Historians have long noted that the patriots won many Revolutionary War battles by hiding behind trees, fences, and other defenses. They learned this type of fighting— often called “Indian” or “backwoods” warfare —from observing the Native Americans in battle. And it was one colonist — Benjamin Church—who learned the value of these Native American skills and brought them to the attention of his fellow colonists.
Church, who was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was the son of a carpenter, and he followed his father into that trade. In 1671 , he married Alice Southworth. The couple was building a home at Sogkonates, Rhode Island, when disturbances broke out between the settlers and the local tribes.
Church managed to persuade the Sogkonates Indians to refrain from joining Indian leader Metacomet (also known as King Philip) in his war against the settlers. Church then joined the militia raised to fight the war.
Church was wounded twice in the Great Swamp Fight, which took place on December 19, 1675. After the battle, he persuaded many Native Americans to join his militia group by offering them the harsh choice of enlistment or slavery. By early 1676, Church had become one of the main leaders of the Massachusetts militia. He advocated fighting the enemy by using Indian methods.
As King Philip’s War came to a close, the success of Church’s methods became obvious. He took King Philip’s wife and son prisoner, and on August 12, 1676, Church’s force ambushed and killed King Philip himself near Bristol, Rhode Island. After this successful action, Church was renowned as the foremost English- American expert on warfare in North America.
Church returned to a peaceful and uneventful life as a carpenter and farmer. It was not until the start of the French and Indian wars that he emerged again as an important figure. Serving first as a major, and then as a colonel of militia, Church led a total of five expeditions against the French and their Indian allies in Acadia (modern-day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick).
He enjoyed some noted successes, but he retired in bitter disappointment in 1704, when he felt his compensation was inadequate to meet the expenses he had poured into his campaigns. Church died near Little Compton after a fall from his horse in 1718.
Church was the first colonist to adopt “Indian-style” warfare. His successes, led many other colonial Americans to adopt the same warfare tactics. The greatest influence of his methods could be seen on April 19, 1775, when thousands of American “Minute Men” harassed the British troops as they retreated from Concord to Boston.