Metacomet, also known as King Philip or Metacom, a war leader of the Wampanoag tribe, was the second son of Chief Massasoit and thought to have been born in Sowans, Rhode Island about 1639. He grew up to marry a woman named Wootonekanuske and were living at Mount Hope, Rhode Island, when the English settlers came to the area. Upon his father’s death in 1661 and that of his elder brother Wamsutta (Alexander) the following year, in 1662, he became chief of the Wampanoag Confederacy. As he was growing up, Metacom witnessed the mounting colonial injustices against his people and the ravaging effects of the white settlers’ diseases. He soon found it increasingly difficult to keep the pledge of peace, primarily because of the ever-widening sale of Indian land to the English.
Believing that his people had been wronged by the English, particularly by those of Plymouth colony in Massachusetts, and foreseeing that he and his people were to be driven step-by-step westward into narrower and more restricted quarters, he began to plot a great campaign of extermination. Metacomet used his tribal alliances to coordinate efforts to try to push European colonists out of New England. On June 24, 1675, Indians fell on the town of Swansea in Plymouth, beginning King Philip’s War.
As the colonists gathered their forces, the Indian alliance began to disintegrate, and food became scarce. By August 1676, many of Philip’s relatives and followers had been killed. Those who were left then returned to his ancestral home at Mount Hope. Hunted by a group of rangers led by Captain Benjamin Church, he was fatally shot by a praying Indian named John Alderman, on August 12, 1676, in the Miery Swamp near Mount Hope in Bristol, Rhode Island. He was beheaded and his head displayed on a pole for 25 years at Fort Plymouth. He was about 38 years old. Philip’s head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Fort Plymouth, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees. Alderman was given Metacomet’s right hand as a reward. After his death, his wife and nine-year-old son were captured and sold as slaves in Bermuda.
This war became one of the costliest confrontations in colonial history. It is believed that more than half of the 90 settlements in the region had been attacked and a dozen destroyed. Whole Indian villages were massacred, and tribes decimated. When it was over, members of the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Narragansett tribes were gathered and sold into slavery. Those who escaped fled from tribe to tribe as each, in turn, was destroyed.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated July 2021.
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