The Great Swamp Fight: The Bloodiest Day of King Philip’s War

In December 1675, in the midst of King Philip’s War, an army of Puritan colonists made a preemptive strike against the neutral Narragansett tribe. Their desperate battle in the snowy wilderness of Rhode Island became a touchstone in the cultural lore of Anglo New England, while the subsequent massacre would go down as the darkest, most tragic event in Narragansett history. Click here for a 23-minute YouTube video by Atun-Shei Films from October 6, 2020.

Narrator Andrew Rakich takes us to the site of the Great Swamp Massacre monument in the woods of West Kingston, RI, where the inscription reads “Attacked within their fort upon this island the Narragansett Indians made their last stand in King Philip’s War and were crushed by the united forces of the Massachusetts, Connecticut and Plymouth Colonies in the ‘Great Swamp Fight’ Sunday 19 December 1675.”

The fighting took place on an island in the Great Swamp in what is now West Kingston, Rhode Island. The Narragansets were encamped in a large palisaded fort about 4-5 acres in size. Mutual animosity fueled by ongoing land disputes between English settlers and American Indians in the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies erupted into open war in 1675. Chief Metacom (a.k.a., King Philip) organized Indian resistance to colonial authority.

In the video, Rakich relates the story of the Massacre and includes a quote by colonist Richard Smith, for whom Smith’s Castle is named, from which the attach was launched and where the colonists gathered afterwards. According to author James Warren, archeologists and ethno-historians haven’t been able to find material remains of the fort itself, but they have made some progress in locating the general area of the fighting, and many artifacts of the battle have been recovered over the years.

On October 22, 2021, the Rhode Island Historical Society transferred to the Narraganset Tribe the deed to about five acres that represent the scene of the Massacre.