Week 22: Conflict

Several of my ancestors who took part in King Philip’s War were at the Great Swamp Fight in December of 1675 Source: Wikipedia

This topic made me think initially of major wars that my ancestors have fought in – the American Revolution, The Civil War, World War I, World War II – but I decided instead to write about my ancestors’ involvement in a lesser-known war, King Philip’s War.  This war, fought in 1675-1676, was between the English settlers in Massachusetts and the Native Americans in the region – primarily, the Wampanoag tribe.  This war is often described as the bloodiest war per capita in US history.  Hundreds of settlers were killed and thousands of Indians were killed, wounded or captured and sold into slavery or indentured servitude. The war decimated the Narragansett, Wampanoag, and many smaller tribes and mostly ended Indian resistance in southern New England, paving the way for additional English settlements.

For those of you not in the United States – or for Americans who haven’t researched early Massachusetts history recently – let me give you a little background on this war.  I have taken this information from the online Encyclopedia of Boston (https://bostonresearchcenter.org/projects_files/eob/single-entry-executions.html ), a website that is full of information about the history of Boston and the surrounding area.  Here’s the story told on this website: 

“Tensions between colonists and Wampanoags had mounted in the early 1670s, as Indians became frustrated with colonists’ attempts to convert tribal members to Christianity. Native Americans also objected to colonists’ interference with Native agricultural practices and outright seizure of land Native Americans considered theirs. These tensions erupted into violence when white colonists accused Wampanoags of murdering John Sassamon, a praying Indian (the colonists’ term for Indians who converted to Christianity). Colonists’ subsequent retribution for this murder is generally acknowledged as the start of the War.

“Beginning in June 1675, Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, Nipmucs, and Wampanoags fought the English, Pequots, Mohegans, and other native tribes. Conflict was close, cruel, and bloody. The war began to subside in August 1676, when King Philip was shot dead in Bristol, Rhode Island by an Indian allied with the British. After his death, white colonists mutilated his body, distributing and publicly displaying its parts in gruesome celebration. Philip’s head was displayed on a tall pole in the town of Plymouth for decades after his death in an effort to intimidate other Indians, and to warn them of what might happen to those who resisted colonists. Isolated skirmishes continued after Philip’s death. Dozens of Philip’s allies were subsequently executed on Boston Common.

“Those executed in 1676 included Matoonas, a sachem of the Nipmuc people who played a decisive role in King Philip’s War. Though a Christian convert, Matoonas turned against the English colonists after his son was beheaded in 1671 on questionable charges. Matoonas was tied to a tree, shot, and beheaded. Colonists placed his head on a pike, just as they had done with his executed son’s head five years earlier. At least fifty other native people were shot or hanged on the Common that year. Some were praying Indians, including Old Jethro, whose son handed him to the English, and Captain Tom, a captive of Philip’s troops. Though Captain Tom’s execution was appealed on the grounds that he was not an aggressor in the war, he was executed nonetheless.

“Many of those executed had been promised clemency by the English. After surrendering in Rhode Island in 1676, Potuck, a Narragansett sachem, had been promised safe passage by the English colonists. Instead, he was brought to Boston Common and shot. Indian John Monoco and two Nipmuc sachems, Muttawump and Sagamore Sam, were also assured pardons, transported to Boston, then executed without trial. Those not executed were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

“White colonists carried out these public executions as retribution, as well as a warning to Indians interfering with what colonists believed was their God-given destiny to take Indian land and convert Indian souls. These executions served as one of the opening salvos in a centuries-long violent assault on Indians by white colonists and, later on, Americans.”

According to the website “Walk Boston History” (https://www.walkbostonhistory.com/king-philip.html), the following statistics summarize the final outcome of this war:

  • 54 major engagements over 13 months
  • 600 English died
  • 1200 homes burned
  • 12 of 90 settlements destroyed
  • 2,000 Indians killed
  • 3,000 Indians died in captivity of illness or starvation
  • 4,000 Indians sold into slavery
  • 8,000 head of cattle killed
  • 50 years for the region to recover economically
This map shows the locations of major action in this war.  To orient people who may not know this geography, Plymouth,  Boston, and all of the sites to the west are in the modern state of Massachusetts.  Providence and the sites south and immediately west of it are in the modern state of Rhode Island.  Norwich and everything to the west are in the modern state of Connecticut.

