The good feelings created by the first Thanksgiving officially ended in 1675 with the outbreak of King Philip’s War. In the 55 years since the founding of Plymouth, New England had greatly expanded to a population of 80,000 and also included the colonies Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Some 110 settlements began along the coast and then progressed along the major rivers of New England encroaching on the land of the many Indian tribes that lived there. Like the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, English colonies sought alliances with neighboring tribes and Indians likewise sought alliances with the English. Over time English expansion and the diseases they brought emerged as the greatest threat to the future survival of the Indians.
Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoag, died in 1661, 40 years after he attended the first Thanksgiving and was succeeded by his son, Wamsutta. Wamsutta died a year later, while leaving the home of the governor of Plymouth. He was succeeded by his brother Metacomet, whom the English called King Philip. Unlike his brother and father, Metacomet viewed the English as his greatest enemy, and encouraged by his brother’s mysterious death, he allied with other tribes against Plymouth.
The spark for one of the bloodiest wars in the history of North America began with the discovery of the body of John Sassamon floating under the ice of a frozen pond. Sassamon was a “Praying Indian,” an Indian convert to Christianity, and a graduate from Harvard. Some Pilgrims and Puritans had created missions among the Indians. Sassamon was also a translator who served as an advisor to Metacomet, but incurred his wrath when he informed Plymouth leaders that Metacomet was preparing to attack the colonists. The Plymouth colony arrested three Wampanoag, including another counselor to Metacomet, found them guilty, and executed them for the murder of Sassamon. King Philip’s War soon exploded.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.