Northfield — Indian Troubles

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

      The only relief afforded by the court was the sending up of a few men occasionally on garrison duty during the next few months. In November, 1689, the court resolved that the lands of those who had deserted Northfield should be declared forfeited, unless the owners thereof returned thither within four months, or provided men to bear arms and do service in their stead, but the deserters declined to do either, and the feeble settlement, after struggling through the winter, constantly apprehensive of danger and despairing of better fortune, saw in the declaration of war between France and England, in 1689 (King William's war), the death of their last hopes, and they utterly abandoned the settlement, under an order of court issued June 25, 1690.
      For twenty-three years Northfield was deserted, save as it knew the presence of the roaming savage, and not until 1714 did the early proprietors and later grantees attempt resettlement.
      After a peaceful interval of about ten years, the Indian troubles were renewed in June, 1722, upon the outbreak of what was known as Father Rasle's war.
      Upon the re-settlement of Northfield, in 1714, a small garrison was stationed there, and continued down to 1722. In view, however, of the threatened troubles in this year, two stockades were built, and a body of 20 men, under command of Lieut. Joseph Kellogg, stationed in the town.
      The inhabitants now enjoyed a sense of security, and began to think they would escape molestation; but they were rudely awakened to a sense of danger, in August, 1723, when two of the town's best citizens—Thomas Holton and Theophilus Merriman—were waylaid, near Northfield, by Grey-Lock and four Indians, and scalped and killed. The consternation and terror following this event had scarcely subsided when, in the following October, the Indians, descending upon a party of harvesters at work in the fields near Northfield, killed Ebenezer Severance, wounded Hezekiah Stratton and Enoch Hall, and carried off Samuel Dickinson a prisoner. This same Dickinson had been previously taken a prisoner by the Indians at Hatfield, in 1698, when he was but eleven years old, although subsequently rescued from his captors.
      This last calamity aroused the public to the necessity of increased vigilance for the protection of the Northfield settlement. Additional troops were sent to the garrison at that point, and in December, 1723, the General Court authorized the construction of a block-house above Northfield, and its garrisoning with a company of 40 able-bodied men. The fort was built on the west bank of the Connecticut, just within the southern limits of the present town of Brattleboro', Vt., and was called Fort Dummer, in honor of the then acting governor of Massachusetts.
      The forts at Northfield were rebuilt and strongly fashioned early in 1724; and there were at this time at Northfield 45 men under Capt. Kellogg, whose business it was to man the forts and to guard the settlers while at work in the fields. From that time to the proclamation of peace, in 1725, Northfield was suffered to remain in comparative quiet, although many of her best citizens were actively employed in fighting the Indians at other points and in doing duty at Fort Dummer.
      Eighteen years of peaceful history saw the settlement advanced in prosperity and numbers, when, in 1744, war was again declared between France and Great Britain, and then ensued what is known as the old French-and-Indian war.
      In May, 1744, the people of Northfield were informed of the declaration of war, and at once set about placing the town in a posture of defense, and soldiers were supplied as a garrison. Although the Indians renewed their depredations in the valley shortly after war was declared, and fighting was sharp and furious at many places in that region, Northfield escaped serious molestation until Aug. 11, 1746, when the Indians killed young Benjamin Wright, who had ventured out to the commons after his cows. On the 15th four whites were shot at near Merry's meadow, but without harm.
      In April, 1747, the French and Indians, being repulsed after a three days' attack upon the fort at "No. 4" (Charlestown, N. H.), turned toward Northfield; and a number of their force, lying in ambush at the north part of the town, set upon and killed Nathaniel Dickinson and Asahel Burt, who were driving cows up from the meadows. The scene of this tragedy is now marked by a granite monument, which stands near the highway, about a mile north of the centre of Northfield village. Upon one side of the stone is the inscription, "Nathaniel Dickinson was killed and scalped by the Indians at this place, April 15, 1747, aet. 48;" and upon another, "Asahel, son of Joseph Burt, companion of Dickinson and sharer of his fate, aged about 40."
      Upon the reception at Boston of the news of this slaughter a company of sixty troopers were sent to Northfield, and other measures taken for additional protection to the settlement.
      Exciting events in the history of the war continued to follow in rapid succession, and, calls from other points for men having left Northfield badly protected in July, 1748, a party of Indians appeared at the upper end of the village on the 23d of that month, and about sunrise, meeting Aaron Belding, who was on his way from Fort Alexander to Mill Brook, killed him. The place where he fell is now marked by an inscription cut in the face of a rock near by,—"Aaron Belding was killed here July 23, 1748,"—and this rock has since been known as Belding's Rock.
      A treaty of peace was signed in 1748, and the Northfield people congratulated themselves upon having seen the end of trouble. They entered with a will upon a revival of the industrial interests of the settlement, and early in 1753, concluding that the peace would be lasting, they took down their forts, because—in the language of an early record—"the town would have no further use for them." Their belief proved, however, to be a short-lived delusion.
      Hostilities were renewed in 1754, and, once more alarmed, the settlers rebuilt their forts, which were completed early in 1755. A garrison was provided for the town, and, although many of the settlers enlisted in the military service, the promotion of agricultural interests was not utterly neglected, albeit danger lurked upon every hand, and he who ventured beyond the forts was more than ordinarily rash. Zebediah Stebbins and Reuben Wright ventured out to work in their fields, Aug. 20, 1756, and upon their return homeward were attacked by four Indians lying in ambush. They made a good stand, however, and, putting the Indians to flight after killing one of them, escaped unharmed.
      Among those of Northfield who went into the military service in 1756 were Benoni Wright, Uriah Morse, Gideon Shattuck, Simeon Knight, Zadock Wright, Elias Bascom, John Alexander, Miles Alexander, and Samuel Mattoon. In October, 1756, orders were issued by the Massachusetts authorities to impress men for the support of Gen. Winslow, and from Northfield were taken the following: Thomas Alexander, Moses Evans, Ebenezer Field, Samuel Field, Eliphaz Wright, Amzi Doolittle, Samuel Stratton, Philip Mattoon, Alexander Norton, Asahel Stebbins, Jona. Hunt, Samuel Orvis, Daniel Brooks, Amasa Wright, Benjamin Miller, Reuben Wright, Thomas Elgar. Upon the completion of the draft, Capt. Seth Field wrote to Col. Israel Williams as follows:

      "Sir,—The men impressed are the strength and support of the town. Many of them with great families, and under the most difficult circumstances to leave, especially in the frontiers; but I am obliged to take such or none. Our people are in the utmost distress at the thought of having this town stripped of the best men in it, and there is a general backwardness amongst the men to go and leave their families in such situation and under their difficult circumstances, for as soon as they leave the town we shall be able to make but a faint resistance against the enemy, and must lie at his mercy. We have indeed forts, and but few feeble men to guard and defend them. Pity and compassion cries loud for an exemption from the double burden lying on the frontiers, and especially poor Northfield, who has been wasting away by the hand of the enemy these ten years past. Sir, begging Your favor for this distressed town, I am
"      Yr humble servt,
      "Seth Field.
      "Northfield, Oct. 5, 1756."

      Capt. John Burk mustered a company of rangers early in 1757, and had in his command Northfield men as follows: Zadock Wright, Zebediah Stebbins, Seth Rose, Jonathan Hunt, Simeon Knight, Azariah Wright, Amos Tute, Samuel Taylor, John Bement, Jr., Reuben Petty, Obed Severance, Ebenezer Stoddard, Theophilus Chamberlain, Rufus Brown, Samuel Orvis, Jacob Elmer, Michael Frizzel. A portion of the above men were in Capt. Burk's company at the capitulation of Fort William Henry, in August, 1757.
      In March, 1758, among the forces dispatched for the conquest of Canada were the following from Northfield, in the company of Capt. Salah Barnard, of Deerfield: Thomas Alexander, Eleazar Patterson, Job Smith, John Alexander, Josiah Olds, Nathan Beach, Richard Chamberlain, Abial Chamberlain, Jacob Elmer, Thomas Elgar, Michael Frizzel, Benjamin Miller, Samuel Orvis, Darius Wadkins, Amos Tute.
      March 6, 1758, the house of Capt. Fairbanks Moor, on West River, was attacked, the captain and his son killed, and the son's wife, with her four small children, taken captive. Aug. 27, 1758, Asahel Stebbins was killed in an attack on "No. 4," and his wife, with Isaac Parker, a garrison soldier, taken captive.
      Among the Northfield men in the service during 1759 were Samuel Taylor, Samuel Merriman, John Brown, Seth Lyman, John Alexander, Joel Alexander, Jonathan Burr, Benjamin Burt, Joel Holton, Joseph Dickinson, John Mun, Jr., Aaron Petty, Reuben Smith, Joseph Merchant, Reuben Alexander, Miles Alexander, Moses Bascom, Ezekiel Bascom, Joel Baker, Nehemiah How, Benjamin Mun, Solomon Sartwell, Job Smith, Amos Tute, John Moffat, Jonathan Hunt, Reuben Petty, Eldad Wright, Nathaniel Chamberlain, Samuel Frizzel, Aaron Field, John Severance, Elias Bascom.
      The following Northfield men were in Gen. Amherst's army at the capture of Montreal in 1760: Samuel Taylor, John Petty, Elias Alexander, Miles Alexander, Asa Alexander, Reuben Alexander, Benjamin Burt, Thomas Elgar, Benjamin Gardner, Eben Holton, Uriah Morse, Simeon Olmstead, Abner Wright, Daniel Wright.
      The war was virtually closed in 1760, although the peace treaty was not signed until 1763; and thus, after a dire experience of many years, Northfield found permanent release from her persistent savage persecutors.

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