The Great Swamp Fight on December 19, 1675 was the most significant battle of King Philip’s War, what has been called the bloodiest (per capita) conflict in the history of America. It was a critical blow to the Narragansett tribe from which they never fully recovered. In April 1676, the Narragansett were completely defeated when the Wampanoag sachem Metacom was shot in the heart by John Alderman, a Native American soldier. The Narragansett tribe was not recognized by the Federal Government until 1983 and today includes 2,400 members.
As I worked out our family genealogy, the Great Swamp Fight kept appearing again and again. Our family seems to have an especially intimate relationship with this battle, but I’m beginning to think that every family was equally involved. Nine direct ancestors participated, four were officers and one was killed. 27 close relatives were part of the fight of whom 6 were officers, six were killed or died of their wounds and six were wounded and survived. Of the three small regiments involved, eleven officers were our ancestors or their children.
The Indians retaliated in a widespread spring offensive beginning in February 1676, in which they destroyed all English settlements on the western side of Narragansett Bay. They burned Providence on March 27, 1676, destroying Roger Williams’ house, among others. Across New England, Indians destroyed many towns, and the attackers raided the suburbs of Boston. In spite of waging a successful campaign against the colonists, by the end of March, disease, starvation, battle loses, and the lack of gunpowder caused the Indian effort to collapse.
Rading parties from Connecticut composed of the colonists and Indian allies, such as the Pequot and Mohegan, swept into Rhode Island and killed substantial numbers of the now-weakened Narragansett. A mixed force of Mohegan and Connecticut militia captured Canonchet, the chief sachem of the Narragansett, a few days after the destruction of Providence, and delivered him to Connecticut authorities. When he was told he was to die, he replied, “I like it well that I should die before my heart has grown soft and I have said anything unworthy of myself.” He asked to be executed by Uncas, chief sachem of the Mohegan. Uncas and two Pequot sachems closest to Canonchet’s rank among his captors executed him in Indian style. The English treated Canonchet as a traitor, and had his body drawn and quartered. A mixed force of Plymouth militia and fellow Wampanoag hunted down Metacomet. He was shot and killed by John Alderman, an Indian soldier who had earlier served with him. The war ended in southern New England, although in Maine it dragged on for another year.
After the war, some surviving Narragansett were sold into slavery and shipped to the Caribbean; others became indentured servants in Rhode Island. The surviving Narragansett merged with local tribes, particularly the Eastern Niantic. During colonial and later times, tribe members intermarried with Europeans, Africans, and African-Americans. Their spouses and children were taken into the tribe, enabling them to keep a tribal and Native American cultural identity.
In 1727, after many delays and discouragements, the Legislature of Massachusetts performed the tardy act of justice granting to the officers and soldiers, or their legal representatives, who served in the arduous Narragansett expedition during King Philip’s War, a township equal to six miles square in the Province of Maine, to each 120 persons whose claims should be established within four months from the passage of the act. It was found that the whole number amounted to 840. Seven townships were granted, called Narragansett No. 1 (now Buxton, Maine), 2 (now Westminster, Mass), 3 (now Amherst, New Hampshire), 4 (now Goffstown, N. H.; In 1735, however, some grantees “found it so poor and barren as to be altogether incapable of making settlements,” and were instead granted a tract in Greenwich, Massachusetts.), 5 (now Bedford, New Hampshire), 6 (now Templeton, Mass.), 7., assigned to the company of Capt. John GORHAM and a few others, which was afterwards incorporated as the town of “Gorham,” by which name it is now known. The Gorham grantees commenced their settlement in the year 1736. They were from the towns of Yarmouth, Barnstable, Eastham, and a few from Sandwich.
John Gorham’s grandson Col. Shubael Gorham
Shubael was a military officer and had sailed with Colonel John March in 1707 and then again as an ensign in Captain Caleb Williamson’s Barnstable Company with Nicholson when the English took Port Royal in 1710.
