KING PHILIP’S WAR: THE HISTORY AND LEGACY OF AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN CONFLICT, by Eric B. Schultz and Michael J. Tougias, The Countryman Press, 432 pages, $29.95.
WE were taught at school that the British settlement of New England would have failed without the aid of the region’s Native Americans. The Indians taught the Europeans how to cultivate maize, where to fish, and how to prepare for the harsh winters, in short, how to survive in what was, to the colonists, a frightening wilderness. Relations between the English and Wampanoag leader Massasoit were generally peaceful, and in 1622 the Indian leader visited Plymouth to negotiate a treaty guaranteeing the colonists the security they needed to establish their settlement. Yet just 54 years later, colonial soldiers paraded through Plymouth Colony with the head of Massasoit’s son, King Philip, impaled on a pike.
This ghastly tableau resulted, ironically, from the colonies’ eventual success. Colonial expansion created increasing friction between natives and settlers, which finally blazed into war in June 1675, when a Wampanoag band looted several English farms. By the time the war ended in August 1677, nearly every community in the region had been drawn into the conflict, and the English were the unopposed rulers of New England. Philip was dead, his people scattered or enslaved, and his allies decimated and driven away. Though largely forgotten today, this conflict had a great impact on subsequent colonial development.
The authors present King Philip’s War in three parts. The first and third sections offer a balanced history of the war and excerpts from firsthand accounts of the fighting. The lengthy midsection presents detailed information on each of the battles, towns, and other locations mentioned in the text. While the second part is best characterized as a travelogue, it nonetheless provides an invaluable service to the reader by fleshing out the historical and firsthand accounts that bracket it, in effect putting living meat on factual bones. In general, the book is superbly researched, well annotated, and written in a lively, entertaining style. It makes a fine addition to the canon of colonial American history.
Floyd B. Largent, Jr. is a Dallas-based writer, anthropologist, and historian with a particular interest in Native-American cultures.