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Bloody New England

The sachem Metacom nearly ended the experiment.

Jan 3, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 16 • By DAVID AIKMAN
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Yet one of the most fascinating revelations of Mandell’s account is that readers in England sided unmistakably with the Native Americans against the Puritans. This was no doubt due to the return to power in England of King Charles II in 1660, a monarch whose own father had been put to death by Puritans in 1649. One of the intriguing details of this account is that one of the regicides of Charles I, in retirement and on the run at that time, turned out to be a hero of the defense of one of the New England garrisons.

The judgment of history, of course, particularly academic history, has long since painted the Puritans into an undeservedly unattractive corner of American history. By a century and a half after King Philip’s War, New England writers were determinedly anti-Puritan, including, of course, James Fenimore Cooper (see The Last of the Mohicans). Yet some of the Puritans went out of their way to be kind to the Indians, and those Indians who had become Christians, though often poorly treated by the authorities of Massachusetts during the conflict, played important roles in the subsequent defeat of King Philip by the colonists.

The colonists themselves blundered badly in their early military operations, and it wasn’t until they began to employ the skills of Native Americans who were opposed to King Philip that they finally prevailed. The colonists were hugely assisted by the Mohawks, who considered themselves rivals of the Wampanoag in seeking access to the European fur trade. It was the governor of New York, Sir Edmund Andros, who secured the Mohawk alliance and rendered the colonists’ ultimate defeat of King Philip inevitable. But Sir Edmund did not enjoy his fame for very long: In 1689, after the Stuarts had been overthrown in the Glorious Revolution, he was dispatched unceremoniously back to England.

Greed, lust for new territory, mutual suspicion, and misunderstanding, all these played crucial roles in the creation of King Philip’s War. But there was more than enough cruelty to go round on both sides, and it is tragically ironic that Metacom was the son of Massasoit, the Indian who had done so much to help the Pilgrim Fathers establish a presence in New England in the first place. King Philip’s War, published three-and-a-half centuries after the original conflict, puts that fact, and much else, into perspective.

David Aikman is the author, most recently, of The Mirage of Peace: Understanding the Never-Ending Conflict in the Middle East.

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