The purpose of my writing the series called ‘The Metacom Saga’ is to give a true historical account of the events that occurred during a little known and very misunderstood conflict. This was a golden age. They considered the land to be a land of primeval darkness, to reclaim from sin in the name of God. They considered this to be the “Frontier”.
This war will have many names: The Metacom War, Metacomet’s War, The First Indian War, Metacom’s Rebellion and, most is most commonly known as ‘The King Philip’s War.’ Experts have accepted this struggle per capita to be the bloodiest conflict in America’s history. This is a significant statement.
The war started and ended with Metacom (Philip). Before I can examine Philip, I must first take a step back and look to his father, the Great Sachem Massasoit, and the Pilgrims’ first encounter with the Pakanoket/Wampanoag people. This introduction is so important that the opening chapters of ‘A City On The Hill’ will set the scene of our story and plant the seeds for the reader that might explain why, after only fifty years of friendship, would Philip set New England ablaze with blood.
Massasoit, also known as Osamequin, was in desperate need. During the years of 1616-1619 disease brought by European travelers decimated his people. Thousands died, and they forced the survivors to abandon the area. Massaoit’s power of leadership had been so damaged from this disease, that the Narragansetts in the West came and conquered the Wampanoags. They forced Massasoit to pay a yearly tribute.
Massasoit unsure of what to do with these strange pale men with hair on their faces, needed to make a choice that could have great ramifications for his people; and prophetically it did. Other English have come to his territory for fish and sassafras for nearly a hundred years. All prior encounters had not ended well. These English, however, did not seem to be like the others they have encountered. They have brought their women and children. Their party is small. If he were to make these English his friends and help them survive, they will have established goodwill for when other English come. Massasoit’s gamble works. He has his ally. He achieved his promised protection from the stronger tribes, such as the Pequot and Narragansett. And he made a friend with whom he has built a relationship of goodwill and trade. There were some bumps in the beginning, and and a few along the way; yet these Pilgrims gained his trust.
Massasoit was not a pushover. He was a proud and strong leader. He knew what he what was necessary for his people’s benefit… even it meant to subject himself to embarrassment so that his people may live. He knows how to pick his battles. We don’t see Massasoit’s prowess in battle, but we see his skill at diplomacy. However, Massasoit would not have known that by making this alliance, and helping Plymouth to learn how to survive, he was planting the seed that would bring his people to ruin.
If these settlers were only religious pilgrims seeking a new home, there would be no reason for him to fear. However, to help finance the voyage, the Pilgrims signed a contract with a group of investors that would require the Pilgrims to earn their passage. The agreement required the Pilgrims to work six days a week and develop the land seek new resources that could be profitable. The partners would also require that a number the passenger list would include several of their people and their families, who would represent the investors’ interests. The Pilgrims’ had already given these outsiders a name. They called them “The Strangers”. This was no longer a religious voyage. These investors wanted “the strangers” to keep an eye on their investment speculate the greatest wealth of the New World—Land, minerals and gold!
Massasoit had five children. Wamsutta, the oldest. Metacom, the protagonist of our story. And two daughters who history only has a record of the English names that either they had taken or had been given: Amie and Sarah. For fifty-five years Massasoit remained a friend to the Pilgrims. Most of the original friendships had passed away and replaced with a new generation of leaders who were more progressive toward change and expansion. The new magistrates wanted land. But they there was an issue. They had an Indian problem.
Massasoit had outlived many of his English friends, especially Edward Winslow; with whom he was very close. Long ago, they intended the agreement to provide assurances that was fair toward both parties. Both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag found themselves in a weakened state, and they needed each other to strengthen one another. Although each culture was unique, they respected each other’s authority. By working together, they mutually became stronger. As new settlers arrived, the colonies wanted to have a legal and government system that was more like the system back home.
As the original generation of settlers and their native friends died of old age, a new generation came into power that was more progressive toward changing to the terms of the original agreements. They had established magistrate law that was very difficult for Massoit and the other tribes to understand. Few understood what was said in court. They could not understand or read the language. Somehow, the English got possession of more land. Massasoit did everything in his power to keep the peace, even going so far as selling land to the English. He knew how dangerous the English were.
In 1660, at seventy-nine, Massasoit sent for his sons Wamsutta and Metacom. He was ill, and he knew that his time was coming to join his forefathers. Massasoit told the brothers that the people will look to them for leadership. He named Wamsutta as his successor. Wamsutta was not chosen because he was the oldest brother. Wamsutta had grown witnessing much of his father’s interactions with the English. He was present during negotiations. When he became of age he sat in on powwows to discuss important matters with the elders and sachems to other Algonquin tribes. Occasionally, Wamsutta would act on his father’s behalf. Massasoit had groomed his son for this role.
Massaoit turned to the younger brother and charged him to be his brother’s right-hand man. To always be at his side and support his decisions. He finally warned the brothers to always keep peace with the English. He told the brothers of the Pequot War, and of how terrible were the English capabilities. He asked them to swear to him they would do this.
Within days, the great sachem would pass away.
In previous posts, I have spent a fair amount of effort to dispel the myths surrounding the establishment of one of what we have learned to be the “birth” of our nation. Some stories have no substantiation. There are also details that we have been taught that aren’t “quite” true or may have been embellished or whitewashed.
Massasoit was a bridge between two cultures. This was a tremendous task. He led his people through difficult times, and he knew when it was time to fight and when it was time to make peace. He demonstrated incredible restraint. We owe him a great debt for his wisdom and sacrifice.
Massasoit is also owed an apology for the betrayal to come.