Wars have aftermaths, and King Philip’s War was no exception. Few families in Massachusetts Bay Colony were untouched by King Philip’s War and its aftermath. Although the English colonists considered the war over with the death of Metacomet in August of 1676, hostilities continued for years and bled into the French and Indian War. Recently, when I was researching my family history, I discovered that one of my own ancestors was a victim of the war’s aftermath.
At eleven o’clock on the bright fall morning of September 19th, 1677, a group of about fifty natives attacked the north end of the frontier town of Hatfield, Massachusetts. Even though the colonists had built a defensive stockade the year before, they were caught off guard. The men were helping to frame a new house or working in the fields south of the palisade. The natives never even tried to enter the stockade, instead attacking the houses outside the twelve-foot walls. Some men standing on top of the new house were shot and fell; others were captured and bound. Thirteen homes were invaded; seven were burned. Women and children were killed or captured. The men in the fields saw the smoke and rushed back to the village, but by the time they got there, the Indians had marched their seventeen captives across the fields and turned north on the Poctumtuck path toward Deerfield. They were bound for Canada.
Among the twelve dead was my ancestor, Mary Meekins, wife of the selectman Samuel Belding. She left behind seven children, ranging in age from eight to twenty-two.
I imagine that Samuel was shattered. He no doubt mourned the death of his wife and probably considered her innocent. Chances are this reinforced the belief he likely shared with many of his fellow colonists – that the Indians were savages.
But there’s always more to the story.
A year and a half before Mary was killed, Samuel had participated in a savage and brutal attack on natives at the falls above Deerfield (now Turner’s Falls). About one hundred and sixty men launched a surprise assault at dawn which left the natives reeling. Rushing the sleeping camp, the men fired indiscriminately into their homes, and killed those who tried to escape. Between 130 to 180 natives were slaughtered – men, women, and children, young and old. Others drowned in the river as they tried to flee. The native village was then set on fire and all their food stores destroyed.
Even when victory is declared and a people or a nation are encouraged to think a war is over, there are always tensions simmering just under the surface – tensions that may erupt in new violence. It takes years – often generations – to heal from war’s horrors. As wise people have often said, it’s easy to start a war; it’s difficult to end one. Even when it seems to be over, it probably isn’t.