His greatest service, however, was his successful effort in obtaining the grants of Nargansett Townships to the heirs of the soldiers who fought in King Philip’s War. Col. Gorham spent much time and money promoting the settlement of Gorhamtown. He bought the shares of many who did not desire to emigrate, but his speculations in the wild lands proved unfortunate. Buying such lands is like lottery tickets, a few get prizes. Col Gorham was not one of the lucky ones. He died insolvent in 1746, his own children being his principal creditors.
During the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg, Shubael Gorham of Barnstable was Colonel of the Seventh Massachusetts Regiment. His son, John Gorham, was Lieut. Colonel and became Colonel upon Shubael’s death.
The names of the grantees from Yarmouth were as follows, though what proportion of them settled there we have no means of ascertaining :
From Yarmouth— Samuel Baker, William Chase, John Thacher, John Hallet, John Matthews, Thomas Thornton, Edward Gray, Samuel Hall, Jona. Smith, Sam’l Jones, John Taylor, Thomas Fulton, John Gage, William Fellows, William Gage, Ananias Wing [son of John WING II], John Pugsley, Daniel BAKER, Rd. Taylor, Wm. Gray, Capt. John GORHAM, Thomas Baxter, James Maker, James Claghorn, Joseph Hall, Nath’l Hall, Elemuel Hedge [son of Captain William HEDGE], Joseph Wildens, Sam’l Thomas, John Crowell, John CHASE, Henry Golds, Rd. Lake, Jabez Gorham [Son of Capt. John GORHAM], Henry Gage, Everton Crowell, Jona. White. [In 1741, Wm. Gray is put down for his father’s, Edward Gray’s, heirs ; Sam’l Baker, for his father, Samuel (Francis BAKER‘s son); and Shubael Gorham, for his father, John GORHAM]
Most of the land which makes up the present town of Voluntown was granted in 1700 by the Court to the Volunteers of the Narragansett War in 1700, thus the name “Voluntown.”
In 1705 the town was surveyed and boundaries were established. The plot was drawn up into lots, with each eligible volunteer receiving a lot. The land was rough terrain, although fertile soil, and was in a remote location.
In May 1708 the settlement was called the Plantation of Voluntown. It became the town of Voluntown, Connecticut in 1721. Town vital records begin 1708. Barbour collection records cover 1708-1850.
VOLUNTOWN lies in the extreme northeastern part of the county, and is bounded as follows : on the north by Windham County, on the east by the State of Rhode Island, on the south by North Stonington, and on the west by Griswold. The surface of the town is uneven, but the soil is generally fertile.
The Volunteers’ Grant. — The greater part of the tract embraced within the bounds of the present town of Voluntown. was granted in 1700 to the volunteers in the Narragansett war, from which circumstance the town derives its name. From the organization of the colony it had been customary to make grants to officers and soldiers who had distinguished themselves in the service of their country. Major John MASON and, others engaged in the Pequot war were granted lands, which stimulated those who had performed such signal feats in the Narragansett war to ask for a grant of a town in acknowledgment of their services. The petition to the General Court for the grant was presented in 1696 by Lieut. Thomas Leffingwell, of Norwich, and Sergt. John Frink, of Stonington, “that they with the rest of the English volunteers in former wars might have a plantation granted to them.” The petition was formally received, and a tract six miles square was granted, ” to be taken up out of some of the conquered land.”
A committee ” of discovery” was at once sent out in search of suitable land for a plantation, but found their choice very limited, as most of the conquered land had already been appropriated by Major FITCH, the Winthrops, and others. The committee reported that the only available land remaining within the Connecticut limits was lying a short distance east of Norwich, bordering on Rhode Island. A committee consisting of Capt. Samuel Mason [John MASON’s son], Mr. John Gallup, and Lieut. James Avery was appointed to view the said tract and report whether it ” would accommodate a body of people for comfortable subsistence in a plantation way.”
After a deliberation of three years the committee reported favorably, and in October, 1700, Lieut. Leffingwell, Richard Bushnell, Isaac Wheeler, Caleb Fobes, Samuel Bliss, Joseph Morgan, and Manasseh Minor [Thomas MINER’s son] moved that the grant be confirmed. The original bounds of the grant were nearly dentical with those of the present township, except it extended on the east to Pawcatuck River.
