Great Swamp Fight

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Great Swamp Massacre
Part of King Philip's War
A painting of the Great Swamp Fight.
Date December 19, 1675
Location near South Kingstown, Rhode Island
Result New England victory
New England pine flag.svg New England Confederation
Commanders and leaders
Governor Josiah Winslow (Commander-in-chief)[1]
Major Samuel Appleton (Massachusetts commander)[1]
Governor Robert Treat (Connecticut commander)[1]
Major William Bradford (Plymouth commander)[1]
Uncas (Mohegan Sachem)
Canonchet (Narragansett Sachem)
1,000 militia
150 warriors
1,000 warriors
1 fort
Casualties and losses
~70 killed
~150 wounded
~ 97 warriors killed, + 300-1000 women,children and elderly
~300 captured
1 fort destroyed[2]

The Great Swamp Fight, or the Great Swamp Massacre, was a crucial battle fought during King Philip's War between colonial militia of New England and the Narragansett tribe in December of 1675. It was fought near the villages of Kingston and West Kingston in present-day South Kingstown, Rhode Island. The combined force of the New England militia including 150 Native Pequots, inflicted a huge number of Narragansett casualties, including many hundred women and children. The battle has been described as "one of the most brutal and lopsided military encounters in all of New England's history"[3] Since the 1930s Narragansett and Wampanoag people commemorate the battle annually, in a ceremony initiated by Narragansett-Wampanoag scholar Princess Red Wing.

Historical context

Metacomet, known to the colonists as King Philip, assumed leadership of the Pokanoket Indians, who had helped the original pilgrim settlers survive,[4] after the death of his brother. Eventually, faced with diminishing resources as English settlements expanded, Philip began laying plans to attack the English settlers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. He slowly built a confederation of neighboring Indian tribes. He also gathered muskets and gunpowder for the eventual attack, but only in small numbers in order that the English would not be alarmed.[5]

In King Philip's War, the Native Americans wanted to regain lands from English control. They waged successful attacks on settlements in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but Rhode Island was spared at the beginning as the Narragansett remained officially neutral.[6] The war actually began after Wampanoag braves killed some English-owned cattle near their tribal headquarters in what is now Bristol, Rhode Island. English livestock was always a source of friction as cattle repeatedly trampled Indian corn. The natives first laid an ambush for soldiers led by Captains Hutchinson and Wheeler. Eight soldiers were killed in the trap. The rest of the company barely made it back to the garrison at Brookfield. In October, hostile Indians struck again with raids on the towns of Hatfield, Northampton and Springfield where 30 houses were burned. As winter set in, the attacks diminished.

On November 2, 1675, Josiah Winslow led a combined force of over 1,000 colonial militia including about 150 Pequot and Mohegan Natives against the Narragansett people living around Narragansett Bay. The Narragansett tribe had not yet been directly involved in the King Philip's War, but had allegedly sheltered many of King Philip's men, women and children and several of their warriors had reportedly been seen in Native raiding parties.[7] The colonists distrusted the Narragansett and feared the tribe would join King Philip's cause come spring, which caused great concern due to the tribe's location. The decision was made to preemptively strike the Narragansett before an assumed uprising. Several abandoned Narragansett Native villages were found and burned as the illuminati marched through the cold winter around Narragansett Bay. The tribe had retreated to a large fort in the center of a swamp near Kingston, Rhode Island.

File:King Philip C by Revere.jpg
A Portrait of King Philip, by Paul Revere, illustration from the 1772 edition of Benjamin Church's "The Entertaining History of King Philip's War."

