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Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King…

Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War (1958)

by Douglas Edward Leach

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902205,311 (3.21)2
This classic account of King Philip's War, first published in 1958,offers a bird's-eye view of the conflict, from the Wampanoagsachem's rise to his ultimate defeat. The battles, massacres,stratagems, and logistics of this war are all detailed, with theleaders of both sides figuring prominently in this tale ofbloodshed, privation, and woe. The author weighs all the factorscontributing to the Native Americans' defeat and surveys theeffects of the war on the lives of both Indians and colonists inthe years to come. With insight, balance, and compassion, Leachportrays the tragedy of the war and points toward the future of thenascent American republic.… (more)



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Unlike The Name of War, Flintlock & Tomahawk is an actual history of King Philip’s War; I should have read it first but you have to take pot luck with what you can pick up in used book stores. As mentioned, The Name of War only peripherally discusses the military history of the war and by reading it first it’s as if I had read a book about civilian attitudes in WWII Russia and Germany without knowing anything about Kursk or Stalingrad.

Comparing the two treatments is fascinating. Flintlock & Tomahawk was written in 1958, at a time when treatment of Native Americans in history was considerably less politically correct than today. I expect author Douglas Edward Leach would have been considered a liberal at the time, yet his natives are “redskins” and “savages”. Conversely, from Lepore’s The Name of War you get the impression that New Englanders of the time were faceless religious fanatics rather than frightened people who didn’t understand the natives any more than the natives understood them.

Both Lepore and Leach make the point that the natives were not “Indians” but Wampanoag, Pocasset, Mattapoiset, Sokonesset, Narragansett, Niantic, Quinebaug, Pequot, Mohegan, Wabaquasset, Nipmuck, and Pennacook. Leach notes that even these groups were tenuous, with each village considering itself more or less independent. Leach further notes – a point Lepore glosses over – that the colonists were also divided; “Plymouth” (roughly Cape Cod and adjacent counties, with the border roughly a line drawn from the coast just south of Boston to the head of Narragansett Bay) and “Massachusetts” (the rest of modern Massachusetts plus Maine and New Hampshire) were separate colonies and tended to be suspicious of each other and of Connecticut; and all three disliked Rhode Island (to the extent that a Massachusetts poet wrote versus praising God’s justice when the natives burned Providence). Although the other New England colonies agreed, grudgingly, that there was such a place as Rhode Island – it had a Royal Charter, after all – they didn’t agree with each other or with Rhode Island on where the borders were. In fact, the war started on the Mount Hope peninsula over land that is currently part of Rhode Island but then was claimed by all four New England colonies. New York got into the act, taking advantage of Connecticut’s distraction to lay claim to all of Connecticut west of the Connecticut River (which included Hartford and New Haven), and showed up with armed vessels to enforce the claim. During the war, each colony accused the others of not doing their part, sometimes arbitrarily withdrawing troops in the middle of campaigns.

Since we don’t have the Wampanoag side of the story it isn’t clear exactly how the war started. Leach blames insulting treatment of Philip and other Indians, which is perfectly believable; in particular, the Wampanoag and other natives were mystified to find that they were subject to Sabbath-breaking ordinances and were not allowed to hunt, fish, plant, tend crops, travel or bear burdens on Sunday. As Lepore also mentions, the colonists in turn were perplexed to find that the natives didn’t have anything an Englishman recognized as a government; no “princes”, magistrates, or property lines. The title “King” Philip is thus ironic; Philip was a sachem, which as near as can be understood now is probably best described as “community leader”; someone who’s opinion and judgment was respected but not a “king” in any sense of the word and only one of many village sachems among the Wampanoag. The English, however, tended to treat Philip as if he had much more power than he actually did, blaming him for every misdemeanor by a Wampanoag; he was therefore repeatedly hauled into court and fined for things completely outside his control.

The initial conflict in the war, in 1675, was a murder trial over the death of a “praying” (i.e. Christian convert) Indian who had warned authorities in Plymouth that Philip was planning war. The Indian, John Sassamon, was found drowned in a pond; a witness (also a native) claimed that he had seen three other Indians attack and kill Sassamon and dump him in the pond. The Indians were convicted and hanged; the rope broke on the third and he volunteered that he and the others had killed Sassamon on orders from Philip (the uncharitable New Englanders hanged him again, this time more effectively). A few extra troops were sent to villages in the vicinity of Philip’s stronghold on the Mount Hope peninsula; some villagers were found murdered; the troops advanced on Mount Hope; the Indians got in canoes and fled to the mainland. This set the pattern for the first part of the war; the only people in New England with any military experience had picked it up 30 years earlier in the English Civil War. However, although Cromwellian tactics had worked well against the Royalists pike and musket units were singularly ineffective against the natives (early in the war the colonial government censured an officer who had his troops fight individually rather than in proper formations with volley fire by rank). Thus the natives had it all their own way at first; Indians would turn up at a village first thing in the morning, cut down anybody outside, fire houses and barns, and be long gone by the time the troops showed up. Survivors retreated to the coast or set up fortified blockhouses; the government didn’t help much by decreeing that anyone who abandoned a farm would have it seized and sold.

By this time there isn’t the slightest evidence that Philip actually had any control over things. He was rumored to be directing attacks or traveling among various tribes persuading trying to persuade them to join in the conflict. Dozens of villages in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Plymouth were burned (and even a few in neutral Rhode Island) and casualties among the settlers were in the 100s (total European population of the four colonies was about 17,000; the Indian population is estimated at around 20,000).

However, in 1676 the tide turned; the colonists adopted the tactics that always proved successful in Indian Wars – get friendly Indians to fight and scout on your side; adopt Indian fighting tactics; and, most importantly, attack Indian food sources. Indians in New England were not living on the fringes or frontiers of European society and the New England natives were not migratory hunter-gatherers like the Plains Indians but settled or at least semi-settled farmers. Leach’s maps of the colonies show native villages interspersed with colonial ones. Thus these villages and their farmlands presented fixed targets to colonial soldiers and now it was the Indians who were forced to retreat. Indians, of course, could live in the forests much better than Europeans could but they still were dependent on farm crops; friendly Indians could scout out isolated maize patches that the soldiers could then burn. The same thing happened when fishing season came around; colonial soldiers, by now just as practiced at moving silently through the woods as the natives, descended on Indians at fishing encampments, killed the fishers and seized their catches. More and more starving Indians began to turn themselves in. In late summer of 1676 an Indian approached Benjamin Church, who had made a name for himself by organizing his own mixed Indian-European unit, and told him where Philip was hiding; Philip was killed trying to escape from an encircled camp in a swamp.

Even though Philip hadn’t really had that much to do with the war his death essentially ended it. There were a few isolated attacks in 1677 but they were by small bands of refugee Indians trying to escape to Canada or New York. Captured Indians were executed, sold to slavery (although as Lepore mentions there wasn’t much of a market for them; some were sold in Tangier or the West Indies) or indentured (Leach mentions a lot more indenturing than Lepore does). Leach notes several medium to long term effects of the war. The New England colonies went heavily into debt paying for it, with concomitant tax increases; and the New England colonies attracted considerably more Crown attention than they had previously – Leach notes that the New England colonies didn’t return to the level of independence that they had in 1675 until 100 years later.

Well referenced, and with good maps (although the maps are all “strategic”, as there isn’t enough in the way of detailed records to portray any of the battles). Illustrations show the major colonial leaders and (purportedly) Ninigret, a Niantic – this is the only known portrait of a contemporary New England Indian. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 8, 2017 |
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