Voluntown was a barren tract of but little value, and after the Narragansett war was claimed by the Mohegans. The Quinnebaug sachem Massashowitt also laid claim to it.
The first meeting of the proprietors or grantees was held at Stonington, July 1, 1701, to make arrangements for survey and appropriation. Richard Bushnell was chosen clerk of the company, and S. Leffingwell, James Avery, John Frink, and Richard Smith were appointed a committee ” to pass all those that offer themselves as volunteers.”
A number of years, however, passed before the division was completed, as the territory was still in dispute, and it was not until 1705 that the Mohegans’ claim was adjusted. In that year the town was formally surveyed and the bounds established.
But a narrow strip of land was accorded to the Mohegans under this survey, but during the same summer a considerable portion of the town was taken by Rhode Island. So greatly did it damage the grant ” that they feared their intended purpose of settling a plantation so accommodable for a Christian society as they desired was frustrated.”
At a meeting of the volunteers, held Nov. 14, 1705, it was decided to have the town resurveyed, computed, and laid out in as many lots as there was volunteers, and to number them, etc.
April 17, 1706, a meeting was held, when it was voted ” to go on and draw lots upon that part of the land laid out,” and the grant was made to one hundred and sixty persons who had enrolled their names as desiring to share the benefit of the grant. These were residents of New London, Norwich, Stonington, Windham, Plainfleld, and other neighboring towns. The list embraced officers, soldiers, ministers, chaplains, and others who had served the colony in a civil capacity during the war.
Notwithstanding the survey of the town had been made and the various lots designated, very little progress was made for several years in its settlement. Its soil was poor and its location remote and inconvenient. ” A pair of come four year old steers” was once given in exchange for eighty-six acres.
The first settler of Voluntown was Samuel Fish, soon followed by John Gallup, John and Francis Smith, Robert Parke, Thomas Reynolds, Thomas Coles, John Campbell, John SAFFORD Jr, Obadiah Rhodes and Samuel Whaley.
The loss of so important a portion of the town as that taken by Rhode Island caused the volunteers at once to appeal to the General Assembly for an equivalent and they petitioned that body that the vacant colony land lying on the north might be annexed. After various earnest petitions, four years later, 1719, the prayer of the petitioners was granted, and what is now the present town of Sterling, except a small strip on the north border, was annexed to Voluntown.
The annexed territory was surveyed as rapidly as possible by John Plumb, surveyor for New London County. Thirty lots were laid out and assigned to nineteen persons.
The first Congregational Church of Voluntown was established in 1720 upon the employment of a Reverend Wilson.
Samuel PERKINS of Ipswich, Mass. was a cordwainer by trade. He served as a soldier in the Narragansett war, for which he received a portion of land at Voluntown, on the eastern border of Connecticut, which land afterward came into possession of his son Ebenezer PERKINS, who settled upon it, and in 1735 sold it to John Wildes of Topsfield, Mass.
Clement MINER was a Lieutenant in the Militia which was a considerable honor in his day. In the records of New London, Clement is mentioned as “Deacon” or “Ensign”, but the record of his appointment as Ensign has not been found. With his father and brothers, he served in King Philip’s War in 1676, and as a volunteer, was granted a lot in Voluntown, Connecticut. Clement’s brothers Ephraim and Joseph also received land in Voluntown.
Ephraim Miner lived at Stonington, CT, was a farmer, freeman, 1669, deputy to the general court, 1676, 1677, 1681, 1690093, 1699, 1701-05, 1713; lieutenant of train band. He served in the King Philip war and for his service received arable land and cedar swamp in Voluntown, CT.
Joseph Miner lived at Stonington and was a farmer and physician. He became a freeman 1669; deputy to the general court, 1696, 1706; selectman, 1694-98, 1704, 1709, 1719. He served in King Philip war and for his services received arable land cedar swamp in Voluntown, Connecticut.
