Forever linked to the contested memory of King Philip’s War in Bristol is the annual Forth of July celebration in the town.  This event is the oldest of its kind in the country; there has been a celebration of American Independence in Bristol since at least 1790.[1]  The town calls itself the most patriotic town in America, and remains proud of this tradition.[2]  The parade and associated festivities were a place to herald the values that lay at the core of the American ideal.  Patriotic speeches were given and military exercises were held.  Left out of these events was King Philip’s War, which began and ended during the summer months.  The closest that the Independence Day exercises come to mentioning Philip is when the King Philip Fire Company marches in the parade.[3]  Appearing first in 1855, the local fire company named after Philip is listed among the participants in the Fourth of July Parade sporadically throughout the nineteenth century, although this does not mean that the company was not involved every year.[4]  The Independence Day Celebration has always been a very formal public performance in Bristol, and left little room for Philip’s contested memory.

Events of national significance, especially those relating to Indian Policy, provide another framework for investigating Metacom’s historical legacy.  At times, Philip was portrayed as an evil warlord who advocated vicious attacks on innocent colonists.  Other depictions show a noble chief fighting to his tragic death against the inevitable march of progress across America.  How do these different stories change over time?  What outside events influenced the people of Bristol in shaping their history?  How does the creation of memories about King Philip’s War compare to the other major public memory event in town, the Fourth of July celebrations?  In order to understand the legacy of King Philip in Bristol, it is necessary to go back to the earliest accounts of the war in the town’s main news organ, the Bristol Phoenix. 

[1] Bristol (R.I. : Town), Independence Day: How the Day Is Celebrated in Bristol, Rhode Island (Bristol: s.n, 1972)  The earliest accounts of the celebration in the Bristol Gazette and Companion from 1835 and 1836 are conflicted.  One places the first year of celebration at 1790, while the following year 1785 is given as the date.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Palmer Hopkins, The Seventh Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Providence, R. I: Snow & Farnham, Printers, 1903), 325. The organization was formed in the decades before the Civil War, and served as the main brigade into the 20th Century.

[4] Bristol (R.I. : Town), Independence Day.