The primary sources of King Philip’s War offer a firsthand account of the events of this complicated war between the English colonists and the Native Americans of New England in the late 17th century.
These sources include official government reports, first hand military accounts of the battles, books written by witnesses to the war, court depositions and more.
The following is a list of primary sources of King Philip’s War:
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Edward Randolph’s Notes on the Causes of King Philip’s War:
Written in 1676, these notes on the causes of King Philip’s War were written by English colonial administrator Edward Randolph.
Randolph had been sent by the English Lords of Trade to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to settle a land dispute and investigate violations of English trade laws.
Randolph wrote a report, on October 12, 1676, to the Committee for Trade and Plantations on the many trade law violations he uncovered in which he made notes on the ongoing King Philip’s War.
His notes discuss the many possible causes of the war, such as the colonists trying to force the natives to convert to Christianity and passing laws governing the native’s behavior, rumors of Jesuit priests visiting the various tribes and turning them against the puritans with promises of French supplies and assistance, and also reports of the colonists trying to steal King Philip’s land by accusing him of various crimes and demanding some of his land as repayment.
Randolph also points out though that the Massachusetts Bay colonial authorities believe that the colonists brought the trouble on themselves by inviting evil into the colony by violating various religious rules and laws and even allowing Quakers to live among them.
Randolph goes on to explain that the colonists made the situation worse by teaching the natives how to use guns and allowing them to train alongside their militia.
Randolph also tallies up the losses sustained as a result of the war which includes 600 colonists and 3,000 natives killed and £150,000 in financial losses as a result of the 1,200 houses burned and the 8,000 cattle killed.
Randolph then declares that the war is nearing an end and states that Philip abandoned the natives to hide out in the woods with a small band of warriors and that the Native Americans in Plymouth were in the process of surrendering.
The report was later published in various places including in volume II of the book Edward Randolph: His Letters and Official Papers from the New England, Middle, and Southern Colonies in America in 1898.
A Relation of the Indian War, by Mr. Easton, of Rhode Island:
Written in 1675, this report by the Deputy Governor of Rhode Island, John Easton, is an account of how King Philip’s War began.
The report states that the colonists, not the natives, started the conflict and it gives a full account of the matter from the native’s perspective.
The report also records notes from Easton’s meeting with King Philip in June of 1675 where he attempted to negotiate a sort of peace agreement between the colonists and the natives.
Easton records Philip’s complaints against the colonists that led to the conflict such as the loss of Wampanaoag land to Europeans, the destruction of their crops by the colonist’s cattle, the unfair treatment the natives received in the colonist’s courts and the suspected poisoning of his brother, Alexander, when he was sachem of the tribe.
Philip went on to say during the meeting that the Wampanaoags had done no wrong and it was the colonists who had wronged them and that arbitration will not solve the problem because the colonists always side against them.
Not only was the report widely circulated in the colonies but Easton may have also sent a copy of the report to England to refute the claims by the Massachusetts Bay Colony that the natives were responsible for the conflict.
Easton’s “Relation of the Indian War” was first published in 1858, and was republished in 1913 by Charles Lincoln in his Narratives of the Indian Wars 1675–1699.
Easton was not only the Deputy Governor of Rhode Island but he was also a Quaker who had been forced out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, Nicholas Easton, in 1638 so he had some unique insight and perspective on the way Massachusetts handled such conflicts.
A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson:
Published in 1682, this book was written by Mary Rowlandson, a Massachusetts Bay colonist who was captured by Native Americans in 1676 during an attack on Lancaster, Mass.
Rowlandson was held captive for 11 weeks until she was finally ransomed off and released after which she went on to write this memoir about her experience.
The book is considered to be America’s first bestsellers because it sold so well that four editions were printed in the first year of its publication.
It is widely regarded as the first captivity narrative of its time and is frequently studied for its depiction of intercultural contact between the natives and the colonists and for its insight into the Puritan mind.
The memoir describes Rowlandson’s time in captivity and the movements and military tactics of the natives she was with as they attacked more towns and tried to evade capture by the colonists.
Rowlandson also describes meeting King Philip in Albany, New York and how he promised her she will be freed in two weeks and taught her how to treat her wounds with oak leaves.
The book was first published in 1682 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England.
History of Philip’s War by Benjamin Church:
Published in 1716, this book by colonist Benjamin Church is his personal account of his time fighting in King Philip’s War.
Church kept notes on his military tactics and operations during the war which he published in 1716 as a book originally titled Entertaining Passages relating to Philip’s War.
Church’s experience in the war is interesting because he commanded a militia unit of both colonial and converted Native American soldiers and therefore had a unique perspective on the war and often related the things his native soldiers said to him, such as when his unit captured Philip’s wife and child during the Great Swamp Fight:
“Some of the Indians now said to Capt. Church ‘Sir, you have now made Philip ready to die, for you have made him as poor and miserable as he used to make the English; you have now killed or taken all his relations. That they believed he would now soon have his head, and that this bout had almost broke his heart.’”
Church took part in many of the key battles of King Philip’s War and even tracked down King Philip himself and witnessed his death when one of his Native American soldiers, John Alderman, shot Philip through the heart in the swamp at Mount Hope.