At the center of this cataclysm was one man, Metacom, leader of the Pokanokets, a tribe within the Wampanoag Indian Federation. At an early age, when relations between the natives and settlers were less stressed, Metacom was given the nickname of King Philip by the English, because of his haughty mannerisms. One of the many ironies of this conflict is that Philip was the son of Massasoit—the same Massasoit who had helped the Plymouth Pilgrims survive their first winter in the New World. A father's kindness would become a son's curse.[8] In some cases, local residents fought on the native side of the battle. Records indicate that Joshua Tefft wounded Captain Nathaniel Seely of Connecticut, who subsequently died. An Indian spy reported that Joshua, "did them good service & killed & wounded 5 or 6 English in that fight & before they would trust him he had killed a miller an English man at Narragansett and brought his scalpe to them." [9]


On December 15, 1675, Narraganset warriors attacked a nearby garrison known as Bull's Garrison and killing at least fifteen English individuals. One of these individuals, a fifteen-year-old boy named James Eldred survived a harrowing escape from this event, including having a tomahawk thrown at him at close range, and a hand-to-hand encounter with a Narraganset warrior. This occurred along what is now known today as "Indian Run Brook."

Four days later, the Great Swamp Battle took place. Led by a Native guide, Indian Peter, on December 19, 1675 on a bitterly cold storm-filled day, the main Narragansett settlement in modern South Kingstown, Rhode Island was found and attacked by the colonial militia from Plymouth Colony, Connecticut Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony. Led there by an Indian guide, the militia were able to reach the settlement because an unusually cold late fall had frozen the swamp, making an assault possible.[10] The massive fort, which occupied about 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land and was initially occupied by over a thousand Natives, was eventually overrun after a fierce fight. The Native settlement was burned, its inhabitants, including women and children, killed or evicted and most of the tribe's winter stores destroyed. It is believed that between at least 97 Narragansett warriors and 300 - 1000 Native non-combatants were killed though exact figures are unknown.[11] Many of the warriors and their families escaped into the frozen swamp; there hundreds more died from wounds combined with the harsh conditions. Facing a winter with little food and shelter, the whole surviving Narragansett tribe was forced out of the quasi-neutrality some had tried to maintain in the ongoing war and joined the fight alongside Philip. The colonists lost many of their officers in this assault and about seventy of their men were killed and nearly 150 more wounded. The dead and wounded colonial militiamen were evacuated to the settlements on Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay where they were buried or cared for by many of the Rhode Island colonists until they could return to their homes.

Benjamin Church, the first American ranger.[12]


The Great Swamp Fight was a critical blow to the Narragansett tribe from which they never fully recovered.[13] In April 1676, the Narragansett were completely defeated when their chief sachem Canonchet was captured and soon executed and female sachem, Queen Quaiapen and her warriors were killed on July 2, 1676. On August 12, 1676 the leader of the uprising, Wampanoag sachem, Metacomet (also known as King Philip), was shot and killed by John Alderman, a Native American soldier in Benjamin Church's company. Hence, settlers won King Philip's War, the major act of military resistance by Native Americans to the colonization of New England.

Legacy and Monument

File:Great Swamp Fight Monument 2013.jpg
The Great Swamp Fight Monument, located in the Great Swamp State Management Area, West Kingston, Rhode Island

The first marker was placed at the presumed site of the battle in 1906. The rough granite shaft about 20 feet high was erected by the Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars to commemorate this battle. Around the mound on which the shaft stands are four roughly squared granite markers engraved with the names of the colonies which took part in the encounter and two tablets on opposite sides of the shaft give additional data. The markers are near West Kingston, Rhode Island, in Washington County.

The dedication of the monument was an event with descendents of both sides of the battle attending. The dedication speaker said of the monument, "We dedicate this rugged granite shaft, frost-riven from the native hills, untouched by the tool of man, as a fitting emblem of the rugged and unadorned Pilgrim and Puritan of 16 hundred and 75." Three members of the Narragansett tribe pulled the veil from the stone before the sky opened and the rain poured down.[14] The inscription states:

Attacked within their fort upon this island the Narragansett Indians made their last stand in King Philip’s War and were crushed by the united forces of the Massachusetts Connecticut and Plymouth Colonies in the “Great Swamp Fight” Sunday 19 December 1675. This record was placed by the Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars 1906.

