Native American Presence in Deerfield,
The Pocumtuck people, whose homelands included
the land that would eventually be named Deerfield by the English
settlers, were connected culturally and through language to the
Algonquian people. In addition to Pocumtuck, the Norowottuck, Sohoki,
Abenaki, Mahican, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Pennecook, Pigwacket,
Pequot, and Mohegan were a part of the Algonquian "network."
The Pocumtucks moved seasonally through their
homelands which were connected by a network of paths. They lived
in wigwams, created palisaded villages, and, by the time of the
birth of Christ, planted cornfields on the flood plain. The women
were responsible for the agriculture and the raising of the children;
the men hunted and fished for food. Their culture and their lifeways
centered around the use of the land and they were dependent upon
it. To guarantee sustenance, shelter, and security they killed animals,
cut trees, and cleared and farmed lands to support populations that
grew with the domestication of crops. Fire was the tool they employed
to render seeds palatable, to make habitats for animals they ate
and used for clothing and shelter, to ready land for planting, and
to make travel easier. They used the land to survive. Were they
ecologists and conservationists, as we understand those terms today?
Was the natural "Eden" that awed the first European visitors a feature
of native "environmentalism" or just of very low population density?
These are questions that are worthy of study by all students interested
in culture and in the historic landscape.
When on May 22, 1665, Dedham men came to the
Connecticut River Valley to investigate "a tract of good land...
about 12 or 14 miles from Hadley," they declared ownership to lands
in a place where they were aware that "other people" had lived.
Furthermore, they recognized that the Indians might well "clayme
a title" to those lands. What appeared to the English to be a fertile
and empty land was a country with a deep and complicated history.
In the Native world, land was not "owned" individually but rather
collectively and was shared; in the English world land possession
meant wealth and was the major key to improving one's station in
life. The English typically considered the Indians to be homeless
nomads who could not own land since they did not "improve" it, while
at the same time believing those same Indians could legally sell
their land to eager English purchasers. In the end, the Indians
were only sovereign enough to give their sovereignty away.
The wars between the English and the Natives,
which followed, were the inevitable consequences of competition
between two disparate ways of life.
Initially, however, contact between whites and
Natives was peaceful. Starting with the first Connecticut River
Valley colonization in the 1630s, Indians and English had lived
side by side. The power balance, with the Indians assisting the
settlers with needed corn supplies to stave off starvation and a
fur trade beneficial to both sides, was maintained generally until
the third quarter of the 17th century. The frontier was a "porous"
one with trade and interaction between cultures - Indian and Indian
and English and Indian. The borders were fluid and capable of expanding
and contracting. Even as King Philip's war began in 1675, a group
of friendly Indians lived in villages near Springfield, Massachusetts.
But the tensions were building in the second
half of the 17th century. Over-hunting had resulted in depletion
of the beavers. Native groups encroached upon other Native hunting
lands in their efforts to satisfy the European demands for furs.
European contact had resulted in unfamiliar diseases among the Indians
with escalating higher death rates, circumstances which not only
threatened the Native population, but also their faith in traditional
beliefs and in the healers who were unable to help. This situation
made many Natives more open to Christianity.
The Pocumtucks were drawn into conflict with
the Mohawks, which resulted in the near-dispersal of the Pocumtucks.
Some fled to Northampton to join the Nonotucks while others remained
in other areas of their homelands. Little evidence has been found
of Native presence in the 1671 English settlement of Deerfield.
Resentment of the initial village by Natives was manifested in the
burning of the town in September of 1675 by Indians allied with
King Philip and by the attack at Bloody Brook on Deerfield men who
had returned to harvest crops in the adjoining fields. Resettlement
by the English took place seven years later in 1682 on the same
plat of land. In the first fifty years of settlement, Deerfield
was attacked by Indians more than thirty times, but the town was
never abandoned again.
