Fires in the Wilderness (1636-1748). Complete Idiot’s Guide to American History by Alan Axelrod.

Fires in the Wilderness (1636-1748). Complete Idiot’s Guide to American History by Alan Axelrod.

 (50,000 B.C.-A.D. 1500S) * (1451-1507) * (1400-1600s) * (1497-1608) * (1608-1733) *

 (1608-1680s) * (1636-1748) * (1749-1763) * (1763-1775) * (1776-1783) * (1787-1797) *

(1798-1812) * (1812-1814) * (1814-1836) * (1817-1842) * (1724-1857) (1834-1846) *

(1846-1860) * (1859-1862) * (1863-1876) * (1862-1878) * (1862-1891) * (1869-1908) *

(1877-1906) * (1898-1918) * (1918-1929) * (1930-1941) * (1941-1945) * (1944-1954) *

(1947-1968) * (1946-1975) * (1968-1974) * (1963-1980) * (1980-1991) * (1992—).


In This Chapter

The Pequot War.

King Philip’s War.

Europe’s wars come to North America.

Wars in the southern colonies.

War begins over a severed ear.

 America was and remains a synonym for hopes and dreams. America has brought out the best of which humanity is capable—a dream of justice, a hope for liberty—and it has brought out the worst. First it became a battleground on which Native Americans fought against an invasion from Europe. Then it became a battlefield on which the invaders fought one another, often embroiling the Native Americans in their conflicts. Often, the invaders retreated into the distance and let the Native Americans fight their wars for them. All in all, it was a very bloody beginning.

New England Bleeds. The only thing that’s certain is that the murder of Captain John Stone in 1634 was not the work of Pequots. As to the rest, the accounts of the Indians and the Englishmen differ.

The Pequots were a powerful Algonquian tribe settled along the Connecticut River. Resenting the intrusion of Dutch traders in the Connecticut valley, they waged a small, bitter war against the Dutch. Then, in 1634, Stone, an Englishman, was killed as his ship lay at anchor at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Never mind that Stone was a pirate, who had tried and failed to hijack a vessel in New Amsterdam, had brandished a knife before the governor of Plymouth Colony, and had been deported from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for drunkenness and adultery, and never mind that the Indians claimed Stone had kidnapped some of their people. Tensions were so high between colonists and Indians that the New Englanders demanded action against the Pequots for the murder of John Stone.

The Pequot War. For their part, the Pequots didn’t want any trouble. Although no one accused any Pequot of having laid a finger on Stone, the murder was clearly the work of western Niantics, a tribe that was nominally under Pequot control. Seeking to avert a war, the Pequots accepted responsibility and signed a treaty with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in which they promised to surrender those guilty of the murder. They also agreed to pay an exorbitant indemnity, relinquish rights to a vast tract of Connecticut land, and trade exclusively with the English rather than the Dutch. A part of the indemnity was paid, but the Pequots claimed that, of the murderers, all were dead (one at the hands of the Dutch, the others of smallpox), except for two, who had escaped.

For two years, the Massachusetts Bay colonists did nothing. Then, on June 16, 1636, Mohegan Indians warned the English that the Pequots, fearful that the colonists were about to take action, had decided on a preemptive strike. A new conference between the Pequots and the colonists was called at Fort Saybrook, Connecticut, and agreements were reached, but word soon arrived of the death of another captain, John Oldham, off Block Island. This time, the perpetrators were Narragansetts (or a tribe subject to them), and although the Narragansett sachems immediately dispatched 200 warriors to avenge the deaths on behalf of the colony, the English sent Captain John Endecott to Block Island with orders to seize the Indians’ stores of wampum, slaughter all the men they could find, and take captive the women and children for sale as slaves in the West Indies.

The Indians, anticipating just such behavior, had fled. A frustrated Endecott paid a visit to the Pequots just beyond Fort Saybrook and set about burning their villages.

Soon, all of the Connecticut valley burned, as the enraged Indians retaliated, putting to the torch one English settlement after another, and the colonists responded against the Pequots in kind.

