Chronicles of America 

Wars With the Indians

The period from 1660 to 1675, a time of readjustment in the affairs of the New England colonies, was characterized by widespread excitement and deep concern on the part of the colonies everywhere. Scarcely a section of the territory from Maine to the frontier of New York and the towns of Long Island but felt the strain of impending change in its political status. The winning of the charters and the capture of New Amsterdam were momentous events in the lives of the colonists of Rhode Island and Connecticut; while the agitation for the annexation of New Haven and the acrimonious debate that accompanied it must have stirred profoundly the towns of that colony and have led to local controversies, rivalries, and contentions that kept the inhabitants in a continual state of perturbation. On Long Island before 1664, the uncertainty as to jurisdiction, due to grave doubts as to the meaning of Connecticut's charter, aroused the towns from Easthampton and Southold on the east to Flushing and Gravesend on the west, and divided the people into discordant and clashing groups. Captain John Scott, already mentioned, an adventurer and soldier of fortune who at one time or another seems to have made trouble in nearly every part of the British world, appeared at this time in Long Island and, denying Connecticut's title to the territory, proclaimed the King. In January, 1664, he established a government at Setauket, with himself as president. This event set the towns in an uproar; Captain Young from Southold, upholding Connecticut's claim, came "with a trumpet" to Hempstead; New Haven men crossed Long Island Sound to support Scott's cause; and at last Connecticut herself sent over officers to seize the insurgents. Though Scott said he would "sacrifice his heart's blood upon the ground" before he would yield, he was taken and carried in chains to Hartford.

Both Plymouth and Massachusetts sent letters protesting against the treatment of Scott, and the heat engendered among the members of the New England Confederation was intensified by the controversy over New Haven and the "uncomfortable debates" regarding the title to the Narragansett territory. Massachusetts wrote to Connecticut in 1662, " We cannot a little wonder at your proceeding so suddenly to extend your authority to the trouble of your friends and confederates"; to which Connecticut replied, hoping that Massachusetts would stop laying further temptations before "our subjects at Mistack of disobedience to this government." The matter was debated for many years, and it was not until 1672 that Massachusetts recognized Connecticut's title under the charter and yielded, not because it thought the claim just but because "it was judged by us more dangerous to the common cause of New England to oppose than by our forbearance and yielding to endeavour to prevent a mischief to us both."

In Rhode Island conditions were equally unsettled, for the inhabitants of the border towns did not know certainly in what colony they were situated or what authority to recognize; and though these doubts affected but little the daily life of the farmer, they did affect the title to his lands and the payment of his taxes, and threw suspicion upon all legal processes and transactions. The situation was even more disturbed in the regions north of Massachusetts, where the status of Maine and New Hampshire was undecided and where the coming of the royal commissioners only served to throw the inhabitants into a new ferment. The claims of Mason and Gorges were revived by their descendants, and the King peremptorily ordered Massachusetts to surrender the provinces. Agents of Gorges appeared in the territory and demanded an acknowledgment of their authority; the commissioners themselves attempted to organize a government and to exercise jurisdiction there in the King's name; but in 1668 Massachusetts, denying all other pretensions, adopted a resolution asserting her full right of control, and, sending commissioners with a military escort to York, resumed jurisdiction of the province. The inhabitants did not know what to do. Some upheld the Gorges agents and the commissioners; others adhered to Massachusetts. Even in Massachusetts itself there were grave differences of opinion, for the younger generation did not always follow the old magistrates, and the people of Boston were developing views both of government and of the proper relations toward England that were at variance with those of the more conservative country towns and districts.

The larger disputes between the colonies were frequently accompanied with lesser disputes between the towns over their boundaries; and both at this time and for years afterwards there was scarcely an important settlement in New England that did not have some trouble with its neighbor. In 1666 Stamford and Greenwich came to blows over their dividing line, and in 1672 men from New London and Lyme attempted to mow the same piece of meadow and had a pitched battle with clubs and scythes. Not many years later the inhabitants of Windsor and Enfield "were so fiercely engag'd" over a disputed strip of land, reported an eye-witness, that a hundred men met to decide this controversy by force, "a resolute combat" ensuing between them "in which many blows were given to the exasperating each party, so that the lives and limbs of his Majesties subjects were endangered thereby."

Though clubs and scythes and fists are dangerous weapons enough, the only real fighting in which the colonists engaged was with the Indians and with weapons consisting of pikes and muskets. Indian attacks were an ever-present danger, for the stretches of unoccupied land between the colonies were the hunting-grounds of the Narragansetts of eastern Connecticut and western Rhode Island, the Pequots of Connecticut, the Wampanoags of Plymouth and its neighborhood, the Pennacooks of New Hampshire, and the Abenaki tribes of Maine. Plague and starvation had so far weakened the coast Indians before the arrival of the first colonists that the new settlements had been but little disturbed; but, unfortunately, as the first corners pushed into the interior, founding new plantations, felling trees, and clearing the soil, and the trappers and traders invaded the Indian hunting-grounds, carrying with them firearms and liquor, the Indian menace became serious.

To meet the Indian peril, all the colonies made provision for a supply of arms and for the drilling of the citizen body in militia companies or train-bands. But in equipment, discipline, and morale the fighting force of New England was very imperfect. The troops had no uniforms; there was a very inadequate commissariat; and alarums, whether by beacon, drum-beat, or discharge of guns, were slow and unreliable. Weapons were crude, and the method of handling them was exceedingly awkward and cumbersome. The pike was early abandoned and the matchlock soon gave way to the flintlock — both heavy and unwieldy instruments of war — and carbines and pistols were also used. Cavalry or mounted infantry, though expensive because of horse and outfit, were introduced whenever possible. In 1675, Plymouth had fourteen companies of infantry and cavalry; Massachusetts had six regiments, including the Ancient and Honorable Artillery; and Maine and New Hampshire had one each. Connecticut had four train-bands in 1662 and nine in 1668, a troop of dragoneers, and a troop of horse, but no regiments until the next century. For coast defense there were forts, very inadequately supplied with ordnance, of which that on Castle Island in Boston harbor was the most conspicuous, and, for the frontier, there were garrison-houses and stockades.

Though Massachusetts had twice put herself in readiness to repel attempts at coercion from England, and though both Connecticut and New Haven seemed on several occasions in danger from the Dutch, particularly after the recapture of New Amsterdam in 1673, New England's chief danger was always from the Indians. Both French and Dutch were believed to be instrumental in inciting Indian warfare, one along the southwestern border, the other at various points in the north, notably in New Hampshire and Maine. But, except for occasional Indian forays and for house-burnings and scalpings in the more remote districts, there were only two serious wars in the seventeenth century — that against the Pequots in 1637 and the great War of King Philip in 1675-1676.

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