The Native Americans of King Philip’s War
A group of Native Americans of central Massachusetts. Took part in King Philip War, 1675-76; few survived.
The Nipmuc were from the Central plateau of Massachusetts extending south into northern Rhode Island and northeast Connecticut.
Nipmuc Indians are the original people of central New England and are among the Eastern Woodlands or Algonquian Indians of the Eastern United States. All southern New England Indians spoke languages related to the Eastern Algonquian family. Speakers of one eastern Algonquian dialect could generally converse in the one spoken by their neighbors. The native language of the Nipmuc people was a dialect of the Massachusetts .
The word Nipmuc translates into English as Fresh Water People. The Nipmuc generally lived along rivers or on the shores of small lakes and seem to have occupied the area for as far back as can be told. Nipmucs did not live along the coastline of southern New England , but rather set up their villages along interior rivers, lakes and large swamps. Overland travel and communication were more difficult between areas removed from the coast or off the main waterways, but interior groups were not faced with the fierce territorial competition of coastal Tribes. Among the highly organized Tribes like the Pequot, Mohegan, Niantic, Narragansett, and Wampanoag, there was strict defense of traditional shell fishing beds and other coastal resources due to European contact . It is not surprising that the Nipmuc and other interior groups would develop a unique social and political relationship, different from coastal groups. It is likely that the Nipmuc were organized into a loose confederation or alliance of related villages. Villages or bands probably acted politically as a unit, making major decisions as a tribal unit when faced with situations on a regional scale, but these villages were predominantly independent in their daily lives and subsistence activities.
Nipmuc people lived in a dome-shamed lodge called a wetu, called wigwam by other Algonquian speaking peoples. A wetu is constructed from a frame of criss-crossing saplings bent in a u-shape, which is then covered with woven cattail mats or sheets of pealed hardwood bark, leaving a smoke hold at the top. A wetu was complete with low sleeping platforms and was big enough for an extended family to live in. Nipmucs were never exclusively nomadic hunters. Even their ancestors arranged themselves on the landscape according to a very deliberate and calculated seasonal schedule. It requires an intimate knowledge of the regional environment to know exactly when and where to move to the most abundant resources. Although large game animals were a very important food resource to Nipmucs and their ancestors in Connecticut , they were also gatherers and fishermen. In addition to the meat procured from deer and other large animals, the Nipmucs relied equally on small game and perhaps more heavily on plant and fish resources. By the time Europeans invaded, the Nipmucs were living in semi-permanent villages ( at least for a season) and were planting fundamental maize, beans, squash, etc.
The social organization of life among the Eastern Woodland Indians included the band. Bands were comprised of the people occupying a particular area who took a name and shared common interest. A tribe consisted of several bands and was a cultural as well as a political unit. Often, tribes also contained clans, whose members might include people from other communities or tribes. This was not a sophisticated system of government. Few villages were fortified, so what little warfare there was had to have been low-level. Their leaders were chiefs or sachems – positions that were often inherited. Often problems were settled at lengthy councils.
The English during the early years were careful to acquire native lands by formal purchase. The Lancaster Purchase (1643); the Tantiusque Deed (1644); and the Eliot and Brookfield Purchases (1655) steadily eroded the Nipmuc land base, but unregulated settlement (squatters) took even more. The colonists took the best farm lands in the river valleys leaving the Nipmuc – who depended heavily on agriculture – with serious problems feeding themselves.
In 1675, most of the Nipmuc joined King Philip and other hostile Indians in a war against the colonists. At the close of the war, they fled to Canada or to the Mohican and other tribes on the Hudson River .
Today there is no single organized Nipmuc Tribe. There are however, several Nipmuc groups (such as the Hassanamisco (Grafton) and Chaubunagungamaug (Webster) Bands in Massachusetts and the Wabaquasset which have survived the centuries and remain active in the Native American community.
A group of Algonkians on the Merrimac River, New Hampshire. Suffered at the hands of encroaching English colonists, and were involved in King Philips War, 1675-76. Remnants withdrew to Canada, where they merged with the St. Francis Abenaki.
