King Philip's War

1675–1678

King Philip's War was a war between the English Colonies in New England and Native American Indian Tribes.

King Philip, Metacomet, Paul Revere

This Illustration of King Philip was done by Paul Revere. Image Source: Wikipedia.

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Summary of King Philip’s War

King Philip’s War was an armed conflict between a confederation of Native American Indian tribes, led by the Wampanoag, and the New England Confederation and their Indian allies. The Indian confederation was led by Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoag, who was also called Philip. The New England Colonies were united under the New England Confederation. The primary causes of the war were a dispute over land and poor treatment the Wampanoag received from colonial authorities, who insisted on trying to force them to conform to English rules and standards. After three Wampanoag men were executed by Plymouth Colony in 1675, English settlements in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine were attacked. The New England Confederation responded by calling out militia forces and attacking Narragansett settlements in Rhode Island. The Wampanoag and Narragansett launched a counter-attack on the New England colonies and burned Providence. The New England Confederation forces retaliated and overwhelmed King Philip’s forces. King Philip was killed at his stronghold, Mount Hope, on August 12, 1676. The New England Confederation and its Indian allies won the war, but at a great cost to both sides. The Wampanoag and Narragansett were almost exterminated. English villages and towns suffered severe damage and roughly a tenth of the men who fought in the war died. King Philip’s War is also known by several other names, including the First Indian War, Metacom’s War, Metacomet’s War, Pometacomet’s Rebellion, and Metacom’s Rebellion.

Quick Facts About King Philip’s War

  1. Metacomet, who the English called Philip, became sachem — or chief — of the Wampanoag in 1662 after his brother died.
  2. In 1675, rumors spread that Philip was gathering forces to attack English settlements and the Wampanoag attacked Swansea on June 20, starting King Philip’s War.
  3. Metacom’s coalition included warriors from the Wampanoag, Nipmuck, Podunk, Narragansett, Nashaway, and Wabanaki tribes
  4. The New England Confederation declared war on September 9, 1675.
  5. Confederation forces included militia from Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, along with warriors from several tribes, including the Mohegan and Pequot.
  6. Philip’s forces attacked English settlements in the spring of 1676, including Plymouth Plantation.
  7. Both sides carried out vicious, destructive raids on villages and towns throughout the remainder of 1675 and into 1676.
  8. Philip was killed on August 12, 1676, at the Battle of Mount Hope, which essentially ended the war.
  9. Most of the fighting took place in Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island legislature blamed the New England Confederation for the devastating war.
  10. King Philip’s War led to more conflicts with the Indian tribes, most of whom allied with the French. Those conflicts are known as the French and Indian Wars.
King Philip's War, Battle of Bloody Brook
This illustration depicts the Battle of Bloody Brook. Image Source: World History Encyclopedia.

King Philip’s War History and Overview

The Pilgrims Establish Plymouth in 1620

In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers left England and sailed to the New World on board the Mayflower. When they arrived, they discovered they were blown off course during the journey and were further north than expected. It was too late in the year to sail south, so they found a place on the coast of present-day Massachusetts — an abandoned Native American Indian village — to make their settlement and Plymouth Colony was born.

Pilgrim-Wampanoag Peace Treaty

On March 16/26, 1621, an English-speaking Indian named Samoset walked into the village and introduced himself, and asked for bread and beer. Samoset explained he was sent by the leader of the Wampanoag Confederacy, Massasoit, Samoset’s visit was the beginning of a friendly relationship between Massasoit and Plymouth. On March 22/April 1, 1622, the Governor of Plymouth, John Carver, agreed to a treaty with Massasoit — the Pilgrim-Wampanoag Peace Treaty. In it, they agreed to keep peace with each other. The treaty was maintained for 40 years. Massasoit died in 1661 and was replaced by his son, Wamsutta, who was known to the English as Alexander.

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Causes of King Philip’s War

  1. English Expansion into Indian Territory — From 1620 to 1640, there was a massive influx of new immigrants from England, mostly Puritans, who fled religious persecution. It led to the establishment of new settlements and colonies in New England, including Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Haven. The English took control of much of the Connecticut River Valley after the Pequot War.
  2. Death of Alexander and Ascension of Metacomet — In 1662, Alexander died after he visited Plymouth and met with Governor John Winslow. His brother Metacomet, also known as Philip, became chief. Philip suspected Winslow poisoned his brother and was responsible for his death.
  3. Dispute Over the Establishment of Swansea — In 1667, Plymouth established a permanent settlement at Swansea. Plymouth did not own the land, and Philip disputed their claim. An agreement was reached and the English paid Philip for the land. He used the money to buy weapons for his warriors.
  4. Execution of Three Wampanoags for the Murder of John Sassamon — In 1675, a rumor spread in Plymouth Colony that the leader of the Wampanoags, Metacomet, also known as King Philip, was organizing the tribes in the region for an attack on English settlements. The source of the rumor was John Sassamon, a “Praying Indian” who had converted to Christianity and also attended and graduated from Harvard. The leaders in Plymouth had reason to believe Sassamon because he had been an advisor to King Philip. Soon after, Sassamon was found dead, presumably murdered on orders of King Philip. Three Wampanoag men were convicted of Sassamon’s murder and hanged on June 8, 1675. Although there were six Indians on the jury, the Wampanoag believed the trial and sentencing should have been left to them, not the English.
King Philip's War, Death of Alexander
This illustration by Howard Pyle depicts the death of Alexander. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Attack on Swansea —  June 20-24, 1675

