Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anawan Rock- Rehoboth, Ma

There are a lot of famous rocks in New England. I try to visit and learn about as many as I can. They all seem to have great history and sometimes a legend attached to them. Of the abundance of historic stones, Anawan Rock in Rehoboth has some of the most interesting and saddest history attributed to it.

As I said in an earlier post, quite a lot of New England legends come from the time period of the King Philip’s War of 1675 and 1676. Anawan Rock not only has legendary tales connected to it, but it actually played a significant part in the struggle between the Wampanoag confederacy and the English during this conflict.

However, In order to understand the importance of Anawan Rock, one needs to be introduced to Colonel Benjamin Church and the native leader known as Anawan. Both of these men played their own heroic roles in Philip’s war which eventually came to a head on August 28, 1676 at a large rock in a Rehoboth swamp.

I got the majority of my information from The Entertaining History of King Philip's War, written mostly by Thomas Church, the son of Benjamin Church. Thomas used the notes his father kept during the war, which were originally published in 1716.

The hostilities previous to the King Philip’s War had been building between the English colonists and the Wampanoag even before the death of Wamsutta, the Sachem of the Wampanoag, who the colonists called Alexander. Wamsutta was the older son of the famous Sachem, Massasoit, who is famous for being one of the natives who greatly helped the colonists adapt to life in Plymouth.

Profile Rock- Supposed to be the face of Massasoit
Thomas Church claims in his writing that Wamsutta had been suspected of conspiring with the Narragansetts against the English. In reality, he had probably sold Wampanoag land to colonists outside of Plymouth. According to Church, Wamsutta was ambushed by an armed group of Englishmen at a hunting cabin. The men were led by Josiah Winslow, the soon to be Plymouth Governor. The English forcefully convinced Wamsutta to travel back to Plymouth with them. Wamsutta arrived in Plymouth, but before he could return home, he mysteriously died.

Josiah Winslow- Governor of Plymouth Colony
Wamsutta’s brother Metacom, who the English called Philip, succeeded his brother as leader of the Wamanoag Confederacy. He, of course, suspected that the Plymouth colonists had a hand in his brother’s death. I think this is highly probable.
Metacom as depicted on the Cover of Thomas Church's book
At the time of these building hostilities, Benjamin Church was living with his family on a newly settled farm in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The area was called Sogkonate by the local tribes. Church had been born near Plymouth colony in 1639 and was just beginning a young family of his own with his wife Alice Southworth. At the time he was a Captain of the local militia.

Benjamin Church
Benjamin Church had many native neighbors of the local Sogkonate tribe, who were a small part of the Wampanoag Confederacy. The tribe’s Sachem, or leader, was a very respected woman known as Awashonks.

Church had heard rumors of the growing hostilities between the Wampanoag and the English, but it was not until the spring of 1675 when Awashonks sent two of her men to invite Church to a tribal ceremony, that he became directly involved. One of these messengers was John Sassamon.

Thomas Church describes Sassamon as a “Praying Indian,” or a native who had converted to Christianity. However, it seems Sassamon might have been playing both sides, because for a time he acted as a secretary of sorts to Metacom (Philip).

When Church arrived at the Sogkonte village Awashonks met him with some disturbing news. She explained that Metacom had sent six men from his seat in Mount Hope (also called Pokanoket) with the intention of forcing her to join him against the English, who he claimed were already amassing a force to invade his home at Mount Hope (now Bristol, RI).

Awashonks was considering refusal, but the men promised that if she denied Metacom they would kill English cattle and burn local English homes in an attempt to frame her. The men promised the English would retaliate against her. This, of course, placed Awashonks in a tough spot.

Church again asked her to go to Plymouth and seek the protection of Governor Josiah Winslow. Although she seems to have agreed with the advice, she asked Church to go to the English on her behalf, which he agreed to do. Awashonks sent Church back home with a tribal escort for his own protection. Church asked Awashonks to remain out of the conflict as long as she could and promised he would return with protection for her.

Church began to make preparations to travel to Plymouth. However, before he could get there John Sassamon’s body was found beneath the ice of Assawomsett Pond in Middleboro and Lakeville.
Assawomsett Pond
A native witness claimed to have seen Metacom’s men commit the crime. Very quickly, three Wampanoags were arrested and tried for the crime at Plymouth colony. All three claimed innocence right up until their execution.

Church claims that Sassamon had traveled to Plymouth to warn the colonists that Metacom was amassing warriors to attack the frontier settlements of New England. Ultimately, the colonists believed that Metacom had ordered the assassination of Sassamon for this betrayal.

