Greenfield — Indian Warfare

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      Our town has not a great deal of exciting history of Indian warfare. In 1676, during King Philip's war, the soldiers under Capt. Turner, who assaulted the Indians at the Falls, came up on the west side of the Green River and crossed near what is now known as Nash's Mill, then turned to the east, through the forest, following an Indian trail upon the north edge of the swamp till they reached the level ground north-west of Factory village. Dismounting here, and leaving their horses in charge of a small guard, they hastened noiselessly down into the hollow, forded Fall River just above the upper bridge, scaled the abrupt bank on the opposite side, and then reached the summit north of where Mr. Stoughton's house now stands, just as the day was dawning.
      The white soldiers were completely successful in destroying the Indian camp. They returned to the place where they had left their horses to commence a triumphant march homeward. Just then an unaccountable panic seized upon the men, and the victory of the morning became a stampede for personal safety. The tradition is that a party of the soldiers were lost in the woods and swamps, were taken prisoners, and were burned to death.
      Capt. William Turner, who commanded the English force, was a Boston man, "a tailor by trade, but one that for his valor has left behind him an honorable memory." He had been prominent in the controversy respecting Baptism which had agitated the Massachusetts colony a few years before. He came from Dartmouth, England, "having been a regular walker in the Baptist order before he came to this country." The magistrates, with the mistaken idea that they could annihilate obnoxious opinions by severe measures against the holders of those opinions, proceeded in October, 1665, to disfranchise five persons who held the obnoxious doctrine of baptism by immersion; of these, Wm. Turner was one. Shortly after, we find him in prison for his heretical opinions. How long he remained in prison I am unable to learn; but he seems to have been active in maintaining worship after the Baptist form in the spring of 1668. A public dispute was held in the meeting-house of the First Church, in Boston, between six of the ministers of that region and a company of Baptists. The dispute lasted two days, and, strange to say, came to nothing. The Baptists would not be converted to the doctrines of their opponents, who, being the stronger party, proceeded to sentence them to banishment from the colony, and declared them liable to imprisonment if they returned. The sentence of banishment is a curiosity. I give only the substance: "Whereas, the council did appoint a meeting of divers elders, and whereas, Thomas Gould, William Turner (and others), obstinate and turbulent Ana-Baptists, did assert their former practice before these elders, to the great grief and offense of the godly Orthodox,—to the disturbance and destruction of the churches;—this council do judge it necessary that they be removed to some other part of this country, and do accordingly order said Gould, Turner, etc., to remove themselves out of this jurisdiction." Among those on whom this sentence was passed was Wm. Turner. But so strong was the remonstrance against such oppressiv proceedings that the sentence was never carried into execution. This was the end of the controversy with the Baptists.
      The persecuted tailor of 1668 appears again as Capt. Turner in the spring of 1676, leading 89 foot-soldiers from Marlboro' to Northampton, and is soon in command of the troops at Hadley. Bachus, in his "History of the Baptists of New England," from which I get this information, relates that "in the beginning of the war this William Turner gathered a company of volunteers, but was denied a commission and discouraged because the chief of the company were Ana-baptists. Afterward, when the war grew more general and destructive, and the country in very great distress, he was desired to accept a commission." Under date of April 25, 1676, he wrote to the council of Massachusetts as follows: "The soldiers here are in great distress for want of clothing, both woolen and linen. Some has been brought from Quabaug (Brookfield), but not an eighth of what we want. I beseech your Honors that my wife may have my wages due, to supply the wants of my family. I should be glad if some better person might be found for this employment, for my weakness of body and often infirmities will hardly suffer me to do my duty as I ought, and it would grieve me to neglect anything that might be for the good of the country in this day of their distress." This has the ring of true patriotism, in spite of his imprisonments and persecutions. In 1667 the Baptists found themselves compelled to make a defense against the charge of "disobedience to the government." In that defense they say, "Both our persons and estates are always ready at command to be serviceable in the defense of the country,—yea, and have voluntarily offered on the high places of the field in the time of the country's greatest, extremity; among whom was William Turner, whom they pleased to make captain, who had been one of the greatest sufferers among us for the profession of religion. He was a very worthy man for soldiery; and after that by him who was then commander-in-chief—an instrument in the hands of the Lord—was the greatest blow struck to the Indians of any they had received; for after this they were broken and scattered, so that they were overcome and subdued with ease." His wife, in a petition to the council, says her husband voluntarily and freely offered himself, and was then in the service of the country with his son and servants. The council granted her £7. When the expedition started for the Falls, Capt. Turner commanded. He seems to have been a man of skill and courage, but, enfeebled by sickness, he had not bodily strength to act with energy. In the retreat he was shot by the Indians through the thigh and back as he was passing Green River (near Nash's mills). His body was afterward found not far away.
