Who was King Philip?

Metacom, King Philip as the colonists called him, became leader of the Wampanoag Confederacy in 1662, was the second son of Chief Massasoit, and was known as Metacomet and Philip of Pokanoket.

When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, it was Massasoit's territory they invaded. Massasoit's principle residence was with the Pokanoket at Sowams in Rhode Island, but he was Grand Sachem of the whole Wampanoag Confederacy and had as many as 31 sub tribes under him.

Metacom/King Philip was born c. 1638, either in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, probably in Sowans, Rhode Island and lived at Mount Hope. He married an Indian woman named Wootonekanuske. She was born in Pocasset, Massachusetts. A son of Philip, a daughter of Philip, a child of Philip, and Lucy, another daughter, were born to this couple. No one knows how many children King Philip and Wootonekanuske had or what happened to them. A child of Philip was buried on April 1, 1671, at Mount Hope. His wife and son, age 9, were captured during the war and sold into slavery in the West Indies as were hundreds of other Indians. His daughter Lucy had escaped by canoe to Canada.

There was no likeness of Philip that survived, therefore, we do not know what he looked like. What has become known is more general ethnic information about the Algonquians, such as the men were taller than the English; contemporary accounts picture them as lithe of limb, "the men fairer than the women".

Philip's character also is not known. Descriptions of Philip's character often reflected the bias of the times more than the life of a real, flesh and blood man struggling to adapt to his rapidly changing world. What was written by the Puritans had a strong bias against Philip, as their fear and dislike colored their writings. Others considered him to be a proud strategic leader. Metacom's dignity and unbending spirit both impressed and frightened the settlers, and he became a symbol of the Indian menace that could not be controlled.

Metacom, upon Massasoit's death in 1661 and that of his elder brother Wamsutta (Alexander) the following year in 1662, became chief of the Wampanoag Confederacy as Wamsutta was laid to rest. As he was growing up, Metacom had witnessed the mounting colonial injustices against his own people and the ravaging effects of the whites' diseases. At the age of 24, Metacom had seen his brother Wamsutta, first in succession to Massasoit, die at the hands of the colonists, if not intentionally poisoned as the Indians believed, at least from disease contracted when Wamsutta was summoned before colonist officials for questioning. Alexander died on his way home to Sowams as his fever intensified. The body of the young Sachem was carried the rest of the way on the shoulders of his men, grim evidence of the dangers of undertaking any action against Plymouth.

Philip the embittered and younger brother who arrived at stage center at a critical time in New England's Settler-Native relations, found it increasingly difficult to keep the pledge of peace, primarily because of the ever-widening sale of Indian land to the English and the humiliations to which he and his people were continually subjected. The pressure on the young Sachem to remain steadfast in the face of English demands must have been extraordinary. The next years were filled with uneasiness and rumors.

Events finally came to a head when three Wampanoag were brought to Plymouth to stand trial for the murder of John Sassamon, who had been close to Philip but was dismissed from Philip's service because of distrust. On June 8, 1675, Plymouth executed Tobias and Mattashunannamo for the killing of the Indian, John Sassamon. Sassamon was no ordinary individual, but a highly symbolic rival of the Wampanoag sachem Philip. The execution of Philip's people set in motion a war which, by June 1675, neither side could halt. That Wampanoags could be tried in Plymouth for Sassamon's death is crucial, for it raised issues of land and Philip's rule. To Philip and his people the trial that had taken place was a flagrant miscarriage of justice and further proof that maintaining an amicable, respectful relationship between the natives and the English was impossible.

Massachusetts Bay sent emissaries to mollify Philip. Rhode Island invited the Pokanoket to come to Providence and see if somehow wrongs could be righted. Despite his profound doubts that mere words would now do much good, Philip accepted the invitation, journeying to Rhode Island with forty warriors and counselors. It was here that Philip's complaints about English justice poured forth. At the same time he reviewed with bitterness the history of the Pokanoket-Pilgrim relations and ended with a remarkable statement about his own attitude: My elder brother became Sachem, he was seized and confined and thereby thrown into illness and died. Soon after I became Sachem they disarmed all my people, their land was taken. But a small part of the dominion of my ancestors remains. I am determined not to live until I have no country. Philip's works still seem tremendously powerful: he could not go on until his country was no more. Neither he himself nor his warriors would let him do that.

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