The French and Indian raid on Deerfield Massachusetts, 1704

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Materials for a talk given by:
James Nohl Churchyard
1694 Santa Margarita Drive
Fallbrook, CA 92028-1639

Comments, corrections, and additions welcomed!


Table of Contents


Material from New England Society: War and Society in Colonial Deerfield, Richard I. Melvoin (1989)

Introduction

Three dramatic battles leap out of the celebrated past of an isolated little colonial village in western Massachusetts. ...

[1664: Mohawk Indians defeat the Pocumtuck tribe.
1675: Indians attack the English settlement of Pocumtuck, as part of "King Philip's War"]

... Almost three decades have passed and "Pocumtuck" is no more. But a new village has arisen on the old site. Shunning the former Indian name, the English settlers now call the place Deerfield. By 1704 the town has grown to 260 people. The size of the town suggests stability. Yet like its predecessors Deerfield lies alone and exposed on the frontier. There are still no English settlements west of Deerfield for fifty miles, until one reaches the Hudson River and New York. Nor are there English towns north of Deerfield at all. To the east, too, lie forty miles of wilderness.

As in 1664 and 1675, the late summer of 1703 has been a time of great anxiety. Activities of late spring have once again brought forth these fears. In May, early in the conflict known as Queen Anne's War, New York governor Lord Cornbury sent word that French soldiers and allied Indians from Canada were heading for Deerfield and the Connecticut valley. As of September a stressful summer has passed peacefully. Then in October, a small Indian force strikes, capturing two Deerfield men. Tensions heighten; the town strengthens its fortifications; the Massachusetts General Court sends soldiers to help protect the town. As of December, though, all is quiet. The cold and snow of winter now promise further respite, for in 1704 wars are not fought in the depths of winter.

But now the quiet of the winter is about to be shattered. Two hours before dawn on the fateful leap-year morning of February 29, 1704, Deerfield's inhabitants lie asleep inside the town's palisade. Because the Indian threat remains, all the town's residents, including the twenty Massachusetts soldiers just arrived from Boston, sleep in the dozen houses inside the fort. The other thirty or so houses outside the palisade lie empty. A watchman is assigned to patrol the town through the night. In the pre-dawn hours, however, he proves unfaithful to his duty. That breach of faith soon proves fatal.

Two miles north of town, just across the Deerfield River, lies a military force of two hundred to three hundred French and Indians. These men have traveled close to three hundred miles to reach this spot. Now they are ready to attack. Silently they cross the river and traverse two miles of open farmland toward the sleeping town. They are able to move quietly, for deep snow dampens all sound. Winter aids them in another way as well. Heavy drifts have piled snow against the walls of the fort, drifts so high that the attackers can easily scale the walls. Without a night watch to contend with, the warriors quickly move inside. The signal comes -- a cry rings out -- and the attack begins.

Although the townspeople fight back bravely, the French and Indian force is too strong and their advantage too great. Even the reinforcements who charge up from Hadley and Hatfield cannot turn the tide. At battle's end, the survivors grimly assess the town's losses. Fifty-six English men, women, and children lie dead; another 109 have been captured. In all, three-fifths of the town's people are gone. Almost half the houses have been burned.

Unlike the villages of 1664 and 1675, Deerfield is not abandoned this time around, but only because the region's military commander will not allow it. As it is, the town barely clings to life. It is years before survival is assured.

These three events have given Deerfield much fame over the years. The town gained immediate notoriety throughout New England after the events of both 1675 and 1704. That fame grew after 1707 when Deerfield's minister, the Reverend John Williams, published his view of the events of 1704 in The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion. One part jeremiad and one part gripping captivity narrative, the book proved to be an eighteenth century "best-seller," going through six editions before 1800. The story of 1704 received still wider attention late in the nineteenth century when Francis Parkman made "The Sack of Deerfield" a chapter in his volume Half Century of Conflict.

The significance of these events has proven less clear than their fame. There was nothing vitally strategic about Pocumtuck or Deerfield in 1664, 1675, or 1704. Deerfield never proved particularly important after all the attacks ended, either. By 1750 it was simply an increasingly prosperous little farm town. By the 1800s it had become a sleepy rural village that the industrial revolution passed by.

