If you want to walk amongst ghosts of the past, the walk from Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum to the rocky outcropping forever known as King Philip’s Seat offers ample opportunity to feel you are. This is where the sachem Metacom (aka Metacomet), who had once taken the English name Philip as a gesture of goodwill, waged war on the English settlers in King Philip’s War from 1675 to 1678, when Metacom was killed. Metacom was the second son of Massasoit, who was born near this spot too, as countless generations of Pokanoket were. If Massasoit is remembered for trying to manage a peaceful coexistence with the English settlers, Metacom is remembered as the first to rise up against the relentless encroachment on their lands.
Walking through the woods on an old paved road slowly being consumed by the forest, I spooked a hawk from the ground and watched it leap to the sky and arc above me, white feathers on blue sky. A sign? A welcome from Metacom or another ghost from the Pokanoket? I keep moving and soon after I saw the rock outcropping that was Metacom’s seat. And it just looked like a seat of power, silently commanding the forest and looking out to the bay, just like its sachems did before they passed, and the land passed to the settlers. Pokanoket survivors were sold into slavery in the West Indies, a final, brutal indignity.
I’m told that the Pokanoket recently attempted a takeover attempt to win back the land from Brown University. 341 years after Metacom’s death this place still evokes passion. This is one reason I had to get a permit to enter private property, and I was only given an hour to walk around. It was enough time this time, though I’d like to go back again knowing I missed more than I saw. I was alone as I walked and relied on written directions and one sign on the property to inform me where I should go. Instinctively I climbed the outcropping to see what Metacom saw: blue water above the dancing treetops. But I relied on a feeling about the place not signage. It seems they’ve made it challenging enough to visit that most people don’t. But I never really felt alone. That hawk, and many more spirits in the wind, were with me the whole time.