What motivated Endecott to bring down a bloody war upon Indian and colonist alike? Racial hatred? Blind stupidity? Certainly, both of these things. But, as would be the case with all the white-Indian wars of the colonial period, there was a motive of power politics as well, in which the Indians figured as pawns ruthlessly played by the competing European powers. In the case of the Pequot Wars, both of the competitors were English. The Massachusetts Bay Colony and the settlers of the Connecticut valley disputed over possession of the valley. Whoever asserted dominion over the Pequots, whose country lay precisely within the disputed territory, would have a strong legal claim to the region. Endecott, a soldier in service to Massachusetts Bay, was eager for a fight in order to dominate the Pequots and thereby beat out the Connecticut settlers. But the very competitiveness of the New England colonies made effective unified action against the Indians almost impossible, and it wasn’t until the spring of 1637 that the disorganized colonial forces were able to enlist the aid of the Narragansetts, Eastern Niantics, and Mohegans—all rivals of the Pequots—in order to mount a counteroffensive. Captain John Mason, in command of the colonial-Indian coalition, attacked a village at Mystic, Connecticut, where he killed 600-700 Pequots—mostly women, children, and old men—in the space of an hour.

Following the Mystic massacre, the Pequots were defeated at every turn. On September 21, 1638, the Treaty of Hartford divided the Pequot prisoners of war as slaves among the allied tribes—Mohegans, Narragansetts, and Niantics—and further stipulated that no Pequot could inhabit his former country again. Indeed, the treaty proclaimed, the very name “Pequot” would be forever expunged.

King Philip’s War. An even more destructive war broke out in New England less than 40 years later, again over a murder. On June 11, 1675, a farmer saw an Indian looting his cattle. He killed the Indian. The local Wampanoag chief, called Metacomet by the Indians and (with contempt) King Philip by the English, sought justice from the local garrison. Rebuffed, the Indians took justice into their own hands and killed the hot-tempered farmer, then killed his father and five other settlers.

But the war had actually been brewing for some time. King Philip was the son of Massasoit, the chief who had been so friendly to the New Englanders. Faced with the colonists’ insatiable land hunger, their rising population, and their highhanded, contemptuous treatment of himself, King Philip was not inclined toward friendship. Beginning about 1662, he stirred rebellion among the Narragansetts and the Nipmucks as well as his own Wampanoags. At first, the colonists were hobbled by the same problem they had during the Pequot War. Disorganized and apparently incapable of unified action, the New Englanders suffered very heavy losses during the first months of the war. It was only after they managed to join forces as the United Colonies that Massachusetts, Plymouth, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the more remote “Eastern Colonies”—Maine and New Hampshire—began to take the initiative.

King Philip’s War was an unmitigated catastrophe for colonists and Indians alike. During 1675-76, half the region’s towns were badly damaged and at least 12 utterly wiped out. The colonial economy was left in tatters because of the disruption of the fur trade, coastal fishing, and the West Indian trade. The Wampanoags, Narragansetts, and Nipmucks lost a great many of their number. As for the colonists, proportional to the population at the time, King Philip’s War stands to this day as the costliest conflict in American history.

The French and Indian Wars. The Pequot War and King Philip’s War were strictly colonial tragedies. The series of wars that followed, however, were reflections of conflicts that had engulfed Europe.

King William’s War. King William III ascended the English throne in 1689, after James II had been ousted in a Protestant revolt. William almost immediately (May 12, 1689) committed his nation to the Grand Alliance, joining the League of Augsburg and the Netherlands to oppose French king Louis XIV’s invasion of the Rhenish Palatinate. In Europe, this resulted in an eight-year conflict known as the War of the League of Augsburg. In America, the struggle was called King William’s War and pitted the French and Abnaki Indians (of Maine) against the English and their allies among the Iroquois.

The New World theater of this war gave rise to a new kind of fighting. In 1689, Louis XIV dispatched Louis de Buade, comte de Frontenac, to America as governor of New France. He had served in that capacity before—from 1672 to 1782—but was so dictatorial that he was recalled to France at the request of those he governed. Louis understood that what his colonies needed just now was precisely what this tough 70-year-old had to offer: a stomach for relentless aggression. Frontenac proposed not merely a defensive strategy against the British, but an invasion of New York. His only problem, he soon realized, was that he did not have the manpower to invade anybody. The solution, Frontenac decided, was to fight a “little war,” one that consisted not of grand strategies and the mass movement of great armies fighting European-style battles, but of ambushes, murders, and terror—mostly carried out by Indian allies. Properly coordinated, such action would demoralize the English settlers while simultaneously draining their military resources.

