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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Review of "King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict" by Eric B. Schultz and Michael J. Tougias

The Battle of Bloody Brook, September 18th, 1675

In the late 1990s historians became re-interested in writing about seventeenth century New England's bloodiest conflict: King Philip's War (1675-1676). In 1999 alone the following books were published: Jill Lepore's The Name of War, James D. Drake's King Philip's War: Civil War in New England 1675-1676, and finally, the subject of this article, Schultz and Tougias' King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict

All of these books emphasized different aspects of the war. Lepore analyzed seventeenth and eighteenth century literature on King Philip's War to show that English colonizers wrote of it in a way that exonerated themselves of the violence they committed against Native Americans. Drake looked to the decades prior to the war, arguing that colonizers and Indians built a shared society that King Philip's War dismantled. 

Schultz and Tougias wrote a more granular analysis of the war itself. Part one of the book provides a chronological account of the war's individual battles, part two performs something akin to microhistory in more deeply investigating sites and battlefields important to the war (and grappling with locals' flawed understanding of the history), and part three provides some primary sources used to create the book.  

Of all the histories written on King Philip's War, this one is probably the most readable to a general audience. It provides a clear summary of the war, its actors, the reasons why it occurred, and some of the consequences. 

There are some aspects of the book that are dated—the authors find it "startling" that colonizers and Indians became "consumed so quickly and completely with an intense hatred for one another" (2). In reality, the war represented more of the same from New England colonizers, who had already demonstrated through the Pequot War in the 1630s and the missionary effort that began in the 1640s that they did not care much for a future that included Indians.

The authors do a good job of discussing some the causes of the war, specifically that related to colonizers stealing Indian land through a variety of underhanded tactics (19). Colonizers fined Indians exorbitant amounts, whereby the only way to pay it off would be to part with their land. They allowed livestock to roam freely on Indian land, forcing many to vacate it and allowing colonizers to take it for themselves. They threatened violence and also weaponized alcohol to ensure Indians were inebriated before signing land treaties. Finally, colonizers made a concerted effort to shop around and find sachems willing to sell their land (these sachems had personal reasons for trying to form better relations with the English, e.g. wanting to become more powerful than other sachems or wanting to secure a place for their people).

Major battles are covered in-depth, with the authors largely drawing on contemporary sources by colonizers William Hubbard and Benjamin Church. Philip's early victories and subsequent escape into Rhode Island flustered colonizers and their Mohegan allies, who sought a swift end to the war (46). Bloody Brook, a battle that occurred in south Deerfield Massachusetts on September 18th 1675, entailed a successful ambush executed by Nipmuc Indian Muttawmp on a colonizer convoy (51). The Great Swamp Fight of December 19th 1675 led to colonizers killing 600 Narragansetts (including women and children), which brought them into the war on the side of Philip's Wampanoags. 

A turning of the tide occurred in the early portions of 1676, where Philip failed to convince Mahican warriors in what is now upstate New York to join him against the English. Instead he was attacked by nearby Mohawk Indians. Thus, when Philip returned to New England in the spring of 1676, he was weaker than he had been previously. 

Colonizers benefitted from several Indian allies, ranging from the Mohegans to Christian Indians who were the product of New England's missionization project began in 1646. Their allegiance to the English should be seen less as capitulation and more as an act of resistance—by assisting the English they hoped to eke out a better position for themselves after the war. Unfortunately, we know that the English treated all Indians poorly after the war, regardless of whether they had been allies or not. 

The war essentially ended with Philip's death, a result of an ambush led by Benjamin Church on August 12th 1676. A more official ending came two years later with the Treaty of Casco signed on April 12 1678 between the English Crown and Abenaki Indians in Maine (73). 

The end of the war was brutal for New England's Indian population. English colonizers sold many into slavery in the Caribbean, where they languished and likely died working on sugar plantations, if not on the journey there (128). Others they executed on the Boston Common (109). Indians who tried to surrender to English forces, such as the Nemasket Indian Tispaquin, which translates to "the Black Sachem," were instead shot and killed by colonial authorities (112).  

Overall, King Philip's War is perhaps the best historical overview of the topic that I have found. There are books that do a better job of framing the war within a new historical argument, or which do a better job of explaining the leadup and aftermath of the war, but none which go as far into the minutia of the war itself. In that sense in reminds me of books covering the Civil War, such as Battle Cry of Freedom, which isn't known for the nuance of its arguments as it is for the breadth and depth of information it covers. 

Certainly, the book is limited by its use of history as a framework. History, as a field, often misunderstands or misinterprets Indian intentions, motivations, and actions. It also tends to take the view that King Philip's War was somehow an anomaly in Indian relations with settler-colonizers, rather than the norm. For books that take into account more recent research coming out of Native American Studies, I suggest Lisa Brooks' Our Beloved Kin or Christine DeLucia's Memory Lands, both of which came out in the last couple years and do a better job of accounting for Indian perspectives. 

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