King Phillip’s War
When last we saw each other, I had just told you the story of the Pequot Massacre. Taking place in the 1630’s, the Massacre occurred a little over a decade after the first Thanksgiving, and was responsible for the death of hundreds of Pequot men, women, and children, and the enslavement of hundreds more.
Fast forward to the winter of 1675, Plymouth, Massachusetts. The body of John Sassamon is found, killed and frozen. John Sassamon is A Wampanoag Christian, and educated at Harvard. He therefore represents a bridge. He’s a man straddling two cultures in the borderland of colonial America. And now, he’s dead.
Metacom, aka King Phillip, and his men are implicated in the death. This is where the whole Thanksgiving tie-in is made. You see, Massasoit, Metacom’s father, was part of the first Thanksgiving, and made an “alliance of mutual defense” in 1621 with Governor John Carver, leader of the newly established Plymouth Colony.
Now, however, Massasoit is long dead and Metacom is faced with increasingly imbalanced interactions with the colonists. Metacom, like his father, had entered into various peace agreements with the Brits, but he saw these treaties as mutual while the colonists saw the agreements as Indigenous submission. After the death of John Sassamon, the colonists arrest, try, and kill three of Metacom’s men in British court. I want to be clear, this was British justice, not Indigenous justice and it’s a final straw for Metacom. So, he strikes back, killing nine people in the town of Swansea.
And this is the spark that becomes King Phillips war.
Unlike the Pequot Massacre, this was an all out war between various Indigenous groups and the colonists. This war has far reaching ramifications for both the Indigenous nations in New England, and the colonists. The fighting lasted about fourteen months, and by the end of it most of the Indigenous nations in the area had been pulled into the conflict. The colonists often demanded that Indigenous nations trying to stay neutral prove their neutrality by giving up their weapons, and when they refused, they’d be attacked (see the Great Swamp Massacre). Some Indigenous nations, looking to secure their land and trading rights, sided with the British. In the end, Metacom and his followers were routed and Metacom was killed. At least 3000 Indigenous men, women, and children died, along with roughly 900 colonists. The British colonists sold thousands more Indigenous peoples into slavery. According to the American YAWP Indigenous nations “comprised roughly 25 percent of New England’s population; a decade later, they made up perhaps 10 percent.” The war was brutal, and with the death and enslavement of so many Indigenous peoples, it also secured the Puritans’ foothold in the Americas.
Most people don’t know the story of King Phillip’s War. They don’t really even know who was at the first Thanksgiving — preferring instead to stay safe and comfortable in the warmth that a lack of knowledge brings–however, history doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the aftermath of Thanksgiving is as important as the day itself.
Metacom, or King Phillip, was part of the legacy of that first Dinner of Thanks. His people were forever changed by the landing of Pilgrims in Plymouth, and our American history has been informed by the romanticization that Pilgrims/Puritans and Indigenous nations “got along” and “helped each other” out.
When in reality, that first Thanksgiving ushered in hundreds of years of violence, slavery, and displacement. What we call nostalgia, Indigenous Americans call a day of mourning. This is the 400th anniversary of that particular feast (which actually took place in late summer so like..that anniversary has technically past). As we sit down to our squash pies, and cranberry sauce — indigenous foods, by the way– we should be very aware of the legacy of destruction that comes with Thanksgiving. Moving forward, we must not only be cognizant of the history, but willing to take steps to right the wrongs of our past.
Because, you see, you can’t be proud of your ancestors while trying to distance yourself from their wrongdoings. You can’t literally have your pie, and eat it too.