A small confederacy of western Massachusetts and adjacent Connecticut and Vermont. They joined the hostilities in the King Philip War and at the close fled to Canada or joined other remnant New England groups and disappeared.
Wampanoag, Nauset, Sakonnet, Pokanoket
A group of tribes occupying Rhode Island and the south-eastern portion of Massachusetts and adjacent islands. Massasoit, their chief, allowed the settlement of English colonists. His son, Metacomet or King Philip, led a general revolt of New England tribes, 1675-1676. A few survive today in a mixed condition at their settlements at Mashpee and Gay Head. The Wampanoag spoke an eastern Algonkian language. The word Wampanoag translates to “people of the dawn” in the coastal Algonkian dialect. Their homeland lies in present day southeastern Massachusetts.
The word Narraganset comes from an Algonkian word meaning “at the small or narrow point”. Traditional Narragansett homelands include present-day Rhode Island and parts of southern Massachusetts. Culturally and linguistically, they are eastern Algonkian Indians. They occupied the greater part of Rhode Island. They helped Roger Williams lay the foundations of that state, and remained on friendly terms with the whites until the King Philip War, when they joined the hostiles and lost over 1,000 killed at the Great Swamp fight near Kingston. A few mixed with the Eastern Niantic and remain today in their old domain mixed with other races.
A group usually divided into an eastern branch of Rhode Island closely associated with the Narraganset, and a western branch of Connecticut who were allies of the Pequot.
A Warrior of the ‘King Philip War’ period armed with a typical ball-headed club and a trade matchlock musket,shell necklace and wampum headband.
Source: American Woodland Indians (Men-at-Arms Series #228) and the Atlas of the North American Indian, by Carl Waldman
The Quaboag Native Americans
The Quaboag Indians were of the Algonquin linguistic family, one of the most widespread of Indian linguistic stocks. In historical times, tribes speaking these languages extended from the Atlantic coast to the Continental Divide. The local tribe was one of three (Quaboag, Nashaway and Nipmuc), which together were generally spoken of as the Nipnets or Fresh Water Indians. The total number of individuals in these three tribes in 1675 was about 3,000. Geographically, they were located between the River Indians (Connecticut River Tribes on the west, and the Coastal Tribes (Massachusetts, Cape Cod Indians, etc.,) on the east. They paid allegiance to Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoags, friend to the Pilgrims, and Grand Sachem of all Southern New England tribes.
The inter-tribal organization seems to have been a very indefinite one, and each of the tribes was pretty much of an entity in itself. This was well illustrated in the dealings which occurred subsequently between the natives and the white exploiters. Most recorded real estate and other transactions were made between sachems and individuals of the tribes directly with the purchasers, without reference to any higher Indian authority. This was noted when the details of the purchase of the land which was to become Quaboag Plantation was presented. The Quaboag tribe territorial holdings were roughly the area now making up the towns of New Braintree, Barre Plains, the Brookfields, Warren, Brimfield and parts of Sturbridge. The area afforded all the prime requisites of a stable Indian economy. These requisites were good planting fields for corn and other vegetables at Ashquoash (Brimfield), and Wekabaug (West Brookfield) an abundance of fish in the Quaboag River and its tributaries, an easy access to the Great Falls of the Connecticut River (Holyoke) by way of the Nipmuck Path, and excellent cover for deer and other game in the local forests, assuring an abundant supply of meat. In addition, the readily defensible areas at Ashquoash and Menameset on the southern and northern extremities respectively of the territory, further increased the value of their domain in time of war. The permanent villages, each with a ruling sachem, were spread out over the entire territory, in locations most favorable for the raising of wigwams, availability of a good water supply and convenience to the planting fields and other work areas. If there was one main village of the Quaboags, it was probably Wekabaug on the plain at the southerly end of Lake Wickaboag. Communication between these villages and other parts of the Indian domain was a very important factor in the day-to-day existence of the natives, and was provided primarily by the paths, well worn into the landscape by the passage of many moccasin shod feet. (Later these same paths were to become the traffic arteries of the white man).
