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King Philips War

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American History

19 October 2001

King Philip's War: An Exercise In Failure

In 1675, the Algonquian Indians rose up in fury against the Puritan Colonists, sparking a violent conflict that engulfed all of Southern New England. From this conflict ensued the most merciless and blood stricken war in American history, tearing flesh from the Puritan doctrine, revealing deep down the bright and incisive fact that anger and violence brings man to a Godless level when faced with the threat of pain and total destruction. In the summer of 1676, as the violence dispersed and a clearing between the hatred and torment was visible, thousands were dead.(Lepore xxi) Indian and English men, women, and children, along with many of the young villages of New England were no more; casualties of a conflict that was both devastating to the lives and the landscape of New England, as well as the ideologies of both the Indians and the English Puritans that inhabited this land.(Lepore 18)

King Philip's war was not the basic Indian war that plagues American history. It was not the first archetypal Settler vs. Savage conflict, and nor would it be the last. King Philip's war was a terribly violent and destructive conflict, which was sparked by the desires of maintaining cultural identity and preserving power and authority, both in societal and religious capacities upon what one believed to be his land. (Leach 21) Saying that this conflict left all of 17th century New England in a state of confusion is far more than an understatement. With nothing won, and terrific loss, the early Americans, both English and Indian, were unsure of their own, as well as each other's identity. This crisis, whether they are aware of it or not, has impacted Americans and their ideologies of themselves for hundreds of years. (Lepore 18)

The Puritans came to this New World roughly forty to fifty years before this conflict began, but the guarantee of this conflict arrived in the same boats as they did. Something often misunderstood is that the Puritans themselves were not separatists, in fact they left England with the firm desire of staying English, maintaining their cultural identity, and remaining faithful and true to the majesty of the homeland. They had left England with the desire of religious freedom, and with hope of having somewhere to practice freely and safely within the boundaries of English oriented society, but free of the sinful and heretical practices that were known to exist within it. (Andrews 64) This is in direct contradiction with the ways of the natives.

Concurrently, as the Puritans intended on maintaining their way of life within the New World, a key goal of theirs was to avoid bringing great harm to the natives they would encounter. The English had witnessed the abuse of natives during the Spanish conquests and the harsh religious demands placed among non-Catholics in the Spanish Inquisition. The torture and destruction of the native of life had been incredibly embarrassing upon the Spanish people, and in all obviousness, phenomenally painful and paralyzing to the natives themselves. These "Spanish Cruelties" were not only in great opposition to the Puritan beliefs, but as one knows, the last thing the Puritans wished to do would be to embarrass the great mother country of England.

The Indians had an identity all their own, and were in many ways reluctant to open up to the English settlers, fearing the effects of their highly controversial way of life. Regardless, despite the devastating bouts with foreign disease that accompanied the settlers, and issues regarding the land the colonists claimed in the name of the king, the Indians were still relatively accepting and hospitable to the setting Puritans. (Drake 3) They traded openly, worked together in establishing villages, and notoriously, the Indians aided the Puritans in teaching them the ways of the land, and in guiding them through the difficult New England winters. Over several years, the two cultures began to mesh, and the bits and pieces adapted by the opposing cultures, began to cause trouble among the hierarchies of these two societies. (Lepore 12)

As previously stated, the English Puritans placed significant importance on the ideal of maintaining their Englishness, but it was proved very difficult. Historically, this difficulty is very vivid, as the Pilgrims had left Holland, a European developed nation, because they believed it was affecting their culture and customs.(Lepore 17) If such a task proved so challenging in the Netherlands, one could only imagine how difficult the struggle to maintain such an identity would be in the New World. Within time, the Puritans began to lose focus not only on their Englishness, but on their faith as well. Morals became somewhat lax in comparison to what was expected. Increase Mather, a Puritan Minister of the time predicted trouble in his sermons. In a sermon entitled, The Day of Trouble Is Near, written in 1674, a year before the violent conflict began he stated, "there is...great decay as to the power of godliness among us" and warned, "ye shall hear of wars, and rumours of wars."(Mather 2)

The common Indian man viewed the advanced goods that were brought by the colonists to be articles of great advantage and tools that aided their daily life, but in all entirety, these goods causes difficulties. Indians became dependent upon the rifle for hunting, and they became reliable upon the English stores and storehouses to provide other goods, such as basic food items and textiles.(Drake 17) This dependence was slowly but surely stripping the Indians of their individuality as they became more English. This process of identity loss gained momentum very rapidly. Indians began converting to Christianity, moving out of Algonquian villages, and as a result, this common ground was expanding, leading the Puritans to believe they had the power to become the dominating political and religious force in New England.(Drake 25)

The Puritans began to push Christianity and English forms of government upon the natives.(Leach 47) The Indians leaders were completely uninterested in the societal goals of the English, but the people of the tribes, excited by the grandeur of Christianity and the English way of life were intrigues. Algonquian leaders were greatly angered by the effect such goals were having on the Indian people. As the English gained power, the sachem (a king-like title among the Algonquian people) lost power, and as the Christian Church gained power, the medicine men, or powwaws, would lose their grip on the Algonquian spirituality. (Lepore 28) This angered Metacomet, sachem of the Algonquains, (also known as King Philip), to organize a party devoted to a forceful

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