King Philip’s War

I have finished Philbrick’s Mayflower. It ends on a sombre and philosophical note, after chapters and chapters recounting the sad story of the conflict known as King Philip’s War. It was perhaps the bloodiest conflict ever in North America. Friends turned on friends. The native Indians turned on one another as well as on the colonialists and, in the end, the cleansing – it is not too strong a word – was decisive. It was not just the bloodshed (over 600 colonists and 3,000 Native Americans died, including several hundred native captives who were tried and executed or enslaved and sold in Bermuda). But King Philip’s had been the ultimate gamble – winner takes all. He had sold land to buy arms to try to win back his people’s land, but it didn’t work. It couldn’t work and did he, I wonder, know that in his heart of hearts? He was portrayed in contemporary accounts as somebody who preferred to run rather than fight – indeed, he was shot dead whilst running away from an ambush. But what would otherwise have been left? As his death proved – nothing. A few summers ago I was in Rhode Island, briefly. I wish I had read this book before that trip for so many of the places I visited had an older, alternative history. In a previous blog post I described this story as a series of counter-factuals and hypothetical conditionals, but surely settlement by the Europeans was inevitable. King Philip’s War may have been foolhardy, but if so it was the foolhardiness of a last throw of  loaded dice.


  1. Hugo Kijne

    “the bloodiest conflict ever in North America” ??? Have you heard of the Civil War? The death count in that ‘conflict’ was just upgraded to over 700,000.

  2. Martin

    In relative terms, yes. I forget Philbrick’s percentages but 3,000 of 3,400 native Indians died in one way or another.

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