Yet the stories that spin out of this place form a rich tapestry of early New England life. There are stories about the Indians who lived there, the lives they led and the problems they faced; about English settlers striving to build a town; about the inexorable destruction of the Indian natives of New England; about the decades English settlers lived under the almost constant threat of war; about the difficulties of frontier existence; about the complex relationships among different European and Indian forces, in trade and politics as well as in war; about violence and death. Deerfield was not "typical" -- its drama and violence hardly make it representative of "the New England town." But the events and actions and people that make it special can tell us much of what early New England was all about. The tapestry that emerges has a unique pattern; yet the strands that form it could be found in many different places throughout early America.


Tales from Old Deerfield -- Notes by James Nohl Churchyard, 12 May 1995

Where, What, When

Deerfield lies about halfway between Boston and Albany -- 95 miles east of Albany, 80 miles west of Boston, 230 miles south of Montreal -- all straight line distances.


[See the map.]

Three different massacres occurred here.

  1. Mohawks destroyed the Pocumtuck village in 1664
  2. Indians destroyed the white settlement in 1675 (King Philip's War)
  3. French and Indians burned much of the town, killed many, and took captives back to Canada.

Other than being at the edge of settlement, the town never had any strategic significance or any wealth. Indeed, taxes paid by other towns were forgiven Deerfield.

Tales of Some Captives

[The first several families are shown on the genealogical chart below.]

John Catlin and wife Mary (Baldwin) Catlin

No family suffered more than his in the destruction of the town on 29 February 1704. He was killed trying to defend their house. Their sons Joseph and Jonathan were also killed. Their married daughters Mary French and Elizabeth Corse were killed during the subsequent march to Canada.

Mary (Baldwin) Catlin, "being held with the other prisoners in John Sheldon's house, gave a cup of water to a young French officer who was dying. He was perhaps a brother of Hertel de Rouville. May it not have been gratitude for this act that she was left behind when the order came to march? She died of grief a few weeks later."


[Further information on this family is available.]

Elizabeth Catlin Corse

She was the daughter of John and Mary (Baldwin) Catlin. She married James Corse about 1690; he died in May 1696. She was taken with the captives but killed on the way by the Indians. Her son, James Corse, went to Canada in 1730 to try to bring his sister home, without success.


[Further information on this family is available.]

Elisabeth (Corse) Dumontet, Monette

Daughter of James and Elizabeth (Catlin) Corse, born in Deerfield on 6 February 1696. So she was just 8 when she was carried away captive to Canada. She was baptized a Catholic on 14 July 1705. In the next year, aged ten, she asked to become a citizen. In 1712, at La Prairie, she married Jean Dumontet, a man aged about 53. After a marriage of almost seventeen years her first husband died.

Elisabeth must have been an attractive widow for in less than a year (1730) she married a man Younger than herself -- Pierre Monet. His younger brother in 1732 married her oldest daughter. After an eventful life she passed away at the age of 70 and was buried on 30 January 1766 at La Prairie.


[Further information on this family is available.]

John and Ruth Catlin

John Catlin (born 8 January 1687) and his sister Ruth (born 1684?) survived the rigors of the trip to Canada and back. According to tradition, Ruth was a delicate girl, yet equal to the journey. When she was tired of a burden she would throw it back as far as possible. Her brother feared that the Indians might kill her, but they laughed and went back for it. They acted as though she were a great lady. When others were hungry she had plenty and gave food to John. The same tradition says that he spent his two years of captivity with a priest, who was unable to convert him, but who supplied him with money and necessary articles when they parted.

He was redeemed in 1706 and then she was redeemed in 1707. He returned to Deerfield, married and fathered a numerous progeny.

Thomas French's Family

He was blacksmith, town clerk and deacon. He and all his family were taken. His house was not burned, so the town records were saved. His wife was Mary Catlin, daughter of John and Mary (Baldwin) Catlin. They were married 18 October 1683. She was killed on the trip on 9 March 1703/4. He and their two eldest children were redeemed in 1706. He married again and died in 1733.

Two of their daughters who stayed in Canada married and had large families. The third daughter assimilated into the Indians at Kahnawake. One great-grandson was Archbishop Octave Plessis, who was the ranking churchman to champion the Catholic viewpoint to the British government in the first decades of the 1800's. That the Church survived is largely due to his efforts.

Joseph Kellogg

He was the son of Martin and Sarah (Dickinson / Lane). The mother was not captured, but the father and four children were carried away, a fifth child killed.

Joseph was twelve and seems to have unusual experiences, for he says "I travelled two & fro amongst the French and Indians" learning "the French language as well as those of all the tribes of Indians I traded with, and Mohawks, & had got into a very good way of business: So as to get Considerable of monies ... & handsomely to support myself & was under no restraint at all."

