King Philip Was Not the Great Man His Father Massasoit Was

I picked up a book I bought a few years ago and am truly enjoying it–Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.  How appropriate to be reading a book about the Pilgrims on this Thanksgiving day.  But the first half of the book has hardly been about the great solidarity, feasting and peace between native and the settlers of Plymouth Rock. No, more about vicious torturing of both Puritans and natives of each others captives, and the eradication of up to 60 percent of the native Indians who lived on the east coast.

A dominant character in those early days of the late 1600s was King Philip, who is portrayed as an Indian who would rather run than fight, even when his wife and children were under attack. So often when cornered, Philip made for the woods, slipping out of his pursuer’s grasp and leaving his fellow warriors to fight against the English.

Philip’s father was Massasoit, who fought and then made peace with the English, and who was saved as he lay dying by Edward Winslow. The English general scraped the inside of the sachem’s mouth, and fed him broth, and Massasoit regained his strength, and told his fellow Pokonokets that they should treat Winslow well and not harm him.  Early on when the Puritans first met Massasoit, they had a problem with too many Indians coming to visit their settlements.

They were worried that they would run out of food, since rations were very tight and another tough winter was coming. So they gave Massasoit a copper chain, and told him to give the chain to any messengers and other important tribesman who warranted being fed and taken care of. Otherwise they would turn them away.

King Philip, as he was known by the English, ended up causing a war that saw thousands of Indians die, and that resulted in some southern tribes like the Mohegan aligning with the English to fight the Narragansetts and other tribes from farther north. It took many years and some of his fellow tribesman betraying his position for the English to finally catch and kill Philip. His head was severed and it sat on a pike in Plymouth for more than twenty years after his death.