Monday, December 19, 2005


December 19, 1675: Narragansetts under Chief Canonchet battle with Plymouth Governor Josiah Winslow with 970 men from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Plymouth. Statistics of the fight are: colonists lose 70-80 men, 150 wounded, Indians lose 600 dead, half of them warriors.


From one of Lee Sultzman's many magnificently detailed tribal histories, this one, on the Narrangansett, at

Threatened with war by the English in 1654, the Narragansett conquest of the Metoac was incomplete. Canonicus died in 1647 and was succeeded by his grandson Canonchet (Nanuntemo). Despite their bad experiences with the Puritan colonists, the Narragansett still loved and trusted Roger Williams. Canonicus had sold him additional land during 1643, and this friendship continued under Canonchet.

In the years after the death of the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit in 1661, relations between the New England colonists and tribes took a dangerous turn. Philip (Metacom) eventually succeeded as the grand sachem of the Wampanoag in 1662, but unlike his father, he saw clearly that the English were taking over everything. Not only the land, but their missionaries were converting his people to Christianity and undermining the traditional authority of the Wampanoag sachems. Other tribes shared these misgivings, and Philip found many ears willing to listen as he began to secretly organize an alliance in preparation for a general uprising. Unfortunately, his secret plans were not that much of a secret. A network of informers kept the English aware that something was about to happen. They just were not certain where or when. Philip was summoned several times to explain his actions and sign treaties of peace and friendship.

He explained, signed, and then left to resume the plotting. By 1674 Philip, over the strong objections of the aging Roger Williams, had convinced the Narragansett to join him. Canonchet, however, personally assured Williams that the Narragansett would not harm one hair on his head when war came ...a promise which was faithfully kept. By 1674 the colonists in New England outnumbered the natives two to one, and if there was to be any chance of success, Philip needed the Narragansett. However, he was forced to wait until they could accumulate enough guns and ammunition. It appears the uprising was planned originally for the summer of 1676, but the murder of John Sassamon, a Praying Indian spy, in January of 1675 forced his hand. Three Wampanoag were arrested, convicted, and hung, after which rumors flew that the English intended to arrest Philip. With Philip no longer able to restrain them, Wampanoag warriors attacked Swansea, Massachusetts in June and started the King Philip's War (1675-76).

The English immediately forced the Narragansett to sign another treaty agreeing to remain neutral. With war all around them, the Narragansett gathered together into a single, large fortified village in a swamp near Kingston, Rhode Island. Throughout the summer, Philip eluded the English soldiers and attacked settlements throughout New England. However, to protect his women and children, he had left them at the Narragansett fort. In the late fall of 1675, Philip returned and took most of his people with him to western Massachusetts. The English, however, considered this a violation of their treaty with the Narragansett, and in December, a 1,000-man colonial army with 150 Mohegan scouts arrived and laid siege to the Narragansett fort. After Canonchet refused demands to surrender the Wampanoag in his village and join the English against Philip, they attacked. Remembered as the Great Swamp Fight, the Narragansett were literally destroyed in this battle losing more than 600 warriors and 20 sachems. Canonchet, however, escaped and led a large group of Narragansett west to join Philip in western Massachusetts where they gave a good account of themselves for the remainder of the war.

For more about the Narragansett:


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