Church’s book was first published in Boston in 1716 and then republished in Newport in 1772.
A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England by Increase Mather:
Published in 1676, this book by Boston minister Increase Mather is about the events and possible causes of the war.
Mather didn’t fight in the war but was an associate of most of the colonial leadership at the time and served as a spiritual advisor to the war effort.
Mather argues that the natives were responsible for starting the war by attacking settlements without provocation.
Yet, Mather also states that the colonists caused God to raise this enemy against them by neglecting their religious duties and for committing sins like drunkeness, swearing and inordinate pride of apparel and hair.
Mather also reports on the events of the war truthfully by admitting that the colonists conducted search-and-destroy campaigns against the natives, “slaughtered” large numbers of native women, children and men, executed captured native leaders by firing squad on Boston Common and in Connecticut, and even admitted that the colonist’s militia units were frequently entirely wiped out by native fighters.
The book was printed by publisher John Foster in Boston in 1676.
Marblehead Riot of 1677 Court Deposition:
In July of 1677, a violent riot took place in Marblehead during which a group of angry women violently beat to death two capture Native Americans who had been intercepting and capturing the colonist’s fishing boats in Maine, where King Philip’s War had continued to rage despite King Philip’s death in 1676.
Robert Roules, one of the crew members of the ship that the native soldiers had tried to capture, a fishing vessel called the William and Sarah of Salem, gave a deposition to the Massachusetts General Court describing what took place when they brought the two natives back to Marblehead.
The document is interesting because it not only describes native warfare tactics at the time, where they seemed to be adopting colonial tactics of piracy, but also gives a unique perspective on colonial women in King Philip’s War and the effect that the war had on them.
Violent and barbarous behavior among men during the war was well documented but this a rare instance of such behavior being perpetrated by women.
In the document, Roules describes the ship, along with a number of other ships, being captured by a large group of armed natives in canoes off the coast of Maine.
A fight ensued on board the William and Sarah, and most of the natives were seized and thrown overboard except for the remaining two who were tied up while the crew sailed back to Marblehead.
Upon landing, it was discovered that news of the attack had already reached Marblehead and a large anxious crowd of both women and men had gathered at the harbor to learn the fate of the remaining ships and fishermen.
Roules said when they brought the natives on shore to hand over to the constable an angry mob surrounded them and demanded to know why the two natives were still alive.
Roules stated that the women in the crowd then came forward and physically fought off the fishermen, who were protecting the natives, and started to violently beat the natives to death with stones and clubs.
When the mob was done, Roules saw that the natives had been decapitated and the flesh had been torn from their bones.
Roules said the women shouted that if the natives had been brought to Boston they would have been set free and even if there had been 40 natives they would have killed them all and gladly hanged for it.
Parts of the deposition was quoted in William Hubbard’s Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England in 1677 but the full deposition wasn’t printed in its entirety until it was published in a 1974 article in the William and Mary Quarterly journal.
Edmund Browne’s Letter:
The minister of Sudbury, Mass, Edmund Browne, sent the Governor of Massachusetts and his council five letters between September of 1675 and July of 1677.
In the letters, Browne asks for military assistance with the Native Americans “lurking” around in the woods near Sudbury and also begs for the release of some Sudbury men from impressed military service.
In 1677, as the Massachusetts General Court prepared to issue new laws and regulations concerning the remaining Native Americans in the colony, Browne sent another letter weighing in on the matter.
Browne’s letter demonstrates the colonist’s hostility against the Native American population after the war. In the letter, Browne offers four proposals for dealing with the remaining Native Americans:
- That the natives be diminished in numbers.
- That the natives be assigned to places that are convenient for both them and the colonists,
- That the natives be confined to the places they are assigned under guard.
- That the Native American’s European weapons be confiscated.
Browne’s letter goes on to argue that the Native Americans cannot be trusted and are dishonest and dangerous.
The letter is notable because, up until then, these types of attitudes towards the Native Americans were usually associated with unruly mobs but now they were being stated by a well respected, well educated and pious man. It demonstrates a major shift in colonial attitudes and feelings towards the natives after the war.
The town of Sudbury had suffered greatly during the war and was even attacked by natives during a battle there on April 19, 1676, during which dozens of its residents died and the town was set on fire, which explains the angry and anxious tone in Browne’s letter.
If you want to learn more about King Philip’s War, check out this article on the best books about King Philip’s War.
Pulsipher, Jenny Hale. “‘Our Sages Are Sageles’: A Letter on Massachusetts Indian Policy after King Philip’s War.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 2, 2001, pp. 431–48. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2674192. Accessed 17 May 2023.
Axtell, James. “The Vengeful Women of Marblehead: Robert Roules’s Deposition of 1677.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 4, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1974, pp. 647–52,
“Mary Rowlandson’s ‘Dolefullest Day.’” Massachusetts Historical Society, masshist.org/beehiveblog/2013/02/mary-rowlandsons-dolefullest-day/
“A Relation of the Indian War, by Mr. Easton, of Rhode Island, 1675.” Digitals Commons @ University of Nebraska, digitalcommons.unl.edu/libraryscience/33/