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Mapping the Emergence of War
Wampanoag and Narragansett territory, Summer 1675
A lunar eclipse marked the beginning of King Philip’s War, the moon turning from light to dark, perhaps even to blood red, on the night that Massachusetts troops rode toward Swansea and Montaup. The troops and their three Native guides, Thomas and James Quananopohit and Zachary Abrams, waited out the eclipse on the Neponset River.
This map provides a guide to locations in Wampanoag and Narragansett territories at the beginning of King Philip's War. The map reveals that the locations of key colonial sites, associated with the war, were within Native homelands, these spaces both overlapping and contested. The conflict can be viewed as both an attempt by the United Colonies of New England (Plymouth, Massachusetts and Connecticut), sometimes with the cooperation of Rhode Island, to colonize these spaces by force, and an Indigenous movement toward the reclamation of homelands. At the same time, it was experienced by all as an eruption of chaos within these contested spaces.
In late June 1675, colonial forces from Plymouth and Massachusetts converged to march toward Metacom’s stronghold of Montaup, gathering at the colonial town of Swansea, which had been built within Sowams, extending outwards into Pokanoket and Pocasset territories. Swansea’s three settlements were located on Wampanoag planting peninsulas. At the beginning of the war, Jared Bourne’s garrison became a key site in Mattapoisett, which had been the seat and central home of Weetamoo’s father, the sachem Conbitant. The first ambushes by Wampanoag warriors were in the very heart of Mattapoisett, where Weetamoo was raised. Miles' garrison, four miles to the west, was on the Palmer/Seekonk River, at the center of Ousamequin’s town of Sowams, another site of early ambushes. The third settlement had created a bottleneck at Kickemuit, near the entrance to Metacom’s remaining stronghold of Montaup. For more on the locations of these sites and others, see Schultz and Tougias's book King Philip's War.
Josiah Winslow had imagined that the Plymouth and Massachusetts troops would march into Montaup and overwhelm Metacom, capturing him and the “fruits” of his land. However, as troops gathered at Miles garrison, and pursued initial forays, Wampanoag warriors set ambushes at strategic locations above Montaup. When the combined colonial army finally reached Metacom’s town, he and his kin had already paddled across the bay and taken refuge in Pocasset. The soldiers found only “empty wigwams” and “many fields of stately corn,” which they destroyed, impacting a vital source of subsistence, cultivated by Wampanoag women. However, the ambushes had provided ample distraction, enabling Wampanoag families to travel to Pocasset without detection, avoiding even the boats sent from Rhode Island to patrol the waters around Montaup. The family ties between the two communities, and two women leaders, had not factored into Plymouth’s plans.[i]
For days afterward, as Easton wrote, the Plymouth forces were “hunting Philip from all sea shores, yet they could not tell what was become of him.” Meanwhile Wampanoag warriors and leaders struck colonial settlements, including Taunton, which was encroaching upon both Pokanoket and Assonet. The leader Tuspaquin, of Nemasket, led a raid on Middleboro while Totoson, of Apponaganset, led a raid on Dartmouth, which effectively dispersed the troops to defend the settlements, drawing them away from Pocasset.
