America’s Bloodiest War

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In 1600, southern New England was home to approximately 90,000 Indians. Approximately 12,000 were Pokanokets, a tribe living at the head of Narragansett Bay.

From 1616 to 1619, bubonic plague, introduced by European fishermen in Maine, killed up to 90 percent of the Indians in some areas along the New England coastline.

Massasoit, sachem (leader) of the Pokanokets, was succeeded by two of his sons: Wamsutta, who changed his name to Alexander, and Metacom, whose English name was Philip. Thirteen years after becoming sachem, Philip initiated a regionwide attack by several tribes on English settlements in southern New England and coastal Maine. Called King Philip’s War, it lasted 14 months, from June 1675 through August 1676.

Before King Philip’s War, the overall population of southern New England was approximately 70,000: 50,000 English settlers and 20,000 Indians. By the end of the war, 5,000 to 6,000 people were dead.

Some 800 English men, women, and children perished in King Philip’s War; Plymouth Colony alone lost 8 percent of its adult male population in 14 months. (By comparison, adult male casualties were 4 to 5 percent during the four years of the Civil War.)

Among the Indians, 2,000 died of battle wounds, 3,000 died of disease or starvation, 1,000 were sold into slavery (500 from Plymouth alone), and 2,000 fled west or north.

By the end of the war, one-third of New England’s approximately 100 English towns had been burned and abandoned.

Source: Mayflower (Viking, $29.95), by Nathaniel Philbrick



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