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History Corner: King Philip Wasn’t a King…

History Corner: King Philip Wasn’t a King…


In the three decades after crushing the Pequots, the Native Americans of New England could still gather a formidable force of warriors, but the colonists had made alliances with other tribes, the Mohegans and tensions relaxed for a time.  However, the Narragansets, feeling the death of their leader as a miscarriage of justice, no longer felt a kinship to the white man.  After the division of Pequot land, Uncas, the leader of the Mohegans, obtained temporary control of the northern part of the Pequot territory almost doubling the size of his tribe.

What came next was the beginning of suspicions of the white settlers as two colonists were appointed as overseers to advise the Native American governor and protect their rights.  Hmmm.  Didn’t they already have rights as Native peoples?  Reservations were set up by 1666 and the natives were then dependent upon white settlers.  Missionary efforts began in earnest, converting a few but preaching to the Native Americans showed very little success.  Of the 4000 or so converts to Christianity, only a handful lived in Connecticut.

The uneasiness of the Narragansets continued and the leader of the Wampanoags, sachem Massasoit, died.  He had been a great friend of the newly formed Plymouth colony.  The Wampanoags saw their sovereignty being whittled away and grew increasingly hostile.  The colony adopted an overbearing attitude in the face of the natives’ hostile attitude toward them.  The second son of Massasoit now the current sachem was shown disrespect with the attempt to disarm the tribe who had become accustomed to owning muskets and opposed giving them up.  This son of Massasoit took on the name of Philip, as the tribe had been close allies of the colonists.

The threat, at the beginning of 1675 did not appear to be serious with the whites numbering 80,000 in New England with the ability to muster at least 16,000 men of military age.  The warriors, with the loss of tribal strength from earlier skirmishes numbered about 3,500.  The Connecticut Assembly, in 1673, had passed an act revealing widespread carelessness about its preparedness and ordered a muster master to oversee a program aimed at fixing the problem of the armed deficiencies of the militia.  The takeover of native lands continued to cause tension.

It was in this year, that King Philip’s War erupted in June at Swansea Massachusetts where several white settlers were killed.  At first it was a local conflict between the Wampanoags under their chief Philip and Plymouth and Boston.  It was sparked by the hanging of three natives for the murder of a Christian native.  The colonists immediately drew upon their armed forces which only made the next events inevitable.  The natives in New England now joined in a loose alliance against the colonists with Philip of the Wampanoags and Canonchet of the Narragansets playing major roles in this dangerous conspiracy.

Despite living among the Native Americans, the colonists had refused to learn their ways of combat.  Captain Benjamin Church had asked the native allies how it was that they held such a great advantage over the white settlers in the woods.  He was told that the “Indians” always “took care not to come too thick together where the English always kept in a heap together”.  He was also told that “when the “Indians” saw a company of English soldiers in the woods, they knew that they were all there for the English never scattered”.

Connecticut, although cautious, began to take measures for defense.  It was here that Robert Treat came into the picture with the council appointing him as commander of the Connecticut Troops, a post he held until the end of King Philip’s War.  Although the destruction by the natives was located in Massachusetts, it wasn’t long before Robert Treat and 315 men were summoned as the Narragansets now set out to join the Wamanoags in their fight against the colonists.  Treat immediately set out wages for his 5 companies and 300 bushels of wheat to be assigned to the commissary.

The Connecticut troops, under Treat pushed forward through a breach in the Narraganset’s fortified village, charging through the frozen swamp.  The Narraganasets armed with rifles, killed a great number of whites.  The Connecticut troops pushed on through the breach in the fortress.  Hand to hand combat ensued with a torching of the wigwams allowing the remainder of the Narragansets to escape.  With the loss of 40 men, morale was so low that Treat felt it essential to return his forces to Connecticut.

Connecticut continued to add their forces to King Philip’s War but the capture of Canonchet turned the tide and his refusal to cease fighting made his sentence of death inevitable.  With the loss of their leader, the Narragansets’ cause was severely damaged.  The lack of adequate food weakened the resistance and by 1676 the near collapse of the “Indian” alliance was seen as the end of the war.  King Philip was still at large but guided by an “Indian” informer, he was caught in Rhode Island and shot to death by an “Indian” ally.

Robert Treat was given a large acreage from King Charles II in appreciation of his efforts to save the colonies from the onslaught of the Narragansets and Wampanogs, known as the King’s Grant.  This land, although not his to give, is located in the Grassy Hill area on both sides of the Wepawaug River.  One of the houses, owned by a Treat descendent can be seen on a small slope as one exits from the parkway on Turkey Hill Road.  The Town of Orange owns this house and we are fortunate to have so many Treat houses in our town.  One, owned by Isaac Treat, had to halt construction because the blacksmiths in the area went to serve in the Revolutionary War in 1776.  Each of the houses has the same footprint and one, driving through town, can surely spot a Treat house.

Robert Treat was soon made governor of Connecticut and his life as such is exemplary in the many roles he played in the history of the state.  The Charter Oak story has his efforts plainly seen.  We might be under English rule had Treat and his associates not fought back in the attempt by the Crown to pull the charter from the Connecticut colony.  Much is written about Treat and it might interest the readers to know that many of his descendants were and are famous in their own right.  Robert Treat Paine, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Stephen Crane, author of Red Badge of Courage, Thomas Edison, inventor, Charles Treat, Treasurer of the United States in 1905, Thomas Treat fought in the Revolutionary War and Treat Williams, the actor who resides in New York.

Robert Treat and his life, was very important to Connecticut and to our town.  From a mere boy of 16 who helped settle the colony of Milford to governor of Connecticut.  Those people who bear the name Treat have something to be proud of.

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