Benjamin Church arrived in Plymouth by June 16; he informed Governor Winslow about what he had seen and heard at the Sogkonate village. However, four days later Wampanoag natives from Pokanoket attacked the colony of Swansea. After several days of looting and vandalism, the Pokanokets destroyed the settlement and killed several people.
In Entertaining History of King Philip’s War, Thomas Church states several times that this event could have happened without the consent of Metacom, and that Metacom had been upset to hear that war with the English had actually begun.

From early spring of 1675, Benjamin Church was swept into the war. In retaliation for the attack on Swansea, Governor Winslow ordered an attack on Mount Hope, which Church was asked to participate in because of his relationship with the natives and the area. The English successfully captured Mount Hope during the battle.

Throughout the war Church displayed bravery and a cool head under fire. It was often his expertise and experience with the natives that allowed the English to snatch victory from sure defeat. Yet, his own relationship with the administration of the Plymouth colony began to fray.

During the spring, summer, fall, and early winter months of 1675 the English seemed pretty outmatched. Metacom and the Wampanoags were able to sack and destroy many settlements like Deerfield, Hadley, and Springfield. Other settlements like Bridgewater, Middleboro, and Wrentham were under constant threat of attack. The conflict had spread from Plymouth throughout New England. When the English would finally arrive on the scene, the native warriors would disappear into a swamp or wilderness, where the English seemed unable or unwilling to follow. Metacom himself always seemed to escape.

In retaliation, Wampanoags who were captured or willingly surrendered were often sold into slavery, generally to the West Indies. Benjamin Church objected to this practice. He posed that surrendered Wampanoag and neutral native groups should be used as allies against the enemy. The leaders of the English colonies, who had now banded together, thought his idea was unsafe and thoughtless. Natives could not be trusted in their estimation.

The English, under the command of Governor Winslow, worsened matters by attacking the formally neutral Narragansett tribe in December. They killed roughly 300 men, women, and children, forcing the Narragansett to join Metacom.

However, during the summer of 1675, Church was finally able to reunite with Awashonks and the Sogkonate tribe. They too had been forced to join with Philip, but during the summer, had been attempting to hide from the English and Pokanoket in Rhode Island. Now, because of their relationship with Church, they were more than willing to negotiate peace with the colonists.

Captain Church was able to convince Awashonks to take her people to Sandwich, where they would be safe from Metacom’s men. In Sandwich the Sogkonate agreed to declare allegiance to Captain Church against Wampanoag Confederation.

Governor Winslow finally commissioned Church to raise a company of English and natives under his command and appoint his own officers. Although the winter of 1675 was hard on the New England colonies, this proved to be a turning point. Church used his native and English as irregular scouts who would effectively enter the swamps and dense forests, where the English militia had proven ineffective.

Church actually learned from his native allies. He asked his soldiers how the Pokanoket had gained such an advantage over the English during the previous months. They had a fairly simple answer for him. According to Thomas Church:

"They told him that the Indians gain great advantage of the English by two things; [they] always took care in their marches and fights, not to come too thick together; but the English always kept in a heap together; [so] that it was easy to hit them, as to hit a house."

The native scouts also told Church that it was very easy to know where all the English soldiers were during a march, because they grouped together. But it was difficult to tell how many natives were in one area because they scattered.

Using this advice and his new rangers, Church was able track and capture many hostile war leaders of the Confederacy. At one time he almost captured Metacom, who he did not recognize because Metacom had long ago cut his hair in an attempt to blend in.

Through the spring and summer of 1676, Church and the English began to wear the Wampanoag Confederacy down. Church’s unit was able to capture many important leaders among the natives. They even captured Metacom’s own wife and child, who were sold into slavery.

Finally, in August of 1676, Church and his unit caught up to Philip in Miery Swamp, back in Mount Hope (Bristol RI). The ranger unit had apparently surprised Philip, who was not even dressed when his group was attacked. Ultimately, it was another “Praying Indian,” named John Alderman who shot Metacom in the heart, thus ending Philip’s part in the conflict. Alderman claimed that his brother had been killed by Philip for giving poor advice and it was ultimately Alderman’s own information which led to Metacom.

Philip’s body was dragged through the swamp and cut into pieces. Alderman was rewarded with Philip’s distinctly scarred hand and his severed head. Church goes on to say that Alderman showed his trophies to anyone who was willing to pay to see them. In fact, he even sold the severed head to Plymouth colony, where it was placed on a spike and displayed for an entire generation.

