Understanding King Philip's War

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13149

Who was King Philip? With whom did he fight a war and why? And what does that have to do with Native American history? Learn more about what's called the "deadliest war in American history" here!


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Who was the King Philip you're going to learn about in this lesson?

See if you can guess!

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King Philip's War was a conflict between the English and the Native Americans of the northeastern United States, which had a big impact on the future of Native Americans and their relationships with European settlers.

If you guessed that King Philip was a Native American chief, you're correct!

His Indian name was Metacomet (sometimes called Metacom), and he was born in the Wampanoag village at Mount Hope, Rhode Island. He was a smart and courageous man who wanted to protect his people and their way of life.

King Philip

Image by Paul Revere, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

  • Do you remember learning about the Wampanoag tribe before?

Did you think of Thanksgiving? Yes, the Wampanoag natives were the ones who helped the pilgrims survive that first rough winter in Massachusetts and celebrated that famous feast with them. That was in 1621.

Sadly, 54 years later, the Wampanoag and the colonists were fighting a deadly war. This war lasted from 1675 until 1678.

You'll watch several videos in this lesson that tell the story of King Philip and his war. The war took place in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire.

The tribes that fought with King Philip were the Nipmuc, Narragansett, and Pocumtuck. Some Native tribes decided to fight on the side of the English. They were the Mohawks, Mohegan, and the Pequot tribes.

map of New England tribes in 1670

Image by Rice University, via OpenStx, is licensed under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Metacomet and his warriors seemed to be winning the war for a while, but eventually the English overcame them by adopting Metacomet's way of conducting war!

As you watch the videos, have paper and a pen handy to take notes. You'll have to identify the important people later and create a timeline of important events.

For a brief introduction to Metacomet and his war, watch the following excerpt from the documentary Buxton, Maine: An American Story. It explains how 45 years of peaceful living among settlers and Natives erupted into war.

Metacom/King Philip's War excerpt from the documentary Buxton, Maine: An American Story from Patrick Bonsant:

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As you learned in the video, the title King Philip was a nickname made up by the English, but in a sense it was correct. He was the sachem (chief or king) of the Wampanoags, and he did take the Christian name of Philip.

Metacomet was the son of Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Massasoit asked the settlers at Plymouth Colony to give his sons English names, so they named the elder son Alexander and the younger Philip.

Alexander became chief when his father died, but he also died not too long afterward, and Philip took his place. His tribe continued to live in peace with the settlers for almost a decade after he became chief, but then things started to go wrong.

The following video explains how the European concept of owning land was foreign to the Native Americans, and how this led to many conflicts over land as the colonists continued to expand their settlements.

You'll also learn how a murder played a part in starting the war (hint: write down the murdered man's name!) and how Metacomet began to lead attacks against the settlers.

Watch two excerpts of King Philip's War from Rebecca Jones:

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Watch the next video to learn more about the end of King Philip's War and the sad end of King Philip.

King Philip's War: The Most Important American War You've Never Heard Of from Atun-Shei Films:

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By the end of King Philip's war, 52 colonial towns had been attacked and 12 were destroyed. Around 3,000 natives were killed. Many others were captured and sold into slavery.

King Philip's war is called the "deadliest war in American history" because it killed more people, in proportion to the population, than any other war.

  • Did you take notes on the lesson and the videos?

Good, because you'll need them for the Got It? section!

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