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Program 10: The Frontier Wars

Frontier Wars 1675 - 1759 : King Phillip's War

King Phillip's War

Erupting in 1675, King Philip’s War was the beginning of over 40 years of intense conflict between Native Americans and English colonials in Maine. An uneasy peace had settled over New England at the end of the Pequot War of 1637. English settlements had grown and generally prospered. Conversely, decimated by disease, gradually losing access to traditional lands and resources, and increasingly subject to English regulations, Natives became ever more resentful of their Anglo neighbors.

Tensions were especially high in southern New England, and Metacom -- Chief of the Pokanoshets, a tribe within the Wampanoag Indian Federation -- had suffered political indignities in dealing with local colonial governments. Building on animosities toward the English, Metacom, better known as King Philip, convinced nearby Indians that they could only retain their traditional world by eliminating the hated English. Meanwhile, terrified settlers were bracing for war.

In July of 1675, during a raid on English livestock, an English boy guarding the cattle shot and killed one of the Wampanoags. The next day an Indian party killed six settlers, including the boy. King Phillip’s war had begun.

When word of the conflict reached Maine, it send a chill through the settlements. Land pressures in Maine were not as severe as in southern New England but had, nonetheless, created resentments among Maine’s western Natives. Maine’s tribes also suffered from unfair dealings and alcohol that was illegally sold to them.

Worried about Wabanaki reactions to the news of war, colonial leaders demanded that they disarm. By this time, the Natives had come to depend on their muskets for hunting and, while a few turned in their weapons, most refused. Tensions escalated when some sailors, having heard that Indian babies could swim naturally, overturned a canoe carrying the wife and baby of Squando, a major Saco chief. Squando’s child died soon thereafter.

Everything came to a head on September 4 when Natives raided the residence of trader Thomas Purchase near present day Brunswick, Maine.  Five days later, the Wakley family of Falmouth, Maine was decimated by an Indian raiding party.  Sometime later, a colonial patrol attacked a party of Natives along the Casco Bay killing one. Before winter, Cape Neddick (part of York), Saco, Blue Point (part of Scarborough) and the Brunswick area had fallen. Clearly panicked, a party of colonists once again headed up the Kennebec and demanded that the local Natives give up their guns. At this point, the Tribal People who were not part of the warring factions but wished to keep their arms, deserted the region moving to the Penobscot River valley.

A hard winter and cooling tempers might have ended the warfare. But in the spring of 1676, a group of marauders kidnapped 32 non-combatant Natives from the Machias area and sold them as slaves in the Azores. English efforts to defuse the situation had little effect and Maine Natives who had been neutral up to that point joined the battle.

At the same time that King Philip’s death ended the war in southern New England, Maine Indians destroyed the Clark and Lake settlement in the Sagadahock area, and settlers from Pemaquid and nearby communities fled for their lives.

On September 7, 1676 an English military leader named Major Richard Waldron called a peace conference at Oyster River (Dover, New Hampshire), but then tricked the Natives in attendance, capturing, killing or selling many of them into slavery. To retaliate, Maine Indians attacked most of the remaining English settlements and, by October, there were no colonial communities east of Wells.

The winter and spring saw several more incidents, but in the early summer of 1677 Englishmen from New York, acting as agents for the Duke of York who was the proprietor of the mid-Maine region, arrived on the scene and soon thereafter were able to bring hostilities to an end.

It has been suggested that the New Yorkers may have told Maine Natives that if the fighting did not end, Mohawks (deadly enemies of the Wabanaki) would be brought in. Not long after that, a general peace agreement was achieved with Massachusetts as well, leading to an uneasy and temporary peace.

Links and Sources:
Good overview of King Philip's War:

Personal account of Edmund Randolph (1675):


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