The beach is strewn with bodies and ships burn in the harbor. A boy, no more than thirteen, disturbed by what he has seen, walks away from the battle alongside his father. He has been courageous this day and knows the man is proud. Still, he is bothered by what he has done and the question burns within him. As they walk alone down the wooded path away from the bloody beach he finally asks. “Why? Why do we kill them?”
“We didn't always. There was a time, long, long ago, when we welcomed them.”
“We did?” The boy wrinkles his brow.
The tall man gives him a sidelong glance. “Don't you pay attention at the Nikommosachmiawene?”
The boy looks to the ground, embarrased. “It's so long; by the end I forget the beginning.”
Smiling, his father agrees “It is long. The history of our people goes way back.” He pauses, then continues. “Over four thousand night suns have come and gone since that time. When they first came, they were few in number and knew not the ways of survival. The great sachem Ousamequin, whom they called Massasoit, took pity upon them and was like a father to them. He gave them food to eat and space upon which to live and he showed them how to plant food. Many powaws warned that more would come and they would take all the space from the Wampanoag and make him to obey their laws and practice their religion. They urged Ousamequin to destroy them before they became many and powerful—before it was too late. But the great sachem said the white men knew much science that the Indian did not; that they raised cattle and grew fruit. And he said there was plenty of space for all to share.”
The boy looks around. “It seems to me there is enough.”
“There should have been, except that the English always wanted more. It is true that they often paid a fair price for the land, but not always. They would charge a large sum of money as a penalty for some wrongdoing, and when the Indian could not pay they took his land instead. They would let their livestock run wild over the Indian's fields until he gave up trying to plant in them. And sometimes they used violence to take what they wanted.
“But still Ousamequin kept the peace and when he died his son, Wamsutta, wanted to show that he too intended to keep the tradition of friendliness between the white man and the Indian. He asked for English names for himself and his younger brother, Pometacom. He was given the name Alexander. Pometacom they called Philip.
“But the white men did not trust Wamsutta and often accused him of dealing with the Narragansett in plans to attack English settlements. Finally they forced him at gunpoint to go and face their charges. Under their care he died, the English said from disease, but our people believed he was poisoned.
“Even so, Pometacom pledged to keep the peace with the white man. But the English would not trust him either. They accused him of conspiring with the French and the Dutch. They accused him of conspiring with the Narragansett. They made him sign a treaty and took his guns away, sending him back to his people without them.
“A very bad thing happened when a man whom the English called John Sassamon was found dead under the ice at Assawompsett Pond. He had been a member of Pometacom's council until he tried to trick the sachem in a land deal and was sent away. Three Indians were accused of killing him: Tobias, his son Wampapaquan, and Mattachunnamo. There was no proof but an English court sentenced them to hang. Thus it was proven that the Wampanoag could not trust English justice.
“The real trouble broke out when some Wampanoags decided to raid the village of Swansea and one of them was killed by a boy with a gun. When asked why he had killed the Indian, he replied that it did not matter. He saw nothing wrong in what he had done. The next day nine white people were killed in retribution and the Great War had begun.”
They walk in silence for a short while, the man recalling the story he has heard told so many times, the boy pondering the bodies at the beach.
Finally, the man resumes the telling. “The English thought they could trap Pometacom on the peninsula, but with the help of Weetamoe he was slipped across the Titicut River and escaped from Pocasset Swamp to Nipmuc territory. The Indians who were left behind and captured, mostly women and children, were sold into slavery.
“Pometacom was almost caught again when Oneco, son of Uncas, and the treacherous Mohegans sided with the English and tracked him down at Nipsachuck. After a fierce battle, Pometacom escaped along the Blackstone River and went north to Menameset. Weetamoe went south to Narragansett country to join with Ninigret and the Niantic people.
“Pometacom was able to enlist the help of the Nipmuc and soon the white man's settlements of Brookfield, Lancaster, and Springfield came under attack.
“Sometimes the English themselves helped Pometacom gain the support of other Indian tribes. They attacked the peaceful Norwottock and Agawam people, which brought them into the war. An act of cruelty turned the Abanaki sachem, Squando, against them. His wife and infant child had been travelling down the Saco River when their canoe was capsized on purpose by some English who wanted to see if the baby would swim. His wife tried frantically but was unable to save the child.
“Some Indians converted to the English faith and lived in settlements within their communities. But the English did not trust these "Christian Indians" anymore than they trusted the others. In Marlborough, one such group was rounded up and when a squaw with her baby started to run away, her brother and husband tried to catch her and all four were shot by the English; even the child was killed. The rest were tied together by their necks and marched off to Boston.
“But the biggest mistake the English made was to attack the Narragansett. They wanted Ninigret and Canonchet to give up some of Weetamoe's people who had gone seeking refuge. Finally, they sent a thousand soldiers into the Great Swamp to force the Narragansett to comply.
“Had it not been for a traitor called "Peter" they would have never found the village of the Narragansett. Had the work on the fort been completed, they would never have taken it. As it turned out over 600 Indians were killed as the English set fire to the wigwams trapping and burning old men, women and children.
“The Great Swamp Fight was a turning point. Pometacom was in the Mahican village of Schaghticoke on the Hoosic River trying to convince the Mohawks, leaders of the mighty Iriquois Confederacy, to join him in his fight against the English. But the Mohawks were bitter enemies of the Algonquin and they were planning to kill Pometacom when word reached them of the massacre in the Great Swamp. The incident helped them realize that the English were the enemy of all Indians.
“So it was that Pometacom was able to unite the Algonquin tribes, Wampanoag, Narraganset, Massachusett, and Pawtucket; the Iroquios tribes, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayga, and Seneca; the Abenaki tribes, Pennacook, Pigwacket, Sokoki, Penobscot, Casco, Sheepscot, Passamaquoddy, and Androscoggin; and the Nipmuc tribes, Nashaway, Nonatook, Quaboag, Quinsigamond, Nipnet, and Pegan; along with others, into the Great Confederacy.
“With this powerful force he was able to attack and destroy English settlements from Rhode Island to Maine. First he burned the frontier outposts like Groton and Mendon. Then he gradually moved on to the larger towns like Marlborough, Sudbury, Concord, and Andover, pushing the white man closer and closer to the seacoast. Finally big towns like Providence, Hartford, and Boston came under attack, the people besieged until famine and disease eventually claimed them.
“All along the coast the white man was banished from this land. And still the ships come from across the sea. When Providence was burning, the great white man, Roger Williams, told Canonchet, "Massachusetts can raise thousands of men at this moment, and if you kill them, the King of England will supply their place as fast as they fall." Canonchet replied, "Well, let them come. We are ready for them."”
The man reflects for a moment. “And still they come. And still we are ready for them.”
The boy walks on in silence. Ships burn in the harbor.
Leach, Douglas Edward. Flintlock and Tomahawk:New England in King Philip's War. 1958. Reprint: Parnassus Imprints, 1992.
Schultz, Eric B. & Michael J. Tougias King Philip's War:The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict. Woodstock, VT.: The Countryman Press, 1999.