In the 1740s during the First Great Awakening, colonists founded the Narragansett Indian Church, to try to convert more natives to Christianity. The church and its surrounding 3 acres were the only property never to leave tribal ownership. This continuous ownership was critical evidence of continuity during the tribe’s long documentation and success in gaining federal recognition in 1983.
In the 19th century, the tribe resisted repeated state efforts to declare it no longer valid because of intermarriage with other settlers. Tribal leaders resisted increasing legislative pressure after the Civil War to “take up citizenship” in the United States, which required them to give up their treaty privileges and Indian nation status. In testimony to the legislature, a Narragansett spokesperson explained that they saw injustices under existing US citizenship, and pointed to Jim Crow laws in effect that limited citizenship of blacks despite their rights under the law. They also resisted the idea that black ancestry was more important than all other ancestry in defining tribal identity. As the Narragansett saw it, they had brought people of European and African ancestry into their tribal nation by marriage and they became culturally Narragansett.
“We are not negroes, we are the heirs of Ninagrit, and of the great chiefs and warriors of the Narragansetts. Because, when your ancestors stole the negro from Africa and brought him amongst us and made a slave of him, we extended him the hand of friendship, and permitted his blood to be mingled with ours, are we to be called negroes? And to be told that we may be made negro citizens? We claim that while one drop of Indian blood remains in our veins, we are entitled to the rights and privileges guaranteed by your ancestors to ours by solemn treaty, which without a breach of faith you cannot violate.”]
The state persisted in its efforts at “detribalization” from 1880-1884. While the tribe agreed to negotiations for sale of its land, it quickly regretted its action and set about to try to regain the land. In 1880 the state recognized 324 Narragansett tribal members as claimants to the land during negotiations. Although the state put tribal lands up for public sale in the 19th century, the tribe did not disperse and its members continued to practice its culture.
In 1978 the Narragansett Tribe signed a Joint Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Rhode Island, Town of Charlestown, and private property owners in settlement of their land claim. A total of 1,800 acres was transferred to a corporation formed to hold the land in trust for descendants of the 1880 Narragansett Roll, in exchange for agreeing that, except for hunting and fishing, the laws of Rhode Island would be in effect on those lands.
The tribe prepared extensive documentation of its genealogy and proof of continuity with the 324 tribal members of treaty status. In 1979 the tribe applied for federal recognition, which it finally regained in 1983 as the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island.
The state and tribe have disagreed on certain rights on the reservation. On July 14, 2003, Rhode Island state police raided a tribe-run smoke shop on the Charlestown reservation, the culmination of a dispute over the tribe’s failure to pay state taxes on its sale of cigarettes. In 2005 the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals declared the police action a violation of the tribe’s sovereignty. In 2006, an en banc decision of the First Circuit reversed the prior decision, stating the raid did not violate the tribe’s sovereign immunity because of the 1978 Joint Memorandum of Agreement settling the land issues, in which the tribe agreed that state law would be observed on its land.
After trying to develop 31 acres of land in Charlestown which the Narrangansett purchased in 1991 for elderly housing, in 1998 they requested the Department of Interior (DOI) to take it into trust on their behalf to remove it from state and local control. The state of Rhode Island sued the DOI over its authority to take land into trust on behalf of certain American Indians. While the authority was part of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the state argued that the process could not hold for tribes that achieved federal recognition after 1934. In Carcieri v. Salazar (2009) the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Rhode Island.
The Narragansett Tribe is negotiating with the Rhode Island General Assembly for approval to build a casino in Rhode Island with their partner, currently Harrah’s Entertainment.
American English has absorbed a number of loan words from Narragansett and other closely related languages, including quahog, moose, papoose, powwow, squash, and succotash.
http://bigelowsociety.com/rod/battles.htm – Most contemporary accounts of these events are base on two letters written by Joseph Dudley and one written by Captain James Oliver. Joseph Dudley served as a chaplain for the army and was also on General Winslow’s staff. Captain Oliver was in command of the Third Company if the Massachusetts regiment.
http://quahog.org/factsfolklore/index.php?id=150 – Joshua Tefft’s Story
History of New London county, Connecticut, with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (1882) by Hurd, D. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) (Story of founding of Voluntown)