Northfield — Indian Troubles

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

      Northfield, being—as its name implies—one of the extreme northern settlements in Massachusetts Bay at the time of its English occupation, in 1673, was called upon to sustain severe trials and misfortunes during the Indian wars which raged between the opening of King Philip's war, in 1675, and the final cessation of Indian hostilities, in 1763. Twice was the settlement abandoned in consequence of these wars, but the people undertook heroically to pursue their fortunes a third time, and remained, despite the fact that they were compelled to pass through the fire of three more wars before peace became permanent.
      The destruction of Brookfield in August, 1675, as one of the earliest notes in King Philip's war, awakened anxiety and fear at Northfield, and, about the middle of August, Joseph Dickinson went down to Hadley to obtain troops for the protection of the settlement. Meanwhile, on the morning of September 2d, a considerable force of Indians appeared before the settlement, and the settlers, unconscious of impending danger, being engaged in their daily avocations, fell an easy prey to the savages. The Rev. John Hubbard relates that "some were killed in their houses, others as they were coming out of the meadows. The rest—men, women, and children—fled to the fort. The savages kept around them, killed many of their cattle, destroyed their grain, burnt up the houses outside the stockade, and laid all waste."
      The whites killed in this assault were Samuel Wright, Ebenezer Janes, Jonathan Janes, Ebenezer Parsons, John Peck, Nathaniel Curtis, Thomas Scott, and Benjamin Dunwich.
      September 4th.—Capt. Richard Beers, in response to Dickinson's appeal on behalf of Northfield, having been detailed from Hadley with a force of 36 mounted men to "fetch off the garrison and people of Squakheag," was nearing the village close to what is now known as Beers' Plain, when his command fell into an Indian ambuscade, at the crossing of what is now called Saw-mill Brook. The whites rallied and made a sharp stand at the south end of Beers' Plain, but the Indians were in overwhelming force, and slaughtered—according to Rev. John Hubbard's narrative—twenty of Capt. Beers' men, while the residue of those in the fight-thirteen—escaped to Hadley. The names of only thirteen of the killed are preserved, to wit: Capt. Richard Beers, John Getchell, Benjamin Crackbone, Ephraim Child, George Lickens, John Wilson, Thomas Cornich, John Ginery, Jeremiah Morrell, Elisha Woodward, Wm. Markham, Jr., Joseph Dickinson, and Jas. Mullard. Capt. Beers fell fighting near a narrow ravine on the south side of Beers' Hill, and there he was buried. After the fight the Indians committed great barbarities upon the persons of the dead, and from the bodies of many cut off the heads and stuck them upon poles, which they placed in ghastly array along the pathway. One of the dead was found hung to the limb of a tree by a chain hooked into his jaw; and of three prisoners taken by the Indians, tradition relates that they were burnt at the stake, upon the battle-field.
      Upon receipt at Hadley of the news of the disaster, Maj. Treat set out from that place on the 5th of September with a force of 100 men to the relief of the Squakheag settlement. Reaching there, he found the inhabitants safely lodged within the stockade, where they had been for five days, and, taking them under his protection, conveyed them safely to Hadley. After the departure of Maj. Treat, the Indians burnt the fort and remaining houses at Squakheag, and thus utterly destroyed the little village which had been created amid toil and hardships.
      Historical authorities give the number of Indians engaged in the attack upon Capt. Beers as "many hundreds;" the number of their killed in the engagement is more definitely given as 25. The leaders of the Indians are stated to have been Sagamore Sam and One-eyed John, the latter of whom was a noted Indian warrior, whose Indian name was Monoco.
      The Squakheags took up their winter-quarters at Coasset, then a piece of woods in Northfield, but now in Vernon, Vt., and there, in the following spring, the various tribes, with Philip at their head, gathered for consultation and to arrange plans for the ensuing campaign.
      After a seven years' Indian occupation, Squakheag reverted to the control of the English, who began to re-settle the tract in 1683. They were allowed to dwell in peace, however, for but a brief space. In July, 1688, rumors of fresh Indian out-breaks near Springfield reached Northfield. Late that month a party of strange Indians was seen near that village, to the great alarm of the inhabitants, and on the 16th of August, in that year, the savages fell upon Northfield and killed three men, two women, and a girl.
      This assault is supposed to have been made at night or early in the morning, and upon people residing near John Clary's mill. John Clary and his daughter were probably two of the victims, but there is no record of the names of the killed, nor, indeed, were the dead given Christian burial, for this sudden and terrible onslaught so amazed and demoralized the inhabitants that one-half the families at once fled from the town and took refuge in Hadley.
      The day upon which the attack was made, Samuel Janes and Josias Marshfield were sent from Northfield to Springfield to apprise Col. Pynchon of the disaster. From Pynehon's Diary is taken the following extract bearing upon his action: "August 17th, I sent away Lieut. Thomas Colton with 16 soldiers from Springd to Northfield to surprise and take ye Indians, and pursue ym, who were upon ye service six days, they returning back ye 23d of August. I also ordered Lieut. Taylor and his Troop of 34 men to move toward ye upper towns. I also sent to Hartford for 30 or 40 Indians to go to Northfield, but, only 2 coming up, I disbanded ym.
      "August 21st two men, viz., Ebenr Graves and John Petty, were sent from Springd to garrison Northfield, who staid there till the 4th of September."
      On the 29th of August, Col. Pynchon sent Sergt. Bigelow with 15 soldiers from Hartford to garrison Northfield, where they remained until October 9th. September 6th three men, with 25 pounds of powder and 49 pounds of bullets, were sent to the Northfield garrison, and on the 11th one man and four firelocks were forwarded thither.
      Early in November, a message reaching Col. Pynchon from Northfield with the news that the enemy was lurking about the latter place, he dispatched 40 men to the town; but these men, ranging the woods thereabouts and discovering nothing, soon returned to Springfield.
      Gov. Andros set out in October, 1688, from New York, purposing "to inquire into the condition of the Northfield plantation, and devise means for the safety and welfare of the distressed inhabitants of the frontiers."
      Oct. 30, 1688, the "Committee for Northfield," composed of Wm. Clarke, Wm. Holton, John King, and Preserved Clapp, sent from Northampton to Gov. Andros, at Boston, the following report:
      "May it please yr Excellency to remember when yr Honor was at Hadley, you was pleased to send for us, the committee impowered for resettling of Northfield, to come before yourself, to give you an account of what power we have acted in order to the resettlement of that place. In obedience to your desire, we have drawn up a brief account by what power we have acted. and what we have done in order thereunto."
      (Here follows committee's report.)

