The Bounty Teacher's Guide

The First Anglo-Abenaki War

First Anglo-Abenaki War:

Pometacomet’s Resistance/King Philip’s War/First Indian War/Great Narragansett War

By the early 1670s, violence by settlers raged against Native peoples, including Christianized Native communities within the colonies. Encroachment on those outside the colonial boundaries and illegal speculation in stolen and disputed Indigenous land was rampant. Militant settlers—“rangers”—added to the justification already used to appropriate Native territories and attempt to remove Indigenous peoples from the land. Illegal squatter-settlers, with practiced anti-Native killers in the lead, initially depended on colonial militias for support; after the War of Independence they relied on the U.S. military to protect their settlements. [95]

Ckuwaponahkik, the Dawnland, was engulfed in conflict in the 1670s as Wampanoag Sachem Pometacomet and his allies tried to rebalance power in response to unrelenting colonial encroachment on their land and repeated violations of Indigenous sovereignty. The violence almost crushed colonial New England, with over twenty-five settler towns destroyed. English authorities in Boston even considered building a wall around the city for protection. Colonists accused the Wabanaki of allying with Pometacomet and demanded the Wabanaki surrender their firearms, according to the 1633 ban mentioned earlier. The number of Native refugees and enslaved people increased, and the impact of land dispossession intensified. In October 1675, the Massachusetts General Court passed the Indian Imprisonment Act, which banned Native people from entering Boston unless escorted by two [English] musketeers. There were exceptions: wage laborers, indentured servants, apprentices, slaves, and those who had assimilated into English colonial communities. This law (see Figure 25 below) was enforced for a century and not repealed by the City of Boston until 2004 and by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2005.

During Pometacomet’s Resistance, settlers on Monhegan Island, twenty miles off the coast of Maine, offered £5 for every head of an Indigenous person brought to them. Warrants were issued for seizing every Indian “known to be a manslayer, traitor or conspirator.” It is worth underscoring that private funding, not government funding, was offered in this case. [96] Additionally, during this period, many Wabanaki were seized by ship captains from coastal Maine villages and sold into foreign slavery. 

At around the same time, the Massachusetts colonial government issued the first bounty proclamation targeting Wampanoag and other Indigenous peoples of New England. Goods as well as currency were offered as the reward. The bounty act, written on July 16, 1675, proclaimed: "The said gentlemen, in behalf of the governments to which they do belong, do engage to every the said sachems and their subjects, that if they or any of them shall seize and bring into either of the above said English governments, or to Mr. Smith, inhabitant of Narragansett, Phillip Sachem alive, he or they shall receive for their pains forty trucking coats: In case they bring his head, they shall have twenty like good coats paid them. For every living subject of said Phillip's so delivered, the deliverer shall two coats, and for every head two coats, and for every head one coat as a gratuity for their service, herein making it appear to satisfaction that the heads or persons are belonging to the enemy, and that they are of their seizure." [97]

After Pometacomet was captured and beheaded on August 12, 1676, John Alderman (Wampanoag) sold Pometacomet’s head for 30 shillings to authorities in Plymouth, which they mounted on a pike at the entrance to the colony in public view where it remained for twenty-five years. Pometacomet’s hands were sent to Boston and his quartered body hung from four trees. This was, to the best of our knowledge, the only cash claim made during the First Anglo-Abenaki War. 

In addition, Massachusetts Bay authorities offered three pounds per head or prisoner to encourage the killing of Wampanoag people and their allies.

[For] every person or persons that shall surprise, slay, or bring in prisoner any such Indian on the [outskirts of settlement]..., he or they shall be allowed three pounds per head, or the prisoners so taken, making it appeare to the committee of militia of that towne to which they are brought. [98]

The first Anglo-Abenaki war ended with the Treaty of Pemaquid in 1677 and the Treaty of Casco Bay in 1678, signed by Wabanaki and English leaders.

In Maine, the English practice of offering cash inducements for the public display of slain enemies seems to have begun with the five-pound bounty offered by residents of Monhegan for native heads in 1676. By the time of King William’s War, the government of Massachusetts was offering substantial cash bounties for native scalps as incentive for men to offer their services as provincial or paramilitary volunteers. [99]

Guidance for Teaching

Background: Two years after the 1675 law prohibiting Indigenous people from being in Boston unless accompanied by two English musketeers, the Massachusetts General Court passed a new set of laws that segregated Indigenous people by forcing them into “praying towns” with English overseers as guardians.
Instructions:  Ask students to come up with other examples of overt and subtle segregation of specific groups in the U.S., past and present. Discuss whether those instances of segregation been upheld by laws and/or citizen behaviors. 

