|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
December 19, 1675 - The Great Swamp Fight
Tired of the native tribes attacking and destroying their towns, the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Plymouth colonies united to forge a militia force of over 1000 men. During blizzard conditions in mid-December, the soldiers marched into the frozen swamps of Rhode Island to attack a Narragansett stronghold. The resulting battle, called the Great Swamp Fight, was one of the major conflicts of King Phillip’s War.
King Phillip's War
In 1671, the Wampanoag were under siege. The Iroquois Nation pressed them from the north and from the east. Additionally, the ever-expanding English encroached on their land. The colonists at Plymouth forced concessions on him and his tribe. They required them to surrender their firearms and subjugate themselves to English law. Some of the Wampanoag Indians converted to Christianity. They tried to live like the colonists, farming and learning trades. There was resentment between these converted Indians and the others. The Wampanoag suspected that these Christian Indians received better land and spied on them. In 1675, someone murdered John Sassamon, one of the converts. The colonists at Plymouth tried and hanged three Wampanoags for the crime. This hanging triggered what many historians consider the bloodiest war in America's history.
The war eventually pulled in most of the tribes in the New England area. The Narragansett initially tried to remain neutral, but colonists heard rumors of Narragansett warriors participating in some of the raids. Three of the colonies decided to punish the tribe, which inhabited the forests and swamps of Rhode Island. The militia force, led by an Indian named Peter, discovered the location of the Narragansett stronghold. The natives had located it in a nearly impenetrable spot, on an island in the middle of a large swamp. The winter had turned cold early and remained cold, thus freezing the swamp. This made assault on the native stronghold possible.
The Great Swamp Fight
The militiamen struggled against deep snow and bitter cold over the frozen swamp waters on December 19. Beginning at about five o'clock in the morning, the men marched about eight hours, arriving at the stronghold in early afternoon. The fort, about five acres in size, had palisaded walls, watchtowers to provide covering fire and a brush and clay barrier. A moat surrounded it. A single log crossed the moat, providing an entrance to it. After sending out native ally scouts, they discovered a portion had not been finished. The militiamen surrounded the forts perimeter and began firing volleys of shots at the fort. One company feinted towards the log bridge, only to have the native defenders repulse them with great loss of life. A similar attack on the unfinished section brought similar results. The commanders of the militia next formed the men into attack columns and advanced. This succeeded, with the attackers pouring into the fort over the unfinished section. Many of the defenders inside perished in the onslaught, while others escaped into the gathering darkness. By night, the battle was over. The militiamen had destroyed the stronghold at the cost of about seventy killed and another 150 wounded. The natives lost an estimated 300 - 700 people.
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016