ON TUESDAY, JUNE 6, Benjamin Church attended a meeting of the General Court in Plymouth. Travel in the colony was still dangerous, but Church had managed to hitch a ride on a sloop from Newport to Cape Cod. The Cape and islands had remained free of violence throughout the first year of the war. Instead of treating their large Praying Indian population with cruelty and distrust, the English inhabitants had relied on them for their protection. As a result, the Cape had become the colony’s one oasis of safety, and Church used it to good effect, securing a horse in modern Falmouth, then known as Saconessett, and riding north along the eastern shore of Buzzards Bay to Sandwich and then on to Plymouth.
More than three months had passed since the Council of War had refused his request to lead a large group of Native Americans against Philip. Over that brief span of time, English attitudes toward the Praying Indians had undergone a fundamental change just as the main theater of the war shifted back to Plymouth Colony. Church sensed that his time had finally arrived.
As it so happened, the Council of War had decided to do almost exactly as Church had proposed back in February. They planned to send out in a few weeks’ time a force of three hundred soldiers, a third of them Indians, under the command of Major Bradford. Connecticut and the Bay Colony had also promised to provide companies that included significant numbers of Native scouts.
This was all good news, of course, but Church had no intention of serving under Bradford. Bradford was a trustworthy and loyal officer, but Church had his own ideas about how to fight the war. He must find an army of his own.
Two days later, Church was in a canoe with two Cape Indians headed back to Aquidneck Island. They were approaching the rocky shore of Sakonnet at the southeastern corner of Narragansett Bay. This was the home of Awashonks, the female sachem whom Church had known before the war. He was certain that if given the opportunity, Awashonks would have aligned herself with the English. Instead, she’d taken her people across the bay to the then neutral Narragansetts. After the Great Swamp Fight, the Sakonnets had been forced north along with the Narragansetts and eventually made their way to Wachusett Mountain.
As Church and his two Indian guides approached the jagged rocks and pebble beach of Sakonnet, he saw some of the sachem’s Indians fishing in the surf. The Sakonnets, Church realized, had returned home. Perhaps he could convince them to abandon Philip and serve under him.
The Indians began to shout and make signs that Church should come ashore. But when the canoe approached, they retreated and hid amid the clefts of the rocks. Fearful that the Sakonnets might be luring him into a trap, Church ordered the Cape Indians to back away from shore. Over the next few minutes, as the canoe rose up and down with the rhythmic heave of the ocean swell, the Sakonnets and Cape Indians struck up a conversation in their Native language, but it was difficult for them to hear each other above the crashing surf. Church used hand signals to indicate that he was willing to meet with just two of them at the end of a nearby point of sand.
After pulling the canoe up on shore, Church realized that one of the Indians was an old friend named Honest George. George, who spoke English well, said that Church’s suspicions were correct; Awashonks “had left Philip and did not intend to return to him any more.” Church asked George to deliver a message to his sachem: in two days he would meet her and just two others at a well-known rock near the western shore of Sakonnet.
The next day, Church went to Newport to inform the authorities of his proposed meeting with Awashonks. Since the Sakonnets were regarded as the enemy, he needed official sanction. But the Rhode Island officials refused to grant him a permit, claiming Church “was mad” and would most certainly be killed if he dared meet with the Sakonnets. Church, however, resolved to go ahead with the meeting—with or without the authorities’ blessing.
Treaty Rock, circa 1900, where the Sakonnet sachem Awashonks agreed to join forces with Benjamin Church
He purchased a bottle of rum and a roll of tobacco to assist with the negotiations, and on the morning of the next day, he and the two Cape Indians prepared to paddle to Sakonnet. But Alice refused to let them go. The Rhode Islanders were right; it was too dangerous. Church did his best to convince “his tender and now brokenhearted wife” that he must go. He assured her that this was nothing compared to the dangers he had already survived; if God looked favorably on his meeting with Awashonks, it might be of “great service” to the colony. Finally, Alice relented. “[C]ommitting her, his babes and himself to heaven’s protection,” Church set out for Sakonnet.
It was just a three-mile paddle from the Almy house on the east shore of Aquidneck Island to the meeting place. As Church had hoped, he could see some Indians waiting on the bank. One of them was Honest George, who said that Awashonks was nearby and willing to meet with him. When Church asked if she had come with just two others, George did not have time to reply before Awashonks came down to the shore with her son Peter and her principal warrior, Nompash. The sachem shook Church’s hand and gestured for him to follow her inland to where a large rock stood at the edge of a meadow of waist-high grass.
Almost as soon as the four of them had assembled around the rock, “a great body” of Indians, all of them armed and with their faces covered in war paint, rose up out of the grass. After a brief pause, Church said that George had indicated Awashonks might be willing to consider peace. She agreed that such was indeed the case. “It is customary,” Church replied, “when people meet to treat of peace to lay aside their arms and not to appear in such hostile form as your people do.” Only after the warriors had gathered their muskets in a large pile did Church begin the negotiations.
But first they must share in a drink of rum. He had poured the liquor into a calabash made from a large gourd, and after drinking to the sachem’s health, he offered the rum to Awashonks. Church could tell by the way she had watched him drink the rum that she suspected the liquor had been poisoned. When the sachem declined to take the calabash, Church poured some rum into his palm, slurped it down, then, raising up the gourd, took yet another “good swig,” which he later remembered “was no more than he needed.” At last confident that the rum was safe to drink, Awashonks accepted the calabash, and after taking a drink, she and Church began to talk.
The first thing the sachem wanted to know was why he had not returned a year ago, as promised, with a message from the governor. Church explained that the sudden outbreak of the war had made that impossible, and, in fact, he had attempted to contact her when he and a small group of men had come to Sakonnet only to become embroiled in the Pease Field Fight. At the mention of this encounter, the warriors rose up from the grass in a great “hubbub,” with one of them shaking his wooden club at Church with an intention that was impossible to misinterpret.
Honest George explained that the warrior had lost his brother at the Pease Field Fight and “therefore he thirsts for your blood.” It was then that Nompash, Awashonks’s chief warrior, stood up and commanded his men to be silent and “talk no more about old things.” Church turned to Awashonks and said that he was confident the Plymouth authorities would spare their lives and allow them to remain at Sakonnet if they disavowed Philip. He cited the example of the Pequots, a tribe that had once warred against the English but was now a trusted ally. He concluded by saying that on a personal level he sincerely looked forward to reclaiming “the former friendship” they had once enjoyed.
This was enough for Nompash. The warrior once again stood, and after expressing the great respect he had for Church, bowed and proclaimed, “Sir, if you’ll please to accept of me and my men, and will head us, we’ll fight for you, and will help you to Philip’s head before Indian corn be ripe.” Church had found his warriors. But now he had to secure the permission of Plymouth Colony.
Once the Nipmucks decided they must sue for peace in June, Philip was forced to flee from Wachusett Mountain. Since the Mohawks were now his avowed enemy, he could not head to the west or the north, and the Mohegans were waiting for him in Connecticut to the south. He must return to Plymouth Colony, where there were still considerable supplies of corn hidden in underground storage pits.