From June 20 to June 24, a small group of Philip’s warriors attacked and killed settlers at Swansea, a small settlement on the western edge of Plymouth. 

During the course of the attacks, Plymouth and Massachusetts mobilized troops who prepared to march to Swansea. An advance force of around 20 horsemen, under the command of Captain Benjamin Church, was sent ahead of the main force, which was led by Major James Cudworth. 

Governor John Leverett of Massachusetts sent commissioners to meet with the Narragansett. Roger Williams joined the Massachusetts commission. Although the Narragansett agreed to peace, Williams was suspicious.

In Swansea, the settlers took refuge in two garrison houses. Soon after the troops from the New England Confederation arrived, the Indians broke off the attack. 

Confederation Troops March on Mount Hope — June 29

Reinforcements from Massachusetts arrived, and the Confederation forces grew to around 500 men. Confederation forces decided to go back to Mount Hope, where Philip’s village was, and look for him. 

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The English marched about 10 miles to Mount Hope Neck, the location of Philip’s village, Keekamuit. By the time the English arrived, Philip and his people were gone, but before they left, they put the heads of 8 murdered settlers from Swansea on poles. When the English found them, they took the heads down from the poles and buried them.

According to the account that Captain Benjamin Church wrote of the war, Philip and his warriors, their wives, and children, had made a successful retreat and taken their baggage and canoes along with them. Church believed Philip crossed Mount Hope Bay to present-day Tiverton, Rhode Island in order to form an alliance with Weetamoo, the saunkskwa of the Pocassett tribe.

Philip did not run away from the English in fear, he had outsmarted them. He changed his position, gained allies, and outflanked his enemy. The maneuver put him at the rear of the English army.

The English decided to take advantage of Philip’s evacuation and built a fort at Mount Hope Neck.

Church and Fuller Pursue Philip Into Rhode Island

Church tried to convince the leaders of the New England Confederation forces to move across Mount Hope Bay to Tiverton to pursue and kill King Philip. Captain Matthew Fuller of Plymouth agreed. 

Finally, Church and Fuller were given permission to gather men and go over to Rhode Island. Church also hoped to meet again with Awashonks and also with Weetamoo, so he could convince them not to join Philip. 

Captain Benjamin Church
Captain Benjamin Church played a key role in King Philip’s War. Image Source New York Public Library Digital Collections.

They crossed over to Rhode Island in a boat and set up an ambush for Philip and his men. However, some of the Englishmen were too noisy and they were discovered. Church and Fuller decided to split up and go in search of Philip and his warriors in different directions.

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Fuller and his party had a skirmish with the Indians, resulting in wounding two Englishmen. The attack by the Indians was so fierce the English were forced to take refuge in a deserted house. Soon after, there was a break in the fighting and they were able to return to their boat and escape.

Church and his men — 20 Englishmen total — were crossing through a pea field owned by John Almey, near Tiverton, when they were ambushed by a large force of around 300 Indians — made up of Sakonnet and Pocasset warriors.

Church and his men took refuge behind a stone fence. They held out for six hours, and started to run low on ammunition. Toward evening, one of Church’s men spotted a ship on the nearby river. Church recognized the ship was owned by Captain Roger Gaulding. They flagged the ship down, Gaulding anchored and sent a canoe to help evacuate Church’s men — two at a time. The canoe made 10 trips, and Church was the last man to leave.

Attack on Mendon, Killing of Richard Post — July 14, 1675

On July 14, 1675, the Indians attacked and destroyed the town of Mendon, Massachusetts. The destruction of the buildings was so complete that the town was abandoned until 1680. A handful of setters were killed — four or five — including Richard Post. Post is considered by some to be the first colonist killed within the borders of Massachusetts Bay during King Philip’s War.

