The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity
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Winner of the the 1998 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award of the Phi Beta Kappa Society
King Philip's War, the excruciating racial war--colonists against Indians--that erupted in New England in 1675, was, in proportion to population, the bloodiest in American history. Some even argued that the massacres and outrages on both sides were too horrific to "deserve the name of a war."
It all began when Philip (called Metacom by his own people), the leader of the Wampanoag Indians, led attacks against English towns in the colony of Plymouth. The war spread quickly, pitting a loose confederation of southeastern Algonquians against a coalition of English colonists. While it raged, colonial armies pursued enemy Indians through the swamps and woods of New England, and Indians attacked English farms and towns from Narragansett Bay to the Connecticut River Valley. Both sides, in fact, had pursued the war seemingly without restraint, killing women and children, torturing captives, and mutilating the dead. The fighting ended after Philip was shot, quartered, and beheaded in August 1676.
The war's brutality compelled the colonists to defend themselves against accusations that they had become savages. But Jill Lepore makes clear that it was after the war--and because of it--that the boundaries between cultures, hitherto blurred, turned into rigid ones. King Philip's War became one of the most written-about wars in our history, and Lepore argues that the words strengthened and hardened feelings that, in turn, strengthened and hardened the enmity between Indians and Anglos. She shows how, as late as the nineteenth century, memories of the war were instrumental in justifying Indian removals--and how in our own century that same war has inspired Indian attempts to preserve "Indianness" as fiercely as the early settlers once struggled to preserve their Englishness.
Telling the story of what may have been the bitterest of American conflicts, and its reverberations over the centuries, Lepore has enabled us to see how the ways in which we remember past events are as important in their effect on our history as were the events themselves.
From the Hardcover edition.
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1958; reprint, East Orleans, Mass.: Parnassus Imprints, 1992), 151. Gookin’s account was not published until 1836, when it was uncovered by antiquarians (Frederick William Gookin, Daniel Gookin, 1612-1687 [Chicago: privately printed, 1912], 161). On the failure of Gookin’s narrative to be printed see Canup, Out of the Wilderness, 185-86. 97Gookin, “Historical Account,” 431. 98Tompson, in Hubbard, Narrative, 1:24. 99On employing a hermeneutics of suspicion see
Benjamin Tompson’s question about the “silence of Harvardine quills”: most colonists kept quiet out of deference to the official record. Merchant John Hull demurred on these grounds, too, omitting almost all mention of the war in his diary for 1675-76 and leaving instead only a cross-reference: “See the history of the war, printed 1676.” In his own diary, John Eliot also had declined to write about the war, knowing that it was “comited to othrs.” Like Simon Bradstreet, Eliot had special cause to
the devastation around them. As Mary Pray wrote, “we … know not what to do; but our eyes are upward.”10 Everywhere the English found God writing his judgment onto New England’s landscape or onto English bodies. He had made New England into “a looking glasse” whose ravages reflected the colonists’ own spiritual corruption. He had filled the colonists’ “cup of sorrow,” He had made his hand “heavie upon the land.” He had taken away the churches of those who were unfaithful, the houses of those who
wrote, “Philip the Sachem of the Wampanogs, lying about Mount-hope, having done some Acts of Hostility against Plimouth Colony by murdering men, burning Houses and killing Cattel: the said Colony was necessitated to warr with him in their own defence.”50 Massachusetts and Connecticut had joined the fight only to aid Plymouth and, when the Narragansetts and Nipmucks allied with Philip, they, too, were fought on defensive grounds. Yet, while Wheeler and others explained that the English had fought
Like all returning Indians, Printer was required to demonstrate his loyalty to the English. Some submitting Indians began by “crying out against King Philip, and other ill Counsellors, as the Causes of their Misfortunes,” and Printer himself had lain the foundation for a possible reconciliation with the English when he wrote in April, “I am sorrow that I have don much wrong to you.”100 It was deeds and not words, however, that the English required. As Thomas Whalley reported, “those that come