Coming south with Philip were the sachems Quinnapin and Weetamoo, and by June, approximately a thousand Pokanokets, Narragansetts, and even some Indians from as far away as the Connecticut River valley had ventured into Plymouth Colony from the north. On June 16, they attacked Swansea and burned all but four garrisons to the ground. On June 26, the Indians returned to that settlement, this time turning their attention to Wannamoisett, the portion of Swansea first settled by the Brown and Willett families in the 1650s. By this time Alexander and Philip’s old friend Thomas Willett had been dead almost two years. Willett’s twenty-two-year-old son Hezekiah had recently married Anna Brown and was living in a house equipped with a watchtower. Confident that no hostile Indians were in the vicinity, Hezekiah ventured out with his black servant only to be caught in a vicious cross-fire and killed. The Indians cut off his head and, taking the servant captive, returned to their encampment in triumph.
Hezekiah had been killed by Indians who were unaware of the Willetts’ long-standing relationship with Philip and his brother. Before his death, Massasoit had instructed both his sons to be kind to John Brown and his family, and the sight of Hezekiah’s dissevered head appears to have had a profound and wrenching effect on Philip. The black servant later told how “the Mount Hope Indians that knew Mr. Willett were sorry for his death, mourned, combed his head and hung peag [wampum] in his hair.”
Philip had returned both to the land and to the people he had known all his life. Philip was at war with Plymouth, but a tortured ambivalence had characterized his relationship with the colony from the very beginning. In the weeks ahead, the war that ultimately bore his name acquired the fated quality of Greek tragedy as events drew him, with an eerie remorselessness, home.
Church was having difficulties of his own. Soon after his meeting with Awashonks, he wrote an account of the negotiations and gave it to the sachem’s son Peter, who left for Plymouth to speak with the authorities. But on June 27, when Bradford’s army arrived at Pocasset, just across the bay from Aquidneck Island, Church had not yet received any word from Peter. Church informed Bradford of the Sakonnets’ willingness to serve under him in the fight against Philip, but Bradford would have none of it. He needed to have the official sanction of Governor Winslow before he allowed Church to command a company of Sakonnets. Until he had that, Awashonks and her people must get themselves to Sandwich at the base of Cape Cod, where they would be beyond Philip’s influence and reach, and await the governor’s decision.
Even though he was not happy with the major’s orders, Church urged the Sakonnets to comply. He would go to Plymouth and find out what had happened to Peter. In a week, he promised, he would meet them in Sandwich with a commission from Governor Winslow. And so, with a Cape Indian provided by Bradford leading them with a white flag of truce, the Sakonnets set out for Sandwich.
But Church was fated to suffer a host of additional delays. Given the dangers of traveling overland, he could not simply ride to Plymouth, and he was forced to accompany Bradford’s army on an unsuccessful hunt for Philip on Mount Hope. Not until Friday, July 7—several days past the deadline he had promised the Sakonnets—did Church finally reach Plymouth.
To his immense relief, he learned that after a thorough interrogation of Awashonks’s son Peter, Governor Winslow had accepted the provisional agreement Church had reached with the Sakonnets. “His honor smilingly told him,” Church later remembered, “‘that he should not want commission if he would accept it, nor yet good Englishmen enough to make up a good army.’” It had taken a month to arrange, but it looked as if Church would at last have his own company of Indians.
He decided he needed only half a dozen or so Englishmen, and in just a few hours he had rounded up a group that included thirty-two-year-old Jabez Howland, son of Mayflower passenger John Howland, and Church’s brother-in-law twenty-eight-year-old Nathaniel South-worth. They mounted their horses and, after riding all that night, arrived in Sandwich just a few hours before daylight. The Sakonnets, they learned, had departed several days before for parts unknown. Church feared that Awashonks had taken offense at yet another broken English promise; adding to his worries was the presence of a considerable number of hostile Indians in the region under the leadership of Totoson, the destroyer of Dartmouth and Clark’s garrison in Plymouth. After a few hours’ sleep, Church and his men set out to catch up with Awashonks and her people.
He thought it likely that they had headed back for home and were following the western shore of Buzzards Bay toward Sakonnet. After riding more than twenty-six miles, Church and his men came upon a bluff with a panoramic view of a bay that is presently the outer portion of New Bedford Harbor. Ahead, they heard “a great noise” ; quickly dismounting from their horses, they began to creep through the underbrush until they had come to the bluff’s edge. Below them was modern Pope Beach and a sight that Church never forgot: “[They] saw a vast company of Indians, of all ages and sexes, some on horseback running races, some at football, some catching eels and flatfish in the water, some clamming, etc.” Church soon learned that these were indeed the Sakonnets and that Awashonks and her warriors were exceedingly pleased to see him once again.
They found the Sakonnet sachem at an open-sided shelter facing the bay. As Church and his men watched the red sun sink over the hills upon which the city of New Bedford would one day be built, the Sakonnets served them a supper that included “a curious young bass in one dish, eels and flatfish in a second, and shellfish in a third.” By the time they’d finished eating, a large pile of firewood had been assembled in front of Awashonks’s lean-to, and soon the bonfire was lit, “all the Indians, great and small, gather[ing] in a ring round it.”
Many of the Sakonnets had participated in the war dance witnessed by Mary Rowlandson prior to the Sudbury Fight. That night they performed a similar ritual. But instead of preparing to fight against the English, they were now preparing to fight for the people they had once considered their enemies. After each warrior had danced around the fire with a spear in one hand and a wooden club in the other and vowed to fight against the enemies of the English, Nompash stepped forward and announced to Church that “they were making soldiers for him.”
In the weeks ahead, Church’s Sakonnet warriors would take him to places that no Englishmen—except perhaps for Joshua Tefft, the renegade from Rhode Island—had been before. With the Sakonnets’ help, Church’s company would penetrate the hitherto impenetrable swamps of the New England wilderness—the same kind of physical and spiritual landscape in which, fifty-five years before, Massasoit had gathered his people after the arrival of the Mayflower.
We will never know what Massasoit’s powwows had told him about the future, but we do know that his son Philip took encouragement from his own powwows’ insistence that he would never die at the hands of an Englishman. With the Sakonnets’ entry into the war on the side of the colony, that prophecy gave the Pokanoket sachem little consolation. Learning of the defection of the Sakonnets was said, according to William Hubbard, to have “broke[n] Philip’s heart.” From that day forward, he was fighting not just the English; he was fighting his own people.
Church and his new Sakonnet recruits reached Plymouth the next day. Having already acquired a reputation for daring and unconventionality, Church attracted several new English volunteers, including Jabez Howland’s brother Isaac, Caleb Cook, Jonathan Delano, and Jonathan Barnes. In their late twenties and early thirties, many of these men were, like Church, either the sons or grandsons of the original Pilgrims. With the help of the Sakonnets, this hardy group of Mayflower descendants was about to develop a new way to fight a war.
