Tag Archives: king philip’s war

1676: Matoonas, a Nipmuc shot on Boston Common

On this date in 1676, an indigenous Nipmuc named Matoonas was marched into Boston, condemned by a summary judicial proceeding, and immediately shot on Boston Common.

Though he was a so-called “Jesus Indian” — a converted Christian — Matoonas had become a principal adversary of the European colonists once long-building tensions exploded into King Philip’s War.

To the communal grievances that made up this war, Matoonas brought a very personal injury: back in 1671, his son Nehemiah had been accused by English colonists of murder and executed on that basis. And not just executed, but his rotting head set up on a pike at the gallows, to really rub it in.

Matoonas bided his time, but when the opportunity to fight back arrived he joined King Philip (Metacomet) with gusto. On July 14, 1675, Nipmuc warriors under his command raided the town of Mendon, Massachusetts, leaving five dead — the very first Anglo casualties of the war.

“A dark cloud of anxiety and fear now settled down upon the place,” a bicentennial a Rev. Carlton Staples recalled in a bicentennial address on Mendon’s history 1867. “With tears and lamentations they tenderly gathered the bodies of the slain and laid them away in some pleasant spot, we know not where. The houses and farms remote from this central point were abandoned, and the people fled to other places, or gathered here to save their flocks and growing crops. All sense of security was gone. They only dared to go abroad in companies. While some worked in the fields and gardens, others watched for the lurking foe.” A few months later, the settlers had to abandon Mendon altogether, and the Nipmuc burned the ghost town to the ground.

But the tide of the war soon turned against the natives, and Matoonas would find that he had his own lurking foe.

Sagamore John comes in, brings Mattoonus and his sonne prisoner. Mattoonus shot to death the same day by John’s men.

diary of Samuel Sewall

A mysterious Nipmuc leader known as Sagamore John (“Sagamore” designates a sachem or chief) betrayed Matoonas in exchange for a pardon from the Massachusetts colony, marching Matoonas and his son right into Boston on the 27th of July.

After an improvised tribunal set down the inevitable punishment, Matoonas was lashed to a tree on Boston Common. Sagamore John performed the execution himself — although whether he volunteered or “volunteered” is not quite clear. The late Nipmuc raider’s head, too, was set on a pole — just opposite Nehemiah’s.


Memorial to Sagamore John in Medford, Mass. (cc) image from David Bruce.

1675: Little John

On this date in 1675, an Indian (tribe uncertain insofar as I can ascertain) named Little John (or John Littlejohn) was publicly executed on Boston Common for murder.

Though the attributed crime was of a venial variety, the situation was conditioned by a dirty war of ethnic cleansing that had only just that summer eruptedKing Philip’s War.

Strained by a series of Native American raids, Little John — lying in jail for murder — apparently became a popular target of Bostonian fury, which was a very bad place to be. Just a few days before this execution, two accredited Indian envoys in the city had been hailed as King Philip’s warriors by two whites, and upon that “recognition” put to death.

Little John’s near-lyching and actual-hanging (“in a Manner so revolting that were the truth alone related the readers’ belief might be confounded”) comes to us from Narratives of The Indian Wars 1675-1699 (also available from Google books):

about the 10th of September, at nine O’clock at Night, there gathered together about forty Men (some of Note) and came to the House of Captain James Oliver; two or three of them went into the Entry to desire to speak with him, which was to desire him to be their Leader, and they should joyn together and go break open the Prison, and take one Indian out thence and Hang him: Captain Oliver hearing their Request, took his Cane and cudgelled them stoutly, and so for that Time dismist the Company; which had he but in the least countenanced, it might have been accompanied with ill Events in the End. Immediately Captain Oliver went and acquainted Mr. Ting his Neighbor, (a Justice of Peace) and they both went next Morning and acquainted the Governour, who thank’d Captain Oliver for what he had done last Night, but this rested not here; For the Commonalty were so enraged …

an Order was issued out for the Execution of that one (notorious above the rest) Indian, and accordingly he was led by a Rope about his Neck to the Gallows; when he came there, the Executioners (for there were many) flung one End over the Post, and so hoised him up like a Dog, three or four Times, he being yet half alive and half dead; then came an Indian, a Friend of his, and with his Knife made a Hole in his Breast to his Heart, and sucked out his Heart-Blood: Being asked his Reason therefore, his Answer, Umh, Umh nu, Me stronger as I was before, me be so strong as me and he too, he be ver strong Man fore he die.

Thus with the Dog-like Death (good enough) of one poor Heathen, was the Peoples Rage laid in some Measure, but in a short Time it began to work (not without Cause enough).