Deeper Dive: More on Pometacomet’s Resistance

To more fully understand Pometacomet’s Resistance, consult Lesson 10: Pometacomet’s Resistance/King Philip’s War of the Dawnland Teacher’s Guide. Here is a lengthy excerpt:

The violence that beset New England in 1675-76 during what the English colonial settlers called King Philip’s War was catastrophic…

Indigenous peoples and their allies call it Pometacomet’s Resistance or Indigenous Rebellion, unleashed in reaction to being engulfed by colonial settlers and their repeated violations of Indigenous ways. They see it as an attempt to rebalance Native power in relation to settler colonialism in the region…

According to William Apess [Pequot, ordained Methodist minister, historian and social critic, and Indian soldier who served in the War of 1812], Pometacomet made this speech to his chiefs, counselors, and warriors:

Brothers, you see this vast country before us, which the Great Spirit gave to our fathers and us; …Brothers, you see these little ones, our wives and children, who are looking to us for food… and you now see the foe before you, that they have grown insolent and bold;… the treaties made by our fathers and us are broken, and all of us insulted; our council fires disregarded,… our brothers murdered before our eyes, and their spirits cry for revenge….
By September [of 1675] Wampanoags and Nipmucs attacked Deerfield and colonists abandoned it and neighboring settlements. While Boston, “the nerve center of the Bay Colony never came under attack or imminent threat,” Boston Common, then grazing land for cows, served as a prominent spot for executions of allegedly hostile Natives brought into Boston as prisoners. There are varying accounts of how many were hanged or shot there … between July and September 1676. Some historians suggest 45 Native captives were publicly executed on Boston Common. The heads of some of those executed were “skewered atop a pole.” Colonial officials “overwhelmingly incarcerated, contained, adjudicated, and executed Native people during wartime.” At the same time settler refugees from the colonial frontier flooded the city in search of safe haven. Currently, there is no memorial on Boston Common marking executions of Native captives….

In mid-October the Massachusetts Council hastily exiled hundreds of Christian Indians, women, men, and children to the barren and isolated Boston Harbor Islands, without food, shelter, or proper clothing to protect from the cold….

In the spring of 1676, the English captured and executed by firing squad Pometacomet’s closest ally, Canonchet, a Sachem of Narragansett, whose corpse was quartered and head put on public display in Hartford, Connecticut.

The English intensified their pursuit of Pometacomet and with assistance of Indigenous allies and scouts, found and isolated him in the Great Swamp.

In August 1676, in a swamp near Mount Hope, Rhode Island, Captain Benjamin Church and his soldiers tracked down the Wampanoag Chief Metacomet [Pometacomet], whom the English called King Philip. An Indian who had led the English to the place shot Metacomet from ambush; the English cut off Metacomet’s head and quartered his body, the quarters to be hung on trees as fitting punishment for a traitor.

A nearly fourteen-year old Cotton Mather [future minister, prolific author, celebrated Puritan] detached Metacomet’s jaw from his skull. Puritans then paraded the king’s [Metacomet’s] remains around Plymouth.

“Philip’s head was placed on top of a stake in the middle of town [Plymouth Colony], where it remained, rotting for decades.” Weetamoo [Pometacomet’s sister] was also tracked, killed, mutilated, and decapitated in early August 1676, and her head “set upon a pole in Taunton,” as her people mourned her in “prison and in sanctuaries.” [100]

During Pometacomet’s Resistance/King Philip’s War, Benjamin Church, a descendant of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren (Church's maternal grandfather), became known as the “Indian-fighter.” Prior to that he had lived among the Narragansett and

… had firsthand knowledge of the territory to the south and the Indians surrounding Mount Hope Bay. Just the year before [1674], … Church, a thirty-three-year-old carpenter, had become the first Englishman to settle in the southeastern tip of Narragansett Bay at a place called Sakonnet, home to the female sachem Awashonks and several hundred of her people. [101]

Church studied Native ways of warfare, known by settlers as skulking, and recruited friendly Native people to teach him the art of keeping out of sight, launching surprise attacks, and mobility. With these skills, he and

… his handful of men were nearly the only Englishmen who had made any offensive endeavors against the Wampanoags and Narragansetts. Church tried to capitalize on his new-found reputation and claim a larger role for himself and his tactics for fighting Indians. He petitioned Governor Edward Winslow for permission to raise a company of 60 to 70 handpicked “scouts” for wilderness warfare. [102]