Church was by no means the first to utilize friendly Indians against the enemy. The Connecticut forces had relied on the Mohegans, Pequots, and Niantics since the beginning of the conflict. Under the leadership of Major John Talcott, Connecticut forces had become known for their relentless pursuit of the enemy—and for massacring almost all those they encountered. In many ways, Talcott had become another Samuel Moseley, but unlike Moseley and his roughneck band of privateers, who enthusiastically butchered Native men, women, and children, Talcott preferred to let his Indians do much of the dirty work. He claimed to be appalled by the brutality of his Mohegan and Pequot scouts, but that did not prevent him from giving them free rein when it came to killing and torturing the Narragansetts.
In early July, Talcott’s company surprised several groups of Narragansetts, and in the course of a few days killed more than two hundred of them, including the female sachem known as Queen, whom Talcott described as “that old piece of venom.” Talcott decided to keep one of the Narragansetts alive so that his own Native warriors could torture him to death while providing “an ocular demonstration of the savage, barbarous cruelty of these heathen.” Ritual torture was a long-standing part of Indian warfare, and Talcott later provided the Puritan historian William Hubbard with a detailed account of how the Mohegans cut the young warrior apart, finger by finger and toe by toe, “the blood sometimes spurting out in streams a yard from his hand,” before clubbing him to death.
No matter how shocking such incidents might have seemed in English eyes, they obfuscated an essential truth about King Philip’s War. Atrocities were expected in both European and Native conflicts. And yet, the English had to admit that compared to what was typical of European wars, the Indians had conducted themselves with surprising restraint. As Mary Rowlandson could attest, the Native warriors never raped their female captives—a common occurrence in the wars of seventeenth-century Europe.
But that did not prevent the level of violence in King Philip’s War from escalating during the summer of 1676. As in the final stages of the English civil war, what has been described as “a kind of victor’s justice” began to assert itself. Confident that the Indians were about to go down in defeat, increasing numbers of English commanders followed Talcott’s example and refused to grant the enemy any quarter. Since the Indians were in rebellion against the colonial governments to which they had once promised their loyalty, they were, in the English view, guilty of treason and therefore deserving of death. There was another alternative, however, that had the benefit of providing a way to begin paying for the war: slavery.
Some Englishmen preferred to view this as a more humane alternative. But sending large numbers of Native men, women, and children to almost certain death on a Caribbean sugar plantation was hardly an act of mercy. One of the few to object to the policy of enslaving Indians was the missionary John Eliot. “To sell souls for money seems a dangerous merchandise,” Eliot wrote. “To sell [the Indians] away from all means of grace…is the way for us to be active in destroying…their souls.” Most New Englanders, however, were so terrified by the prospect of living with the enemy in their midst that they gladly endorsed the policy of shipping Indian captives to the Caribbean and beyond. Onto this dodgy moral ground entered Benjamin Church.
More than anything else, Church wanted the conflict to end. This did not mean that he felt the war was unjustified. From his perspective, Philip and his warriors, some of whom had threatened him personally prior to the war, richly deserved to die, for they had dragged the region into an unnecessary conflict that had resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent English and Native people. This did not apply, however, to many, if not most, of the other Indians in New England, who had been pushed to become Philip’s allies through the ignorance, arrogance, and misplaced zeal of the English. In Church’s view, Indians like the Sakonnets, Pocassets, Narragansetts, and many Pokanokets should be given the benefit of the doubt and treated with compassion.
Back in August of the previous year, Church had objected vehemently to Winslow’s decision to enslave the Indians taken at Dartmouth. But now, with war raging once again throughout the colony, he had no choice but to adapt to the skewed ethics of a society that still feared it was on the verge of annihilation. The highest priority was to end the fighting, and Church now believed that with the Sakonnets on his side, he could accomplish exactly that.
Unlike the conscripted soldiers under the command of Major Bradford, whose salaries were being paid by the colony, Church’s volunteers must, in effect, pay for themselves. Church’s agreement with the Plymouth authorities was this: he and his English soldiers received half the money derived from the sale of Indian prisoners and their arms, while the Sakonnets received what Church described as “loose plunder.” The arrangement was, in Church’s words, “poor encouragement” at best, but it was the only way the government was going to allow him to fight the war on his own terms.
On the evening of July 11, Church’s company of approximately two dozen men, more than half of them Indians, left Plymouth for Middle-borough, where a mixed group of Pokanokets and Narragansetts had recently been sighted. Church realized he still had much to learn when it came to the subtleties of Indian warfare. As they made their way along the path to Middleborough, he asked the Sakonnets “[h]ow they got such advantage of the English in their marches through the woods.” They replied that it was essential to keep the men widely separated or, as Church described, “thin and scattered.” According to the Sakonnets, the English “always kept in a heap together” ; as a result, it was as “easy to hit [a company of English soldiers] as to hit a house.” Church soon discovered that spreading out his men had the added benefit of making his tiny army seem much larger than it actually was.
The Sakonnets also insisted that silence was essential when pursuing the enemy. The English addiction to talking to one another alerted the Indians to their presence. Creaking leather shoes were not to be tolerated; even the swishing sound made by a pair of thick pants could be detected by the Indians. If some form of communication was required, they should use an ever-changing vocabulary of wildlife sounds, from birdcalls to the howling of a wolf. They must also learn how to track the enemy. The morning was the best time, since it was possible to trace a man’s steps in the dew. But perhaps the most important lesson Church learned from the Sakonnets was never to leave a swamp the same way he had entered it. To do otherwise was to walk into an ambush.
Benjamin Church’s sword
To this markedly Native form of fighting, Church brought influences of his own, many of them derived from living among the mariners of Aquidneck Island. The sword he carried at his side was crudely fashioned compared to the elegant German rapier worn several decades earlier by Miles Standish. Church’s sword had a simple maple handle and a broad, upturned blade typical of the weapons used by Caribbean buccaneers, making it ideally suited to hand-to-hand combat. Church also spoke like a sailor. A Native scout was a “pilot.” When someone suddenly veered off in another direction, he “tacked about.” And as he soon discovered, exploring the smothering green of a New England swamp in summer had much in common with navigating a treacherous, fogbound coast.
After a few hours’ sleep in Middleborough, Church and his men set out after the enemy. Soon one of his Indian scouts reported having found an encampment. Based on the Sakonnets’ description of, in Church’s words, “their fires and postures,” he directed his men to surround the camp, and on his cue, they rushed at the enemy, “surprising them from every side so unexpectedly that they were all taken, not so much as one escaped.” Church took an immediate liking to one of the captured Indians, named Jeffrey, who freely told him of the whereabouts of a large number of Indians near Monponsett Pond, where Philip’s brother Alexander had been seized back in 1662. Church decided to make Jeffrey a part of their company, promising “that if he continued to be faithful to him, he should not be sold out of the country but should become his waiting man.” As it turned out, Jeffrey remained a part of the Church household for the rest of the Indian’s life.
