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Ar this distant period, when Indian traditions are listened to with the interest that we lend to the events of a dark age, it is not easy to convey a vivid image of the dangers and privations that our ancestors encountered, in preparing the land we enjoy, for its present state of security and abundance. It is the humble object of the tale that will be found in the succeeding pages, to perpetuate the recollection of some of the practices and events peculiar to the early days of our history.
The general character of the warfare pursued by the natives is too well known to require any preliminary observations, but it may be advisable to direct the attention of the reader, for a few moments, to those leading circumstances in the history of the times that may have some connexion with the principal business of the legend.
The territory which now composes the three states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island is said, by the best informed of our annalists, to have been formerly occupied by four great nations of Indians, who were, as usual, subdivided into numberless dependent tribes. Of these people, the Massachusetts possessed a large portion of the land which now composes the state of that name; the Wampanoags dwelt in what was once the colony of Plymouth, and in the northern districts of the Providence Plantations; the Narragansetts held the well known islands of the beautiful bay which receives its name from their nation, and the more southern counties of the plantations; while the Pequots, or, as it is ordinarily written and pronounced, the Pequods, were masters of a broad region that lay along the western boundaries of the three other districts.
There is great obscurity thrown around the polity of the Indians who originally occupied the country lying near the sea.
The Europeans, accustomed to despotic governments, very naturally supposed that the chiefs, found in possession of power, were monarchs to whom authority had been transmitted in virtue of their birthrights. They consequently gave them the name of kings.
How far this opinion of the governments of the Aborigines was true remains a question, though there is certainly reason to think it less erroneous in respect to the tribes of the Atlantic States than to those who have since been found further west, where, it is sufficiently known, that institutions exist which approach much nearer to republics than to monarchies. It may, however, have readily happened that the son, profiting by the advantages of his situation, often succeeded to the authority of the father by the aid of influence, when the established regulations of the tribe acknowledged no hereditary claim. Let the principle of the descent of power be what it would, it is certain the experience of our ancestors proves that, in very many instances, the child was seen to occupy the station formerly filled by the father, and that, in most of those situations of emergency in which a people so violent were often placed, the authority he exercised was as summary as it was general. The appellation of Uncas came, like those of the Cæsars and Pharaohs, to be a sort of synonym for chief with the Mohegans, a tribe of the Pequods, among whom several warriors of this name were known to govern in due succession. The renowned Metacom, or, as he is better known to the whites, King Philip, was certainly the son of Massassoit, the Sachem of the Wampanoags that the emigrants found in authority when they landed on the rock of Plymouth. Miantonimoh, the daring but hapless rival of that Uncas who ruled the whole of the Pequod nation, was succeeded in authority, among the Narragansetts, by his not less heroic and enterprising son Conanchet; and, even at a much later day, we find instances of this transmission of power, which furnish strong reasons for believing that the order of succession was in the direct line of blood.
The early annals of our history are not wanting in touching and noble examples of savage heroism. Virginia has its legend of the powerful Powhattan and his magnanimous daughter, the ill-requited Pocahontas; and the chronicles of New England are filled with the bold designs and daring enterprises of Miantonimoh, of Metacom, and of Conanchet. All the last-named warriors proved themselves worthy of better fates, dying in a cause and in a manner that, had it been their fortunes to have lived in a more advanced state of society, would have enrolled their names among the worthies of the age.
The first serious war to which the settlers of New England were exposed, was the struggle with the Pequods. This people was subdued after a fierce conflict, and from being enemies, all who were not either slain or sent into distant slavery were glad to become the auxiliaries of their conquerors. This contest occurred within less than twenty years after the Puritans had sought refuge in America.
There is reason to believe that Metacom foresaw the fate of his own people in the humbled fortunes of the Pequods.
Though his father had been the earliest and constant friend of the whites, it is probable that the Puritans
owed some portion of this
amity to a dire necessity. We are told that a terrible malady had raged among the Wampanoags but a short time before the arrival of the emigrants, and that their numbers had been fearfully reduced by its ravages.
Some authors have hinted at the probability of this disease having been the yellow fever, whose visitations are known to be at uncertain and apparently at very distant intervals. Whatever might have been the cause of this destruction of his people, Massassait is believed to have been induced, by the consequences, to cultivate the alliance of a nation who could protect him against the attacks of his ancient and less afflicted foes. But the son appears to have viewed the increasing influence of the whites with eyes more jealous than those of the father. He passed the morning of his life in maturing his great plan for the destruction of the strange race, and his later years were spent in abortive attempts to put this bold design in execution. His restless activity in plotting the confederation against the English, his fierce and ruthless manner of waging the war, his defeat, and his death are too well known to require repetition.
There is also a wild and romantic interest thrown about the obscure history of a Frenchman of that period. This man is said to have been an officer of rank in the service of his king, and to have belonged to the privileged class which then monopolized
all the dignities and emoluments of the kingdom of France. The traditions, and even the written annals of the first century of our possession of America, connect the Baron de la Castine with the Jesuits, who were thought to entertain views of converting the savages to Christianity, not unmingled with the desire of establishing a more temporal dominion over their minds. It is, however, difficult to say whether taste, or religion, or policy, or necessity, induced this nobleman to quit the salons of Paris for the wilds of the Penobscot. It is merely known that he passed the greater part of his life on that river, in a rude fortress that was then called a palace, that he had many wives, a numerous progeny, and that he possessed a great influence over most of the tribes that dwelt in his vicinity. He is also believed to have been the instrument of furnishing the savages who were hostile to the English with ammunition and with weapons of a more deadly character than those used in their earlier wars. In whatever degree he may have participated in the plan to exterminate the Puritans, death prevented him from assisting in the final effort of Metacom.
The Narragansetts are often mentioned in these pages. A few years before the period at which the tale commences, Miantonimoh had waged a ruthless war against Uncas, the Pequod or Mohegan chief. Fortune favoured the latter, who, probably assisted by his civilized allies, not only overthrew the bands of the other, but succeeded in capturing the person of his enemy. The chief of the Narragansetts lost his life, through the agency of the whites, on the place that is now known by the appellation of “the Sachem's Plain.” It remains only to throw
a little light on the leading incidents of the war of King Philip. The first blow
was struck in June, 1675, rather more than half a century after the English first landed in New England, and just a century before blood was drawn in the contest which separated the colonies from the mother country. The scene was a settlement near the celebrated Mount Hope in Rhode Island, where Metacom and his father had both long held their councils. From this point bloodshed and massacre extended along the whole frontier of New England. Bodies of horse and foot were enrolled to meet the foe, and towns were burnt and lives were taken by both parties, with little, and often with no respect for age, condition, or sex.
In no struggle with the native owners of the soil was the growing power of the whites placed in so great jeopardy as in this celebrated contest with King Philip. The venerable historian of Connecticut estimates the loss of lives at nearly one-tenth of the whole number of the fighting men, and the destruction of houses and other edifices to have been in an equal proportion. One family in every eleven throughout all New England was burnt out. As the colonists nearest the sea were exempt from the danger, an idea inay be formed, from this calculation, of the risks and sufferings of those who dwelt in more exposed situations. The Indians did not escape without retaliation. The principal nations, already mentioned, were so much reduced as never afterwards to offer any serious resistance to the whites, who have since converted the whole of their ancient hunting grounds into the abodes of civilized man. Metacom, Miantonimoh, and Conanchet, with their warriors, have become the heroes of song and legend, while the descendants of those who laid waste their dominions and destroyed their race are yielding a tardy tribute to the high daring and savage grandeur of their characters.