A “major player in Plymouth Colony’s deed games,” Church played a lead role in organizing and executing the scalping of Native peoples. Winslow eventually commissioned him “… in July 1676 to form America’s first ranger force and directed him to take 60 Englishmen and 140 friendly Indians to ‘discover, pursue, fight, surprise, destroy, or subdue’ the colony’s Indian enemies.” [103] Church’s rangers emulated Native tactics of warfare and were among “… the few veterans of King Philip’s War … able to use his previous experience and adapt to the new larger kind of conflict [in northern New England].” [104] These rangers, recruited and trained by Church and others, are the forefathers of those who answered the colonial call to hunt, capture, scalp, and kill Native children, women, and men.

Because the settlers were outnumbered, “[c]olonial governments needed to increase the number of rangers who would take to the frontier. Their answer—state-sponsored scalp hunting….” [105] One of the rangers, Thomas Danforth, instructed Charles Frost to “in all places & by all means … take, kill, & destroy enemy without limitation of place or time.” [106] We encourage users of this guide to compare and contrast this language to that which appears in the many scalp-bounty acts and proclamations issued in the 1700s, which we examine further along in this lesson.

Church continued to serve the Massachusetts colonial government as a military leader by hunting, killing, and scalping Wabanaki people in what became Maine. In August 1704, Church (who was by now a colonel) led militia forces to raid and plunder Mi’kmaq and Acadian villages, including Grand Pré in the Bay of Fundy. Col. Church, Captain Arthur Jeffries, and their company of bounty hunters were paid £80 for Wabanaki scalps taken in these campaigns. [107]

There is speculation that King Philip’s War got its name in the eighteenth century,

perhaps with the publication of Benjamin Church's Entertaining History of King Philip’s War. Thomas Church published his father’s boisterous memoir in 1716, forty years after Benjamin Church led a company to capture and kill Metacom [Pometacomet]. If Custer had survived the Battle of Little Bighorn, he may have relayed a similar account of that war…. The hyperbolic narrative implied that it was Church’s leadership and tracking skills that enabled his company to locate and ensnare the elusive Wampanoag sachem, even though Church acknowledged that a Pocasset Wampanoag man, Alderman, struck the fatal blow. [108]

While the war may have ended for the English victors and cleared titles to the land they coveted, Wampanoag continue to grieve the enormity of what was lost as they reflect on its significance today. [109]

Guidance for Teaching

Ask upper-level students to critically engage with the caption to this image of Benjamin Church and write a short essay about rangers and militia, and their enduring impact in the United States. Then organize students into small groups of 3-4 so they can share and discuss the ideas in their essays.

We now turn our attention to the Second Anglo-Abenaki War.

Work Cited

95 ​​Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment (San Francisco: City Light Books, 2018), 31-32.
96 ​​Michael Dekker, French and Indian Wars in Maine (Charlestown: The History Press, 2015, ebook), 49; Cyrus Eaton, Annals of the Town of Warren, in Knox County, With the Early History of St. George’s, Broad Bay, and the Neighboring Settlements on the Waldo Patent (Hallowell, Me: Masters & Livermore, 1877), 27.
97 Pennacook/Sokoki Inter-Tribal Nation, Historical Indian/Colonial Relations of New Hampshire: Treaties, Letters of Agreement, Land Sales, Leases, & Other Pertinent Information, 17th - 18th Centuries (Manchester: New Hampshire Indian Nation, 1977), 25.
98 ​​Ball, “Grim Commerce,” 83.
99 Dekker, French and Indian Wars in Maine, 49-50.
100 ​​Mishy Lesser, Dawnland Teacher’s Guide (Boston: Upstander Project, Inc., 2021), 102-11.
101 ​​Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 233.
102 ​​Grenier, The First Way of War, 33.
103 ​​To learn about the relationship between colonial-era militia and the origins of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, see chapter two in Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Loaded (San Francisco: City Light Books, 2018), 41-58.
104 ​​Steven C. Eames, Rustic Warriors: Warfare and the Provincial Soldier on the New England Frontier, 1689-1748 (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 80.
105 ​​Grenier, The First Way of War, 39.
106 ​​Ibid, 34.
107 ​​Vol. 4, 59, Council Executive Records (CER), Massachusetts Archives Collection, Boston, Massachusetts.
108 ​​Brooks, Our Beloved Kin, 8.
109 ​​gkisedtanamoogk, personal conversation, May 21, 2020.

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The Second Anglo-Abenaki War