During the August battle at Miery Swamp Benjamin Church had noticed a particularly large Wampanoag warrior attempting to rally native fighters against the English. Although he did not know it until later, Church had actually had his first encounter with Anawan.

There are not a whole lot of historical records which tell us about Anawan. What we do know is that he was quite a bit older than Metacom, as he had been a warrior in service to Massasoit. Church describes Anawan as second in command under Philip during the war, but that is not totally agreed upon even in Church’s own source. Lastly, we know that Anawan’s seat seemed to have been in Squannaconk Swamp in Rehoboth, close to the area where he was finally captured.

Squannaconk Swamp Nov 2011
When Captain Church first saw Anawan he was screaming the words “Iootash, Iootash” at the Miery Swamp battle. Church later asked what the word meant and his Algonquian speaking allies informed him it meant “Stand to it and fight stoutly.”

I only mention this fact because one of the paranormal claims at Anawan Rock is that some hear this exact phrase being shouted. This is somewhat peculiar, because this particular event did not happen at Anawan Rock. But, who am I to dictate the rules of the paranormal?

With Metacom killed, two Wampanoag leaders remained in the field, one of which was Anawan. Anawan was particularly difficult to find because, as any captured native explained, he never spent the night in the same place twice. In addition, the Natives described Anawan as:
"A very subtle man, of great resolution, and often said that he would never be taken alive by the English."
Finally, in august of 1676 word came from Rehoboth that Anawan had been spotted. Benjamin Church gathered together his group of rangers and headed in that direction.

In the early evening of August 28 Church received information from local native informants as to the whereabouts of Anawan and the remainder of Philip’s warriors. The informants told Church that Anawan was camped in Squannaconk Swamp with 50 or 60 men.

Church now had a choice to make. He could attempt to capture Anawan during the night. However, he only had half a dozen men with him, and a fight in a dark swamp against superior forces was a tricky proposition. Yet, if he did not succeed that night, he knew he would once again lose Anawan.

Church and his men decided to risk the attempt. Captain Church and his six men were led on foot by the native informants into the Squannaconk Swamp, where they found Anawan’s camp beside the cliff of a large rock. There, they also found Anawan sitting with his young son.
Anawan Rock- the site of Anawan's 1676 camp at the rear of the Rock
Church and his men ordered his Wampanoag informants to enter Anawan’s camp first, carrying large baskets. Church and his men hid behind the informants as they entered the dark Rehoboth swamp. The rangers silently crept toward Anawan and his son. When Anawan’s son noticed them, it seems as though Captain Church briefly held the boy hostage.
My fiance and dogs following the path Church might have to Anawan Rock
When Anawan saw this, all the fight seemed to leave him. The warrior who said he would never be captured alive by the English yelled, “Howoh,” meaning “I am taken.” Anawan then sat back silently as Captain Church collected his weapons.

Captain Church sent his Algonquian speaking rangers to the other campfires throughout the Swamp to tell the hostile warriors that Anawan had been captured and that it was best for them to surrender peacefully; otherwise Captain Church’s army would kill them all. This was a grand claim for a main with six soldiers at his back, but sometimes its all about attitude.

Now, what does Church do after he captured the great Anawan and his warriors? He asks them what they were eating for dinner. The two men actually sat down and had a steak dinner together out in the Rehoboth swamp. Church did not believe that Anawan could speak English. Through translators, he explained that all of Anawan’s men would be spared, but he could not promise the same for Anawan. Still, he promised to speak to the leaders of Plymouth on his behalf.

As it had now become too dark to march his prisoners out of the swamp, Church’s men and Anawan’s men lay down to rest the remainder of the night. The only two that stayed awake were Anawan and Church, who sat silently staring at each other.

After an hour or so, Anawan stood up and walked into the dark. Church was suspicious that Anawan was organizing an ambush. He even made a grab for Anawan’s sleeping son, so he could use the boy as a human shield if Anawan came shooting out of the dark.

However the great war leader returned carrying only a package. Anawan sat down next to Church and in perfect English he said:
"Great Captain, you have killed Philip, and conquered his country; for I believe that I am my company are the last that war against the English, so suppose the war is ended by your means; and therefore these things belong to you."
Anawan handed the package to Captain Church. The wrap contained Metacom’s black and white wampum bead belts. It was about nine inches wide, the beads organized in the design of beasts, flowers, and other figures. With this belt came other wampum ornaments and two powder horns. Anawan informed Church that these were Philip’s royalities, with which he adorned himself. 

