King Philip and Mary Rowlandson, Background Information

King Philip was the English name adopted by the Wampanoag leader Metacom (c. 1638-1676), who led an alliance against the English colonies in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut in what became known as King Philip’s War (1675-76). Philip’s father, Massassoit, had maintained peaceful relations with the Plymouth colonists since their arrival in 1620. In 1662, when Philip became the leader of the Wampanoag alliance, longstanding grievances over land caused tension in the region. War erupted in 1675, after the Plymouth colony executed three Wampanoags. Philip’s alliance fought bravely, but they were ultimately defeated after Philip was killed in August 1676.

After the war, there was an outpouring of printed works detailed the English perspective on the conflict (remember: while this was on “American” soil, we were very much so English colonies). The most famous printed work was the very popular captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, which first appeared in 1682 and was republished many times. Rowlandson’s descriptions of Philip show that he was in some ways very generous and sympathetic toward her, even as he held her prisoner. Other accounts were not so kind, notably the account of Captain Benjamin Church. He described Philip’s dead body as looking like that of a “doleful, great, naked, dirty beast” and told how he had ordered the corpse drawn and quartered. Philip’s head was staked on a pole in Plymouth, where it remains for years.

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It was the dehumanization of Philip that Pequot leader and Methodist minister William Apess set out to correct in 1836, when he delivered his “Eulogy on King Philip” in Boston. “King Philip’s Speech” is from that eulogy. Speeches offering a Native American perspective on America’s colonial wars had become popular. Claiming descent from Philip, Apess described him as a great American—equal to George Washington—a “hero of the wilderness,” someone who deserved respect. Apess explained that “this famous speech of Philip was calculated to rouse them to arms, to do the best they could in protecting and defending their rights.”


“King Philip’s Speech”


BROTHERS,—You see this vast country before us, which the great Spirit gave to our fathers and us; you see the buffalo and deer that now are our support.—Brothers, you see these little ones, our wives and children, who are looking to us for food and raiment; and you now see the foe before you, that they have grown insolent and bold; that all our ancient customs are disregarded; the treaties made by our fathers and us are broken, and all of us insulted; our council fires disregarded, and all the ancient customs of our fathers; our brothers murdered before our eyes, and their spirits cry to us for revenge. Brothers, these people from the unknown world will cut down our groves, spoil our hunting and planting grounds, and drive us and our children to the graves of our fathers, and our council fires, and enslave our women and children.

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