Frontenac’s “little war” was a dreary pattern of raid and counter-raid, without much decisive action, but with plenty of misery to go around from July 1689, when La Chine, Quebec, was ravaged by Iroquois, to September 1691, when Benjamin Church, aged hero of King Philip’s War, was called out of retirement to defend Saco, Maine. By the end of the month, the English struck a truce with Abnakis, which, however, was soon violated.

In September 1697, the Treaty of Ryswyck ended the War of the League of Augsburg in Europe and, therefore, officially ended King William’s War in America, but raids and counter-raids continued through the end of the 17th century.

Queen Anne’s War. Now it’s time to return to the cheerful precincts of “civilized” Europe. England, Holland, and Austria had the jitters over an alliance struck between France and Spain when King Charles II of Spain, a Hapsburg (that is, originally an Austrian), died in 1700, having named a Bourbon (that is, originally a Frenchman) as his successor. The French, naturally, backed Charles’s nominee, Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV. England, Holland, and Austria threw their support behind the Bavarian Archduke Charles, second son of the Hapsburg emperor Leopold I. These three nations then formed a new Grand Alliance in 1701, and the War of the Spanish Succession was declared between the Grand Alliance and France and Spain on May 4, 1702. In America, the conflict was called Queen Anne’s War. The war began on September 10, 1702, when the South Carolina legislature authorized an expedition to seize the Spanish-held fort and town of Saint Augustine, Florida. When a combined force of 500 colonists and Chickasaw Indians failed to breach the fort, they settled for burning the town instead.

Not unexpectedly, this act brought a series of counter-raids from Spanish-allied Appalachee Indians, which prompted South Carolina governor James Moore to lead a force of militiamen and Chickasaws in a destructive sweep of western Florida during July 1704. The result: Seven villages and 13 Spanish missions (out of 14 in the area) were razed, and the Appalachee were effectively annihilated as a tribe. Strategically, Moore’s campaign opened a path into the heart of French Louisiana. Anticipating this, French colonial authorities heavily bribed the Choctaws into an alliance which blocked Moore’s advance into Louisiana.

In the meantime, up north, the French had managed to gather even more Indian allies, especially among the Abnakis, who ravaged English settlements in Maine (where Queen Anne’s War was called the Abnaki War). Farther north, in Nova Scotia, Benjamin Church, now so enfeebled by old age that he had to be carried into battle, terrorized the French Acadian settlements of Minas and Beaubassin during July 1704, while, in Newfoundland, French and Indian forces retaliated during August by destroying the English settlement at Bonavista. The war raged—from Saint Augustine, Florida, to St. Johns, Newfoundland (captured by the French just before Christmas 1708)—not in a series of great battles, but in a string of murders, raids, and counter-raids.

In 1713, Louis XIV, weary of war and crushed under heavy debt, was ready to end the wars in Europe and America. The cause of the War of the Spanish Succession had become a moot point. The 11-year-old Bavarian archduke backed by the Grand Alliance had died, and Louis’s grandson Philip of Anjou ascended the Spanish throne by default. The Treaty of Utrecht (July 13, 1713) ended the European and American wars, with Hudson Bay and Acadia becoming English and the St. Lawrence islands becoming French. The Abnakis swore allegiance to the English crown, but continued to raid the English settlements of Maine for years.

Tuscarora and Yemasee Wars. At about the time Queen Anne’s War was winding down, the Tuscarora Indians in North Carolina were growing tired of being cheated and abused by colonial traders, to whom they continually lost goods and land and at whose hands they even suffered abduction for sale into the West Indies slave trade. Wishing to avoid war, the Tuscaroras, in 1709, obtained permission from the government of Pennsylvania to migrate there. The government of North Carolina refused to furnish the required certificate to make the migration possible. After all, the North Carolina traders enjoyed making a profit from the Indians. In 1710, a Swiss entrepreneur named Baron Cristoph von Graffenried founded the settlement of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers in North Carolina. Graffenried chose not to purchase his land from the Tuscaroras, but instead secured the blessing of North Carolina’s surveyor general to “appropriate” the property and drive the Indians off.

