In Bristol, historical memory of the war is especially important because the town was founded on the ruins of King Philip’s homeland, the place where his war began and ended.  The conflict remains an extremely important event in the history of the town’s establishment.  Founded on September 24, 1680, the land was bought from the Plymouth colonial government by four proprietors: John Walley, Nathaniel Oliver, Stephen Burton, and Nathaniel Byfield.[1]  These men laid out a new town “through King Philip’s woods,”[2] directly in the shadow of the war.  The map below shows Bristol’s location in southern New England in relation to neighboring cities Providence, Fall River, Newport and Boston.

           Throughout the history of the town, King Philip’s War has been an important historical event in Bristol.  Philip has been portrayed variously as a local hero, brutal savage, or some combination of the two.  This changing perception reflects other forces that influenced Bristol and the surrounding communities since the colonial period. 

One issue that Bristolians have always grappled with is their possession of land taken during a war.  In town, and throughout the country, white citizens in the nineteenth century began coming to terms with the fact that the land they lived on was previously inhabited by Native Americans.  In the United States, land ownership was a foundation of early theories of what it means to be ‘American.’  Thomas Jefferson, in his influential work Notes on the State of Virginia, notes that one of the best things about America is the fact that there is “an immensity of land courting the industry of the husbandman,” and cites farmers as “the chosen people of God.”[3]  Since colonial times, land ownership had been a tool that the earliest settlers used to justify their seizure of lands from native peoples.  Since the Indians did not remain on a single plot of land and enclose it with fences, they did not hold title to it.  The English were free to settle on the ‘unclaimed’ land, provided they improved it through agriculture and animal husbandry.[4]  The early citizens of Bristol did just this, laying out the village in a grid and dividing up Metacom’s homeland to the southeast of town.

            Bristol has been forced to deal with the memory of Metacom throughout its existence.  In order to justify the foundation of their town, Bristolians needed to own the historical memory of Philip, and shape his legacy.  As opposed to his father, long thought of as a loyal friend to the colonists until his death, Philip was traditionally viewed as a traitor to the English and his father’s treaties that helped maintain the peace for half a century.  One of the main ways in which the memory of Philip has been publicly debated and shaped is through local newspapers.  Originally, the Bristol Gazette and Family Companion was the town’s main news outlet; it was replaced beginning in 1837 by the Bristol Phoenix, which is still printed today.[5]  Through newspapers, different views and perspectives on Philip were presented to the local population over time.  These changing views were always influenced by outside trends in national politics, especially events relating to the Indian Wars still being fought in the Western United States. 

[1] Ibid., 63.

[2] Ibid., 64.

[3] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (New York: Norton, 1972), 164-5.

[4] Anderson, “King Philip's Herds,” 604.

[5] East Bay Newspapers, “Bristol Phoenix- About Us,”,