|Died||June 4, 1647|
Canonicus (c. 1565 – June 4, 1647) was a Native American chief of the Narragansett people. Although wary of the European newcomers, he bowed before superior armaments and surrendered a portion of the territory of his people to the immigrants without war. He ultimately proved to be a firm friend of Roger Williams and other English settlers.
Canonicus was born around 1565. Nothing is known of his early life.
In the words of historian Benjamin Lossing, Canonicus "regarded the advent of the white men with a jealous fear" and in 1622 he challenged the Plymouth colony, in front of a force of about 5,000 men. As a challenge to the head of Plymouth colony, William Bradford, Canonicus sent a bundle of arrows in a leather wrap tied with a snake skin. In reply, Bradford filled the wrap with gunpowder and lead round shot and returned it to Canonicus.
This first exposure to explosive powder and metal was met with "superstitious awe," in the words of Lossing, who added:
"They were sent from village to village, and excited so much alarm, that the sachem sued for peace, and made a treaty of friendship; which he never violated, notwithstanding, he often received provocations that would have justified him in scattering all compacts to the winds."
The peace that resulted extended between the Narragansett and the English colonists extended beyond Canonicus's death in 1647.
When Roger Williams and his company felt constrained to withdraw from Massachusetts Bay Colony, they sought refuge with the Narragansett tribe at a place that is now part of Providence, Rhode Island, where Canonicus made them welcome. In 1636, he gave Williams the large tract of land which became the first nucleus of the colony of Providence Plantation. In 1637, Canonicus was largely responsible for the Narragansetts' decision to side with the English during the Pequot War.
Upon retiring Canonicus was initially succeeded by his nephew Miantonomoh, but Canonicus returned to power after Miantonomoh was killed in 1643. On April 19, 1644, Canonicus made a formal treaty acknowledging the sovereignty of Britain. The influence of his counsels lasted for many years after his death, and the Narragansett tribe maintained peaceful relations with the English until King Philip's War in 1675. After Canonicus' death, his nephew, Pessicus, (1623-1676) changed his name to Canonicus to honor his uncle.
- Inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, 1997
- Four United States Navy ships have been named USS Canonicus.
- Camp Canonicus, an American Baptist camp in Exeter, Rhode Island.
- There is an avenue named after Canonicus in Newport, Rhode Island.
- The name of Conanicut Island.
- Portrayed by Michael Greyeyes in the National Geographic Channel's miniseries Saints & Strangers
- Benjamin J. Lossing, Eminent Americans, Comprising Brief Biographies of Leading Statesmen, Patriots, Orators and Others, Men and Women, Who Have Made American History. New York: John B. Alden, 1886; pg. 15.
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Canonicus". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
- An American Biographical and Historical Dictionary: Containing an Account of the Lives, Characters, and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons in North America from Its First Settlement, and a Summary of the History of the Several Colonies and of the United States By William Allen Edition: 2 Published by W. Hyde & Co., 1832 
- King Philip's War: The Conflict Over New England By Daniel R. Mandell, pg. 55
- Pessicus, 1623 - 1676 https://yipp.yale.edu/bio/bibliography/pessicus-1623-1676
- Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships: Canonicus (ship namesake paragraph)