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John Sassamon
 John Sassamon and King Philip?s War

Jill Lepore in The Name of War (1998) has provided a short biography, part documented fact and part speculation, of John Sassamon, whose death was the immediate cause of the conflict called King Philip?s War. John Sassamon was an inhabitant of the town of Dorchester in his early years because his parents chose to remain there after the arrival of settlers from England and chose to follow the Puritan?s religion. It is likely that they died from a disease such as smallpox, brought to the New World by Europeans, against which the native population had no natural defense.

Sassamon probably lived with an English family after the death of his parents, and he may have attended an Indian School in Dorchester. By the time he was an adult he helped John Eliot in linguistic work. He became a school-master to the Indian settlement at Natick and later attended Harvard College through Eliot?s efforts.

In 1662 Massasoit died, and his eldest son, Alexander, took his place as sachem of the Wampanoags. Sassamon began working for Alexander, known as Wamsutta, soon after. Then not much later Alexander died, and his brother Philip, known as Metacom, became the sachem. Sasssamon served Philip in some capacity as interpreter, messenger or secretary. Sassamon is reported to have written a will for Philip in which he deceitfully made himself a beneficiary, but told Philip that he written what Philip had instructed. If this is true, it explains part of the ill-feeling between Philip and Sassamon.

In January of 1675 Sassamon served the Christian Indian town of Namasket as minister. In that month he traveled 15 miles to Plymouth to warn Governor Josiah Winslow that Philip was recruiting other sachems for a war on the English. Sassamon feared Philip?s wrath if he were to find out about Sassamon?s communication to Winslow. Winslow did nothing.

Sassamon disappeared within a week, and in February his body was found in Assawompset Pond. Later in the spring an eyewitness, Patuckson, claimed to have seen Mattashunannamo, Tobias and Tobias?s son Wampapaqan kill Sassamon. These three men were tried before a jury of 12 Englishmen and 6 Indians. The jury was unanimous in finding the defendants guilty, and their execution took place on June 8, 1675.

On June 24th, the Wampanoags attacked Swansea, and the devastation of King Philip?s War had begun. Twenty-five English towns, more than half of all the towns, were destroyed by the end of the war in August, 1676.

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The following is taken from the History of Dorchester (1859) p. 228

The act which is supposed to have led to the war was the killing of a Dorchester Indian by the name of Sassausmon, usually called Sassmon. He became a Christianized Indian; but was for a season a kind of secretary to King Philip. He then left him and preached, and, as Philip?s followers supposed, divulged some of his [Philip?s] plans to the Plymouth Colony, upon which they murdered him and threw his body into Assawomset pond, and three of Philip?s men were executed for the act.

Thomas Danforth, son of Thomas, of Dorchester was killed in the swamp fight in the Narraganset country, and John Spur, of Dorchester, and Benj. Crane, of Milton, were wounded in the same fight.

The following list of soldiers from this Town for the war, we find named in the Genealogical Register; they were in Capt. Johnson?s Company.

Henry Ware, his man, John Plummer, Wanting.
Hopestill Humphrey
John Spurre,
Ebenezer Hill,
Nicholas Weymouth,
Charles Capin,
Tho. Grant,
Tho. Davenport,
Robert Stanton
Henry Withington
George Minot,
Isaack Royall

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The following is taken from Good Old Dorchester p. 79-80

The war with King Philip in 1675 is said to have been brought about through the killing of a Dorchester Indian named Sassamon. This Sassamon, or Wassausmon as his name really was, had served as private secretary to King Philip. ? He became Christianized, and left Philip in order to preach, divulging, as some of Philip?s followers asserted, many of the king?s plans. He was seized by Philip?s men on the account and murdered, and his body was thrown into Assawomset Pond.

The three Indians who had committed this deed were seized and tried by a jury, half of whom were their own countrymen. The verdict was against them, and they were hanged. They claimed in their own justification that they had a right to execute justice on a traitor in accordance with their own customs, and that the English had nothing to do with it.

This was the spark which caused the flames to break out at last, but the fire had been smouldering for a long while. The Indians said that ?if twenty of their honest Indians proved that an Englishman had wronged them, it was nothing; while if one of the their worst Indians testified against any of them, it was sufficient.? The Indians further claimed that the English made the Indians drunk, and then cheated them; and that the English cattle and horses had so increased that they could not keep their corn from injury, never having been accustomed to build fences. The settlers, on the other hand, claimed that everything which had been taken from the Indians had been fairly purchased, and that the laws had been framed to protect their interests.

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The following is taken from Drake?s Book of the Indians, II, 107, referring to Dorchester resident Israel Stoughton in the 1637 Pequot War

The English, under Captain Stoughton, came into Pequot River about a fortnight after the Mistick fight, and assisted in the work of their extermination. After his arrival in the enemy?s country, he wrote to the Governor of Massachusetts, as follows: ?By this pinnace, you shall receive 48 or 50 women and children, unless there stay any here to be helpful, &c. Concerning which, there is one, I formerly mentioned, that is the fairest and largest that I saw amongst them, to whom I have given a coate to cloathe her. It is my desire to have her for a servant, if it may stand with your good liking, else not. There is a little squaw that steward Culacut desireth, to whom he hath given a coate. Lieut. Davenport also desireth one, to wit, a small one, that has three strokes upon her stomach, thus: ? ||| +. He desireth her, if it will stand with your good liking. Sosomon, the Indian, desireth a young little squaw, which I know not. [Lepore suggests that this squaw may have become Sassamon?s wife.

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The following comes from Increase Mather?s account of King Philip?s War, p. 234

This Sausaman was by birth a Massachuset, his father and mother living in Dorchester, and they both died Christians.




Sources:

Samuel Gardner Drake. The Book of the Indians; or, Biography and History of the Indians of North America, from its First Discovery to the Year 1841. Ninth Edition. Boston: Benjamin B. Mussey, 1845.

History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. By a Committee of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society. Boston: E. Clapp, Jr., 1859.

Jill Lepore. The Name of War: King Philip?s War and the Origins of American Identity. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Increase Mather. Early History of New England; Being a Relation of Hostile Passages between the Indians and European Voyagers and First Settlers. Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1864.

William Dana Orcutt. Good Old Dorchester. A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge, 1893.


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Created: December 27, 2009   Modified: December 27, 2009