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July 14, 1675: Mendon Under Attack

The stone marker is located at the corner of Providence Road and Hartford Avenue East designates the area of the July 14, 1675 attack on Mendon by the Nipmuc Indians.

The destruction of Mendon during the King Philip War was brought about by a conflict of cultures. By 1675, the peaceful co-existence that was demonstrated at the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth had long ended. Lack of agreement in regards to land, religion, and way of life led to such intense conflict that the Indians thought it was necessary to banish the English settlers from Southern New England and send them back to Europe. The first attack was in Swansea in June by Wampanoags. King Philip was their chief. Three weeks later, July 14, 1675, the attack on Mendon sent shock waves of terror throughout Massachusetts Bay Colony. The attack was by Nipmucs, and it meant that King Philip's attempts at lobbying neighboring tribes, the Nipmucs and the Narragansetts, had succeeded. The attack on Mendon was the first outside of Plymouth Colony. The Swansea fight had not been just a local skirmish; it was the beginning of an all-out war to see which culture would prevail.

One of the most significant conflicts between cultures was in regards to use of land. Indians believed that land was a gift from the Creator for everyone to use, regardless of who actually owned it. It was essentially for communal use. The English, on the other hand, believed that when land was purchased, the previous owner should vacate it and he new owner would have exclusive property rights. The English were puzzled and angered when they saw Wampanoags continuing to hunt and fish on land that they had just sold. As more and more land was purchased to accommodate the influx of new settlers, Indians realized that they were being boxed in and not welcome on land that they assumed they could still use. Over a period of time, it became evident that Wampanoags were being pushed out of their own land.

Religion was another source of disagreement that led to the conflict of cultures. The English were Puritans. They believed it was God's will and their moral duty to convert the Indians to Christianity. Several ministers and sachems met in Concord in 1646 to create a list, The Clear Sunshine of the Gospel, which Indians needed to do to become Christians. The list imposed fines in English money and other punishments on natives who would not cooperate. Some villages accepted the new religion. They were known as Praying Indians. Many others did not. Wampanoags were being arrested and brought to trial in Plymouth for farming and fishing on Sunday. An Indian who told a lie had to pay five shillings, and the theft of a canoe would be five shillings. Massasoit is alleged to have said, Christianity sounded like a wonderful religion, but he asked the English, "When are you going to start practicing it?"

How people lived their daily lives was another source of cultural conflict. Though both the English and Indians relied on farming, fishing, and hunting for survival, there were many differences in their clothing, hairstyles, manners, technology, tools, and weapons. The English regarded their way of life as superior to the culture of the Indians and as with religion, felt it was imperative to impose it on the natives. Some natives who chose to work for the English as servants or maids were required to dress, comb their hair, and speak like their employers. Wampanoags were fascinated with firearms and alcohol. The English readily traded them in exchange for furs and pelts, knowing full well the natives' limited experience with both could get them into trouble with laws that were limiting and confining their lives. King Philip was painfully aware that since he became chief in 1662, the culture of his tribe was being eroded and assimilated, and soon would be gone if they did not take action.

The clash of cultures brought devastation to both the settlers and the Indians. Mendon was attacked again in February 1676. This time the entire town was burned to the ground. Philip's death in August 1676 took away native leadership. The out-manned and out-gunned Indians were not able to continue the war for their homeland. They had suffered a crushing defeat.

Mendon, like other towns, gradually recovered; it was re-settled in 1680, built its second meeting house (Founders' Park), and re-established itself as a farming, frontier community. The Nipmucs, Wampanoags, and Narragansetts were not able to recover. Some fled to other tribes. Some were sold into slavery. Many died of disease and starvation. Some were executed on Boston Common. Many Indians adopted the culture of the English and lived quietly amongst them. The King Philip War brought an end to the proud and noble Indian Civilization as it had once existed in Southeastern New England. Sadly, it began, or at least escalated, here!


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