November 22, 2014
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Then and Now
Key figure in King Philip War: Captain Ben Church, Indian Fighter continued
Terry D'Amato Spencer

On December 10, 1675, in a blinding snowstorm, the thousand soldiers, armed with four-foot long muskets and carrying 20 bullets each, reached their destination an hour or two after noon. Church warned Winslow against a frontal attack, but was ignored. Winslow and his men were ambushed and suffered heavy casualties when they tried to storm the fort. The Indians later told Church that the English were so close together "it was like shooting at a house...you couldn't miss."

The "reformadoes," who had gone into the woods to find an indirect approach to the fort, found a place where the wall around the fort hadn't been completed. Led by their captain, they attacked here. Church was hit by three bullets but managed to stay on his feet. Once inside the fort they inflicted heavy damage on the defenders. This was enough of a diversion to enable the regular troops to break through.

Church, bleeding profusely, for one of the bullets entered his thigh and nearly severed his leg, saw with alarm that the regulars were setting fire to the wigwams. As Indian women, clutching their babies, fled from the burning death traps they were shot down in cold blood. Church tried to stop the burning, not so much out of pity as he realized the English would need shelter and snow was over two feet in depth. He was ignored and all the huts were burned. In the confusion that followed, Canonchet escaped, hoping to join Philip in New York. Five hundred Indian men and a similar number of women and children were dead. The Narragansetts who escaped destroyed all the white settlement in Warwick and most of Providence in retaliation for the massacre at the “Great Swamp.”

The severely wounded Benjamin Church was taken to Aquidneck to recuperate. As he mended he kept getting reports of Indian attacks in Providence, Lancaster, Medfield, Rehoboth and Plymouth. Within four months he was able to pursue Philip again. Canonchet had been captured, executed and quartered, and only Philip carried on the war. This time Plymouth gave in to Church's demands and gave him 60 Englishmen and allowed him to recruit 140 "friendly" Indians. To get these Indians he once again went to Queen Awashonks. He approached the camp with just three unarmed men and was quickly surrounded by warriors.

Many of the Indians had offered the loss of friends and relatives in the war and wanted to seek revenge on the captain. Church calmly reminded them that he came in peace and offered them strongwater (rum). They refused, fearing poison, until Church drank some himself. Still suspicious, they drank and listened to the white warrior as he told them of the many English who would come across the sea and punish those who fought against them. When he completed his speech many of the tribe agreed to join him in tracking down Philip.

Once again Church was able to find Philip, this time in a swamp in Bridgewater. Using Indian tactics, Church was able to get so close that Philip was at such a disadvantage that he lost 150 of his warriors. Many Indian warriors and Philip's squaw and son were captured. This was in July 1676. Instead of mistreating his captives, Church fed them well and treated them with respect. These followers of Philip had been on the run for over a year and were half-starved. For many, this was the first decent food they had in months, and they were so impressed with Church's manner and generosity that many agreed to join him. On August 6 Philip was nearly captured again. Weetamoe, his friend and ally, was drowned trying to escape, because of this and because Philip, realizing that some of his own warriors had helped Church, he began to lose heart.

He was convinced that Church was an evil spirit sent to punish him. In desperation he fled back to his old headquarters at Mount Hope. Again Church guessed correctly as to where he was. Church was so confident of victory that he decided to go to Aquidneck and visit his wife that he had left five months earlier. Alice was so shocked at seeing her husband that she fainted as she had believed him dead.

While Church was at Aquidneck, a messenger came with good news. An Indian named Alderman came to volunteer his services and to tell his strange story. Philip, he said, was so depressed he was unable to sleep for fear that Church would get him and had become more and more difficult to reason with. When one of his trusted advisors and closest friends suggested that Philip surrender, the chief flew into a rage and cut the man's head off. That man was Alderman's brother, and now Alderman wanted revenge. He offered to lead Church to Philip. Alice begged her husband not to as she feared a trap, but Church had made up his mind.

The story of Captain Church will be continued.


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