Even as the conflict broke out in Wampanoag country, Massachusetts colony sent a delegation to to meet with Narragansett leaders at Great Pond to attempt to prevent them from joining Philip in “rising against the English.” But the Narragansett leaders responded by asking Massaachusetts “why Plymouth pursued Philip?” Further, they wanted to know “why the Massachusetts and Rhode Island” men “rose, and joined with Plymouth against Philip, and left not Philip and Plymouth to fight it out?” [ii]
Meanwhile a Plymouth company led by Benjamin Church and Matthew Fuller moved toward Sakonnet, where Peter Awashonks later testified, “we were forced to hide ourselves in swamps, and the English army came and burnt our houses.” As William Bradford, Jr. reported, when the Sakonnet families hid, the soldiers “burned” their “habitations,” then “dispa[t]c[h]ed” the “two old men” who remained.[iii] From there, Church turned toward Pocasset. Church’s "as-told-to, after-the-fact memoir," published decades later by his son, provides a romanticized account of the battles of King Philips’ War, including portraits of concentric circles of warriors descending from a hill near Nonaquaket, “their bright guns glittering in the sun.” But the documents suggest a more chaotic experience, a “hot dispute” resulting from an ambush “on Pocasset side,” during which the colonial soldiers “spent all their ammunition” and then retreated back across the bay. The “skirmish” at Pocasset neck, near settler Job Almy’s field, kept the soldiers from entering Pocasset cedar swamp, a network of wetlands below Watuppa, a refuge that held not only Weetamoo and Metacom, but the many families under their protection. (See maps above) [iv]
Easton recalled, about this time, with “Philip being flead, about a 150 Indians came in to a Plimouth Garrison volentarley. Plimouth Authority sould all for Slaves (but about six of them) to be carried out of the Country.” These included noncombatants from Apponaganset who were encouraged to surrender to the protection of their Dartmouth neighbors. But they were sent to Plymouth as captives and prisoners, and were among the first group of Native people sent into “foreign slavery” during the war.[v]
When a larger force of combined colonial troops returned to Pocasset, seeking both Weetamoo and Metacom, warriors were able to use the swamp to their advantage, ensnaring English soldiers in the environment that they feared, while families traveled north. Wampanoag leaders, including Weetamoo and Metacom, led the majority, without detection, from Pocasset swamp through the densely wooded forest to Assonet. They paddled across the Kteticut at the Assonet canoe crossing, rested briefly at Mattapoisett, then divided into smaller groups to move through northern Sowams, above Rehoboth. They then crossed the Patucket River and traveled to the wetland sanctuary of Nipsachuk, in the Narragansett country. Here, a major battle took place after Mohegan scouts (allied with Connecticut forces) discerned Wampanoag movements at Seekonk and, after colonial soldiers captured a Wampanoag man, led combined colonial troops from all four colonies to their camps. After the battle, Metacom and Weetamoo’s paths diverged. Metacom and the families traveling with him headed north toward Quaboag, where the Nipmuc leaders, who had already made reclamation raids in their homeland, were gathered in council. Weetamoo headed south, with her relations, where she would call on her alliance and kinship with Narragansetts.
The Narragansett leadership did not turn over Weetamoo and her kin to colonial authorities, despite repeated requests from the United Colonies. Her capture was a significant motivation for the infamous Great Swamp Massacre of December 1675, a military expedition led by Plymouth governor Josiah Winslow. During her stay at Narragansett, over the course of the fall and early winter of 1675, Weetamoo forged a marriage alliance with Quinnapin, a Narragansett sachem. Escaping Great Swamp, Weetamoo, Quinnapin, and her small child traveled, with many other families, to the Nipmuc sanctuary of Menimesit.
Learn about Menimesit in The Printer's Revolt Path. Or continue to follow Weetamoo's path by tracking the trail of her captive, Mary Rowlandson, in The Captives Lament Path. Or learn more about the context of the dispossession of Pocasset through the Unbinding the Ends of War Path.[i] Bowen, Early Rehoboth, 64, 55. Church, History, ed. Drake, 35. Josiah Winslow to “Weetamoo, and Ben her husband, Sachems of Pocasset,” June 15, 1675, Winslow Family Papers II, item 89, Massachusetts Historical Society. Josiah Winslow to James Cudworth, July 6, 1675, Winslow Family Papers, Item 92, Massachusetts Historical Society. Anderson, Creatures, 234. Leach, Flintlock, 40, 55–6.[ii] Bowen, Early Rehoboth, 53-4. Eric Schultz and Michael Tougias, King Philips War: History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict (Woodstock, VT: The Countryman Press, 2000), 41. Leach, Flintlock , 41.[iii] Easton, “Relacion,” ed. Lincoln, 12. Ellis and Morris, Easton's Relation, 18n20. Bradford, Letter to Cotton, 15. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Indian Deeds: Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691 (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008), 486.[iv] James Cudworth to Josiah Winslow, July 9, 1675, Winslow Family Papers II, Item 93, Massachusetts Historical Society. Church, History, ed. Drake, 39-47. Dexter, History, 30-4. Schultz and Tougias, King Philip’s War, 238-41. Malone, Skulking, 21, 90. Jill Lepore, “Plymouth Rocked: Of Pilgrims, Puritans and Professors,” New Yorker, April 24, 2006.[v] Ellis and Morris, Easton's Relation, 21. Nathaniel Saltonstall, The Present State of New England With Respect to the Indian War (London: Dorman Newman, 1675), 5-6. Plymouth Colony Records 5:173-4. Church, History, ed. Drake, 50-53. Church, History, Dexter, ed., 45-6. Margaret Ellen Newell, Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015), 142.