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The Grizzly Death of King Philip: Beheaded and Quartered, Body tied in Trees For the Birds To Pluck

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Metacom VS Pometacom
The man we know commonly as “King Philip” in history was born Metacom, of the Pokanoket Tribe of Narraganset Bay. “Pometacom” was most likely a combination of “Pokanoket” and “Metacom.” Perhaps there was another Metacom in a nearby tribe and the “Po” was added to avoid confusion.

Philip VS King Philip
In 1660 the great Chief Massasoit died, leaving two sons, Wamsutta, the eldest and the much younger Metacom. Very soon after Massasoit’s death, Wamsutta and Metacom traveled to Plymouth Colony Court with a special request: To be appointed English names. On June 13, 1660, Wamsutta officially became “Alexander” and Metacom, “Philip.”

Wamsutta believed that by changing their Native American names to English ones that the colonists would be less threatened by the two mighty brothers. I believe this act was an honest attempt to prove that Alexander had fully planned on remaining on the same peaceful path as their recently deceased father. Unfortunately, the name change did little to dilute the poisonous paranoia growing inside the colonists now that Massasoit was gone.

Two years later, Alexander would be hunted down by leader of the Plymouth Colony militia, General Josiah Winslow. General Winslow had orders to find Alexander and bring him to Plymouth Court for questioning. By shear luck, Winslow stumbled upon Alexander’s hunting party on White’s island in Halifax (present-day Route 58 between the Monponsett Twin Lakes) as he traveled south from his Marshfield home. Winslow never anticipated that finding Alexander. It’s no doubt that this simple capture strengthened the belief that God’s work was at hand in helping the colonists in their manifest destiny.

Alexander, his wife Wetamoo and his child were all marched down Satucket Path back toward Winslow’s homestead. Alexander would never march the way towards home again. He died leaving Winslow’s house. According to Winslow, Alexander was simply questioned about his motives toward the colonists, fell ill and was then released. To Wetamoo, Alexander’s death was no act of nature. It was murder, plain and simple. Alexander’s death helped precipitate King Philip’s War as the monument at the corner of White’s Island Road and Route 58 proclaims.

This left Metacom as the leader of Wompanoags. Though Metacom attempted to retain the peace his father had worked so hard to achieve with the members of Plymouth Colony, history repeated itself around 1665 when Philip was called, just as his brother had been, for questioning by the Plymouth courts about Philip’s (imagined or real) conspiracy for war.

Of the request to appear in front of colony officials, Philip responded: “Your governor is but a subject of King Charles of England. I shall not treat with a subject. I shall treat of peace only with the King, my brother. When he comes, I am ready.”

To the English, this was absurd. That Philip would regard himself on the level as the King of England spurned the colonists to dub Philip “King Philip.”

Some Historians believe Philip earned the nickname “King” for another reason. Legend has it that Philip would often be seen walking the streets of Boston dressed in the finest English clothes the city had to offer.

One Bostonian observed King Philip walking down a city street one day and described him thus: “His coat and buskins were thickset with beads in pleasant wild works, and a broad belt of the same. His accouterments were valued at twenty pounds.” Twenty pounds is about $2,000 to us.

This letter supports Philip’s love for the finer things in life introduced to him by the settlers:

“Philip, Sachem of Mount Hope,
To Captain Hopestill Foster, of Dorchester,

Sendeth greeting:
SIR,—You may please to remember that when I last saw you, at Wading River, you promised me six pounds in goods. Now my request is that you would send by this Indian five yards of white or light-colored serge to make me a coat, and a good Holland shirt, ready made, and a pair of good Indian Breeches, all which I have present need of. Therefore I pray, Sir, fail not to send them, and the several prices of them, and silk and buttons, and seven yards of galloon for trimming. Not else at present to trouble you with, only the subscription of…

“Mount Hope, the 15th of May, 1672.”