My ancestors were living all over New England by the time of this conflict.  Most of them had arrived during the Puritan Great Migration, between 1630 and 1640.  From their earliest settlements along the coast, they have moved west and north along the river systems to settle the interior frontier regions.

Lt. John Marchant1625-1693Barnstable, MAEnsign of Yarmouth Company, June 8, 1664. Lieutenant of the Military Company in Yarmouth, August 11, 1670
Richard Swan1607-1668Rowley, MAGreat Swamp Fight
Nathaniel Dickinson1601-1676Hadley, MANathaniel was an original member of the Hampshire Troop, organized in March 1663/4 under Capt. John Pynchon. During King Philip’s War, 1675-77, Nathaniel lost three sons – John, Joseph, and Azariah. Another son, Obadiah, was captured by the Indians and taken into Canada but escaped and returned in 1679
Lt. Thomas Newhall1653-1728Lynn, MAWith Major Willard in 1676  The Major led the relief at the Battle of Brookfield (part of King Philips War). He remained there and at Hadley for a few weeks
John Babcock1644-1684Westerly, RICaptain of militia John Volunteered with the Connecticut Militia, which was organized for protection against the Indians; that in King Philip’s War he was with the Connecticut Militia in the “Great Swamp Fight”, Dec. 19, 1675, and that his son Elihu was born at that time.
John Crandall1617-1676Westerly, RIHe moved to Newport, RI, because of King Philip’s War
I can document six ancestors who participated in this war.

My ancestors Richard Swan,  Nathaniel Dickinson, John Babcock, and John Crandall were involved in the Great Swamp Fight (marked by the red star), one of the major engagements of this war. Source: https://familytiesandconnections.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-great-swamp-fight.html

Here’s a little bit of information about each of my ancestors who fought in this war or whose families were directly impacted by it.

Lt. John Marchant IV

My paternal 8th great-grandfather John Marchant IV (1625-1693) was born in Sussex, England, and came with his parents to Yarmouth in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, in 1638.  He married a woman named Sarah in Yarmouth in 1646, and they had 10 children before moving to the island of Martha’s Vineyard late in life.  I am descended from two of the children of John and Sarah – Prince Pease, the great-grandson of their daughter Sarah, married Martha Marchant, the granddaughter of their son Abishai, on Martha’s Vineyard in 1750.

Richard Swan

My paternal 9th great-grandfather Richard Swan (1607-1678) was born in East Riding, Yorkshire, and came to Massachusetts with his wife and children in 1638, possibly with the party of Ezekiel Rogers.  He was one of the founders of Rowley, Massachusetts, and was a prominent citizen there.  He owned several lots of land in the town, often served on juries in Essex County, and was chosen overseer of highways, gates, and fences there in 1648.  He was chosen selectman for Rowley in 1652, 1662, and1664.  He was constable in 1665 and deputy to the General Court in 1666 and 1667.  He appeared as a defendant in Ipswich Court in 1650 for “breach of Peace” for striking Ezekiell Northern in the face with a staff and was fined three shillings.  I am descended from his son Robert.

Nathaniel Dickinson

My paternal 11th great-grandfather Nathaniel Dickinson (1601-1676) was born in Ely in Cambridgeshire, England.  After marrying in 1629, he and his family set sail for Massachusetts as part of the Winthrop Fleet.  He settled in Watertown for a few years, and then moved to Wethersfield, Connecticut, by 1635.  He served in many official positions in Wethersfield, including on the Board of Selectman, Representative to the General Assembly, and deacon of the church.  He helped survey and lay out the land allotments in the town, and owned several lots himself.  After a religious dispute in Wethersfield, he moved with other dissenters to Hadley, Massachusetts, about 50 miles up the Connecticut River.  Although Nathaniel was too advanced in years to serve in the military during King Philip’s war himself, three of his sons – John, Joseph, and Azariah – were killed in this war.  The house of a fourth son, Obadiah, was burned by the Native Americans during this conflict, his wife was either killed or wounded, and Obadiah and one of his children were taken prisoner and removed to Canada.  I am descended from Nathaniel’s son Nathaniel, who also participated in this war.

Lt. Thomas Newhall

My 9th great-grandfather Thomas Newhall (1653-1728) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts to parents who had been in Massachusetts since 1630.  His father, also named Thomas, is often identified as “the first white child born in Lynn,” although that claim is now held in some doubt.  Thomas moved to the town of Malden after marrying Rebecca Greene there in 1674.  Along with many other men of the town, he served in the military during King Philip’s War in 1676, serving with Major Willard.  He is described as attaining the rank of Lieutenant.

