Photographs (left to right): Black Racer, Paynes Prairie, Florida; Mohave Desert, Nevada; Monhonk, New York

Wampum Belt Archive


Wampanoag Nation

Metacom's (King Philip) Belt 1677

(Courtesy American Ancestors)

No belt image


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From: American Ancestors


From 1676 to 1677 King Philip’s War ravaged villages of the English and Wampanoag in Southeastern Massachusetts to become known as the bloodiest conflict to be fought on American soil. King Philip, the English title bestowed on the Wampanoag Sachem Metacom, fought to his last breath defending his people, their heritage, their sovereignty, and their land. In the final act of that bloody war Metacom was slain by Captain Benjamin Church after which the sachem’s loyal war chief, Anawon, turned over the most sacred tribal treasures of Metacom before he himself was killed. The items as described in The Diary of King Philip’s War published by Church’s son in 1716 included:

“Philip’s belt, curiously woven of wampum nine inches broad in black and white figures and flowers, and many pictures of birds and bears. This when hung upon Captain Church’s shoulders it reached to his ankles. And another belt of wampum he presented to him wrought after the former manner, which Philip was wont to put upon his head. It had two flags on the back part which hung down his back, and another small belt with a star upon the end of it, while he used to hang upon his breast.”

The most revered of these treasures was the wampum belt that served as a document of the tribe’s history interpreted through images and symbols woven into the design. The beads and weaving represented a collective of contributions from diverse tribal artisans. Belts such as this one were held by the most highly regarded leaders and often left unfinished to invite the continuation of the story.

Commensurate to the British Crown Jewels, Metacom’s belt is sorely missed among the Wampanoag and has been the subject of an intensive international search that began in the late 1970s and continues to this day.

In 1677 Metacom’s treasures were sent by Plymouth Colony Governor Josiah Winslow, along with a detailed report of the conflict, to King James II by the hand of Winslow’s brother-in-law Major Waldegrave Pelham of Essex. Not for two years did Winslow discover that his missive and the war spoils were never received by the king. Pelham had disappeared owing his wife money and was never heard from again.

In 1979 Massachusetts scholars and historians exchanged correspondence with museum archivists, libraries, and scholars in the United Kingdom, specifically Essex. Wampanoag tribal member Amelia Peters Bingham also traveled to the UK to implore that the British reveal the where abouts of Metacom’s belt and other tribal treasures and repatriate them to the Wampanoag. The effort generated scores of polite scholarly correspondences, but no word of the belt and no news about a trail gone cold on Waldegrave Pelham.

The Ashmolean Museum Department of Antiquities replied that all the pieces in their collection were connected to the settlement in Virginia and “we do not have any pieces which resemble at all closely those you describe.”

“There is no shortage of reference to the Essex Waldegraves,” responded Mr. W. R. C. Longley of the University of Essex Library, “but I have not traced any detail concerning the Waldegrave-Pelham branch of the family.”

Today a new generation of Wampanoag scholars continues the search for Metacom’s treasures and the priceless belt, including making visits to Essex and the archives of the British Museum.



American Ancestors. New England Historic Geneaological Society.