Saturday, June 30, 2001

Learn about King Philip's War: Rehoboth

Angela Elwell Hunt's novel Rehoboth (Book 4 in the "Keepers of the Ring" series) describes in great detail a "forgotten" event in colonial history, known as King Philip's war. The greatest uprising of the native population against the English settlers, King Philip's war lasted over a full year (1675-1676), and took more lives, per capita, than any other war fought on American soil. A huge setback for the New England colonists, it took an even greater toll on the native Algonquin Indian tribes in the area, clearing the way for further colonial expansion.

Rehoboth, the book's title, was the name of one of the many colonial villages (in present-day Massachusetts) destroyed by the Indians during this war. Much of the novel, therefore, focuses on this unfortunate town, where Aiyana Bailie lives for a while. The story begins with the Bailies living on Martha's Vineyard among friendly, Christianized or "praying" Indians. Daniel (really Taregan) Bailie decides that his work among this group of Indians is complete, and wants to move to Roxbury to assist John Eliot (a real historical figure who lived in Roxbury with many villages of praying Indians) in his work there. Along the way the family stops in Rehoboth, to arrange for daughter Aiyana (age 17) to work as a hired servant for a family there; Daniel and his son Mojag (age 21) will travel further on, to Roxbury.

Aiyana soon finds love, as well as racial tensions and, later, danger, in Rehoboth. Her English boyfriend's father will not accept a mixed-race daughter-in-law (Aiyana and Mojag are 5/8 Indian) and tries to match his son up with a proper Puritan girl, to no avail. As the war progresses, Rehoboth is attacked a first time, leaving many dead. Later, when the colonial government deports all the praying Indians to islands off the mainland, Daniel sends for Aiyana, who soon joins him along with the other Indians on overcrowded Deer Island.

Meanwhile, Mojag hears the call to live and minister among the Wampanoag Indians, and specifically to sachem Metacomet (known by the English as King Philip) only a few months before the outbreak of war. Metacomet sees Mojag as a civilized Indian who knows nothing of how to survive in the wilderness like the "real" Indians. Anxious to win Metacomet's approval, Mojag impulsively agrees to spend a month alone in the wilderness, the test faced by all young Indian warriors as a rite of passage to manhood, and soon realizes his foolishness. An angel finally delivers him from his many problems by giving him a crash course on wilderness survival, and Mojag returns triumphantly to Metacomet after a month, ready to live among the Wampanoags.

Thus Mojag and Aiyana are separated from each other, and throughout much of the book they and their father are scattered, not knowing where the others are. They are finally reunited when the war ends a year later.

Rehoboth begins with the uneasy peace less than a year before war, and concludes with the end of the war, covering a much shorter time span than the first three books of the "Keepers of the Ring" series (which spanned from 10 to 20 years each). Throughout the novel are many references to actual events of King Philip's war, enough to piece together the majority of the historical event: everything from the events leading up to the war, the incident that started the war in June 1675, to the war's final end in August of 1676 (when a company led by Benjamin Church chased King Philip through the countryside for weeks until they found and killed him). Unlike many historical novels that keep the historical situation in the background with only a few details related to the main story, Hunt's Rehoboth characters are closely connected to the historical situation and are directly affected by actual events. Perhaps because the true historical story has been largely forgotten by today's readers, and is yet a very interesting part of early American life, this novel stands complete, with a basic story about brother and sister separated from each other and how they interact with others during a terrible war.

Metacomet (King Philip) is a major character even before Mojag meets him, with early scenes of dialog between several Indian sachems, even the plotting to kill Philip's secretary John Sassamon, who had converted to Christianity and warned the colonists of the Indians' war plans. Many times throughout the book the reader learns the thoughts of Metacomet, including his distrust of the English and their God, his pride of the old warrior Indian, his initial desire for peace but then realization that the situation is out of his control, and his final hardening of heart when he turns Mojag and his friends away.

Besides John Eliot and King Philip, other noteworthy historical figures include Benjamin Church, one of the military leaders, and Mary Rowlandson, one of the captives taken during the attack on Lancaster. Their adventures are likewise told from written historical accounts as well as dialog and narratives. The story ends with a brief summary about the war's aftermath and consequences, as well as its effects on the praying Indians and John Eliot's ministry.