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Paul Royster

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The following pages represent a new edition of Increase Mather’s influential contemporary account of King Philip’s War, between the English colonists in New England (and their Native allies) and the Wampanoag, Naragansett, and other Indian nations of the region, beginning in 1675. Mather’s account runs through August of 1676, when hostilities in southern, central, and western New England ended; fighting continued in the region of Maine until 1678. The war was disastrous for both sides, but particularly for the hostile Native Americans, who were brought very close to extermination.

Mather describes his history as “brief” (it runs to 89 pages in this edition) and “impartial”—a claim that may ring false to modern ears. Mather was not a direct participant, but was an associate of most of the colonial leadership and a spiritual advisor to the war effort. His History has the advantage of being freshly written during the conflict, and reflects the alternating hopes and disappointments that accompanied each bit of news that arrived in Boston. He argues that the United Colonies (Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut) waged a defensive war against a treacherous enemy who assaulted their settlements and plantations without provocation. He does, however, blame the English colonists for their neglect of religion (including efforts to Christianize the natives) and for the sins of apostacy, inordinate pride of apparel and hair, drunkenness, and swearing—all of which gave God adequate cause to raise enemies against them as a “Scourge” to punish them and motivate them to repentence and reformation.

The Brief History does deliver many telling truths about the conflict: that the English conducted search-and-destroy campaigns against both persons and provisions, slaughtered (Mather’s word) large numbers of women and children as well as men, executed captured leaders by firing squad (on Boston Common and at Stonington, Ct.); and that their “armies” were on several occasions routed or entirely wiped out by Native fighters.

This online electronic text edition is based on the first printed edition published at Boston in 1676, and it retains the spelling, punctuation, and orthography of the original. Some explanatory notes have been added (at the end), along with a bibliography, and a note on the textual history of the work, the editorial rationale employed, and a list of all emendations.

Mather’s work contains slightly more than 30,000 words; it is published here as a PDF file that can be printed out in landscape format on 52 letter-size pages.