After delivering his prisoners to Plymouth, Church and his men were on their way to Monponsett, where they captured several dozen additional Indians. Over the course of the next few weeks, Church’s string of successes continued unabated, and he soon became the talk of the colony. On July 24, Winslow broadened Church’s powers to allow him to do as he had done with Jeffrey: grant mercy to those Indians who agreed to help him find more of the enemy. Church’s recruits were soon convincing other newly captured Indians to do as they had done and come over to what he described as “the better side of the hedge.”
It was a deal that was difficult to refuse, but much of its appeal depended on the charisma, daring, and likability of the company’s captain. Church prided himself on his ability to bring even the most “treacherous dog” around to his way of thinking. “Come, come,” he would say, “you look wild and surly and mutter, but that signifies nothing. These my best soldiers were a little while ago as wild and surly as you are now. By the time you have been but one day…with me, you’ll love me too.” By the end of July, Church’s little band of volunteers was routinely bringing in more Indians than all of Plymouth’s and Massachusett Bay’s companies combined. In his history of the war, Cotton Mather wrote, “[S]ome of [Church’s] achievements were truly so magnanimous and extraordinary that my reader will suspect me to be transcribing the silly old romances, where the knights do conquer so many giants.”
Church undoubtedly enjoyed the praise, and in his own account of the war he does his best to portray himself as a swashbuckling knight errant of the woods, but as even he admitted, his successes would not have been possible without the presence of Bradford’s more traditional army. Based in Taunton, Bradford’s men chased Philip throughout the swamps and woods, and in several instances came within minutes of taking the Pokanoket sachem. But, unlike Church’s company, morale was a problem among Bradford’s conscripted soldiers, and by the end of July many of them had either deserted or found sufficient excuses to return home.
Bradford had been there from the beginning. Back in 1662, he had been present when the young Josiah Winslow took Philip’s brother Alexander. Bradford had been injured at the Great Swamp Fight, and when the temperamental Church had gone off in a huff to Aquidneck Island and Captain Pierce and his men had been wiped out in March, he had assumed command of the army no one else wanted to lead. Solid, dutiful, and pious, the fifty-two-year-old major did not share Church’s talent for improvisation and risk. Nor did he care to.
In many ways, he was his father’s son. In the 1620s, Governor Bradford had objected to Thomas Morton’s gambols with the Indians around the maypole at Merrymount. A half century later, Major Bradford had little patience for Church’s unorthodox and reckless method of fighting both with and against the Indians. But Bradford was too forthright and humble not to give the man he called “cousin” his due. Church might be prideful and more than a little cavalier with the lives of his men, but he was winning the war. On July 24, Bradford replied to a letter he’d just received from the Reverend John Cotton, who had apparently praised Church’s most recent triumphs.
I am glad of the successes of my cousin Church. The Lord yet continue it, and give him more and more, [but] I shall in no wise emulate any man. The Lord give him and us, or any that have successes on the enemy, to be humble and give God the only praise for his power…. I have done my duty and have neglected no opportunity to face upon the enemy, and I am verily persuaded that if we should [have] adventured without the Benjamin Forces, we had been either worsted or also lost many men. He had placed himself in such an advantaged place, and I had rather be accounted a slow person…yea, even a coward than to adventure the loss of any of my soldiers…. You know the state of things when I came first out. I should have been glad if any would have took in my room, and I know there is many that would have managed it better than myself. But now we have many commanders that are very forward and think themselves the only men. We are going forth this day intending Philip’s headquarters. I shall not put myself out of breath to get before Ben Church. I shall be cautious, still I cannot outgo my nature. I will leave the issue with God.
As it turned out, Bradford did not succeed in taking the Pokanoket sachem on July 25. As the major had surely come to suspect, God had, in his infinite and unfathomable wisdom, reserved that honor for Benjamin Church.
On Sunday, July 30, Church took a brief respite from the war to worship at the meetinghouse in Plymouth. But before the conclusion of the service, the Reverend John Cotton was interrupted by a messenger from Josiah Winslow, who had just ridden in from Marshfield. The governor needed to speak with Captain Church.
A “great army of Indians” had been seen massing on the eastern shore of the Taunton River. If they succeeded in crossing the river, the towns of Taunton and Bridgewater would be in danger. Winslow requested that Church “immediately…rally what of his company he could.” Church leaped into action but, finding no provisions in the town’s storehouse, was forced to jog from house to house collecting what bread the goodwives of Plymouth were willing to donate to the cause.
As Church and his company of eighteen Englishmen and twenty-two Indians made their way toward Bridgewater, a handful of the town’s militia were already out on a reconnaissance mission of their own. They were approaching the Taunton River when they heard some suspicious noises. They soon discovered that the Indians had felled a huge tree across the river and were at that very moment beginning to cross over toward Bridgewater. There were two Indians on the tree, an old man with the traditional long hair of a Native American and a younger man with his hair cut short in the style of a Praying Indian. One of the militiamen shot and killed the older Indian, and the younger one, who was lugging a container of gunpowder, tossed the powder into the bushes and escaped back into the forest on the eastern shore of the river. The dead Indian turned out to be Akkompoin, Philip’s uncle and one of the sachem’s most trusted counsellors. They later learned that the other Indian had been Philip himself. In an effort to disguise himself, he had cut off his hair, and for the moment at least, the change in hairstyle had saved his life.
Many of his subjects were not so lucky that day. After more than a year of unrelenting hardship, Philip’s people were exhausted, starving, and dispirited. Conditions had become particularly difficult in the last month. With the appearance of Church’s company in early July, the swamps that had once provided them with a place of refuge were no longer safe. With no way to protect their children, the Indians had been reduced to the most terrible and desperate extreme a people can ever know. William Hubbard reported that “it is certainly affirmed that several of their young children were killed by themselves, that they might not be betrayed by their crying or be hindered with them in their flight.” Another source claimed that the children’s parents had resorted to hiring “a cruel woman among them to kill their children; she killed a hundred in one day.”
The Bridgewater militiamen reported that the Indians they met on Monday, July 31, were so stunned and terror-struck that many of them were helpless to defend themselves. According to one account, “Some of the Indians acknowledged that their arms shook and trembled so that they could not so readily discharge their guns as they would have done.” Ten Indians were shot dead with loaded muskets in their hands, while fifteen others “threw down their guns and submitted themselves to the English.” For many of the Indians, there was no reason left to continue.
Early the next morning, Church and his company set out from Bridgewater. They had recruited several men from the local militia, and one of these “brisk lads” guided them to where the Indians had laid the tree across the river. Church and one of his men crept in among the leafy branches of the fallen tree. Looking across the river, they saw an Indian sitting on the tree’s stump—an unusual thing for a hostile Indian to be doing the morning after the encounter with the Bridgewater militia. Church took aim, but his Native companion told him to hold his fire; he believed it might be a friendly Indian. But when the Indian, apparently hearing them, glanced in their direction, the Sakonnet immediately realized it was Philip. He fired his musket, but it was too late. The sachem had rolled off the stump and escaped into the woods.
