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2.5: King Philip’s War

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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By 1675, the European settlers in New England had lived in relative peace with the Native Americans for nearly \begin{align*}40 \;\mathrm{years}\end{align*}. However, during this period, the settlers gradually encroached on native lands. Between 1600 and 1675, the Native American population of New England decreased from \begin{align*}150,000\end{align*} to \begin{align*}10,000\end{align*}, while the English population grew to \begin{align*}50,000\end{align*}. Some Englishmen worked to convert the remaining natives to Christianity, translating the bible into their languages and establishing so-called “praying towns” in which the Indians began to adopt a European way of life.

In 1675, and Indian sachem (chief) named Metacom united many tribes of the region into a military alliance, and a bloody war broke out between Indians and settlers. Metacom had been given the English name ‘Philip’ and the war became known to the settlers and to history as ‘King Philip’s War.’ The causes of the war are disputed. The following documents show two perspectives on why the war began.

King Philip’s Complaints – John Easton

Source: John Easton, Attorney General of the Rhode Island colony, met King Philip in June of 1675 in an effort to negotiate a settlement. Easton recorded Philip’s complaints. However, Easton was unable to prevent a war, and the fighting broke out the following month.

[W]e lent a man to Philip, that is he would come to the ferry we would come over to speak with him. About four miles we had to come; thither our messenger come to them; they not aware of it behaved themselves as furious, but suddenly appeased when they understood who he was and what he came for, he called his counsel and agreed to come to us; came himself unarmed, and about \begin{align*}40\end{align*} of his men armed. Then \begin{align*}5\end{align*} of us went over, \begin{align*}3\end{align*} were magistrates. We sat very friendly together. We told him our business was to endeavor that they might not receive or do wrong. They said that was well; they had done no wrong, the English wronged them. We said we knew the English said the Indians wronged them, and the Indians said the English wronged them, but our desire was the quarrel might rightly be decided, in the best way, and not as dogs decided their quarrels. The Indians owned that fighting was the worst way; then they propounded how right might take place. We said, by arbitration. They said that all English agreed against them, and so by arbitration they had had much wrong; many miles square of land so taken from them, for English would have English arbitrators; and once they were persuaded to give in their arms, that thereby jealousy might be removed, and the English having their arms would not deliver them as they had promised, until they consented to pay a \begin{align*}100 \;\mathrm{pounds}\end{align*}....

They said they had been the first in doing good to the English, and the English the first in doing wrong; said when the English first came, their King’s father was as a great man, and the English as a little child; he constrained other Indians from wronging the English, and gave them corn and showed them how to plant, and was free to do them any good, and had let them have a \begin{align*}100 \;\mathrm{times}\end{align*} more land than now the King had for his own people. But their King’s brother, [Massasoit] when he was King, came miserably to die by being forced to court, as they judge poisoned. And another grievance was, if \begin{align*}20\end{align*} of their honest Indians testified that a Englishman had done them wrong, it was as nothing; and if but one of their worst Indians testified against any Indian or their King, when it pleased the English it was sufficient. Another grievance was, when their King sold land, the English would say, it was more than they agreed to, and a writing must be prove against all them, and some of their Kings had done wrong to sell so much. He left his people none, and some being given to drunkness the English made them drunk and then cheated them in bargains, but now their Kings were forewarned not for to part with land, for nothing in comparison to the value thereof. Now home the English had owned for King or Queen, they would disinherit, and make another King that would give or sell them these lands; that now, they had no hopes left to keep any land. Another grievance, the English cattle and horses still increased; that when they removed \begin{align*}30 \;\mathrm{miles}\end{align*} from where English had anything to do, they could not keep their corn from being spoiled, they never being used to fence, and thought when the English bought land of them they would have kept their cattle upon their own land....


  1. Sourcing: Who wrote this document? When? Is it fair to say the document represents King Philip’s perspective?
  2. Contextualization: What was happening in New England that led to the meeting between King Philip and Easton?
  3. Close Reading: List three complaints that the Native Americans made to John Easton.

King Philip’s War – Edward Randolph

Source: The English government sent Edward Randolph to New England to report on the causes for the wars with the Native Americans. He wrote this report in 1685.

Various are the reports and conjectures of the causes of the present Indian war. Some impute it to an imprudent zeal in the magistrates of Boston to Christianize those heathen before they were civilized and enjoining them the strict observation of their laws, which, to a people so rude and licentious, hath proved even intolerable, and that the more, for that while the magistrates, for their profit, put the laws severely in execution against the Indians, the people, on the other side, for lucre and gain, entice and provoke the Indians to the breach thereof, especially to drunkenness, to which those people are so generally addicted that they will strip themselves to their skin to have their fill of rum and brandy....

Some believe there have been vagrant and Jesuitical priests, who have made it their business, for some years past, to go from Sachem to Sachem, to exasperate the Indians against the English and to bring them into a confederacy, and that they were promised supplies from France and other parts to extirpate the English nation out of the continent of America. Others impute the cause to some injuries offered to the Sachem Philip; for he being possessed of a tract of land called Mount Hope... some English had a mind to dispossess him thereof, who never wanting one pretence or other to attain their end, complained of injuries done by Philip and his Indians to their stock and cattle, whereupon Philip was often summoned before the magistrate, sometimes imprisoned, and never released but upon parting with a considerable part of his land.

But the government of the Massachusetts... do declare these are the great evils for which God hath given the heathen commission to rise against them.... For men wearing long hair and perewigs made of women’s hair; for women... cutting, curling and laying out the hair.... For profaneness in the people not frequenting their meetings....

With many such reasons... the English have contributed much to their misfortunes, for they first taught the Indians the use of arms, and admitted them to be present at all their musters and trainings, and showed them how to handle, mend and fix their muskets, and have been furnished with all sorts of arms by permission of the government....

The loss to the English in the several colonies, in their habitations and stock, is reckoned to amount to \begin{align*}150,000 \;\mathrm{l}\end{align*}. [pounds sterling] there having been about \begin{align*}1200\end{align*} houses burned, \begin{align*}8000\end{align*} head of cattle, great and small, killed, and many thousand bushels of wheat, peas and other grain burned... and upward of \begin{align*}3000\end{align*} Indians men women and children destroyed.


  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this? When was it written and by whom? Does that make it more or less trustworthy?
  2. Close Reading: What were the causes of King Philip’s War, according to Edward Randolph?

Section Questions:

  1. Corroboration: On what points do the two documents agree? On what points do they conflict?
  2. Corroboration: Where the documents conflict, which one do you find more trustworthy? Why?
  3. Corroboration: Considering both documents, what were the causes of King Phillip’s War?

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