More on David Barton and King Philip’s War

After David Barton’s astounding defense of the destruction of Indian tribes and their means of supporting themselves, I started reading more about King Philip’s War. Barton said the Indians declared war to defend torture in particular and their culture more generally. This is inadequate as an explanation. In addition to any concerns about culture, there was the more important matter of English encroachment on Indian lands. Philip (Metacomet, son of Massasoit) had appreciation for elements of English culture, having taken an English name and even buying English clothing. However, the English inflamed the Indians by disarming them and disregarding their property rights. After the trial and execution of three of Philip’s tribe by the English — which he believed was unjust — Philip engaged in his first attack on an English village.

Regarding torture, it is arrogant to suggest the English only used it as a response to the Indians, at least according to George William Ellis and John Emery Morris in their book about King Philip’s War, written in 1906.  Ellis and Morris wrote:

In connection with the captivity of Mrs. Rowlandson, it may be said that one party was as forward in the exercise of cruelty as the other. The torture of Englishmen by the Indians was the exception rather than the rule. The women and children were not tortured and were generally spared if the pursuit pressed not too fast upon their captor’s heels. The Indian conqueror never lowered himself to the level of the European soldiery of the time in the sack of captured towns and villages with their carnival of rape and murder. In all the chronicles of the time, the reader finds no recorded instance of outrage upon a woman captive or the useless torture of children.

“And such was the goodness of God to those poor captive women and children that several found so much favor in the sight of their enemies that they were offered no wrong to any of their persons save what they could not help, being in many wants themselves, neither did they offer any uncivil carriage to any of the females or any attempt the chastity of any of them, either being restricted of God as was Abimeleck of old or by some other external cause which withheld them from doing any wrong of that kind.” (A quote from Hubbard).

The settlers slew without discrimination as to age or sex and inflicted torture with a stern self-righteousness. The former generation had set an example in the destruction of the women and children in the Pequot fort, the present followed it closely, the next was to burn the Salem witches. The temper of the age and their belief that they were the people of the new Israel, their foes the old Canaanites and Philistines with new faces hardened them to mercy. In the books of the Old Testament, they sought and found precedents and divine commands in plenty that spoke with the same authority and inspiration for the guidance of their Israel of the new dispensation as to the fate to be meted out to hostile people as it had for the old. Hence arose more than one instance of bad faith. Hence, men women and children were slaughtered or sold into slavery in the West Indies. Rhode Island alone, to her credit, prohibiting the practice by statute. 

Ellis and Morris referred to the destruction of “Pequot fort.” This took place in 1637 and involved the massacre of older men, women and children of the Pequot tribe during the Pequot War. As Ellis and Morris noted, the English believed they had the right to clear the land of the natives because they believed God had given them the land. All that to say that it is hard to tell who was civilized and who wasn’t when one really looks at the history.

I am not saying that I would have done anything differently if I was an English settler. I hope I would have but the lessons of my discipline (e.g., Stanford Prison Experiment, Milgram studies) tell me that the power of the situation can corrupt good morals. What I am saying is that even if I had engaged in atrocities as a resident of that time and place, I would have been wrong. To me, it is misguided arrogance and pride to defend such behavior and it is moral cowardice to refuse to call it evil.

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  • Bill Fortenberry

    Just a little tip here, Warren. If you’re going to correct individual claims by David Barton, then I would recommend that you avoid quoting from twentieth century sources. You could have done a much better job, if you had referenced someone like John Easton who wrote a first hand account of the events. Easton’s book is available online at this link:

  • Is there something wrong with the facts cited there Bill?

  • Bill Fortenberry

    I am not pointing out any error at this time. I am simply suggesting a correction to a flaw in your strategy.

  • Bill – Thanks for the link; it appears to be a fine source. It is not exactly first hand in all it touches but it is much closer to the events than the other book and was written by an official in the Rhode Island government.

  • Bill Fortenberry

    I’ve taken the time to listen to Barton’s full broadcast, and it seems that he’s conveying the same information as was presented by Guenter Lewy in this article:

    I realize that this is not a primary source, and I do not expect you to venrate Barton on this evidence alone. I do think, however, that Lewy’s comments should give you reaon to withold further criticism until you have had time to study the original sources more closely.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    This is inadequate as an explanation. In addition to any concerns about culture, there was the more important matter of English encroachment on Indian lands.

    Getting there. The English didn’t quite get the concept of ownership of land that one doesn’t permanently settle or farm. See Locke’s Labor Theory of Value. And yes, they also felt entitled to the land as a gift from God, just as the Native Americans felt entitled to the land for, well frankly, I don’t know what reason but I bet it wasn’t our modern concept of property rights.

    It’s often tough to tell what Barton’s talking about, especially extemporaneously, especially from fragments gathered by his enemies. A charitable reading would be that he’s speaking as a…gulp…public intellectual, and invokes King Philip’s War more as an analogy than an object history lesson in itself. The closer parallel might be Dresden or Hiroshima.

    One may have theological and ethical reservations with firebombing or nuking civilian populations, but that discussion is a long way from painting Barton as a bland endorser of genocide.


    David Barton Justifies Civilizing Indians By Destroying Them

    Actually, his point was that decisive force ended the massacres, and indeed the entire war. It’s true his God is more the Mighty Jehovah than Barney the Christ, but that theological thicket is above my pay grade.

  • Boo

    “And yes, they also felt entitled to the land as a gift from God, just as the Native Americans felt entitled to the land for, well frankly, I don’t know what reason but I bet it wasn’t our modern concept of property rights.”

    You mean aside from, like, being there already.

  • Bill – I don’t think we listened to the same broadcast.

    Barton is not simply analyzing the situation as Lewy did, he was justifying the actions. Barton said, we had to destroy Indian tribes all over.

    Lewy makes a rather nuanced and technical argument against considering the war on Indians a genocide. I think he makes a reasonable case on the narrow question, but he fails, in my opinion, to give adequate emphasis to the reason we are even talking about this: The English settlers sense of entitlement to land that was not theirs to take. Lewy only addresses this issue as a causal factor but does not take a stand on the propriety of that impulse. He does take a stand on whether or not genocide is a proper label for what happened but he does not fully appreciate the context. He says there were two sides and both sides committed wrongs. However, there were only two sides because the English claimed land concerning which they had no rights. Lewy might even agree that they had no right to it. However, Barton would not. He is of the belief that God gave this land to the settlers and bends history to suit this belief.

    So no, they are not making the same arguments simply because they are talking about the same subjects.

  • Bill Fortenberry

    That’s very interesting. How do you know that Barton believes that the settlers had a God given right to the land?

    It’s also interesting that you say the entire conflict was ultimately the result of the English claiming land that they had no right to claim. How do you know that they did not have such a right? If I’m not mistaken, Easton noted in his account that the land had been purchased. Are you claiming that those purchases were somehow illegitimate or perhaps that they never occurred at all? In either case, I am very curious about the original source documentation that you are relying on. Would be so kind as to share a link?

  • Bill Fortenberry

    By the way, I did not claim that Barton and Lewy were making the same argument. I said that they seemed to be conveying the same information.

  • Patrocles

    Barton seems to rely on the widespread “neocon” principle that a war is justified if it serves the progress of human civilization.

    It would be interesting what exactly you want to contest:

    1. The principle is wrong.

    2. The principle is right but can’t be applied to the facts, i.e. the victory of the white settlers didn’t serve the progress of human civilization.

    • Patrocles – Whose civilization are you talking about? And who is to judge what furthers it? I would say the principle is wrong.