King Philip’s War. The bloodiest in US history

Town of Simsbury CT marker. Indian wars.

From the dust jacket to “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” By Jill Lepore.

King Philip’s War, the excruciating racial war–colonists against Indians–that erupted in New England in 1675, was, in proportion to population, the bloodiest in American history. Some even argued that the massacres and outrages on both sides were too horrific to “deserve the name of a war.”

King Philip, leader of the Wampanoag Indians, retaliated against the hanging of two supporters by attacking English settlements in 1675. By the time this short war was over, half of the settlements and numerous Indian encampments were in ruin. Many were killed and the atrocities, tortures, murders, and rapes committed by all sides were beyond appalling.

But the book, which I’ve just started reading and will fully review soon, isn’t just about that war, it’s also about how it set the mold for future conflicts and mindsets and how the victors in a war create the history of that war, especially when the other side had no written language.

From the review on

Jill Lepore makes clear that it was after the war–and because of it–that the boundaries between cultures, hitherto blurred, turned into rigid ones. King Philip’s War became one of the most written-about wars in our history, and Lepore argues that the words strengthened and hardened feelings that, in turn, strengthened and hardened the enmity between Indians and Anglos. She shows how, as late as the nineteenth century, memories of the war were instrumental in justifying Indian removals–and how in our own century that same war has inspired Indian attempts to preserve “Indianness” as fiercely as the early settlers once struggled to preserve their Englishness.

The image is from a marker at the Simsbury CT Town Hall. The destruction of Simsbury in 1676 was part of King Philip’s War. King Philip’s Cave on nearby Talcott Mountain is one of several so-named caves where he and supporters hid out from the English. I bought the book at the amazing Half Moon Books in Northampton MA, location of another settlement that was razed in the war. Clearly, the Indians did not go quietly. And the echoes of this war still reverberate.

The more savage a war is, the harder it is to recover from it, something amply proven by both the Civil War and King Philip’s War. Whether the conflict was (and is) Black vs. White, North vs. South, or Indian vs. Anglo, the scars of these wars have yet to heal.