That was the final straw for the Tuscaroras. On September 22, 1711, they attacked New Bern, killing 200 settlers, including 80 children. Remarkably, Graffenried, captured and released, managed to negotiate peace, only to have it broken by William Brice, who, thirsting for revenge, captured a local chief of the Coree tribe (allies of the Tuscaroras) and roasted him alive. The war was renewed, and, as if Brice’s act had set its tone, was filled with more than the usual quota of atrocities, including the death-by-torture of scores of captive soldiers and settlers.

North Carolina called on South Carolina for help. In 1713, South Carolina’s Colonel James Moore combined 33 militiamen and 1,000 allied Indians with the troops of North Carolina to strike all the principal Tuscarora settlements. This force killed hundreds of Tuscaroras and captured some 400 more, whom the governor sold into slavery to defray the costs of the campaign. A peace treaty was signed in 1715, and those Tuscaroras who managed to escape death or enslavement migrated north, eventually reaching New York. In 1722, they were formally admitted into the Iroquois League as its “sixth nation.”

No sooner was the 1715 treaty concluded than the Yemasees, a South Carolina tribe, rose up against their white neighbors for much the same reasons that had motivated the Tuscaroras: abuse, fraud, and enslavement. The military response, led by South Carolina governor Charles Craven, was swift and terrible. With the aid of Cherokee allies, the Yemasees were hunted to the point of tribal extinction.

King George’s War. Men have seldom needed to look very hard for a reason to start a war. This one began with the loss of an ear. Following Queen Anne’s War (or, if you prefer, the War of the Spanish Succession), England concluded the “Assiento” with France’s ally, Spain. This was a contract permitting the English to trade with the Spanish colonies in goods and slaves.

English traders soon abused the privileges granted by the Assiento, however, and Spanish officials responded harshly. In one case, Spanish coast guards seized Robert Jenkins, master of the British merchant ship Rebecca, and cut off his ear during an interrogation. Word of this outrage triggered the “War of Jenkins’s Ear” in 1739 between England and Spain, resulting in an abortive invasion of Spanish Florida by Georgia’s James Oglethorpe in 1740.

During this time, the War of Jenkins’s Ear dissolved into a larger conflict, known in Europe as the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). The death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740 brought several challenges to the succession of daughter Maria Theresa as monarch of the Hapsburg (Austrian) lands. It looked as if the Hapsburg territories were ripe for the plucking, and King Frederick the Great of Prussia moved first to claim his slice by invading Silesia. France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony joined Frederick’s fold, while Britain came to the aid of Maria Theresa. Once again, the European conflict also appeared in an export version: King George’s War.

It was fought mainly by New Englanders against the French of Nova Scotia and again resulted in a wilderness in flames. Territory changed hands, but only temporarily; for the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of the Austrian Succession, also ended King George’s War, restoring (as treaty language puts it) the status quo ante bellum: the way things were before the war. But treaty language can be misleading, and the status was no longer quite quo, Enmities and alliances among the French, the Indians, and the English were now not only lines drawn on a map, but scars seared into the souls of all involved. Wait a few more years. There would be a new, far bigger, far more terrible war.

The Least You Need to Know

Wars were fought with the Indians to gain their land.

 Colonies often used Indians as pawns in violent struggles with one another.

 North America frequently was a theater of wars that originated in Europe.

Word for the Day. Wampum is the Anglicized version of the Algonquian word wampompeag. Although the, term came to describe any kind of valuable item used as the equivalent of money, it originally was applied to cylindrical seashells strung on strings or beaded into belts and used as money or as tokens of good faith (wampum belts were exchanged at treaty signings, for example).

Word for the Day. Among the Algonquian tribes, a sachem was the equivalent of a chief. Within the Iroquois confederacy of tribes, a sachem was a member of the ruling council. Neither chiefs nor sachems were absolute rulers in the European sense of a monarch but were influential and powerful tribal leaders.

Stats. Among the colonists, 1 in 16 men of military age was killed in King Philip’s War. At least 3,000 Indians died; many more were deported and sold into slavery in the West Indies.

Word for the Day. In French, “little war” is la petite guerre. This phrase soon evolved into the single word guerrilla to describe a limited, covert style of warfare as well as the combatants who fight such wars.


Stats. How much was a human being worth? The wholesale price for the Tuscaroras sold on the West Indies slave market was Ј10 each at a time when Ј100 year was considered a handsome living.


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