He was perhaps the first New Englander to see the Mississippi River. In 1715 he returned. Always thereafter his skills were called on. He died in 1756 at Schenectady while on the expedition against Oswego.

His brother Martin Kellogg returned as did the youngest sister Rebecca. Joanna Kellog, aged 11 in 1704, married an Indian at Caughnawaga. There is a record of her visiting her brother Martin in CT.

The Stebbins Family

John Stebbins, his wife, Dorothy, and their six children were all captured. Not one was killed, probably because daughter Abigail had married Jean de Noyon, a French coureur de bois, living in Deerfield, on 3 February 1704 -- 26 days before the fatal attack. John and son John Jr. were redeemed -- the rest of the children stayed in Canada, became Catholic and were naturalized. Apparently Jean had promised a better situation to his bride than he mastered, for in 1708 his wife petitioned for permission to take a mortgage to buy land in her own name to support her numerous family. Her siblings are poorly documented, but marriages for some of them are on record and the name Stebbins, in various spellings, is in the Montreal directory.

The Williams Family

Rev. John Williams, a Harvard graduate, was installed as minister in Deerfield in 1686. A year later he married Eunice Mather, a member of the widespread Puritan ecclesiastical family. He was a special target for captivity, as the Boston authorities held Jean-Baptiste Guyon whom the Canadians wanted returned. His memoir of the events is the famed The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, first printed in 1707 and reprinted continually thereafter.

Their two little children and a negro woman were killed in the assault. He, his wife, five children, and a negro man were taken. The eldest child alone was spared -- he was away at school. His wife, having had the baby but a few weeks before, was very weak. On the second day of the journey north they said their farewells, and were separated. She fell down while wading a small river and "was plunged over head and ears in the water; after which she travelled not far, for the cruel and bloodthirsty savage slew her with his hatchet." But what else could be done on a forced march through the winter snows?

His party took seven weeks to reach Fort Chambly. During his captivity he was constantly pressured to convert to catholicism, but ignored all blandishments. He encouraged his fellow captives as much as possible. He was redeemed, along with about 60 other captives, and arrived in Boston on 21 November 1706 with great joy.

Four of their children were redeemed and returned to New England, one continuing in the ministry. The one that remained was the subject of endless communications between New England, Albany, and Montreal. She was Eunice Williams, who lived in Caughnawaga. She received the Mohawk name A'ongote, which means "She (was) taken and placed (as a member of their tribe)." In early 1713 she married an Indian named Arosen. They had at least three children, two daughters and a son. Both daughters married Indian men, one of whom became the grand chief of the village, the other also a prominent figure. The fact that the daughters married so well indicates that Eunice was held in high esteem in her adoptive tribe.

A study of the known facts about Eunice has recently been published under the apposite title The Unredeemed Captive.

Mehuman Hinsdale

He was the first white child born in Pocumtuck / Deerfield in 1673. His father, grandfather, and two Hindsdale uncles were killed at Bloody Brook. His only child was killed in the 1704 attack; he and his wife marched to Canada with the rest of the captives. In 1706 they were redeemed, but then in April, 1709, he was again "captivated" and forced to run the gauntlet. After the war he was sent to France, then exchanged to London, and returned to Rhode Island, whence he got home in safety.

Statistics

The following is a rough tally of those who experienced the 1704 massacre and the march to Canada.

Starting population                  283
Killed on 29 February 1704
  in town                       39
  meadow fight                   2
  (+7 more but not from Dfld)
                                --
                                41   242
left at home                         130     taken on march     112
  (+10 garrison soldiers)                    died along way      21
                                                                ----
                                             arrived in Canada   91


     mortality on the way       started    died     survived
       infants < 2                4          3          1
       children 3 to 12          35          4         31
       teenagers 13 to 19        21                    21
       adult women               26         10         16
       adult men                 26          4         22
                                ---         ---       ---
                                112         21         91

WHY? ? ?

Why did this event happen, what were the motives, and what lesson does this event have for us today?

