The Missing Sachem’s Club

The King Philip’s War has the distinction as being known as the bloodiest conflict per capita than any other war in American history. The colonists had settled in the New World, where they sought religious freedom and new opportunities. Although relations with the Native Peoples were initially on good terms, the desire for expansion led to the inevitable breakdown of relations, and the revolt of the Natives to push back the colonists from the lands they had taken.

The Native leader of the rebellion was Metacom – the son of Massasoit, one architect of the first alliance between the indigenous peoples of New England and the Pilgrims. Relations firmly established, Massasoit asked his English neighbors to give English names to his two sons. Metacom received the name “Philip”.

Initially, Philip and his native allies saw success against the colonist frontier towns. They attacked and pushed the English to within twenty miles of Boston. But, as the war dragged on, Philip lost his supporters. He is also suffered a series of defeats that turned the tide in favor of the colonists. He was on the run with a small remaining force. A militia under the command of Captain Benjamin Church hunted Philip down and trapped him in a swamp in Rhode Island on two sides. In the ensuing fight, as Philip attempted to flee, a native traitor named Alderman took aim and fired the fatal shot that cut the sachem and figure-head of the resistance down. Philip’s body was quartered and hung from nearby trees; and his head stuck on stake, and taken to Plymouth where it stood in the town center for twenty years.

Shortly after this battle, as Church was mopping up the remnants of Philip’s followers, he had tracked down and captured Philip’s chief advisor, Annawan. Acknowledging Church not as a conqueror, but as an honorable warrior who had matched and beaten his sachem, Annawan presented Church with several items reportedly belonging to Philip as sat, attending to his sachemship duties in meetings and gatherings. What Annawan described as being Philip’s “royalties”, were three wampum (shell bead) belts, two horns of glazed powder, and a red cloth blanket. There is no record of Philip’s war club in this account. However, there is a reference in a letter from William Harris in 1675 that Philip had lost a staff.

There are two “Wampanoag-styled” war clubs in existence that are both claimed to have been Philip’s weapon. We can find one club at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. There isn’t any historical evidence to substantiate that the club belonged to Philip. The style is late 17th Century Wampanoag. Other than fitting the correct time period and region, as already stated, the Historical Society cannot prove or disprove that the club is genuine.

The second club has a mystery behind its origin. In 1913, Dr. Warren King Moorehead had in someway come into contact with two elderly sisters from Maine. Moorehead claimed that these two sisters received the club from a Mrs. Laura Anne Daniels. Mrs. Daniels (maiden name Fuller) claimed that she was a descendant of Rev. John Checkley, who had become a missionary with the Mount Hope Indians in Providence. According to the Fuller family lore, Reverend Checkley had developed a friendship with John Alderman, the very Indian that is famed to have fired the fatal shot that killed Philip in 1676. A collector of Indian relics, the family history claims that the reverend traded the club, a pipe, and a wampum belt for a gold watch.

By the mid-19th Century, they assumed the authenticity of the club-given the source of the club-was true. For the next two hundred years, they handed the club down from generation to generation through the Fuller family line. In 1930, Moorehead purchased the club from the sisters for Clara Endicott Sears, the founder of the Fruitlands Museums in Harvard, Massachusetts.

The club was stolen from the museum in 1970, where it had remained missing for twenty-five years. Strangely, in 1995, the club was unknowingly discovered at a Worcester, Massachusetts yard sale. After being purchased for $125.00, the new owner appreciated the item as being an important Indian relic. Upon contacting the authorities, the discovery of Philip’s missing club revealed the thrifty shopper returned the piece to the museum with no reward. They appraised the club at $150,000.

This club still will have the air of mystery about it. They did not take the club from Philip’s dead hands. They did not remove it from a known grave site. We have to rely upon a historical tradition that has been passed down through the Checkley family descendants. This is where we get much of our information when researching history. We research contemporary testimony and until there is additional information to refute it.

History is fascinating because it is always full of footnotes. There are often items that you would not think would associate with each other. Sometimes they can be obvious to us. And sometimes they can be so subtle that, like a whisper, we miss them.

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