Great Swamp Battle Monument

Photo by Michael Kleen

A stone monument deep in the Rhode Island wilderness marks the site of the bloodiest battle of King Philip’s War.

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The Great Swamp Fight (or Great Swamp Massacre) was fought on December 19, 1675 between New England forces and their native allies commanded by Governor Josiah Winslow, Major Samuel Appleton, Governor Robert Treat, Major William Bradford, and Chief Uncas, and the Narragansett Tribe commanded by Chief Canonchet in the Great Swamp in present-day Washington County, Rhode Island during King Philip’s War. The battle was a major colonial victory, resulting in the near-destruction of the Narragansetts.

In the summer of 1675, after a breakdown in relations with New England colonists, Metacom (King Philip), sachem of the Pokanoket Indians (the same tribe that helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter), began to raid English settlements. The New England Confederation raised an army in defense, and after several raids and counter-raids, decided to strike the neutral Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island before they could join forces with Metacom.

On the chilly day of December 19th, an Indian guide led approximately 1,000 New England militia and 150 Pequot Indians through the frozen Great Swamp to a wooden palisade, which the Narragansetts had fortified for the winter. Their initial attack was poorly coordinated and beaten back, but after a long struggle, they overwhelmed the defenders and burned the fort. The Narragansetts attempted to escape, but hundreds including women, children, and the elderly, were killed. The colonists lost 70 killed and 150 wounded.

Fought between the New England Confederation and a coalition of American Indian tribes led by the Wampanoags from 1675 to 1676, King Philip’s War was the result of colonial expansion and a breakdown in native and colonial relations. Although the war ended in victory for the New England colonists, it left great swaths of the countryside in ruins. Approximately 1,000 colonists and 3,000 Native Americans died in the conflict. It is considered the bloodiest war per capita in US history.

No one knows exactly where the battle took place, but the Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars erected a 20-foot granite monument at its presumed location in 1906. The monument was dedicated by both New Englanders and members of the modern-day Narragansett tribe. Four large stones engraved with the names of the colonies that took part in the battle surround the shaft. There is also a memorial plaque.

The Great Swamp Battle Monument is located at the end of Great Swamp Monument Road, off South County Trail west of West Kingston in Washington County, Rhode Island. It is open dawn to dusk. The road leading directly to the monument is closed. Visitors must park at a turn-around and walk approximately 0.3 miles up the trail. The ground is flat and not difficult to traverse, although you should avoid wandering into the swamp. Hunters utilize this area as well, so dress in appropriately bright colors during hunting season.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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