John Easton, peacemaker: Rhode Island, 1675

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Rhode Island
Year range
1675 - 1675

The deadliest war ever fought in North America, by percentage of population killed and injured, was King Philip’s War of 1675-1676, which pitted the fledgling colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and Rhode Island against a loose confederation of tribes led by Metacom, known to the colonists as “King Philip.”

After Plymouth Colony hanged three Indians for the murder of John Sassomon, Indian grievances and English suspicions reached the boiling point. John Easton was a Quaker and deputy governor of Rhode Island, the most pacifistic and Indian-friendly colony. Some time in mid-June 1675, Easton asked King Philip and his advisors to meet with a delegation of Rhode Islanders at Trip’s Ferry to try to stop the war.

A few months later, Easton described the meeting (I have modernized spelling and punctuation only):

   He [Philip] called his council and agreed to come to us, came
   himself unarmed and about 40 of his men armed. Then five
   [50?] of us went over. Three were magistrates. We sat very
   friendly together.
   We told him our business was to endeavor that they might
   not receive or do wrong. They said that was well, they had
   done no wrong, the English wronged them. We said we
   knew the English said the Indians wronged them, and the
   Indians said the English wronged them. But our desire was
   [that] the quarrel might rightly be decided in the best way,
   and not as dogs decided their quarrels.
   The Indians owned that fighting was the worst way. Then
   they propounded how right might take place. We said by
   arbitration. . . . We said they might choose an Indian king,
   and the English might choose the governor of New York,
   [so] that neither had cause to say either were parties in the
   difference. They said they had not heard of that way and
   said we honestly spoke. So we were persuaded if that way
   had been tendered they would have accepted. . . .
   We endeavored that . . . they should lay down their arms for
   the English were too strong for them. They said then the
   English should do to them as they did when they were too
   strong for the English [i.e. forbear]. 

Arbitration was never proposed or tried. Within a week the war was under way. The colonists “won,” but one of every sixteen male settlers of military age was killed in the process. The toll of civilians was horrifying, with entire settlements being destroyed on both sides. In the war-generated hysteria, many surviving Indians, including innocent Christian converts, were sold into slavery in the West Indies. Not until the eve of the American Revolution, a century later, did the colonies fully recover.


born 19 December 1624 Romsey, Hampshire, England

married Mehitable Gaunt 4 January 1661 Newport, Rhode Island -- XX children

died December 1705

ANCESTORS: We know only his parents, Nicholas Easton and Mary ____, and Nicholas’s parents and paternal grandparents.

COUSINS: One of John Easton’s three siblings, Peter, married and had children.

Original Text

John Easton's own words, as spelled and written, as published in Narratives of the Indian Wars 1675-1699, edited by Charles H. Lincoln:

he Called his counsell and agreed to Cum to us came himselef unarmed and about 40 of his men armed. Then 5 of us went over. 3 wear magestrats. we sate veri frindly together. we told him our bisnes was to indever that thay might not reseve or do rong. thay said that was well thay had dun no rong, the English ronged them, we saied we knew the English saied the indians ronged them and the indians saied the english ronged them but our desier was the quarell might rightly be desided in the best way, and not as dogs desided ther quarells. the indians owned that fighting was the worst way then thay propounded how right might take plase, we saied by arbetration. . . . we saied thay might Choose a indian king, and the English might Choose the Governer of new yorke that nether had Case to say ether weare parties in the deferans. thay saied thay had not herd of that way and saied we onestly spoke so we wear perswaided if that way had bine tendered thay wold have acsepted. . . . we indevered that however thay should lay doune ther arems for the English wear to strong for them. thay saied then the English should do to them as thay did when thay wear to strong for the english.