So Dramatic a Blog

So Dreadful a Judgment is the first of a series of historic dramas, or "museum theater" productions, created and performed by Plimoth Plantation. These interactive dramas give the audience a powerful personal encounter with history by allowing them to explore difficult and entertaining questions about the past with the characters!

Unseen Devastation: Depicting King Philip’s War on Film

July 4th, 2013 by James Finelli

While the movie version of So Dreadful A Judgment is now in post-production, I’ve been working on bringing together the various odds and ends related to the production process. Among these are the written titles for the film, which appear as white text on a black background at key points in the narrative. The purpose of the titles is to provide the viewer with the historical context of the Benjamin Church and Awashonks story. In absence of Hollywood resources, the written word is a powerful tool for conveying the devastation of a conflict that ended almost 350 years ago.

One way to harness both the informative and emotional power of words is by using less of them. Being blunt and to the point can be very effective, albeit somewhat stark and cold at the same time.

Casualties During King Philip’s War

English Causalities: 800 (1.4% of population)

Native Causalities: 8,000 (50%-70% of population)

As historian James Drake has pointed out, even with a high estimate of 800 English lives lost during the war, when compared to the overall impact on the colonial English population of New England between 1670 and 1680, the loss is rather insignificant in the grand scheme. In fact, Drake notes a net increase in population among the English colonials, even with war losses factored in. Native People, on the other hand, don’t fair so well. The war’s effect on the Native population during the same period is devastating. As noted above, some estimates place the number dead or sold into slavery to be as high as 8,000. Drake argues that the overall population loss among New England’s Native people, dead, sold, and refugees permanently displaced from the region, to be somewhere between 50% and 70%.

Since the loss of English lives is historically insignificant, it may be easy to assume the repercussions of King Philip’s War were mild for the English colonists. But English losses are perhaps best represented in another way.

English communities destroyed, severely damaged, or abandoned during King Philip’s War. (This is a rough list, since the records are rather imprecise.)

  1. Swansea
  2. Rehoboth
  3. Taunton
  4. Dartmouth
  5. Middleboro
  6. Brookfield
  7. Deerfield
  8. Saco
  9. Black Point
  10. Springfield
  11. Lancaster
  12. Medfield
  13. Weymouth
  14. Groton
  15. Warwick
  16. Marlborough
  17. Simsbury
  18. Seaconk
  19. Providence
  20. Scituate
  21. Sudbury
  22. Bridgewater
  23. Hartford

Damage to Native property and communities is harder to quantify for two reasons. First, accounts of the conflict come to us almost entirely from the English, and they were not overly concerned with the depredations they inflicted on their Native enemies. The second, Native style of warfare was what we today would call guerrilla war. This sort of warfare requires mobility and, generally for the safety of their community, the entire Native village would pack up their belongings and travel with their warriors.

There are, however, some well documented attacks on Native communities by English soldiers. The most notable was the destruction of the Narragansett fortified town at modern day South Kingstown, RI. What made this devastating attack possible was in part the fact that the Narragansett were not at war with the English colonies at the time. The assault on the Narragansett community is especially important to our film because both Awashonks and Benjamin Church were present. Church as part of the attacking United Colonial force, and Awashonks as a refugee of the conflict that she was trying to avoid.

The destruction of the Narragansett fortified town at South Kingstown brings us full circle. A battle including as many as 2,000 participants can’t be faithfully reconstructed for a small film project. And so we return to words. The title cards in So Dreadful A Judgment will provide some of the above information. Unable to depict the devastation wrought by the war, words paint a picture for our audience. It’s a picture that appears rather bleak for Native people generally, and for Awashonks specifically.

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2 Responses to “Unseen Devastation: Depicting King Philip’s War on Film”

  1. Lee Drescher says:

    Would like very much to see this film. When and where will it be shown?

    • James Finelli says:

      Hi Lee,

      So Dreadful A Judgment is going to be shown at a couple of academic conferences this fall. I’ll be posting the dates and places of those conferences soon. For the general public, the film will be shown daily next summer in Plimoth Plantation’s theater. It will also be made available next summer online with materials for teachers. I’ll be posting about that soon as well.

      Thanks for your interest!

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