Source: “Quaboag Plantation Alias Brookefeild” by Louis E. Roy, M. D., 1965, West Brookfield, MA., The Heffernan Press, Inc., Worcester, Massachusetts.
The English & Nipmuc Interpreters
Wheeler’s Surprise and the ensuing Siege of Brookfield was a battle between Nipmuc Indians under Muttawmp and the English of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under the command of Capt. Thomas Wheeler and Capt. Edward Hutchinson in August of 1675, during King Philip’s War. The battle consisted of an initial ambush by the Nipmuc on Wheeler’s unsuspecting party, followed by the siege on Brookfield.
Here was a settlement, planted among the Indian villages, confident of its security because of its decade of peaceful and amicable coexistence with its native neighbors. If the Quaboags had bellicose intentions, the Planters at Brookfield seemed not to have been aware of them. Pynchon’s Planters seemed to have placed much reliance on their previous good relationships with the local Indians in reassuring themselves they were secure from aggression. Little did they realize that Muttawmp, cosigner of the deed of purchase at Quaboag, had now achieved a position of eminence in the war cabinet of the Nipmucs. This Sachem was to be the leader of the forces responsible for the destruction of Quaboag Plantation.
Since the attack on Swansea, in Plymouth Colony on June 24, 1675, which had signaled the beginning of the war, the authorities of Massachusetts Bay Colony had been very much concerned with determining the temper of the Indian tribes within their jurisdiction. Several emissaries had been sent to meet with the Nipmucs and Quaboags. These parleys had been more or less successful, but by the end of July it had become increasingly apparent that the Quaboags were becoming more belligerent. In order to impress the restless Indians, the Government of the Colony ordered Capt. Edward Hutchinson to proceed to the Nipmuc country and demand compliance of the natives with the dictates of the Governor. Capt. Hutchinson was assigned an escort consisting of Capt. Thomas Wheeler and his mounted troop of about twenty men, Ephraim Curtis the noted scout, and three friendly Indians to serve as interpreters. And so it was, that this military party arrived at Quaboag Plantation on Sunday, August 1, 1675.
The fact of the Sabbath does not seem to have deterred the military leaders from their purpose, since they immediately dispatched Ephraim Curtis and several other men to meet with the Indians to arrange a parley.
Source: Quaboag Plantation Alias Brookefeild, by Dr. Louis B. Roy
Ephraim Curtis was an important personage in the negotiations at this time and on the subsequent events. He was the son of Henry of Sudbury, about 33 years old, a notable scout and hunter, well versed in Indian ways and intimately acquainted with many of these tribes. He was also a trader and had a house at Quinsigamond (Worcester). Curtis was employed by the Council to go into the Indian country around Quaboag and find out all he could about their present condition and designs. Three Christian Indians from Natick volunteered to go with him. The Indians around Quaboag were in an ugly temper, and it was with much trouble that he finally prevailed upon them to listen to his message. The Indians in his company had also pleaded earnestly for him. At last he gained speech with the Sachems and found that Muttawmp, the Sachem of Quaboag, was the leader. Curtis judged that there were about 200 warriors at this place.
Capt. Edward Hutchinson 1613 – 1675, was the eldest son of the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, William Hutchinson and the dissident minister Anne Hutchinson. He came to this country from England with his uncle Edward Hutchinson in September of 1633, a year before his parents arrived. He was made a Captain of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1657. He owned a large farm in the Nipmuc country and had employed several of the Indians as workers in tilling it. He was popular with the Indians, experienced in military matters, trusted by the colony, and had several times been sent to treat with different tribes. On July 28th he marched with Capt. Wheeler from Cambridge to the Nipmuc Country. He arrived on August 1st and dispatched Ephraim Curtis and several other men to meet with the Indians to arrange a parley. On August 2nd he was wounded at the ambush. Hutchinson died in Marlborough on August 19, 1675, due to complications from the wounds received at the ambush in New Braintree and was buried there the next day.
