Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip's War

The Northern Front

Histories of King Philip’s War often focus on southern New England, but the war also had a northern front in Wabanaki territory. This was both an extension of the war, as the New England colonies sought to extend their control and containment of Native peoples, and a conflict which had a complex local context, the “First Anglo-Abenaki War.”[1] This map highlights the locations of Wabanaki places and pathways within the Northern Front.
The map also highlights the waterways, trails and kinship networks that connected Wabanaki communities impacted by the war on the Northern Front. As Emerson Baker has written, “all Native peoples from south of the Kennebec River all the way to the north shore of Massachusetts [Molôdemak River] constituted a closely related group. They had distinct territories but intermarried and moved throughout the region.”[2] These networks also extended farther up the coast and deep into the interior. 

Madoasquarbet’s Message

These were the same networks which Massachusetts colony sought to contain after war broke out in Wampanoag, Narragansett and Nipmuc territory in the summer of 1675, fearing Native leaders from the south would seek assistance and alliance from Wabanaki people to the north. 
In 1677, the Wabanaki leader Madoasquarbet sent a written message to the Governor and Council of Massachusetts from Taconnic, on the Kennebec River, in which he described the outbreak of war on the Northern Front:

“Because there was war at Narraganset you came here when we were quiet & took away our guns & made prisoners of our chief sagamore & that winter for want of our guns there was severall starved.” [3]

Madoasquarbet spoke of two of the major causes of war on the Northern Front: the attempted disarmament of Wabanaki people from Newichiwannock to the Kennebec, and the capture of a Wabanaki sagamore and his kin far up the coast. Importantly, Madoasquarbet expressed that “we were quiet,” that is, in a state of peace or stillness, before traders and settlers, authorized by Massachusetts’ colonial government, sought to confiscate their guns. Further, Madoasquarbet described the consequences of this action, given that Wabanaki men (fathers, sons, uncles, nephews) required their “arms” mainly for hunting. This unwarranted disarmament not only was a violation of their personal and collective sovereignty, but had dire impacts on sustenance. This was a real blunder in colonial strategy. Rather than containing the war, it extended the conflict.

Thomas Gardner’s Relation

Thomas Gardner, who traded with Wabanaki people at his trading post on the Kennebec River at Pemaquid, wrote to Massachusetts Governor Leverett in September 1675, expressing his rising concern:

“Sir I Conceive the Reason of our Troubles hear may be occationed not only by som southern Indianes which may Com this way But by our owne Acctings…Sir, upon the first Newes of the warres with the Indianes at Plimouth divers persone[s] from Kenibek & Shepscott got togeather makeing them selves officers & went up Kenibeke River & demanded the Indianes Armes.”  

Gardner noted that “Lieutenant Silvanus Davis did againe Requier their Armes but thay Refused to deliver them.” He critiqued these actions, noting that “these Indians Amongst us live most by Hunting as your Honnor well Knoweth how we cant take away their armes whose livelihood dependeth of it”[4] 

 “And seeing these Indianes in these parts did never Apeare dissatisfied until their Armes wear Taken Away I doubt if such Acctions may force them to go the French for Releife or fight Against us having nothing for their support Almost in these parts but their guns.”

Responding to the incursions and fears of local settlers, as well as the reports coming from the south, Wabanaki protectors soon joined to begin their own campaign on the structures of settlement that impacted their subsistence.
[1] Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005)
[2] Emerson Baker, “Finding the Almouchiquois: Native American Families, Territories, and Land Sales in Southern Maine,” Ethnohistory 51(1): 82-574, 82, 91. See also Emerson Baker, “Trouble to the Eastward: The Failure of Anglo-Indian Relations in Early Maine” (PhD diss., College of William and Mary, 1986).
[3] James Phinney Baxter, ed., Documentary History of the State of Maine (Baxter Manuscripts) (Portland, ME: Maine Historical Society, 1900), 6:178-9.
[4] Baxter Manuscripts 6:91-2.

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