Church and his men ran across the tree and soon came upon a group of women and children that included Philip’s wife and nine-year-old son. There was a fresh trail south, and the prisoners informed him that it had been left by sachem Quinnapin and his people, who had resolved to return home to the western shore of Narragansett Bay. But where was Philip? The prisoners claimed that they did not know, “for he fled in a great fright when the first English gun was fired, and they had none of them seen or heard anything of him since.”
Leaving some of his men with the prisoners, Church and the rest of the company headed down the trail, hopeful that they might overtake the enemy. It was a muggy summer day, and after several miles of running along the eastern bank of the river, their clothes were drenched in sweat. They came to a shallow portion of the river, where they could tell the Narragansetts had crossed to the other side. The water reached up to their armpits, but they quickly forded the river and continued the pursuit.
But after another mile, Church realized that given the importance of the prisoners he now had in his possession, he must return to the downed tree and get them back to Bridgewater before dark. His Sakonnets, however, were reluctant to give up the chase. They explained that Awashonks’s brother had been killed by the Narragansetts, and they wanted revenge. Church designated a Sakonnet named Lightfoot as their captain and “bid them go and quit themselves like men.” “[A]way they scampered,” Church wrote, “like so many horses.”
The next morning Lightfoot and his men returned with thirteen prisoners. They had caught up to the Narrangansetts and killed several of them and “rejoiced much at the opportunity of avenging themselves.” Church sent the prisoners on to Bridgewater and, with the Sakonnets leading the way, resumed the search for Philip.
They came upon an abandoned encampment that convinced them the Pokanokets were close at hand. Moving quickly through the woods, they discovered a large number of women and children who were too tired to keep up with the main body of Indians up ahead. The prisoners reported that “Philip with a great number of the enemy were a little before.” It was getting late in the day, but Church was loath to give up the chase. He told the Sakonnets to inform their prisoners that “if they would submit to order and be still, no one should hurt them.”
As night descended, they could hear the sounds of Philip’s men chopping wood and setting up camp. Drawing his men and prisoners in a ring, Church informed them that they were going to spend the night sitting quietly in the swamp. If any prisoner attempted to escape, Church would “immediately kill them all.”
Just before daybreak, Church explained to the prisoners that he and his men were about to attack Philip. He had no one he could spare to guard them, but he assured them that it was in their best interests not to escape. Once the fighting was over, they were to follow their trail and once again surrender themselves. Otherwise, he would hunt them down and kill them all.
He sent out two Sakonnet scouts just as, it turned out, Philip sent two scouts of his own. Philip’s men spotted the Sakonnets and were soon running back to camp, making “the most hideous noise they could invent.” By the time Church and his men arrived, the Pokanokets had fled into a nearby swamp, leaving their kettles boiling and meat roasting on the fire.
Church left some of his men at the place where the Indians had entered the swamp, then led a group of soldiers around one side of the morass while Isaac Howland took another group around the other side. Once they had positioned men at regular intervals around the entire perimeter of the swamp, Church and Howland rendezvoused at the farthest point just as a large number of the enemy emerged from the swamp’s interior.
Hopelessly outnumbered, Church and his handful of soldiers could easily have been overrun and massacred by the Pokanokets. Suddenly, a Sakonnet named Matthias shouted out in the Indians’ own language, “If you fire one shot, you are all dead men!” Mathias went on to claim that they had a large force and had the swamp completely surrounded.
Many of the Pokanokets did as their brethren had done just a day before: astonished, they stood motionless as Church’s men took the loaded muskets from their hands. Not far from the swamp was a depression of land that Church compared to a “punchbowl.” He directed the prisoners to jump down into the hollow, and with only a few men standing guard—all of them triple-armed with guns taken from the Indians—he plunged back into the swamp to find Philip.
Almost immediately, Church found himself virtually face-to-face with the Pokanoket leader and several of his warriors. By this point, the sachem’s behavior was entirely predictable. When cornered or confronted, Philip invariably ran. As Church and two Sakonnets engaged the Pokanoket warriors, Philip turned and fled back to the entrance of the swamp. This might have been the end of the sachem. But one of the men Church had left waiting in ambush outside the swamp was a notorious drunkard named Thomas Lucas. Whether or not he had just taken a nip, Lucas was, in Church’s words, not “as careful as he might have been about his stand.” Instead of killing the enemy, Lucas was gunned down by the Pokanokets, and Philip escaped.
In the meantime, Church had his hands full in the swamp. Two enemy warriors surrendered, but the third, whom Church described as “a great stout surly fellow with his two locks tied up with red [cloth] and a great rattlesnake skin hanging to the back part of his head,” refused to give up. This, it turned out, was Totoson, the sachem who had attacked Dartmouth and the Clark garrison. While the Sakonnets guarded the others, Church chased Totoson. It looked as if the sachem might escape, so Church stopped to fire his musket. Unfortunately it was a damp morning, and Church’s musket refused to go off. Seeing his opportunity, Totoson spun around and aimed his musket, but it, too, failed to fire. Once again, the chase was on.
Church momentarily lost him in the undergrowth but was soon back on the trail. They were running through some particularly dense bushes when the Indian tripped on a grapevine and fell flat on his face. Before he could get back up, Church raised the barrel of his musket and killed him with a single blow to the head. But as Church soon discovered, this was not Totoson. The sachem had somehow eluded Church, and filled with rage, Totoson was now coming up from behind and “flying at him like a dragon.” Just in the nick of time, the Sakonnets opened fire. The bullets came very close to killing the person they were intended to save (Church claimed “he felt the wind of them” ), but they had the desired effect. Totoson abandoned his attempt to kill the English captain and escaped into the swamp.
They had not succeeded in capturing Philip or, for that matter, Totoson, but Church’s band of eighteen English soldiers and twenty-two Sakonnets had nonetheless managed one of the more spectacular feats of the war. Once the fighting had ended, and they had rounded up all their prisoners, they discovered that they had taken a grand total of 173 Indians.
Church asked some of them if they could tell him anything about their sachem. “Sir,” one of them replied, “you have now made Philip ready to die, for you have made him as poor and miserable as he used to make the English, for you have now killed or taken all his relations.”
When they reached Bridgewater that night, the only place that could accommodate all the prisoners was the pound, a fenced-in area used to collect the town’s herds of sheep and cattle. The Sakonnets were assigned guard duty, and Church made sure to provide both the guards and their prisoners with food and drink. “[T]hey had a merry night,” Church remembered, “and the prisoners laughed as loud as the soldiers, not [having been] so [well] treated [in] a long time.”
On Sunday, August 6, two days after Church delivered his prisoners to Plymouth, Weetamoo and what remained of her Pocasset followers were in the vicinity of Taunton when a group of local militiamen attacked. The English took twenty-six prisoners, but Weetamoo escaped.
