush. It was an hour of gloom into which scarcely one ray of hope could penetrate.