The insightful book The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore explore the rationale and events leading up to the great war between the Algonquian Native Americans and English Settlers. The war started in 1675 shortly after the death of John Sassamon, a greatly educated Native American converted to Christianity. Sassamon had assimilated into the English way of life at a young age and was fluent in English as well as his native tongue. Sassamon had the important role of delegating between Natives and English due to his great literacy. He was close to, and aided many affluent members of society as well as officials in public office. Sassamon, according to Lapore, played a crucial role in the up rise of the Algonquian Natives. His death, an assumed murder, after warning the English of a Native American attack led to the death sentences of King Phillip’s close men. King Phillip, understandably disapproving of the execution of his counsel members, was provoked to lead an attack on the English in 1675. The war that followed was one of the bloodiest in American history.
Lepore’s book does a wonderful job of showing an objective view to each side of King Phillip’s War. Lepore encourages the reader throughout the book to realize the great amount of similarities between the English and Native American cultures. Both cultures had a complicated system of religion, a social hierarchy, claimed territories, and a spoken language. The way in which the two groups saw each other was drastically different from the truth. The settlers, though they had lived in the New World for some time, still did not accept the Native Americans. The English took drastic efforts to assimilate the Natives into English life by creating praying towns. Praying towns enabled some natives to become literate, live as English do, as well as provide shelter and protection from other hostile Native American tribes. It was in one such praying town that the Englishmen Eliot placed the native Sassamon to learn the gospel and English language. Though it was the goal of the English to convert Natives, it was this practice that indirectly led to the gruesome King Phillip’s war and the deaths of hundreds of English men and women.
Lepore’s book shows that actions in one culture may be perceived quite differently in other cultures or societies. Lepore spends a good deal discussing the significance of “The Circle” in Native American culture. “The Circle” illustrated a possible occurrence of Natives proving bravery in the hands of enemy tribes. Members of a tribe would stand in a circle and watch an enemy’s member being tortured. The tortures that seemed gruesome to the English writers were actually acts of strength and honor to the Native Americans. The English who recorded the Natives actions of apparent torture made sure to inform the reader that they did not enjoy witnessing such sights themselves. The English took great care to keep their Englishness quite separated from the “savage” lives of the Natives. Lepore explores this example of “the Circle” to suggest that there may be many more misunderstandings from the English about the Native Americans traditions. The theme that misunderstandings between colonists and natives are unable to resolve adequately is a theme that is strengthened as the book progresses. I agree that the English did not understand the Native culture to any great degree, but they also did not wish to learn the savage’s society and lifestyle. The English were focused on keeping their own traditions and had little desire to be educated on the culture they were attempting to wipe out. It is ironic that, according to Lepore, the Native’s goals were very similar to the settlers in that they wished to keep their religion and social culture intact and untainted by the white settlers.
Lepore suggests that King Phillips war is a model for wars throughout history. This was is a small scale of the kinds of events that lead up to most major wars between countries throughout history. The clashing of cultures between the Native Americans and English mirror disputes between different cultures everywhere. Though the Native Americans were similar to the English in the basics of their cultures, they each failed to understand the principles of the other culture. I agree with Lepore’s idea that King Philip’s war is a great example of social disputes escalating to bloody wars. The initial reasons for the start King Phillip’s War are unclear though religion, praying towns, fear, and land disputes among others are partial catalysts. I believe that the fear of change is at the root of each problem that led to fighting. Both sides wanted to protect their traditions and lifestyle and were, for the most part, unwilling to change their cultures. The Native Americans were more receptive to change, but perhaps only as a survival tactic. It seems that the more the English fought to reject the savage of the Native Americans the closer to savagery they became. Perhaps without realizing it, both sides became more similar to each other as the war progressed due to the adoption of new war techniques. Both peoples used foreign fighting techniques to preserve their native lives which merged the two cultures.
As King Phillip’s War progressed the English settlers began to justify their fighting and violence against the Natives to benefactors and officials in England as a religious war. Lepore mentions that the war was initiated in part because the English believed they were entitled to the land of the Native Americans, but turned into a kind of holy war. The defense of Christianity was a far nobler cause in the eyes of the old world than that of mere land disputes. Without the support and funds from England the colonies would deteriorate and fail. The stakes were very high for the colonists to stay in the favor of those in power. If England found the actions of the colonists unsatisfactory and not doing the work they had been assigned, funding would cease. The new world settlers had been given the duty of spreading Christianity which created a very convenient explanation for violence between the Natives and the English. All the factors starting King Phillip’s war is tightly interwoven with one another. The fear of change and different cultures led to religious and social assimilation of Natives which eventually led to the uprising of Algonquian Natives against the settlers. As one domino block of misunderstanding fell from cultural tension it knocked the next one over until the last block of war cast its shadow over the new world.
The many issues Jill Lapore addresses surrounding King Phillip’s War shed light on the lives and motives of the Native Americans and English Settlers. Lapore’s ability to objectively explain King Phillip’s war gave me more reason to believe her arguments and opinions. When one author is able to go into such great detail on a specific war in history the reader is able to make connections to other historical events on their own. This book is a great account of a war which holds most, if not all, reasons that two groups come to arms as a means to resolve disagreements and misunderstandings. I was able to understand Lapore’s arguments and agree with most of her theories. This book was repetitive at times only due to the vast amount of sources. The many sources showed that Lapore had done extensive research before writing the credible book. I believe the book could have been edited in half and still conveyed Lapore’s entire message. Lapore presented the volume of information on King Phillip’s War in a way that was easy to comprehend and analyze. Jill Lapore created a comprehensive work which gives a new look on the world wide subject of war.