Soon after, she attempted to cross the Taunton River, but before she reached Pocasset on the eastern shore, her rickety raft broke apart, and she drowned. A day or two later her naked body was discovered on the shore of Gardner’s Neck, once the village site of her father, Corbitant. Not knowing who it was, an Englishman cut off the woman’s head and sent it on to Taunton. Upon its arrival, the nameless head was placed upon a pole within sight of the Indians taken prisoner just a few days before. Soon enough, the residents of Taunton knew whose head it was. According to Increase Mather, the Pocassets “made a most horrid and diabolical lamentation, crying out that it was their Queen’s head.”
A few days later Weetamoo’s husband, Quinnapin, was taken captive, and on August 25 he was executed in Newport. To the north in Boston, the Nipmuck Sagamore John won a pardon when he brought in his former ally Matoonas. On July 27 the English looked on as Sagamore John and his men tied Matoonas to a tree on Boston Common and shot him to death. A month later Sagamore Sam and several other Nipmuck sachems who had been tricked into surrendering were also executed on the Common.
By that time, Totoson, the destroyer of Dartmouth and Clark’s garrison, was dead. An old Indian woman later reported that after the sachem’s eight-year-old son succumbed to disease, Totoson’s “heart became as a stone within him, and he died.” The woman threw some brush and leaves over Totoson’s body and surrendered herself to the authorities in Sandwich, where she, too, became ill and followed her sachem to the grave.
In terms of the percentage of population killed, the English had suffered casualties that are difficult for us to comprehend today. During the forty-five months of World War II, the United States lost just under 1 percent of its adult male population; during the Civil War the casualty rate was somewhere between 4 and 5 percent; during the fourteen months of King Philip’s War, Plymouth Colony lost close to 8 percent of its men.
But the English losses appear almost inconsequential when compared to those of the Indians. Of a total Native population of approximately 20,000, at least 2,000 had been killed in battle or died of their injuries; 3,000 had died of sickness and starvation, 1,000 had been shipped out of the country as slaves, while an estimated 2,000 eventually fled to either the Iroquois to the west or the Abenakis to the north. Overall, the Native American population of southern New England had sustained a loss of somewhere between 60 and 80 percent. Philip’s local squabble with Plymouth Colony had mutated into a regionwide war that, on a percentage basis, had done nearly as much as the plagues of 1616–19 to decimate New England’s Native population.
In the end, the winner of the conflict was determined not by military prowess but by one side’s ability to outlast the other. The colonies had suffered a series of terrible defeats, but they had England to provide them with food, muskets, and ammunition. The Indians had only themselves, and by summer they were without the stores of food and gunpowder required to conduct a war. If Philip had managed to secure the support of the French, it might all have turned out differently. But the sachem’s dream of a French-Pokanoket alliance was destroyed when, at New York governor Andros’s urging, the Mohawks attacked him in late February. The Puritans never admitted it, but it had been Andros and the Mohawks who had determined the ultimate outcome of King Philip’s War.
By August it had become apparent that the fighting was drawing to a close. But as everyone knew, the war would not be over until its instigator, Philip of Mount Hope, had been taken.
By Friday, August 11, most of the English forces that had once been roaming across Plymouth Colony had been disbanded. Only Benjamin Church and his loyal Sakonnets were still out on patrol. They had just spent the day in Pocasset but had come up with nothing. Church decided that he did not care what the authorities back in Plymouth said; he was going to visit Alice.
Church and his men took the ferry to Aquidneck Island. Alice and the boys were now staying at the home of the noted merchant Peleg Sanford in Newport, and Church and half a dozen of his company rode their horses the eight miles to Sanford’s house. When she first glimpsed her husband, Alice was so overcome with surprise that she fainted dead away. By the time she had begun to revive, Church noticed that two horsemen were approaching at great speed. He turned to the members of his company and said, “Those men come with tidings.”
They proved to be Sanford and Church’s old friend, Captain Roger Goulding, the mariner who had saved him more than a year ago during the Pease Field Fight, and sure enough, they had news. An Indian had appeared earlier that day at the southern tip of the Mount Hope Peninsula. He reported that he had just fled from Philip, who had killed his brother for proposing that they sue for peace. The Indian was now on Aquidneck Island and willing to lead Church to Philip’s camp.
Church turned to Alice and smiled ruefully. He and his men had not yet had the chance to unsaddle their horses. “[H]is wife,” he later wrote, “must content herself with a short visit, when such game was ahead.” Church asked Sanford and Goulding whether they wanted to come along. They readily agreed, and soon they were back on their horses and riding north toward Mount Hope.
The deserter was waiting for them at the ferry. He was, according to Church, “a fellow of good sense, and told his story handsomely.” Philip, the Indian reported, was on a little patch of high ground surrounded by a miry swamp at the base of the rocky heights of Mount Hope. The sachem had returned to the symbolic if not literal center of his territory, and the disaffected Indian offered to lead Church to him “and to help kill him, that he might revenge his brother’s death.”
It was after midnight by the time they approached Philip’s camp. In addition to Sanford and Goulding, Church had a few of his Plymouth regulars, including Caleb Cook, grandson of the Mayflower passenger Francis Cook, to augment his veteran band of Sakonnets. There was also the Pocasset Indian named Alderman, who had left Weetamoo at the beginning of the war and had offered to lead Church to her headquarters soon after the Pease Field Fight—a battle in which Church had fought against the very same Sakonnets who were now his loyal followers. It was a small company of no more than two dozen men, but it epitomized the tangled loyalties of a biracial community that had been ruptured and reconstituted amid the trauma of war.
Church assigned Goulding, the man to whom he already owed his life, to lead the group that would fall upon Philip’s headquarters. With the Pokanoket deserter to guide them, Goulding and his men would creep on their stomachs through the underbrush until they came within sight of the enemy. By that time, Church would have stationed the rest of his men at regular intervals around the periphery of the swamp.
Their experience had taught them that the Indians always constructed their shelters so that they were open to the swamp. They also knew that “it was,” in Church’s words, “Philip’s custom to be foremost in the flight.” When Goulding and his men attacked, the sachem would immediately flee into the swamp, and Church and his men would be waiting for him.
It was always difficult to distinguish friend from foe in the early-morning darkness of a swamp, so Church instructed Goulding and his men to shout at the top of their lungs once the fighting began. The rest of them would fire on only those “that should come silently through the swamp.”
It had come down to just a handful of Philip’s toughest and most loyal men. There was the young warrior who was reputed to have fired the first shot back in June of 1675. He would be one of the first to die that morning. There was also the consummate survivor: Annawon.
No one knew exactly how old he was, but he had fought alongside Philip’s father, Massasoit, decades before this. It is likely that he had been one of the warriors to carry the dying Alexander on his shoulders back to Mount Hope. For more than a year now, he had been with Philip every step of the way. In just the last month alone, they had covered hundreds of miles as they crisscrossed their homeland, always on the run. Because never, it seemed, was Philip willing to fight. Even when his wife and child were about to fall into the clutches of the English, the sachem had fled.