King Philip was not known as “Metacomet” until after 1820 when Washington Irving published “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon.” In it was an essay entitled “Philip of Pokanoket” where Irving refers to Philip as “Metacomet.” It is after publication of this book that Philip is referred to “Metacomet” in subsequent literature.

But “King Philip” is the most commonly used name in referencing Massasoit’s youngest son who ended up leading a war that would ultimately be the end of the natives of New England, a people who had lived here for thousands of years.

Here is the synopsis presented by the Pilgrim Society:

In 1662, in an arrogant attempt to exert control, colonial forces took Wampanoag leader Wamsutta at gunpoint to Plymouth. The Wampanoag were greatly angered when Wamsutta sickened and died shortly afterwards. Wamsutta’s brother Metacom (King Philip) became leader and ultimately led his people into war to preserve their traditional way of life.

Colonist’ hunger for land and their heavy-handed treatment of Natives led to one of the most disastrous wars in American history. The mysterious murder of John Sassamon, a Native liaison between the two groups, resulted in a complete breakdown in relations.

In 1675, the war, named for the Wampanoag leader Metacom (or King Philip), broke out in the town of Swansea. Hostilities spread north and west, soon threatening much of New England.King Philip’s War lasted little more than a year. Beginning in Plymouth Colony in June of 1675, the war spread throughout New England. Boston itself was threatened. Colonial resources and manpower ultimately prevailed.

King Philip’s warriors attacked the town of Swansea in western Plymouth Colony in June of 1675. Encouraged by success, they carried the war to neighboring Plymouth Colony towns. In August of 1675, hostilities expanded to the Connecticut River Valley; many settlements were burned. In December, Philip’s winter quarters in Rhode Island’s Great Swamp were destroyed in a crucial colonial victory. In February of 1676, Native forces swept east; Boston seemed threatened. War returned to Plymouth Colony, with a raid in Plymouth itself. Colonists considered abandoning the frontier, but time was on their side. By June of 1676, the tide of war had turned. Native forces, lacking food, manpower and arms, retreated. King Philip’s death at Mount Hope in August 1676 effectively ended the war.

Not all Native Peoples sided with King Philip. Native soldiers joining with the colonists helped turned the tide of war. Those Natives who fought alongside the English or remained neutral were, however, not always trusted by the English. Many Native neutrals were interned on outlying islands under inhumane conditions.

On August of 1676, King Philip’s luck had run out. Though he escaped capture by the skin of his teeth twice before in Hockomock Swamp, in Miery Swamp in Mount Hope, he had nowhere to hide. Philip was shot in the chest by John Alderman, a praying Indian whose brother King Philip had ordered executed after a being deemed a traitor. Alderman was accompanied by Captain Benjamin Church himself, the most famous Indian hunter of the day. (It is interesting to note that in the scene depicted in the picture below of the death of King Philip, it is Church and not Alderman who is holding the gun.)

Church ordered Philip’s body to pulled up to higher ground to begin the act of his mutilation. His body was beheaded and dismembered. Quartered, Church picked four nearby trees and ordered four pieces of philip’s body to be tied to them for the birds to pluck. His hand was given to Alderman as a trophy of the kill. Philip’s hand was very unique. It had been disfigured when a pistol misfired years before. Alderman took the mamed hand happily and later would place it in a jar preserved with rum. Alderman would take the jar to taverns where he would allow the owners to display it in exchange for free drinks.

Philip’s head was spiked and proudly carried through the steets of Plymouth before it would meet it’s final resting place upon Plymouth Colony Fort, now Burial Hill Cemetery. It would soon be joined by the heads of Chief Anawan and Tispaquin. How long the other Wompanoag leader’s heads remained displayed on the fort is unknown. But we know that Philip’s head remained on the fort for at least 25 years. As if sight of Philip’s skull was not horrific enough, one day Cotton Mather removed the jawbone, to keep “the devil from speaking from the grave.” Historian’s estimate that King Philip was 38 at the time of his murder.

Read more at Bridgewater Triangle


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