Philip Escapes the New England Forces at the Swamp — July 18, 1765

Another New England expedition was sent out after Philip, who had taken refuge in a swamp. The English set up camp outside the swamp and intended to starve him out. However, Philip had enough provisions and waited. He had his warriors make canoes, and when they had enough, they escaped under cover of night and went to the territory of the Nipmuc Tribe. Philip wanted to make an alliance with the Nipmuc and have them join in the fight against the English.

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Wheeler’s Surprise and the Siege of Brookfield — August 2–5, 1675

Massachusetts sent Captain Edward Hutchinson to the Nipmuc village to negotiate an agreement with them. Hutchinson was accompanied by Captain Thomas Wheeler, of Concord, and 20 men on horses. The expedition arrived at Brookfield on August 1. Hutchinson and the Nipmuc agreed to meet the next morning, near a pond, just a few miles west of Brookfield. 

Wheeler’s Surprise

The next morning, Hutchinson, Wheeler, and their men were joined by John Ayers, John Coye, and Joseph Prichard, of Brookfield. They went to the designated meeting place, but the Nipmuc were not there. 

The Englishmen decided to ride toward the Nipmuc village. As they rode into a narrow passage between a steep hill and a thick swamp, they were ambushed by a large force of Nipmuc warriors — as many as 300 — under the command of the sachem Muttawmp.

John Ayers, John Coye and Joseph Prichard of Brookfield, Zachariah Philips of Boston, Timothy Failey of Billerica, Edward Colburn of Chelmsford, Samuel Smedley of Concord, and Sydrach Hapgood of Sudbury, were killed in the attack, and Captain Hutchinson was mortally wounded

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Captain Wheeler and his men escaped to Brookfield, followed by the Indians. 

Siege of Brookfield

The inhabitants of Brookfield took refuge in a building and watched as the Indians burned nearly all the barns and outhouses in the settlement. For the next two days, the Indians laid siege to the building settlers were in and tried to set it on fire.

On August 4th, New England troops, led by Major Simon Willard, arrived and the Nipmuc ended the siege of the house. Willard and his men took positions in Brookfield, and reinforcements, including Mohegan warriors, arrived. Willard’s men and the Nipmuc fought through the night, but it was a stalemate. Muttawmp decided to break off the attack and withdrew from Brookfield.

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King Philip's War, Attack on Brookfield
This illustration depicts the attack on Brookfield. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Bloody Brook — September 18, 1675

On September 18, 1675, Captain Thomas Lothrop and his company were escorting a train of teams loaded with wheat that was being conveyed from what is now Deerfield to Hadley. They came to a place called “Muddy Brook” where the road crossed a small stream. There was thick brush on both sides of the road and Indians had set an ambush with around 700 warriors. Although Lothrop sent scouts ahead to look for Indians, they saw none. 

As the English moved through, the Indians attacked. Captain Lothrop was killed, as were most of his men. Fewer than 10 survived. 

Two companies heard the fighting and went to the location. One was led by Captain Samuel Moseley of Massachusetts. The other by Major Robert Treat of Connecticut. They were joined by Pequot and Mohegan warriors, who had allied with the Confederation. They engaged Philip’s warriors and routed them.

Attacks Continue on English Settlements

After Bloody Brook, the Indians continued to attack settlements. 

  • October 5 — Springfield, Massachusetts
  • October 19 — Hatfield, Massachusetts

The Great Swamp Fight — December 19, 1675

On December 12, troops from Massachusetts and Plymouth met at North Kingston, Rhode Island. They were under the command of General Josias Winslow. While they gathered, the Indians attacked South Kingston, Rhode Island on December 16. The town was destroyed and the settlers were killed. The attack was carried out by the Narragansett who had decided to join with Philip.

Two days later, the Confederation troops were joined by Major Robert Treat and the Connecticut men. On December 18, the entire force moved into the swamp near South Kingston, where the Narragansett had their fort. Window led the expedition, and Benjamin Church was his aide. The Massachusetts troops were led by Major Samuel Appleton and the Plymouth troops were led by Major William Bradford Jr.

The Confederation troops attacked and overwhelmed the fort. Many of the inhabitants were killed. The survivors escaped through the swamp. 

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Attacks Escalate During the Winter of 1676

After the Great Swamp Fight, the Narragansett sachem, Canonchet, assembled an army of warriors and carried out attacks on English settlements in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

  • February 10 — Lancaster, Massachusetts
  • February 14 — Northampton, Massachusetts
  • February 21 — Medfield, Massachusetts
  • March 1 — Groton, Massachusetts
  • March 26 — Longmeadow, Marlborough, and Simsbury Massachusetts
  • March 28  — Rehoboth, Massachusetts

Destruction of Providence — March 29

On March 29, there were only 30 men in Providence. Roger Williams was one of them. The Narragansetts moved into the town and set fire to houses and buildings, including the home of Williams. Williams tried to convince them to stop. Although they ignored him, they did not harm him, and Providence burned to the ground.

