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



This path hones in on the context of Weetamoo’s death in August, 1676. At the time of King Philip’s War, two contemporary “historians” wrote accounts of Weetamoo’s death in their narratives: William Hubbard, minister of Ipswich, and Increase Mather, minister of Boston, who described Native people as “the heathen people… whose land the Lord God of our Fathers hath given us for a rightful possession.”[1] Mather’s History of King Philip’s War (1676) and Hubbard’s History of the Indian Wars in New England (1677) are deeply flawed. Both works naturalize and justify the ongoing occupation of Native space in New England. And, patriarchal as colonial English society was, they were particularly dismissive and misogynistic in their descriptions of Weetamoo.

Here is Mather’s “account” of how Weetamoo died:
August 6. An Indian that deserted his Fellows, informed the inhabitants of Taunton that a party of Indians who might be easily surprised, were not very far off, and promised to conduct any that had a mind to apprehend those Indians, in the right
way towards them ; whereupon about twenty Souldiers marched out of Taunton, and they took all those Indians, being in number thirty and six, only the Squaw-Sachem of Pocasset, who was next unto Philip in respect of the mischief that hath been done, and the blood that hath been shed in this Warr, escaped alone; but not long after some of Taunton finding an Indian Squaw in Metapoiset newly dead, cut off her head, and it hapned to be Weetamoo, i. e. Squaw-Sachem her head. When it was set upon a pole in Taunton, the Indians who were prisoners there, knew it presently, and made a most horrid and diabolical Lamentation, crying out that it was their Queens head. Now here it is to be observed, that God himself by his own hand, brought this enemy to destruction. For in that place, where the last year, she furnished Philip with Canooes for his men, she her self could not meet with a Canoo, but venturing over the River upon a Raft, that brake under her, so that she was drowned, just before the English found her. [2]

Mather writes Weetamoo, the “S---w-Sachem,” as a poetic victim. By placing her “in that place, where the last year, she furnished Philip with Canooes for his men,” and claiming that “she her self could not meet with a Canoo,” Mather symbolically links Weetamoo’s death to the outcome of the war itself. His emphasis on place suggests that the land itself turned against her - “that place” failed to provide her with a canoe, and the river itself drowned her. This is an especially symbolic detail, because Mattapoisett, where he claims her body was found, is Weetamoo's homeland. To Mather, who viewed this place as “land the Lord God of our Fathers hath given us,” it was a divine symbol - "God himself by his own hand" - for the land to betray its indigenous leader, allowing the “rightful” settlers to claim it.

Hubbard takes Weetamoo’s victimhood a step further. It is notable that in most ways he closely follows Mather’s account, but the changes that he does make emphasize Weetamoo’s role as a symbol:

August 6th, an Indian willing to shift for himself, fled to Taunton, offering to load any of the English that would follow him, to a party of Indians, which they might easily apprehend, which 20 persons attempted and accordingly seized the whole company, 26 in number all but the squaw Sachem herself, who intending to make an escape from the danger, attempted to get over the river, or arm of the sea near by, upon a raft or some pieces of broken wood ; but whether tired and spent with swimming or starved with cold and hunger, she was stark naked in Metapoiset, not far from the water side, which made some think she was first half drowned, and so ended her wretched life just in that place where the year before she had helped Philip to make his escape ; her head being cut off and set upon a pole in Taunton, Was known by some Indians then prisoners, which set them into a horrible lamentation.[3]

Like Mather, Hubbard, focuses on the significance of Weetamoo’s death “just in that place where the year before she had helped Philip to make his escape.” But he also claims she was found naked. Hubbard is painting a picture of a female indigenous leader naked and dead in her own homeland. Unlike Mather, who suggests the land turning against Weetamoo, Hubbard seems to use her body as a symbol of the land - nude, defeated, defenseless. His image of Weetamoo’s exposed body mirrors painted and illustrated images of the American land, naked, vulnerable, open, her fruits available for the taking.

Hubbard’s and Mather’s “histories” have long been the only known contemporary sources that specifically address Weetamoo’s death. Yet, their narratives raise more questions than they can answer. Why would Weetamoo flee, rather than staying with her warriors, if they were captured? How likely is it that Weetamoo actually would have drowned - or, to take Hubbard’s ambiguous language, “half drowned” - while crossing a river that she spent her whole life navigating? If she actually did drown while escaping, rather than in battle, how could Mather have known the details of her death - particularly the exact point at which she tried to cross the river? What exactly does half-drowned mean? And how did the colonial soldiers happen to find her body, without knowing who she was?

Given the unusual documentary silence around Weetamoo’s death, and considering the biases and actual improbability of what Hubbard and Mather describe, the question remains: what really happened to Weetamoo? This path explores that question.
[1] Mather, qtd. in Schultz, Eric B., and Michael Tougias, King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict, Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 1999, 20
[2] Mather, Increase, A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England, Boston: Printed and sold by John Foster, 1676, 71
[3] Hubbard, William, A History of the Indian Wars in New England, edited by Samuel Gardner Drake, Roxbury, MA: W.E. Woodward, 1865, 224

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