  1. Canada was a French government undertaking. Inherent in all such is the need for progress reports, "body counts," and such documentation establishing the benefits to the government for its financial support.
  2. The New Englanders had been pressing on the Abenakis of Maine. They demanded the French show their sincerity by an attack on the English. "Thus this representative of a Christian nation, sent an army through the wilderness, not to fight an English force, but to surprise and butcher the settlers of an English plantation three hundred miles away, merely to keep on good terms with a savage tribe, and gratify his own ambition. It was an act of hardly less than cold-blooded murder."
  3. The English, in Boston, held Jean-Baptiste Guyon, whom they termed a pirate. The French considered him a naval officer and needed a hostage of standing for exchange. So they specifically targetted Rev. John Williams for this purpose.
  4. Being a child in Puritan New England, especially a girl, was not that encouraging. Many young people stayed in Canada -- some as Indians, some as French -- and raised their families there.
  5. History is made memorable by those who wrote it down. Similar events happened in many places, but those places did not have the eloquence of a John Williams to capture the imagination of future generations.

One lesson this event holds for us today is that defenses must be kept at peak at all times. The attack came in midwinter, when farmers think of the world as asleep. But frozen snow was a paved path for the invaders. The guard was not faithful, but even had he been, the snow was banked up to the top of the stockade. What is a wall if it is not watched, and easy to circumvent?


*See the Map of the route of the march of the Deerfield captives.

Chart of Catlin and French of Deerfield, 22 April 1995

                    ancestry to
                      1400's
                        |
                        |
              1662      |
  John Catlin === Mary Baldwin    Ebenezer Corse === Sarah Warner
  (1643-1704)  |   (1644-1704)                    |(these in England)
               |                                  +------------------+
               |                                                     |
   +-----------+----+------------------------------------+           |
   |   1683         |                                    |           |
  Mary === Thomas   +- Hannah m. Thomas Bascom           |           |
(-1704) |  French   +- Esther m. Ebenezer Smead      Elizabeth === James
        | (-1733)   +- Sarah m. Thomas Mitchell       (-1704)   |  Corse
+-------+           | (The above not in Deerfield               | (1666-
|                   |  at the time of massacre.)                |  1696)
|     +-------------+                             +-------------+
|     |                                           |
|     +- Joseph (1677-1704) m. Hannah Sheldon     +- Ebenezer (1692-)
|     +- Jonathan (1680-1704)                     |
|     +- Ruth (1684) taken to Canada,             +- James (1693-)
|     |     redeemed 1707                         |  visited sister 1730
|     +- John (1687-) taken to Canada,            |
|           redeemed 1706                         |    1712
|                                            Elizabeth === Jean Dumontet
+- Mary, aged 17 in 1704 ] redeemed with    (1696-1766) |  (1659-1729)
+- Thomas, aged 14       ] father in 1706               |
+- Freedom, aged 11, married                            +- oth. children
|    Paul Daveluy, 11 children                          |
|                                             Marie-Elisabeth (1717-1767)
+- Martha, aged 8; married 1st Jacques Roi,       m. 1732 François Monet
|   10 children; second, Jean-Louis Mesnard,          (great-great-great-
|   3 children (of whom Marie-Louise Mesnard           great-great-grand-
|   was mother of Archbishop Joseph Octave Plessis)     parents of James
|                                                        Nohl Churchyard)
+- Abigail, aged 6, became an Indian, lived and
    died at Caughnawaga, never married

Further information on the Catlin and Corse families, and on Elizabeth Corse (Casse) and her second marriage, is also available.


References:

  1. Rev. John Williams, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion: or a Faithful History of Remarkable Occurrences in the Captivity and Deliverance of Mr. John Williams, first edition Boston, 1707, many more since then.
  2. George Sheldon, A History of Deerfield Massachusetts: The Times when and the People by whom it was Settled, Unsettled, and Resettled, with a Special Study of the Indian Wars in the Connecticut Valley. With Genealogies, two volumes, Deerfield, MA 1895
  3. C. Alice Baker, True Stories of New England Captives Carried to Canada during the Old French and Indian Wars, Cambridge, 1897, currently available from Heritage Books, pp. 89-333, 358-399
  4. Emma Lewis Coleman, New England Captives Carried to Canada between 1677 and 1760 during the French and Indian Wars, Portland, ME, 1925, (currently available from Heritage Books) Volume II, pp. 33-131
  5. Richard I. Melvoin, New England Outpost: War and Society in Colonial Deerfield, Norton & Co., NY 1989
  6. Russell Bourne, The Red King's Rebellion: Racial Politics in New England 1675-1678, Atheneum, NY 1990 -- contains several mentions of Pocumtuck / Deerfield.
  7. John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1994
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