Thomas Church mentions in his notes that the wampum belt went to a family in Swansea. As far as I know, it has since been lost. If you are from Swansea and you read this, check your attic. A priceless piece of history is probably hidden right under Nana’s old fur coat.

Though Benjamin Church had not slept in the two previous days he had spent tracking Anawan, the two men sat the rest of the night in conversation. According to Church, Anawan fondly discussed Massasoit and the time he had spent serving with him.

This seems remarkable to me. As far as Anawan knew, this was going to be his last night on earth and this is how he spent it and this is what he chose to talk about.

Captain Church marched his prisoners back to Plymouth, where very quickly he was called to other business in Boston. When Captain Church returned to Plymouth he was unfortunately greeted by Anawan’s severed head. Though the two men were enemies, he expresses regret at seeing the head of the last of Metacom’s friends displayed at the end of a wooded pole.

Despite Church’s shifty relationship with the English administration, he went on to faithfully serve in the French and Indian War. His tactics would earn him the title “Father of American ranging.” During peacetime, he eventually resettled in Little Compton, Rhode Island. In 1718, Church died as a result of a horse riding accident. He is buried in Little Compton Common Cemetery.

The grave of Benjamin Church- Little Compton RI

I found this history to be rather sad. It was amazing to me how complex and diverse the Native American world was in this area during the war. The sources contain the names of dozens of tribes and important native people that are rarely recognized in history. Anawan seemed like just as much of a hero as Benjamin Church. I wish additional historical records could be found about his life as well.

As far as Anawan Rock, it remains a monument of a time when New England was the frontier of our developing culture. Though it is reported to be haunted, my fiancé and I were only creeped out by the fall ticks we found on our dogs after visiting.
Anawan Rock from the front- Its actually quite large
Of course the monument also symbolizes a precedent set in the relationship between the English colonists and the local tribes. From the colonial perspective the diverse native cultures across our country could either assimilate, move, or be destroyed in the face of manifest destiny. This attitude remained until at least the 19th century. Certainly a pock mark on Yankee history.

However, as Nathaniel Philbrick theorizes in his book Mayflower, the King Philip’s War ultimately led to the French and Indian War, which ultimately caused an increase in colonial taxation, thus resulting in the American Revolution. So, despite how horrible the war was, it is directly linked with the establishment of our entire country and culture. Yup, for good or for bad, Yankees were there from the beginning.
The Sign Marking Anawan Rock off Rt. 44


  1. Nice story but, regarding Alexandr, I think Winslow was arrogant enough that, if he wanted Alexander dead, he would just have trumped up a legal charge and hanged him.

    I ran across a story that PHillip's belt was sent to KCII in London but that the person to whom it was entrusted stole it. It was discovered in a small British museum in the 1980s but that the negotiations fell through. Any ideas? confirmation?

    It is it just money, I may able to help; I had two great x11 uncles in that war, one of whom made a killing shot at half a mile by sheet fluke.


  2. Great Story. Have been there and to many other historical sites from King Philips War. I have the book by Benjamin Church that you mention. Good reading for anyone wanting to learn about this colonial war. It is not entirely factual and lots are embellished such as scaling a steep cliff at Annawons Rock to get to Annawons Camp. I think most scholars would agree that "The Flintlock And The Tomahawk by Douglas Edward Leach is THE GO TO BOOK for a historical and mostly unbiased account of King Philips War from start to end...Love your post's and this site! I read them as fast as you can put them up!...Thanks again, Bill

    1. Thanks for checking out the site. I agree, Benjamin Church seemed to embellish in his writing. I still find him super interesting. His material showing the differences in Wampanoag combat and traditional colonial combat tactics was great. Thanks for the suggestion of the new source. I generally like writing about the King Philip's War, so I hope I get to use it. I should be posting some new material this month. Again, thanks for reading.

  3. I am impressed with this article and ready to read more of these posts. I have just finished Massasoit by Alvin G. Weeks borrowed from the Manomet Library if you need more literature. Thanks, R.P.Mason

  4. This period is one of the most interesting of our history. I read all I can find on it, and love to explore the actual sites.

  5. Very nice write up, thanks for the good read! I live very close to Anawan Rock, so it's fun to read the history. One nitpick though... You mention that Benjamin Church served in the French and Indian War, and died in 1718. The French and Indian War was 1754-63, and you may be thinking of Rogers Rangers.

  6. Rogers was said to read Church's papers as a young man. It inspired his woodsman ways and helped shape his military life.