      It is thought that Mrs. John Williams, the wife of the minister of Deerfield, who was taken captive with her family at the destruction of the town in 1704, was killed at the foot of the Leyden Hills, a mile or so north of the Ballou farm, in quite the north limit of the town. Sick and faint, she was unable to keep up with the party, and the Indians, to free themselves of the incumbrance, killed her. Her body was recovered, and buried at Deerfield.
      The year following the incorporation of the town,—i.e., 1754,—at a town-meeting it was voted that they picket three houses in this district forthwith. That Joshua Wells', James Corse's, and Shubael Atherton's be the houses that are to be picketed. James Corse's house stood where the Leavitt House now stands, next east of the Mansion House; Shubael Atherton's, at what is known as Stocking Fort, or Stockaded Fort, opposite Snow's green-house; and Joshua Wells', where G. D. Williams, Esq., had lived. The well-authenticated tradition is that a subterranean passage led from the cellar of this house to the brow of the hill north. These picketed houses were surrounded by a strong fence of timber, set in the ground quite close together, each one sharpened at the top, eight or nine feet high above the ground. No Indian could get through, nor over, these fences without aid. To these houses the people could fly in seasons of danger, and take refuge when they feared a midnight attack from a merciless foe. Around these houses, or in their immediate neighborhood, the inhabitants gathered. Their existence tells a pathetic tale of danger and anxiety on the part of the people.
      In 1756 the people improved their land as far north as Country Farms, but lived in the village for safety. Five men--Benjamin Hastings, John Graves, Daniel Graves, Shubael Atherton, and Nathaniel Brooks--were at work on the farm where J. A. Picket now lives. They placed their guns against a stack of flax, and were busy in another part of the field. A party of Indians concealed near by slipped in between them and their guns, and fired upon them. Deprived of their weapons, they sought safety in flight, and proved themselves good runners at least.
      Hastings and John Graves fled across the river, and brought up at the Arms farm, where Mr. John Thayer now lives. Hastings said the ferns in the field over which he passed grew as high as his waist, but that he ran over the tops of them. A good story for the deacon to tell! We will at least give him credit for a good use of his legs.
      John Graves, a young man then, who escaped with him, was grandfather of our respected fellow-citizen, Deacon J. J. Graves. Atherton concealed himself near the river in some brushwood, but was discovered and shot. Daniel Graves, the father of John, and Brooks were taken captive. Graves was old and infirm, and unable to travel; he was killed soon after they left the spot, near the Glen Brook, just below the gorge. Brooks never returned, and nothing is known of his fate. He bears the same name that tradition assigns to the first settler of the town. From that time there is no record of any trouble with the Indians.
      When settlements were first begun here, as in other places the people gathered together in villages for the purpose of mutual protection from the Indians. Here the first settlements were on or near Main Street. Here were the picketed houses. It is an interesting question when families ventured out of the village to live on the outlying farms. I can find no record of any house built beyond the region of the village before 1760, which may be regarded as closing the long and terrible tragedy of the French-and-Indian war. For a period of one hundred and twenty-four years, says Dr. Holland, from the first settlement at Springfield, in 1636, the inhabitants of old Hampshire County had been exposed to the dangers, fears, toils, and trials of Indian wars and border depredations. Children had been born, had grown up to manhood and descended to old age, knowing little or nothing of peace and tranquillity. Hundreds had been killed, and large numbers carried into captivity.
      Men, women, and children had been butchered by scores. There is hardly a square acre-certainly not a square mile-in the Connecticut Valley that has not been tracked by the flying feet of fear, resounded with the groans of the dying, or served as the scene of toils made doubly toilsome by an apprehension of danger which never slept. Among such scenes and trials the settlements of Western Massachusetts were planted.
      The end of these dangers came when peace was proclaimed, in 1763.* Did any of the people of Greenfield move away from their defenses before 1763? Who knows? If they were all concentrated in the village, it may seem strange that the committee, in 1753, should have fixed the place for erecting a meeting-house at "Trap Plain," a mile north of the village and away from all roads, and strange that in 1760 the people should have ratified that choice and laid out roads east and west to the spot. The present road north from the village, called Federal Street, was not opened till 1788. Before that time people reached the church by going up the Gill road to the burying-ground, or the Country Farms road to Nash's mills.
      The road known as Silver Street was laid out in 1760, the very year the town voted to build the meeting-house. The explanation of locating the church so far away from the settlement is found in the fact that it was the custom to put the meeting-house as near as possible in the territorial centre of the town. "Trap Plain" met the requirement in this particular, seeing that the territory of Gill had to be considered. On account of the swamp, it could not have been placed farther north. When it was decided to build, the necessary roads were opened to it.

* Treaty of peace signed Feb. 10, 1763.

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