Malden Town records also document him as an important land-holder, holding various public positions in the town.  Records for the town prior to King Philip’s War were destroyed, but the earliest remaining records talk about naming townsmen to serve as selectmen, constables, and (to quote one of the town records), “last, though not least, perhaps, in the body-politic, those whose office it was ‘to see to swine order,’ – the hog-constables.”  Thomas was a hog-constable.  I descend from Thomas through his first son, also named Thomas.

John Babcock

My 8th great-grandfather John Babcock (1644-1684) was born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  His father, James, fled with his family from Essex County, England, to Leyden, Holland, in 1620, and then came to Massachusetts on the Ann in 1623.  By 1638, the family had settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, where John was born in 1644.  John married Mary Lawton in Westerly, Rhode Island (a town founded by John’s father James), in 1662.   

Tradition tells a romantic story about John and Mary.  According to the legend, John and Mary eloped from Newport and settled in what would become Westerly, where they remained undiscovered by their parents for several months.  This legend identifies them as the first white settlers of Westerly.  There is, unfortunately, no evidence proving this tale.  But it’s a good story anyway.

This marker, in Westerly Cemetery 7, displays the legend of John and Mary. Source:  Wikitree.com entry for John Babcock.

What can be proven is that 16-year-old John was part of the company of men who settled Westerly in 1660.  In 1675, when King Philip’s War broke out and many settlers in Westerly fled to eastern Rhode Island for safety, John and his family stayed in the settlement.  By this time, John and Mary had six children.  John had volunteered to serve with the Connecticut militia (ownership of Westerly was disputed between Connecticut and Rhode Island until 1728), and participated in the “Great Swamp fight” on December 19, 1675 – the date of the birth of his seventh child, Elihu.  After King Philip’s War was over, John filled a number of public positions in Westerly, including “conservator of the peace” (sort of an early police force) and Deputy from Westerly to the colonial legislature in 1682 and 1684. 

John Crandall

My 9th great-grandfather John Crandall (1617-1676) was born in England and probably came to Massachusetts in 1634, settling in Salem and serving as a minister there.  However, his support of the Baptists led to his dismissal from that church in 1637 and his move to Newport.  He relocated to Westerly, in Washington County, somewhere around 1660, and is identified as a founder of that town.

Here’s a little bit about John:

A Baptist and later a Seventh Day Baptist, John and several companions were arrested at Lynn (in Essex County near Boston) on July 21,1651 and were imprisoned at Boston.  All three men were fined and publicly whipped for their “attachment to the Baptist cause.” In 1660, John was one of a group of five investors who purchased a land grant known as Misquamicuck (later Westerly, RI).  After several years of boundary and jurisdiction disputes, the town of Westerly was incorporated; John Crandall’s is the first name on the list of freeholders of the town in 1669.  He became the first elder and preacher in Westerly.

On 21 May 1669, the Governor and Council of Rhode Island appointed six men as Conservators of the Peace for the Colony. The men were assigned to geographic areas in pairs, the first of the pair to also act as coroner for their area. John Crandall and Tobias Saunders were appointed as justices at Misquamicut, with John likely acting as coroner.   John is also listed as a deputy representative of Westerly in the General Assembly in both 1670 and 1671.

John married a woman named Mary in 1649, although I’m not sure of Mary’s last name.  John died in Newport in 1676; this is a little hard to understand, as he was clearly living in Westerly at the time.  Some sources suggest that he had temporarily relocated to Newport to escape the violence of King Philip’s War, while others suggest that he was wounded in the 1675 Great Swamp Fight in West Kingston, Rhode Island (about 20 miles from Westerly).   He is buried in a family cemetery located near the Crandall homestead in Westerly.

In Conclusion

I have written about all of these folks before, in other contexts.  But it’s always enjoyable to catch up with old friends.  Until I grouped these individuals for this essay, I didn’t realize that so many of them had participated in the Great Swamp Fight.  Who knew?

Author: iseekdeadpeopleblog

I am a retired high school history and government teacher. I've been doing genealogy research since I retired in 2012. I define what I do as "constructing a plausible narrative about the past." I don't claim to know everything about the ancestors whose stories I tell, but I try to imagine myself in their lives. I sometimes call it "creative non-fiction." I try to differentiate between what I know for sure and what I "think" I know.

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