Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip's War

Movement to Ktsitekw, the St. Lawrence River

The northward dispersal of Native people from southern New England was a long and dynamic process. The vast networks of traditional trails and waterways, coupled with the sheer size of the territory into which people were moving, meant that no one pattern or path of movement became fixed or exclusive. This being said, some paths and destinations were particularly important in shaping the late seventeenth century society, religion, economy and political relationships of the region’s native peoples. Contact and exchange with French colonists and missionaries in the northern reaches of Wabanaki country, and along the Saint Lawrence River, spurred new alliances and trade networks, and worked to foster multifaceted and continuously adapting cultures. In the time before King Philip’s war, many Natives of southern New England had adopted many aspects of English culture, though the English hardly returned the favor. However, in New France, Euro-Native relationships were far less unidirectional. Indeed, the famous voyageur culture which developed first in New France was the product of Frenchmen’s immersion in and acceptance of Native societies.

Though King Phillip’s war certainly played a large role in the northward dispersal of Native peoples, preceding political and biological events were the first key triggers of movements to French Canada. Plagues – diseases like smallpox, brought by Europeans and exposed to Native Americans with no natural immunities – swept through New England’s Native populations throughout the early 17th century. Entire communities were devastated or altogether wiped out. Estimates are that mortality rates in some regions reached 90 or 95%. Such destructive events necessarily had substantial consequences on Native peoples’ political, economic and exchange networks. Rampant loss created vacuums in political and spiritual systems, which were filled by new leaders and families, but also by new institutions. Indeed, many Natives sought refuge with French Catholic missionaries in the areas around the Saint Lawrence. Important missions included those established at Odanak, Sillery and Sorel. In what was, to them, an essentially apocalyptic scenario, the Catholic religion, and the French people, presented a new form of spiritualism, which seemed to offer some level of protection against recent plagues. Indeed, Europeans’ general immunity to the diseases which ravaged Native communities leant a sort of legitimacy to their religion – their faith seemed to shield them from the plagues.

Of course, the degree to which Catholicism, as with many other aspects of European culture, was adopted by Native people was highly variable. While some did indeed fully convert, many instead incorporated some aspects of Catholicism into their own religions traditions. Here the Native people of New England demonstrated their cultural adaptability, forming syncretic cultures while still retaining a significant portion of their own traditions.

The alliances formed between the French and certain American Indians groups proved pivotal to the geopolitics of the colonial northeast from the mid-17th to the late 18th centuries. The French colonial government often encouraged or militarily supported raids and incursions against English settlers and towns. It is important to remember, however, that the Wabanakis and other Natives involved in these relationships were in no way be considered pawns of the French. Natives’ continued strength in the region meant they had political sovereignty; sometimes they chose to fight with the French, other times they left themselves out of conflicts, and still other times they attacked English settlements independently.

The English, for their part, remained highly suspicious of “French Indians” even in times of relative peace. A report from the New York Colonial Documents, in which an Indian named Magsipen is questioned about a band of eleven warriors he encountered, demonstrates the wariness of both the English and their Native allies towards Native peoples from the far north. The company, it seems, in spite of a supposed cessation of regional hostilities, was on its way to attack the Maqueas [Mohawks], at the behest of New France’s Canadian governor. Interestingly, at the document’s end, each of the elven members of the southward-bound company is named, and their place of origin is written. Here, in the variety of places from which these Natives hail, we see evidence of the sweeping movements taking place across the Connecticut River valley and southern New England.

Examination of Magsipen [1]

The Examination of an Indian called Magsipen, als Greypool and by the Albany people Aert, being examined saith:--

            That returning from Canada with ye Maquaes who had beene a fighting there, left said Maquaes in the lake, and went with the Schagkook Indians a hunting, being eight together in number, comeing upon a creeke called Magkaneweick, met with foure Indians, viz[t] Jethro and others, and soe went downe said creeke togeather. And were seen by Eleaven Indians that formery lived in New England, and now in Canada, who followed them all night, (as afterwards they understood of them.) Comeing to a fall, carried their Canoos into the Great River of Connecticott, and just as they were going into their Canoos, the said eleven North Indians came running out of the woods, presented their armes upon the Schagkook Indians, and called who are you; and this Examinant answered Scghagkook Indians. The North Indians further asked where are you goeing and what is your business. The Schagkook Indians replyed, wee are a hunting, what people are you, and what is your business. The North Indians said, we live in Canida, and wee are goeing to fight by the order of the Governour of [C]anida, who told us the Maquaes have done greate mishceife in Canada, therefore goe yow revenge the same, either on Christians or Indians; kill all what you cann, bring noe prisoners but their scalps, and I’le give you tenn beavers for every one of them. Then the North Indians made their guards without sleeping, challenging the one the other. The eight Shaggkooke Indians told the French Indians, wee have been in Canida with the Maquaes, and are yow come to revenge itt, why doe now you fall upon us. The North Indians answered, Derrick Wessell hath beene in Canada and brought tideings there that a cessation was made of all hostility between the two governments, and hee was but foure dayes gone from Canada when hee ham from thence. Upon which the Shaggkooke Indians replyd, how, is there a cessation, & doe you go out still, we know nothing of it.  And so talking together came to a place called Soquagkeeke [Sokwakik or Squeakeag] where some Indians live,  and to place called Dearfield, where they went to the house of one Mr. Thomas Wells, where they lodged with three of the North Indians who were become of the rest they knewe not. The Schaggkooke Indians went and told the Crhistians that there are eleaven Indians that are come from Canada, be upon your guard, we know not whether their hearts are good. The Christians answered wee are not afraid of them, wee are not concerened in the war of Canada. Mr Thomas Wells told them vurther, itt is best for yow to make all haste yow can for Schaggkooke and give your Indians notice there of the Indians departed, and acquainted their Indians therewith; as alsoe the Magistrates of Albany, who said, How can this be, for there is a cessation of all hostility. The said Examination further saith, that the names of the said eleaven North Indians are as followeth
            The Cheife is called Wampolack from Pennekooke [Penacook]
            Mananqueseek from Pennekooke
            Wallamaqueseek from Pennekooke
            Wallamaqueet from iden; lived formery in the Halfe Moone
                        [a village near Albany]
            Maquawekanapaweet from Pennekooke; and his sonne, whoe name
                        they know not.
            Tawawakaheeka a Nimenaet from Pennekooke
                        [a Nipmuc from Penacook]
            Wawanwejagtack of Quaboagh [Quaboag]
            Wawagquohaet of Quaboagh
            Tapagkamin of Nassawach [Nashaway]
            Maghtwatren of Patrantecooke [Pocumtuck]
            Quaetsietts a Wappanger of Hudson’s River: And further saith not.

[1] Edmund B. O’Callaghan, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany, NY: Weed Parsons, 1853), 3:561.

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