An account of loss of lives and damages during King Philip’s War, by Benjamin Trumbull, historian.
Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library via Wikimedia Commons
An account of loss of lives and damages during King Philip’s War, by Benjamin Trumbull, historian.

In today’s Middle East, echoes of our region’s history

In King Philip’s War, Indigenous peoples fought back violently after colonists more viciously stripped them of their land and their rights to its use

BRATTLEBORO — My knowledge of the Israel/Hamas situation is superficial at best. While I know some about the history and some about the current situation, I have never studied it in any depth.

My own DNA has no Jewish or Palestinian percentages. Over 18 years ago I did marry into a secular Jewish family, and I have certainly come to know their stories of escape from Nazi Germany and Nazi Austria in the late 1930s.

Regarding the history of violent conflict in general, I know much more about the early English colonists and their Native American counterparts in what is today New England, particularly southeastern New England.

I have that deeper understanding because for five years or more I have been researching the one-eighth of me who is a Bosworth. I have reached a point where the parallels between that 17th-century colonial/Indigenous dynamic and today's Middle East situation have become more and more striking.

In this comparison, I do not at all mean to equate the Native Americans to Hamas, but rather to the general Palestinian population.

* * *

My family were Puritans who arrived in the Boston area in 1634, lived in Hingham and Hull, Massachusetts, and then moved to what is today Bristol, Rhode Island in the early 1680s.

If you know your New England colonial history, you realize the symbolic significance of Bristol. Before it was ever Bristol, the peninsula, the surrounding plain, and the high point called "Montaup" ("lookout point") by the Natives and "Mt. Hope" by the colonists was the home base for the Pokanoket tribe of the Wampanoag Nation.

As such, it doubled as Massasoit Ousamequin's center of operations in leading the Wampanoag. This is the same Massasoit who befriended the Pilgrims and helped them survive their earliest years in Plymouth. After his death in 1661 the leadership passed down first to his older son, Wamsutta (Alexander), and then to his younger son, Metacom (King Philip).

From 1620 until 1675, the colonists gradually whittled away at the Natives' land holdings in southeastern Massachusetts. Sometimes this occurred through above-board negotiations, but this also occurred through power imbalances and otherwise unfair transactions. Moreover, the Natives often thought they were agreeing to share the land, not to lose control of it.

By 1675 the colonists had taken control of a great majority of the land in southeastern Massachusetts, sometimes with Massasoit's, Wamsutta's, and Metacom's willing cooperation, but sometimes because their hands were tied.

Metacom, in particular, grew increasingly angry at this, and increasingly frustrated at the practice of the colonists to fence in some of these previously free lands and/or to let their cattle roam at will. Also, he was increasingly disturbed that colonial proselytizers like John Eliot were working hard to convert heretofore seasonally migratory Natives into sedentary Christians.

So Metacom talked to some of the other Native leaders about the possibility of a rebellion.

The colonial leaders tried to head this off but were unable to do so before it broke out into open warfare in June of 1675.

King Philip's War to this day is considered the deadliest war per capita ever fought by Americans or their precursor colonial ancestors. Deadlier than the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, either World War, or the Vietnam War.

Though many colonial towns were attacked and destroyed by this rebellion, after 14 months the colonists did win the war, so to speak, at least in southern New England.

Through their actions, however, the Native American coalition (primarily the Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Nipmuc, with some help from the more northerly Abenaki) did force the colonists to draw back much closer for a time to the ocean, back to Boston and Plymouth, and nearby towns, plus a few in the Connecticut River Valley.

At one point in the hostilities, Metacom tried to recruit the Mohawks into the coalition. They refused to join, a decision that could well have affected the outcome of the war.

* * *

King Philip's War represents the frustration of Indigenous peoples fighting back after seeing more and more of their previously assumed rights - to move seasonally to fish, hunt, gather, plant - taken away from them, either legally or through the actions of the incoming burgeoning, land-hungry European population.

Bottom line: The whole situation was over control of land, which is a clear parallel to the current Middle East situation.

Some of the Natives' attacks were vicious, including deliberate killing of innocents. This record, however, pales in comparison to tactics the colonial militias sometimes used.

This included a massacre in December of 1675 in southwestern Rhode Island - the Great Swamp Fight or Great Swamp Massacre - in which several hundred Narragansett warriors, women, children, and elders were slaughtered, including through burning of their wigwams while they were still in them.

This included a daybreak massacre in May of 1676 at Peskeomskut (today's Turners Falls, Massachusetts) at a wigwam village devoid of warriors at the time, where hundreds of women, children, and elders were shot to death or opted to jump into the falls, thus drowning to death.

Metacom went on the run during the summer of 1676, returning in August to the peninsula of today's Bristol, Rhode Island, his former center of power. An Indigenous man allied with the colonists killed him there, and his head was later put on a pike for display in Plymouth.

After the war, Mt. Hope peninsula may have been the most coveted piece of undeveloped real estate in southern New England. The English assumed it was now vacant of Indigenous peoples, which the research of Massasoit descendant Deborah Spears Moorehead directly contests.

By 1680, however, Plymouth Colony was petitioning King Charles II back in England to give this land to the colony as a means for it to pay off its war debts. The king did so, and the colony then sold it to four investors from Boston, who subdivided it into lots for the first households of English settlers (including Bosworths).

The land was taken away from the Natives.

* * *

In the span of just a few recent days, I have been reviewing this history, and the parallels to the Israel/Palestinian situation have struck me.

To me, the situation in the Mideast calls for a two-state solution. It calls for the Palestinians (not, however, Hamas) to be given land rights and some of the land back, instead of having those assets slowly but steadily be taken away and grow ever smaller and more constrained, more apartheid-like.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government must commit to doing so; otherwise, I cannot support him or his government.

I hope Vermont's U.S. representative, Becca Balint, while wrestling with her own Jewish roots, will contemplate historical antecedents and take them into consideration.

Michael Bosworth is a longtime community volunteer, a writer, and a poet. He serves as interim treasurer for Vermont Independent Media, the nonprofit that publishes this newspaper.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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