King Philip's Rock & Cave ~ Sept 7th 2002
Today we take a trip to Norfolk County and visit the sites of King Philip's Rock and King Philip's Cave. One of the most interesting New England Indians and one who had the greatest impact on our early history was King Philip, Great Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation from 1662 until he was shot from ambush by a renegade Indian on August 12th, 1676. Also known as Metacom, Metacomet and Pometacom, Philip was a descendant of the Great Sachem Massasoit, the same Massasoit who helped the Plymouth Pilgrims adapt and use the resources of this new land to survive those first few years when Plymouth Colony was trying to establish itself.
When Massasoit died in the winter of 1661, his eldest son Wamsutta, known to the English as Alexander, became the Great Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation. Soon after Alexander was forcibly summoned to appear before the colonists to answer charges that he was violating the established treaties that his father and the colonists had agreed to. Whilst in their company, Alexander became ill and shortly thereafter died. Philip, who now assumed the title of Great Sachem, along with the other Wampanoags believed that the English had poisoned Alexander. In the 55-year span between the arrival of the Mayflower and the outbreak of King Philip's War, the English had prospered, their population grew, and their settlements expanded. The natives on the other hand were in a state of decline due to sickness and disease introduced by the Europeans and the continued loss of their tribal lands to the colonists. The growing tensions between these two parties, and the overbearing nature of the English government brought matters to a crisis in 1675.
On June 24th, a raid took place in Swansea, MA. conducted by some of Philip's younger braves that left 9 colonist dead, 2 wounded, and some slaughtered livestock. This incident is considered the official start of King Philip's War. This action however, might have been premature for Philip's overall strategy. It is theorized that Philip had succeeded in securing the help of the powerful Narragansett tribe and that Chief Canonchet of the Narragansett's and Philip had agreed to wait until the spring of 1676 to begin the hostilities. Much had to be prepared to take on the better-equipped English if the Indians had hope to be victorious and drive the white man from their lands. Canonchet and Philip agreed that they would prefer their warriors relearn the forgotten arts of fighting with bow and arrows, as it would be more suited for the guerrilla-type tactics they plan to engage in. It would also save in the use of powder and bullets that would almost become impossible to come by once hostilities began. Adequate food supplies would be needed that could be placed at strategic locations to be able sustain a long campaign if need be. This was Philip's plan and he spoke of it when he tried to get the support and aid of many of the other surrounding New England tribes, sometimes he was successful in his negotiations, and sometimes he was not, which brings us to King Philip's Rock.
There are many geological sites throughout the region that bear the name "King Philip's Rock" or "King Philips Cave", some legitimate such as "King Philip's Seat" in Mount Hope, Rhode Island, and some probably are no more than just folklore. The fact is though, that the Indians did use landmarks such as large boulders and rock formations as meeting places, shelters, and even campsites. The rock that we are exploring today located in Sharon, MA. was considered to be a meeting place for the Indians to plan strategy during the war. I believe because of it's location between Wampanoag territory and the tribal lands of the Massachusetts Indians, that this site very well could be one of the locations that Philip tried to gather local support for his campaign against the English. King Philip's Cave, a short distance from the rock, very well could have been used as a shelter but more than likely was not. It is still an interesting display of glacial erratics at the least..
As you might have noticed from another of my expeditions, I don't always take the direct route to a location, I sometimes go off the beaten path, today is one of those days. The easiest and most direct route would be to approach from the east off Mansfield Street in Sharon where a parking area is provided and well-marked trails will take you to the sites. We entered from the west off of East Street in Foxboro at Greeley's Pond. The pond and the two brooks that exit it can be considered the headwaters of Canoe River which eventually empty into Lake Winnecunnet in Norton, MA. This is very close to another geologic site that bears the name "King Philips Cave" where Philip was rumored to take shelter during fishing trips to the lake.
At Greeley's Pond, there are a few trails that were cleared by the Boy Scouts of America. We take what is referred to as the white trail that is really just a loop trail a little over a mile long. On this trail at about the furthest point from the pond you'll come across a large glacial boulder on your right, to your left is a small footpath off the trail heading in an easterly direction through the woods. We take this footpath through the woods, over ridges and hills and pass by many erratics. We eventually come to a fork in the path and this peculiar sign is nailed to a tree. Well this is enough to peak my curiosity, so we decide to follow the question mark trail. After about a 10 minute walk up a ridge and then down it, the trail just ends in a swamp. So much for the question mark trail.
Disappointed in the outcome of the question mark trail, I explore the dry swamp bed for animal signs and then head back up the ridge but not by using the cleared trail. I instead was 50 to 100 yards to the left of the trail beating my way through the underbrush until I reached the top of the ridge again. This is where I noticed this tree twist. Anyone with an interest in Bigfoot will know what the possible significance of that is. From here I decide to just follow the top of the ridge back to the trail where Andrew is waiting for me and we take the trail back to the fork.
Back at the fork we take the other trail that continues in an easterly direction for some distance and then we come upon a more heavily used trail. There is also a sign here pointing the direction to King Philips Rock. We head in that direction and pass by another dry swamp bed and shortly after this the trail enters a meadow. There are a couple of bird houses placed in this meadow, I'm assuming by the Boy Scouts, and at the edge of the meadow some more signs, one pointing the direction for King Philip's Rock, the other points the direction of the parking lot off Mansfield Street. After a short hike from here following the direction of the sign we finally arrive at King Philips Rock.
The rock or in this case rocks are a large deposit of glacial erratics. There are many boulders here, some atop others forming passageways, some which looked like they split off from each other, all arranged in a fairly tight cluster. There is a sign nearby explaining the significance of the site. After viewing the beauty of this formation for awhile it is easy to imagine that this site had some significance to the Indians as well.
After taking a little bit of a rest at this site, we continue on to our next stop, King Philip's Cave. We return to the trail and are greeted with yet another sign pointing to the direction of KP's cave. After another 15-20 minute walk through the woods, we come upon another large out cropping of boulders on the edge of a dried up swamp. This group of boulders is known as King Philip's Cave. The placement of these boulders actually forms what could be considered more than one cave. The main cave is entered from atop one of the rocks and drops down and under the other boulders. There is barely room enough for one person and because you enter from above it does not provide much cover from the elements. This is why I said earlier that it could have been used as a shelter but most likely wasn't. The second cave is much smaller and provides even less shelter. Also at this site a short distance to the left of the boulders that form the caves is one very large glacial boulder. This mammoth boulder is at least 10'wide by 30'feet long and 20'high on one side.
If these sites interest you enough that you want to visit them I would recommend the easier route and not the one we took. The terrain was somewhat rough and very hilly and there were not really any points of interest along the way except of course the question mark trail.