Capt. Thomas Wheeler 1620 – 1686, was a colonial soldier of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and a writer. He emigrated from England to the North American colonies in 1642. In the 1650′s Wheeler was a trader. In 1657, he purchased the right to trade with the Native American tribes for twenty five pounds. Around 1661, he was one of the first people to purchase land in the Ockocangansett plantation, which later became the town of Middleboro, MA. He was made a Lieutenant on October 12, 1669 and a Captain in 1671. At the Ambush his horse was shot out from under him and he was seriously wounded. His son, Thomas Wheeler, Jr., was also wounded but managed to go back to the site and save his father. Capt. Wheeler died in 1686 in Concord, due to complications from the wounds received at the ambush in New Braintree.
There is little doubt that in the retreat the surviving members of the company were saved by the sagacity and fidelity of the two Indian guides, Sampson and Joseph Robin, sons of “Old Robin” Petuhanit, a faithful Christian Indian. These two led them around by a way they knew that was unknown to any of the English, for all of the Brookfield men had been killed. Capt. Wheeler was fully aware of the good service of these guides, and yet here gives them no credit for this, nor for their urgent warning against entering the swamp. George Memecho from Natick was the third Indian guide with Capts. Wheeler and Hutchinson at Brookfield. He was captured at the ambush and kept prisoner for some time, but he escaped and gave information on the condition of affairs among the hostile Indians.
Capt. Wheeler, finding himself by reason of his wounds unable to conduct the defense of the Garrison, appointed to that office Lt. Simon Davis of Concord, James Richardson and John Fiske of Chelmsford. Simon Davis encouraged the soldiers within the house to fire upon the Indians and to those who adventured out, to put out the fire which began to rage and kindle upon the side of the house.
Of those who were engaged in this affair, the following received credit for military service under Capt. Thomas Wheeler:
Two Indians Guides: Sampson and Joseph Robin
Troopers: Benjamin Graves of Concord, Lt. Simon Davis of Concord, John Buttrick of Concord, Simeon Hayward/Howard and George Hayward/Howard of Concord, John Hartwell of Concord, John Kitteridge of Billerica, George Farley of Billerica, James Paddison/Patterson of Billerica, John Bates, John Fiske of Chelmsford, and James Richardson of Chelmsford
Killed: Zechariah Phillips of Boston, Timothy Farlow of Billerica, and Edward Coleburn of Chelmsford, Samuel Smedley of Concord, Sydach Hopgood/Hapgood of Sudbury, killed at the ambuscade; Henry Young of Concord, killed at the garrison. From Brookfield: Sergeant Ayers, Sergeant Prichard, and Corporal Coy.
Wounded: Captain Thomas Wheeler and Thomas Wheeler, Jr., his son, of Concord, Corporal John French of Billerica, John Waldoe of Chelmsford and Captain Hutchinson, who died of his wounds.
Source: Soldiers in King Philips War, George Madison Bodge, p. 119-122.
The Dictionary of American-Indian Place and Proper Names in New England, by Robert Alexander Douglas Lithgow, p.339). Petuhanit, “Old Robin” a Nipmuck – “a good man.” (Gookin).
Sampson and Joseph Robin were brothers, sons of “Old Robin” Petuhansit, a faithful Christian Indian, who had been Ruler at Hassanamisco. They were friendly with the settlers. In 1674, Sampson was a teacher at Wabaquasset, Joseph was a teacher at Chaubunagungamaug. They had been under Mr. Eliot’s instruction and were intimately acquainted with the Indian country and tribes. The entire force under Capt. Wheeler would have been destroyed but for the fidelity and skill of Joseph and Sampson in conducting the retreat and avoiding the ambush set by the enemy. Although this was known and vouched for by the officers, the popular feeling was so bitter, that these two were threatened and insulted by the soldiers, so in utter discouragement they turned to Hassanamesit for shelter and protection. Sampson was slain in a fight by some friendly Indian scouts at Wachusett. Joseph, having been captured in Plymouth Colony, was sold into slavery at Jamaica by some Boston merchants. He was brought back again by Mr. Eliot though never released. (Gookin’s History of the Praying Indians)
George Memecho, a Christian Indian of Natick, and a man of some education, good general information and tried courage, who was true to the English, and was employed in important embassies; was taken prisoner by Muttawmp’s men, and confined at one of the Menameset towns on the Ware River, but found means to escape, and says Gookin, “came home afterwards and brought good intelligence”. He was present when Philip came to Menameset, and was able to give authentic details as to his condition and his following.
