Friday, February 22, 2013

Metacomet's War - David Kerr Chivers

One of the very first organized uprisings of the Natives against the incursion of the British was known as King Philip's War. It took place along the frontiers of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts with skirmishes as far north as the New Hampshire grants and the forests of Maine. Hostilities broke out in the fall of 1675 and continued through 1678. The settlements within the Connecticut River Valley, Blackstone River Valley, and the southeastern Massachusetts ring of settlements that radiated out from Boston and Plymouth were prime targets of aggression. As the war heated up, British attacks on the Narragansett tribe over the border in Rhode Island caused them to join in the conflict. When the Narragansetts allied themselves with the smaller eastern tribes,  a new and ferocious campaign of attacks and massacres began that shook the British settlers to their cores. It was a truly scary time in colonial history and forced a new and more brutal attittude toward the native peoples by the colonial government.

I have always been fascinated by this conflict, as I lived for years in Rehoboth, Massachusetts which was smack dab in the center of the beginnings of the conflict. It was at Swansea, the town right next door to Rehoboth, that there was a horrible raid by the Wampanoags and Nipmucks that destroyed much of the settlement. There are numerous historical markers in the area that speak to events during King Philip's War. Later in my marriage, my husband was doing geneological research and found that one of his ancestors survived the famous Mendon Massacre, which was part of the concentrated efforts by the allied Algonquin tribes to attack all the fringe settlements around Boston in an effort to drive the British back over the seas to their homeland.

I came upon David Kerr Chiver's book while doing a search for information on King Philip's War and the Mendon Massacre, I had recently read The Prospering (see earlier post) and was really curious to see what other historical fiction has been written on this early era in American colonial history. Chiver's response is a re-freshing one, in that the reader sees the conflict from the point of view of Metacomet, the Wampanoag leader and son of famed Massasoit. Through his eyes and in his words, we see the Native's frustration at the constant incursions by the British settlers into native hunting and gathering grounds. The concept of 'owned land' rises as a source of conflict between the native tribes and the British settlers, the imposition of British laws that supercede native rules and tenets bubble over into a pitched battle that the Wampanoag must 'sell' to the other regional tribes of the greater Algonquin nation. Metacomet (King Philip, to the settlers and many of his peers) must be constantly visiting tribal sachems to make his political points and drum up support for a unified effort of resistance to British dominance. It's a fascinating read with the high points of the war's beginnings drawn into short chapters that are alternated with chapter's written to describe Metacomet's efforts and life during that time.

This is a small book and could easily have been expanded upon, but it's a good beginning by Chiver's. I'm sure with more research and a larger 'novelist's eye' a larger story could have been told that brought more characters and more drama to that scary time. I wish there were more historical novelists that would take the torch up and expand on this time of early settlement with a diligent attention to historical detail and a good understanding of the English vernacular when writing dialogue. I'll keep looking, but in the meantime, this was a pretty good read.

If you're interested in primary source historical documentation, here is the account Mary Rowlandson, a captive survivor of the Lancaster Massacre of February 1675. It is extremely powerful to read the actual words of Mary, preserved and stored at CUNY -Staten Island and on-line at the Gutenberg project

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