When they had fallen asleep that night, their exhaustion had been mixed with more than the usual tension and fear. After the desertion of the brother of the executed warrior, they all knew the English would be coming soon. As day approached, Philip awoke from a dream. They must leave immediately, he told Annawon and the others. In his dream he had been taken by the English. They had been betrayed.
One of the warriors stood up to relieve himself. A musket fired, and the yelling began.
As had become a reflex with him, Philip leaped to his feet, threw his powder horn and petunk (a pouch containing bullets) over his shoulder, and with his musket in hand started to run. It would be left to Annawon and the others to gather their belongings and hold the English off for as long as possible.
As his sachem disappeared into the murky recesses of the swamp, Annawon shouted after him, “Iootash! Iootash!”—“Fight! Fight!” We will never know whether Philip turned back to look at Annawon. But we do know he continued to run.
The first crack of the musket took Church by surprise. He thought one of his soldier’s guns might have gone off by accident. But other shots soon followed, and he knew the ambush had begun.
In the eastern portion of the swamp stood two men: twenty-five-year-old Caleb Cook and the Pocasset named Alderman. They could see an Indian coming toward them. He was running, they later reported, “as fast as he could scamper.” He was dressed in only his small breeches and stockings. They waited until he had come within range, and now confident that he was one of the enemy, Cook pulled the trigger of his musket, but his weapon refused to fire. It was left to Alderman.
The musket lock of the gun that reputedly killed King Philip
The Pocasset had an old musket with a large touchhole, which made the weapon less susceptible to the early-morning dampness. He pulled the trigger, and the lever holding the flint, known as a cock, swung forward against the metal frizzen or battery, and the resulting spark dropped down through the touchhole into the firing pan filled with priming powder. The explosion that followed ignited the charge of gunpowder in the musket barrel, hurling two bullets, one of which pierced Philip’s rapidly beating heart.
He fell facedown into the mud with his gun beneath him. The warriors coming up from behind heard the shots and veered off in the opposite direction. Annawon could still be heard shouting, “Iootash! Iootash!”
Alderman and Cook rushed over to Church and told him that they had just killed Philip. He instructed them to keep the news a secret until the engagement was over. The fighting continued for a few more minutes, but finding a gap in the English line on the west end of the swamp, most of the enemy, now led by Annawon, escaped.
Church gathered his men on the rise of land where the Indians’ shelter had been built and told them of Philip’s death. The army, Indians and English alike, shouted “Huzzah!” three times. Taking hold of his breeches and stockings, the Sakonnets dragged the sachem’s body through the mud and deposited him beside the shelter—“a doleful, great, naked, dirty beast,” Church remembered.
With his men assembled around him and with Philip’s mud-smeared body at his feet, Church pronounced his sentence: “That for as much as he had caused many an Englishman’s body to lie unburied and rot above ground, that not one of his bones should be buried.” He called forward a Sakonnet who had already executed several of the enemy and ordered him to draw and quarter the body of King Philip.
The Sakonnet took up his hatchet, but paused to deliver a brief speech. Philip had been a “very great man,” he said, “and had made many a man afraid of him, but so big as he was he would now chop his ass for him.” Soon the body had been divided into four pieces. One of Philip’s hands possessed a distinctive scar caused by an exploded pistol. Church awarded the hand to Alderman, who later placed it in a bottle of rum and made “many a penny” in the years to come by exhibiting the hand to curious New Englanders.
Almost exactly a month earlier, on Thursday, July 18, the congregation at Plymouth had formally renewed the covenant their forefathers had struck with God more than a half century before in Leiden. “[W]e are,” they had vowed, “though descended of a noble vine, yet become the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto God; we have been a proud generation, though we are the sons and daughters of Zion.”
From that day forward, victory had followed victory, and on Thursday, August 17, Pastor John Cotton led his congregation in a day of Thanksgiving. Soon after the conclusion of public worship that day, Benjamin Church and his men arrived with the preeminent trophy of the war. “[Philip’s] head was brought into Plymouth in great triumph,” the church record states, “he being slain two or three days before, so that in the day of our praises our eyes saw the salvation of God.”
The head was placed on one of the palisades of the town’s one-hundred-foot-square fort, built near where, back in 1623, Miles Standish had placed the head of Wituwamat after his victory at Wessagussett. Philip’s head would remain a fixture in Plymouth for more than two decades, becoming the town’s most famous attraction long before anyone took notice of the hunk of granite known as Plymouth Rock.
Philip was dead, but Annawon, the sachem’s “chief captain,” was still out there. Old as Annawon was, the colony would not be safe, the governor insisted, until he had been taken. There was yet another well-known warrior still at large: Tuspaquin, the famed Black Sachem of Nemasket. Tuspaquin was both a powwow and a sachem and was, according to the Indians, impervious to bullets.
Church was expected to hunt down and kill these two notorious warriors, but he had other ideas. He had recently been contacted by Massachusetts-Bay about assisting the colony against the Abenakis in Maine, where fighting still raged. With Tuspaquin and Annawon at his side, Church believed, he might be able to subdue the hitherto unconquerable Abenakis.
On August 29, he learned that the Black Sachem was in the region known as Lakenham, about six miles west of Plymouth. But after two days of searching, he’d only managed to take Tuspaquin’s wife and children. He left a message for the sachem with two old Nemasket women that Tuspaquin “should be his captain over his Indians if he [proved to be] so stout a man as they reported him to be.” With luck, Tuspaquin would turn himself in at Plymouth, and Church would have a new Native officer.
About a week later, word came from Taunton that Annawon and his men had been seen at Mount Hope. On Thursday, September 7, Church and just five Englishmen, including his trusted lieutenant Jabez Howland, and twenty Indians left Plymouth in search of Annawon.
They ranged about Mount Hope for several days and took a large number of Indians near the abandoned English fort. When Lightfoot came up with the idea of using the fort as a temporary prison, Church took some consolation in the fact that this misbegotten structure had finally been put to good use.
One of the captive Indians reported that his father and a girl had just come from Annawon’s headquarters. The old man and the girl were hidden in a nearby swamp, and the captive offered to take Church to them. Leaving Howland and most of the company with the prisoners, Church and a handful of men went in search of the prisoner’s father.
That afternoon they found the old man and the girl, each of whom was carrying a basket of provisions. They reported that Annawon and about fifty to sixty men were lodged in Squannakonk Swamp several miles to the north between Taunton and Rehoboth. If they left immediately, they could be there by sundown.
Church was in a quandary as to what to do next. He had only half a dozen men with him. Annawon had a reputation as one of Philip’s fiercest warriors, and the Indians said that he had let it be known “that he would never be taken alive.” What’s more, his men were “resolute fellows [and] some of Philip’s chief soldiers.” To take them on with just six men was madness.
But Church might never have this good a chance again. As he knew from experience, Annawon was exceedingly difficult to track down. He changed his camp every night and was, in Church’s words, “a very subtle man.” If they left immediately, the old man and the girl could take them directly to the warrior. If they waited until tomorrow, he would be gone.