Sudbury Fight — April 21

On the night of April 20, Indians made their way into Sudbury, Massachusetts. The next morning, they attacked. They burned houses and buildings and killed several settlers. A group of men from Concord marched to Sudbury but were ambushed and killed. Philip’s warriors withdrew after English reinforcements from Watertown arrived. The militia went after them and walked into an ambush. Many were killed and the survivors fled.

King Philip's War, Sudbury Fight
The attack on Sudbury. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Battle of Turner’s Falls — May 18

After two boys — Edward Stebbins and John Gilbert — escaped captivity from the Indians, they returned to their homes in Hatfield. They told Captain William Turner of Boston that the Indians were camped along the Connecticut River.

On the morning of the 18th, the Indians were still sleeping when Turner and his men launched a surprise attack. The Indians were overwhelmed, even though reinforcements arrived.

The troops found an English boy that had was being held captive and freed him. The boy told them that King Philip was on his way with 1,000 warriors. The Confederation troops panicked and fled. During the escape, they were attacked by Indians and many of the troops were killed, including Captain Turner.

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The Tide of War Turns in Favor of the New England Confederation

  • In early July, Benjamin Church successfully led his men against the Wampanoag in the vicinity of Plymouth. 
  • Then, on July 27, a Nipmuc sachem known, as Sagemore John, went to Boston with around 180 of his warriors and surrendered.
  • On July 31, Philip’s Uncle, Akkompoin, was killed and Philip’s sister was captured.
  • The next day, August 1, Philip’s wife, Wootonekanuse, and their son were taken prisoner.

Battle of Mount Hope and the Death of King Philip — August 12

By August, Philip had returned to Mount Hope and word reached the Confederation leaders. Benjamin Church, in his history of this war, wrote: “there was just now tidings from Mount Hope; an Indian came down from thence where Philip’s camp now is, on to Sandy Point over against Trip’s and hallooed and made signs to be brought over, and being brought he reported that he was fled from Philip who said he has killed my brother just before I came away for giving some advice that displeased him. He said he had fled for fear of meeting with the same fate his brother had met with. He told them also that Philip was then in Mount Hope Neck, upon a little spot of upland that was in the south end of the miry swamp just at the foot of the mount.”

Church and a small force went to the area and set up an ambush. However, one of Philip’s men was out scouting and stumbled across one of Church’s men. Shots were fired and Philip was alerted to the presence of the English.

Philip and his warriors were in a small shelter, which the English attacked. As Philip gathered his things and prepared to escape, he was shot and killed by an Indian named John Alderman. 

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Philip’s death essentially ended the war in the southern part of New England. Fighting continued in northern New England until 1678 and eventually led to a series of wars between the English and the French, along with their Indian allies.

King Philip's War, Death of King Philip
This illustration depicts the discovery of Philip’s body after he was shot. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Significance of the King Philip’s War

King Philip’s War was significant to the history of the United States because it devastated many tribes and opened up their lands to English expansion and settlement. The war was brutal and both sides suffered heavy casualties from the fighting and disease. Several hundred Indian prisoners were enslaved and sold in Bermuda. Many more moved away from New England and joined tribes to the north and the west. The Narragansett, Wampanoag, Podunk, and Nipmuck tribes were almost entirely wiped out, and the Mohegan tribe was significantly weakened. The war also set the stage for a series of wars known as the French and Indian Wars.

Native American Indian Conflicts in Colonial America

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Beaver Wars. A series of battles over control of the fur trade in colonial America. The conflict lasted for nearly a century and ended with the Peace of Montreal in 1701.

Lion Gardiner Fighting Pequot at Fort Saybrook, Illustration

Pequot War. It was the first war in New England between colonists and Native American Indians. The English won, nearly exterminated the Pequot, and took control of the Connecticut River Valley.

Pontiac Takes Up the War Hatchet, Illustration

Pontiac’s Rebellion. An uprising of Native American Indian tribes against British forts in the Ohio Country and Great Lakes region after the French and Indian War.

King Philip’s War for AP US History (APUSH)

King Philip’s War Definition for APUSH

King William’s War was a conflict between the Wampanoag Confederacy and the New England Confederation that took place in 1675–1678, in New England. Both sides suffered horrific losses, but several tribes were nearly wiped out and the English took further control of land in New England.

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King Philip’s War and Salutary Neglect

This video explains how King Philip’s War is connected to Salutary Neglect, England’s unwritten policy toward the colonies.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title King Philip's War
  • Coverage 1675–1678
  • Author
  • Keywords King Philip's War, Wampanoag Confederacy, New England Confederation, Metacomet, King Philip, Benjamin Church, Roger Williams
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date December 2, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 8, 2022

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