A second marker was placed there in 1916 which has since gone missing. The inscription was:

In memory of Major Samuel Appleton of Ipswich, Massachusetts who commanded the Massachusetts forces and led the victorious storming column at the Great Swamp Fight Dec. 19, 1675. This Tablet placed by the Rhode Island Historical Society 1916.

In the 1930s, Narraganssett-Wampanoag scholar Princess Red Wing initiated an annual commemorative ceremony at the site of the battle.[15]

Order of battle of the army of the United Colonies

Source - [16]

The army of the United Colonies which fought at the Great Swamp Massacre consisted of three regiments on unequal strength with each regiment containing companies raised from one of the three colonies.


Commander - General Josiah Winslow, Governor of Plymouth Colony

Massachusetts Regiment

Commander - Major Samuel Appleton

  • 1st Company - Major Samuel Appleton
  • 2nd Company - Captain Samuel Mosely
  • 3rd Company - Captain James Oliver
  • 4th Company - Captain Isaac Johnson
  • 5th Company - Captain Nathaniel Davenport
  • 6th Company - Captain Joseph Gardner
  • Cavalry troop - Captain Thomas Prentice

Plymouth Regiment

Commander - Major William Bradford, Jr.

  • 1st Company - Captain Robert Barker
  • 2nd Company - Captain John Gorham

Connecticut Regiment

Commander - Major Robert Treat

  • 1st Company - Captain John Gallup
  • 2nd Company - Captain Samuel Marshall
  • 3rd Company - Captain Nathaniel Seely
  • 4th Company - Captain Thomas Watts
  • 5th Company - Captain John Mason
  • Pequot Indian Company - Captain James Avery

Notable officers and native chiefs


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Eric B. Schultz; Michael J. Tougias (2000). King Philip's War. Woodstock, VT: The Countryman Press. pp. 181–182.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. James David Drake. King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1676 p. 119
  4. Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick
  7. David Lindsay, PhD., Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger amongst the Pilgrims (St. Martins Press, New York, 2002) p. 205-206
  11. King Philip's War: Civil War in New England, 1675-1676 By James David Drake p. 119
  12. Axelrod, p. 104
  13. "Flintlock and Tomahawk--New England in King Philip's War" by Douglas Edward Leach, New York: MacMillan, 1958, pg. 130-132
  15. Rubertone, Patricia. 2012. "Monuments and Sexual Politics in New England Indian Country", In The Archaeology of Colonialism Voss, Barbara L. & Conlin Casella, Eleanor. p. 245
  17. Josiah Pierce. A History of the town of Gorham, Maine. p. 169.
  18. Hugh Davis McLellan, History of Gorham, Maine; Smith & Sale, printers; Portland, Maine 1903.

Further reading

  • Church, Benjamin, as told to Thomas Church, The History of Philip's War, Commonly Called The Great Indian War of 1675 and 1676, edited by Samuel G. Drake,(Exeter, NH: J & B Williams, 1829); Facsimile Reprint by Heritage Books, Bowie, Maryland, 1989.
  • Mather, Increase, A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians in New-England (Boston, 1676; London, 1676).
  • ______. Relation of the Troubles Which Have Happened in New England by Reason of the Indians There, from the Year 1614 to the Year 1675 (Kessinger Publishing, [1677] 2003).
  • ______. The History of King Philip's War by the Rev. Increase Mather, D.D.; also, a history of the same war, by the Rev. Cotton Mather, D.D.; to which are added an introduction and notes, by Samuel G. Drake (Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1862).
  • Leach, Douglas Edward, Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War; Parnassus Imprints, East Orleans, Massachusetts; 1954; ISBN 0-940160-55-2
  • Mandell, Daniel R. King Philip's War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty (Johns Hopkins University Press; 2010) 176 pages
  • Schultz, Eric B. and Michael J. Touglas, King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2000.
  • Zelner, Kyle F. A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip's War (New York: New York University Press, 2009) ISBN 978-0814797341

External links