King Phillip’s War (1675-1676)


Colonists’ hunger for land, as well as the heavy-handed treatment of the Wampanoag and other Native People by government officials, led to one of the most disastrous wars in America’s history.

Governor William Bradford died in 1657; Massasoit, the principal leader among the Wampanoag, died in 1660 and was succeeded by his son Wamsutta, called Alexander by the colonists. With the passing of the first generation, which had forged an uneasy alliance, the personal bonds which had helped to create a working peace ended.

The two cultures’ different ways of life and concepts of land use had caused tension for many ears. A continuing problem was the trampling of Native cornfields by colonists’ livestock. While colonists were legally responsible for damage, such laws were difficult to enforce in remote areas such as Rehoboth and Taunton. Increased competition for resources (particularly land for planting, hunting and fishing) caused friction between the two groups. Changes in the regional economy, such as collapse in the fur trade, led many Native People to support themselves by selling their land. With other governments (Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut) all competing to establish their territories, Plymouth wanted exclusive rights to purchase land from the Wampanoags.


In 1662, in an arrogant attempt to exert control, the Plymouth Court summoned Wampanoag leader Wamsutta to Plymouth. Major Josiah Winslow and a small force took Wamsutta at gunpoint. Soon after questioning, Wamsutta sickened and died. His death greatly angered the Wampanoag.

Wamsutta’s brother Metacom (also called Philip) succeeded him. Plymouth’s continued unyielding policy toward Native leaders, as well as the events surrounding the murder of Sassamon, a liaison between the two groups, caused the breakdown in relations that led to war.
Portrait of Josiah Winslow

In 1675, hostilities broke out in the town of Swansea, and the war spread as far north as New Hampshire, and as far southwest as Connecticut. Not all Native People, however, sided with Philip. Most Natives who had converted to Christianity fought with the English or remained neutral. The English, however, did not always trust these converts and interned many of them in camps on outlying islands. Also, some Native communities on Cape Cod and the Islands did not participate in the war. Native soldiers fighting on the side of the colonists helped turn the tide of the war, which ended in 1676 when Philip was killed by a Wampanoag fighting with Captain Benjamin Church.


King Philip’s War was one of the bloodiest and most costly in the history of America. One in ten soldiers on both sides was injured or killed. It took many years for Plymouth and the other colonies to recover from damage to property

The outcome of King Philip’s War was devastating to the traditional way of life for Native People in New England. Hundreds of Natives who fought with Philip were sold into slavery abroad. Others, especially women and children, were forced to become servants locally. As the traditional base of existence changed due to the Colonists’ victory, the Wampanoag and other local Native communities had to adapt certain aspects of their culture in order to survive.

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