Church asked his men if they were willing to “give Annawon a visit.” Most of them assented, but one of the Sakonnets pointed out “that it would be a pity that after all the great things [Church] had done, he should throw away his life at last.” In the end, however, Church believed the Lord was on his side. He had “no doubt,” he told his men, “that if they would cheerfully go with him the same almighty providence that had hitherto protected and befriended them would do so still.” In one voice, the Sakonnets said, “We will go.” Church then turned to the only Englishman in the company, Caleb Cook, and asked what he thought. “Sir,” Cook replied, “I am never afraid of going anywhere when you are with me.” And so, with the elderly Indian captive and the girl leading the way, they left for Annawon’s encampment.
The two guides walked so briskly over the swampy ground that Church and the rest of the company had difficulty keeping up. The old man insisted that since Church had given him his life, he had no choice but to serve him, and if Church’s plan was to work, they needed to get there as swiftly as possible.
They had been traveling for several hours when their guides suddenly stopped and sat down. The old man explained that Annawon always sent out scouts at sunset “to see if the coast were clear.” Only after it was completely dark could they resume their journey. As they waited for night, Church asked the old man if he would take a gun and fight for him. The Indian bowed low and said he was willing to lead Church to Annawon, but he would not take up arms against his “old friend.” Church agreed to respect his wishes, and they continued on through the dark.
They had not gone far when they heard a rhythmic beating noise. The Sakonnets instantly recognized it as the pounding of a mortar. Annawon’s women were grinding corn in preparation for supper.
The old man explained that Annawon had set up camp at the base of a steep rock. A surrounding swamp prevented access from any other point. Church and the old man crept up to the edge of the rock. They could see the flickering fires of Annawon’s people. There were three different groups, with “the great Annawon” and his son and several others lodged nearest the rock. Their food was cooking on the fires, and Church noticed that their guns were leaning together against a horizontal branch and that a mat had been placed over the weapons to protect them from the dew. He also noticed that Annawon’s feet and his son’s head were almost touching the muskets.
A nineteenth-century engraving depicting Church’s capture of Annawon
Church had become a master at using audacity as a tactical weapon. No one in his right mind would dare enter Annawon’s camp down the face of this rock. But if he could hide himself behind his two Indian guides, who were known to Annawon and his warriors, he might be able to secure the Indians’ guns before they realized who he was.
With the two guides leading the way, Church and his men climbed down the rock face, sometimes clutching at the bushes to keep from falling down the steep descent and using the beat of the mortar to conceal the sounds of their approach. As soon as he reached the ground, Church strode over to the gun rack with his hatchet in his hand. Seeing who it was, Annawon’s son pulled his blanket over his head and “shrunk up in a heap.” Annawon leaped to his feet and cried out “Howoh” or “Who?” Seeing that the Englishman could easily bludgeon his son, Annawon fell back in despair as Church secured the muskets. Now that he had captured Annawon, Church sent the Sakonnets to the other campsites to inform the Indians that their leader had been taken and that Church and “his great army” would grant them good quarter if they gave up quietly. As it turned out, many of the enemy were related to the Sakonnets and were more than willing to take them at their word, and Church and his company of half a dozen men had soon secured a complete and bloodless surrender.
Church then turned to Annawon and through an interpreter asked what he had to eat—“for,” he said, “I am come to sup with you.” In a booming voice, Annawon replied, “Taubut,” or “It is good.”
Sprinkling some of the salt that he carried with him in his pocket on the meat, Church enjoyed some roasted beef and ground green corn. Once the meal had been completed, he told Annawon that as long as his people cooperated they would all be allowed to live, with the possible exception of Annawon, whose fate must be decided by the Plymouth courts.
As the excitement wore away, Church realized he desperately needed sleep. He’d been awake now for two days straight. He told his men that if they let him sleep for two hours, he would keep watch for the rest of the night. But as soon as he lay down for a nap, he discovered that he was once again wide awake. After an hour or so, he looked up and saw that not only his own men but all of the Indians were fast asleep, with one exception: Annawon.
For another hour, they lay on opposite sides of the fire “looking one upon the other.” Since Church did not know the Indians’ language, and, he assumed, Annawon did not know English, neither one of them had anything to say. Suddenly the old warrior threw off his blanket and walked off into the darkness. Church assumed he had left to relieve himself, but when he did not return for several minutes, he feared he might be up to no good. Church sidled over to Annawon’s son. If his father should attempt to attack him, he would use the young man as a hostage.
A full moon had risen, and in the ghostly silver light he saw Annawon approaching with something in his hands. The Indian came up to Church and dropped to his knees, and holding up a woven basket, he said in perfect English, “Great Captain, you have killed Philip and conquered his country, for I believe that I and my company are the last that war against the English, so [I] suppose the war is ended by your means and therefore these things belong unto you.”
Inside the basket were several belts of wampum. One was nine inches wide and depicted flowers, birds, and animals. Church was now standing, and when Annawon draped the belt over his shoulders, it reached down to his ankles. The next belt was one that Philip had commonly wrapped around his head and possessed flags that had hung at his back; the third had been intended for his chest and contained a star at either end. All of the belts had been edged with red, possibly human hair that Annawon said had been secured in Mohawk country. There were also two glazed powder horns and a rich red blanket. These, Annawon explained, were what Philip “was wont to adorn himself with when he sat in state.”
The two warriors talked late into the night. Annawon spoke with particular fondness of his service under Philip’s father, Massasoit, and “what mighty success he had formerly in wars against many nations of Indians.” They also spoke of Philip. Annawon blamed the outbreak of hostilities on two factors: the duplicity of the Praying Indians, i.e., John Sassamon, and the impetuosity of the young warriors. He compared them to “sticks laid on a heap, till by the multitude of them a great fire came to be kindled.” He also spoke of spiritual matters. Annawon said that the course of the war had convinced him that “there was a great god that overruled all; and that he had found that whatever he had done to any of those, whether Indians or English, the same was brought upon himself in after-time.”
At daybreak, Church marched his prisoners to Taunton, where he met up with Lieutenant Howland, “who expressed a great deal of joy to see him again and said ’twas more than ever he expected.” The next day, Church sent Howland with the majority of the prisoners to Plymouth. In the meantime, he wanted Annawon to meet his friends in Rhode Island. They remained in Newport for several days and then finally left for Plymouth.
In just two months’ time, Church had brought in a total of seven hundred Indians. He hoped that the debt the colony owed him might make Governor Winslow listen to his pleas that Annawon and, if he should turn himself in, Tuspaquin be granted clemency. He could use them Down East.
Massachusetts governor John Leverett had requested to meet with him to discuss the possibility of his leading a company in Maine, and Church quickly left for Boston. But when he returned to Plymouth a few days later, he discovered “to his grief” that the heads of both Annawon and Tuspaquin had joined Philip’s on the palisades of Fort Hill.