      "Hond Sir,—We have had a great deal of care and trouble in the resettling of this Plantation. Many have had grants and have forfeited them again, so that we have had many meetings about it, which have not been without great expense of time and some charges to us. But we are willing to be at any pains so that we could settle the place.
      "While we were writing of this we did receive a paper from Northfield in-habitants, wherein they did desire the inhabitants which are not there may be sent away (which have failed to occupy their grants or have deserted the place, may be declared forfeited of their rights), or else it will be hard for them to hold the place, because it doth discourage those that are there; they fear the place will be deserted."

      In November, 1688, Gov. Andros ordered a company of 60 men to be sent to the Northfield garrison, whither they were dispatched under command of Capt. Jonathan Bull. They remained there during the winter; and although they afforded ample protection to the 15 families left there, they ate up about all the subsistence the inhabitants could collect.
      In June, 1689, the following petition was sent to the General Court:

      "The tears, fears, and groans of the broken remnant at Northfield presenting themselves before the Honored General Court at Boston, Shrew: `That we are indeed objects of your pity and commiseration, more than we know how to express or maintain a due sense of; the state of our outward man is very afflictive, and for our souls we have need to cry aloud. Have pity on us! for the hand of God hath touched us, and ye Almighty hath dealt bitterly with us! A bitter cup of sorrow, blood, and slaughter was reached forth to us in ye former Indian war. Our place burnt and laid desolate, our people slain and ye rest driven away; ye town not only left waste, but bearing also sad marks of divine wrath in that desolation.
      "Since which we thought we saw ye Lord calling us to rebuild those wastes, went up under an expectation of having forty families speedily dwelling there. About 25 were come, and we in a hopeful way, when ye Divine hand emote us again with an amazing stroke. Six persons slain in a moment by Indians last summer, which was astonishment to all ye rest. Since which half of our small number have deserted us, yet keep the land which by covenant is not theirs till they have dwelt upon it four years. Hereby we are reduced to twelve mean families. Our small number, in a place so remote, exposed us to ye rage of ye heathen, as it were, inviting them to prey upon us. Our estates are exhaust by maintaining garrison soldiers and being kept from our labor. Our burdens of watching, warding, fencing, and highways—we for ourselves and them that are absent—overbearing to us; besides all other hardships unavoidable in a new place. Our wives and children (that we say not ourselves) ready to sink with fears. We have no soul food, nor see any likelihood of attaining any. . . . If you see meet to order us to throw up all and leave it wholly to the enemies and their insulting, Tho' it's hard (we feel it), we would submit. If we stay, we could humbly beg, if your Honors see meet, that those that have lots among us may be caused either to come and dwell on them, or quit them to others that would. And that such as come may be ordered to have the next lots to them that are now inhabited. And that we may have a Committee for our help, to order our public occasions, in this our weak beginning. And ever praying ye Lord's blessing on you, remain,
      "Yr humble Servants,
      MICAH Mudge."
      In ye behalf of all yt< are left at Northfield."

These pages are © Laurel O'Donnell, 2005, all rights reserved
and cannot be reproduced in any format without permission
This page was last updated on
19 Jul 2005