King Philip's War, 1675-1676, was fought between the Native American tribes of New England, and the English colonists, many who were first-generation emigrants like William and Mary Dyer (William lived until 1677), or their children and grandchildren who were born in the colonies. The Dyers may have known Rev. John Eliot if he was one of the inquisitors on Anne Hutchinson's trial. William Dyer was acquainted with the Indian sachems Massasoit (whose signature mark was a sailboat or a bow) and his son Metacom/Metacomet. The Dyers' sons were involved with the war, and Samuel Dyer, their eldest son, rescued Rhode Island colonists from grave danger when he evacuated them to Newport. Katherine Marbury Scott lost both her sons in the war. Edward Hutchinson died a short time after being struck by a musket ball late in the conflict. We don't know much about the women who suffered death, injury, the firings of their homes and crops, and the loss of their children, but we can learn from the story of Mary Rowlandson, who was abducted by Native Americans and then redeemed. But fear not, our friend Jo Ann Butler is nearly finished with her volume encompassing this time, The Golden Shore.
I invite you to learn more about King Philip's War by reading The Savage Apostle, by John B. Kachuba. You can access the Amazon sales page and the other reviews by clicking the title hotlink.
(Review by Christy K Robinson)
The Savage Apostle,
named after John Eliot, the Congregational (Puritan) pastor to the Native
Americans (“savages”) of New England, is the
first historical novel by author John B. Kachuba. The “novel” genre assignment
seems wrong, when the events and people were real and documented, but the
narrative follows the thoughts and speech of two primary figures: Rev. John
Eliot (1604-1690) and the Wampanoag sachem Metacom (1638-1676), also known as
King Philip. Historical fiction can breathe new life into dusty history, when
thought through as carefully as it was by author Kachuba.
The book begins with the musings of Eliot, who mourns the
death of the Native American Sassamon, who was a Christian convert. Sassamon
had been murdered and dumped in a frozen pond, perhaps by someone of his own
tribe, or by the English settlers of Plymouth Colony. In 1675, tensions were
high between the natives of New England, and
the thousands of English families pushing them back into the wilderness. When
the first settlers arrived in the 1620s and 1630s, they found whole villages made
ghost towns by disease. They purchased land from native sachems, but by 1636,
tensions broke out in the Pequot War, in which the Plymouth and Massachusetts
Bay militias massacred thousands and sold women and children captives to the
Caribbean slave trade (because they had a naughty habit of running away from
their “servanthood” in New England). As tens of thousands of settlers arrived
in the Great Migration, the various tribes suffered encroachment on their lands
and waters, destruction of their crops by English cattle, and overhunting of
fowl and deer. Over the next decades, even as John Eliot tried to convert them
to Christianity and “civilization,” they lost civil rights and were treated
disrespectfully by the second generation of colonists.
In the book, Metacom has equal time with John Eliot, as they
both realize that war will come to New England,
no matter how hard they work to avoid it. They both envision innocent deaths
and burned-out villages. Eliot wonders if he has failed his God when he sees
the “Praying Indians” deserting their villages ahead of the war to return to
their tribes. He agonizes over the will of God: why did God seem to direct his
missionary work, and then deny Eliot, in his old age, the fulfillment of happy,
fulfilled Christian converts? Metacom wants only to die peacefully as an old
man, with his children and grandchildren nearby, and go to the afterlife to be
with his father and brother, but his advisors are bent on avenging the
executions of the three Pokanoket men who were falsely accused and falsely
convicted of murdering Sassamon.
Author Kachuba’s depiction of the exhumed body of Sassamon
was (as I imagine) quite realistic, but so was his depiction of sudden emotion
from Rev. Eliot, looking on the decomposing body of his friend and convert.
“From where I now stood, trembling, I had an unobstructed view of the corpse, a
view I would gladly have given up so as to have Sassamon’s memory from happier
times live on within me… I had to close my eyes for several moments to calm my
wild heart. My knees shook and I thought I should fall.”
I’ve read several books set in the time before and during
King Philip’s War (among them Flight of
the Sparrow, by Amy Belding Brown; Mayflower,
by Nathaniel Philbrick; Caleb’s Crossing,
by Geraldine Brooks), and have seen descriptions of Eliot and his ministry, and
the English versus Indian conflict from several outside angles. It’s a new
dimension to read about the precursors to war through the eyes of Eliot and
Metacom, who perhaps had the best perspective.
As an author and a student of 17th-century New England history, I found the personal narratives fascinating.
The story is so believable as told here, that I’m tempted to think this is what
must have happened. As a genealogy enthusiast, I knew some of the peripheral
players in the story, and though they weren’t covered in detail in the book
(which was proper), it drove me back to my files to compare information. And it
fits! Those dusty ancestors contributed to the story in my head. Dr. Fuller
administered a potion which may have killed Metacom’s brother. Others lived
heroically through the atrocities of King Philip’s War, ferried colonists from
grave danger to safety at Newport, or, like one
great-great, didn’t survive, when he was taken captive and marched to Canada, where
he was burned at the stake.
There were a few confusing bits in The
Savage Apostle: Metacom’s flashbacks to his experiences with father and
brother took us back about 13 years but didn’t explain the timehop. What was
the medieval law of cruentation? And the Pokanoket name of Montaup (Mount Hope, Bristol, Rhode Island)
and other places could have been set for the reader who is not from New England, by a map or two. Sure, I can Google them,
but that would mean getting out of bed where I’m reading in the wee hours!
The book contains a reading list and discussion guide, and
would be appropriate reading for high school and college history students, as
well as history enthusiasts of all ages. The few descriptions of violence (at
the very end of the book) are necessary to a book about the prelude to war. The
physical book is well made and the text is easy on the eyes. The cover image
appears to be an aerial view of a landscape with water and clouds in the
distance. The cover texture feels a bit like peachskin.
Disclosure: The publisher sent me an advance copy of the
book in exchange for an honest review.