Source for the 3 scouts: History of North Brookfield, Massachusetts by Josiah H. Temple, p. 89
Relief came in the form of an aged cavalry officer, Simon Willard, who was to march that day from Lancaster to Groton. Upon receipt of the distress message from Brookfield, he promptly turned his force of 46 soldiers and 5 Indians under Capt. James Parker of Groton, towards Brookfield.
Of all the names that stand upon the pages of New England history, none are more honored than that of Major Simon Willard. He was born in Horsmonden, Kent, England, baptized April 7, 1605 and died at the age of 71 in Charlestown on April 24, 1676. He was the son of Richard and Margery. Between the years 1630 and 1669, he married 3 times and raised 17 children. One of his children was the Puritan divine, Reverend Samuel Willard, a Colonial clergyman who was the minister at Boston’s Third Church and acting president of Harvard College. Another of Simon Willard’s descendants was the celebrated U. S. clock maker Simon Willard.
Simon Willard arrived in Boston in May, 1634, and settled soon after at Cambridge. He was an enterprising merchant and dealt extensively in furs with the various Indian tribes. He helped settle the town of Concord. In 1637, he was commissioned as the Lieutenant-Commandant of the first military company in Concord. It is said upon respectable authority that he had held the rank of Captain before leaving England and was referred to as Captain Simon Willard, a Kentish Soldier. At the first election in December 1636, he was chosen the Town of Concord’s representative to the General Court. In 1641, he was appointed superintendent of the company formed in the colony for promoting trade in furs with the Indians and thereafter held many other positions of trust, either by the election of freeman or the appointment of the Court. In 1653 he was chosen Sergeant-Major, the highest military officer of Middlesex County. In October, 1654, Major Willard was appointed commander-in-chief of the military expedition against Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics. For many years he was a celebrated surveyor and in 1652 was appointed on the commission sent to establish the northern bounds of Massachusetts at the head of the Merrimac River. When the Town of Lancaster was settled in 1658, the selectmen of Lancaster wrote him an invitation to come and settle among them, offering a generous share in their lands as inducement. This invitation he accepted, sold his large estate in Concord, and removed to Lancaster in 1659. In 1671, he acquired a large farm in Groton and moved to Groton.
At the opening of “Philip’s War,” Major Willard, as chief military officer of Middlesex County, was in a station of great responsibility and was very active in the organization of the colonial forces. His first actual participation in that war was in the defense of Brookfield. We must admire this grand old man of seventy, mounting to the saddle at the call of the Court, and riding forth at the head of a frontier force for the protection of their towns. On August 4, 1675, he met with Capt. Parker and his company of forty-six men and after receiving the message of the distressed garrison in Brookfield promptly hastened to their relief, which he accomplished.
James Parker 1617 – 1700, was Captain of the military company in Groton during King Philip’s War. He was one of the original proprietors of Groton where he held many town positions through the years. On August 4, 1675, Major Willard marched from Lancaster and met up with Capt. Parker’s Company of 46 men to look after some Indians to the west of Lancaster and Groton. Having five friendly Indians along as scouts, they received the message of the distressed garrison at Brookfield, promptly they hastened to their relief….(Bodge 120). Bodge provides a list of men credited with service between 7 August 1675 and January 1676, which he believes is the list of Parker’s company who marched with Major Willard to the relief of Brookfield on August 4th. He states, “I judge that Capt. Parker, with some sixteen or more of these men, returned to Groton before August 16th, as on that date Capt. Mosely had sent twelve men to Groton to help secure the Town against the threat of Indians.
Source: (Soldiers in King Philips War, George Madison Bodge, 119-122).