Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Great Swamp Fight

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"The Great Swamp Fight" was the culmination of King Philip's War between the colonial militia and the Narragansett Indian tribe in December 19, 1675. The battle was near today's South Kingstown, Rhode Island. The militia, including Pequot Indians, inflicted a huge number of casualties, including women and children.  In fact, the battle has been described as "one of the most brutal and lopsided military encounters in all of New England's history."[1]

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It is interesting to note that King Philip (adopted English name) is not a king from England. His actual name is Metacomet; he was a Wampanoag Indian chief. Prior to December 1675, King Phillip, leading his tribe, rose up against encroaching English settlers in Massachusetts.  By December, the battle was spreading. It was feared that the Rhode Island Narragansett tribe would join up with King Philip’s tribe. Eventually, King Philip was killed.

King Philip’s War was not a localized war: It encompassed New England. The figures are inexact, “out of a total New England population of 80,000, counting both Indians and English colonists, some 9,000 were killed—more than 10 percent. Two-thirds of the dead were Indians, many of whom died of starvation. Indians attacked 52 of New England’s 90 towns, pillaging 25 of those and burning 17 to the ground. The English sold thousands of captured Indians into slavery in the West Indies. New England’s tribes would never fully recover.” [2]

As I was reading about this battle, I came across two names that had me searching the family trees: Samuel Perkins (1655-1700) and James Oliver (1619-1679).

Samuel Perkins is my husband’s 9th great-uncle and was a member of the Massachusetts Regiment – Company number unknown. He was from Ipswich and a cordwainer (aka shoemaker) by trade. As a result of service in the “Great Swamp Fight,” he was awarded a portion of land at Voluntown on the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island in today’s New London County.

James Oliver is the 11th great-uncle of my two children He was Captain of the 3rd Company of the Massachusetts Regiment. [3] He was a merchant in the city of Boston. James came with his parents, Thomas and Ann Oliver, from England in 1632.  James is of particular interest because he was one of the few officers who made it through the “Great Swamp Fight” uninjured. However, he did have five men killed and 11 injured. [4]

Below is a letter I found online written by Captain James Oliver about the battle. [5] You will note that the letter is dated the 11th month 1675. At that time, the 11th month was actually December and not today’s November. 
 Letter of Captain Oliver
Narragansett 26th 11th month 1675

After a tedious march in a bitter cold that followed the Dec. 12th , we hoped our pilot would have led us to Ponham by break of day, but so it came to pass we were misled and so missed a good opportunity. Dec. 13th we came to Mr Smith's, and that day took 35 prisoners. Dec 14th , our General went out with a horse and foot, I with my company was kept to garrison. I sent out 30 of my men to scout abroad, who killed two Indians and brought in 4 prisoners, one of which was beheaded. Our amy came home at night, killed 7 and brought in 9 more, young and old. Dec 15th , came in John, a rogue, with pretense of peace, and was dismissed with this errand, that we might speak with Sachems. That evening, he not being gone a quarter of an hour, his company that lay hid behind a hill killed two Salem men within a mile from our quarters, and wounded a third that he is dead. And at a house three miles off where I had 10 men, they killed 2 of them. Instantly, Capt. Mosely, myself and Capt Gardner were sent to fetch in Major Appleton's company that kept 3 miles and a half off, and coming, they lay behind a stone wall and fired on us in sight of the garrison. We killed the captain that killed one of the Salem men, and had his cap on. That night they burned Jerry Bull's house, and killed 17. Dec. 16th came that news. Dec 17th came news that Connecticut forces were at Petasquamscot, and had killed 4 Indians and took 6 prisoners. That day we sold Capt. Davenport 47 Indians, young and old for 80l. in money. Dec 18th we marched to Petaquamscot with all our forces, only a garrison left; that night very stormy; we lay, one thousand, in the open field that long night. In the morning, Dec. 19th , Lord's day, at 5 o'clock we marched. Between 12 and 1 we came up with the enemy, and had a sore fight three hours. We lost, that are now dead, about 68, and had 150 wounded, many of which recovered. That long snowy cold night we had about 18 miles to our quarters, with about 210 dead and wounded. We left 8 dead in the fort. We had but 12 dead when we came to the swamp, besides the 8 we left. Many died by the way, and as soon as they we brought in, so that Dec. 20th we buried in a grave 34, next day 4, next day 2, and none since. Eight died at Rhode Island, 1 at Petaquamscot, 2 lost in the woods and killed Dec. 20, as we heard since; some say two more died. By the best intelligence, we killed 300 fighting men; prisoners we took, say 350, and above 300 women and children. We burnt above 500 houses, left but 9, burnt all their corn, that was in baskets, great store. One signal mercy that night, not to be forgotten, viz. That when we drew off, with so many dead and wounded, they did not pursue us, which the young men would have done, but the sachems would not consent; they had but ten pounds of powder let. Our General, with about 40, lost our way, and wandered till 7 o'clock in the morning, before we came to our quarters. We thought we were within 2 miles of the enemy again, but God kept us; to him be the glory. We have killed now and then 1 since, and burnt 200 wigwams more; we killed 9 last Tuesday. We fetch in their corn daily and that undoes them. This is, as nearly as I can, a true relation. I read the narrative to my officers in my tent, who all assent to the truth of it. Mohegans and Pequods proved very false, fired into the air, and sent word before they came they would so, but got much plunder, guns and kettles. A great part of what is written was attested by Joshua Teffe, who married an Indian woman, a Wampanoag. He shot 20 times at us in the swamp, was taken at Providence Jan'y 14, brought to us the 16th, executed the 18th . A sad wretch, he never heard a sermon but once these 14 years. His father, going to recall him lost his head and lies unburied.

[1] Drake, James D. King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1976. University of Massachusetts Press, 1999. p. 119.
[2] Brandt, Anthony. "Blood and Betrayal: King's Philip's War." HISTORYNET, war.htm. Retrieved 1 Nov 2017.
[3] Miner, Mike E. "Massachusetts Regiment." Miner Descent, 4 Dec. 2011, Retrieved 31 Oct 2017.
[4] "Narragansett Campaign and the Great Swamp Fight." The Bigelow Society,

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