In 1690 a palisade was constructed by the citizens
after news of an Indian attack on Schenectady, New York reached
the town. According to Pliny Arms (1778-1859) the palisade was "made
of sticks of timber sharpened at the upper end and set in the ground
with their edges in contact - they were about ten feet high." It
was fourteen years before a wholesale attack on Deerfield occurred
on February 29, 1704. The attack, led by French from Canada, was
composed of forty-eight Frenchmen and 200 Indians: Hurons, Pigwackets,
Penacooks, Pocumtucks, and Mohawks who, with the aid of a recent
heavy snowfall, gained access to the palisaded center of the town.
Forty-two Deerfield residents were killed plus five soldiers assigned
to protect the town. In pursuit of the enemy in the north meadows,
nine more Deerfielders lost their lives. The attackers lost eleven
in the battle. Captives were taken, 109 men, women, and children,
and marched north to Canada; only twenty-four men remained in the
town, now truly an outpost, after the surviving women and children
were sent to towns further south in the Valley. One of the captives
was Elizabeth Price, who, on December 6, 1703 had married Andrew
Stevens, "an Indian." About Mr. Stevens we know nothing more, but
it does remind us that the Native presence was felt in the domestic
life of Deerfield in the earliest years of the eighteenth century.
The attack was another reminder that the town was on the edge of
the frontier, the northernmost in the small settlements up the Connecticut
River Valley from Long Island Sound.
Kevin M. Sweeney and Evan Haefeli in their
article "Revisiting the Redeemed Captive" address the presence of
females in the raiding party of February 29, 1704. The information
in the following three paragraphs is taken from the article.
According to traditions kept in one Kahnawake
Mohawk family, at least two members of the Mohawk party, which came
to Deerfield in 1704, were women, whose specific goal was to take
captives to replace family members who had died. One of them became
the Mohawk mother of Eunice Williams, daughter of the Reverend John
Williams. This Mohawk woman had lost a daughter two years before
in a smallpox epidemic. Eunice was one of the twenty-nine captives
who elected to stay in Canada. The other woman in the raiding party
took a young boy as captive.
In seeking captives to replace their own lost
children the two Mohawk women were observing an old Iroquois practice.
Adopting captives to replace lost loved ones was a special condolence
rite, one perhaps essential in a culture which through the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries lost many to wars and to epidemics. The
taking and adopting of captives was a means not only to replace
the missing bodies, but, more substantially, to allay the grief
which was so debilitating that it endangered physical and psychic
health in the community. Wars launched for these reasons, wars that
required the consent of Iroquois women and were, in fact, often
initiated at their urging, have come to be called mourning wars.
This seems to have been at least one of the motives among the Native
attackers at Deerfield in 1704.
Eunice Williams's adoptive mother displayed
all the symptoms of someone who could not heal her grief over the
death of a loved one and for whom a war that would bring a captive
replacement became a necessity. She had been "inconsolable" and
"so much borne down with, that some of her relations predicted that
she could not survive long." "It was visible in her countenance
that she was in decline, she had lost the vivacity which was a peculiar
trait in her character before she was bereft of her daughter." Eunice
Williams became a new daughter, made all the more precious for being
a second chance. She was perceived not as a replacement, exactly,
but as a blessed gift, who brought new life and enabled a more comforting
keeping of fond memories of the dead daughter. "The relations of
her adopted mother took much notice of her, and the children were
instructed to treat her as one of the family."
The 1704 raid on Deerfield was one of a series
of joint military expeditions carried out by the French and Indians
during the years 1702 to 1713 in the War of the Spanish Succession
or Queen Anne's War. The attack was an effort by the French and
Indians to halt the gradual expansion of English settlement and
political domination. Almost without exception, however, the English
interpreted Indian assaults as expressions of mindless savagery
or as divine retribution rather than as calculated assaults on the
English way of life.
Deerfield, for three years after the February
1704 attack, was a military outpost on the western Massachusetts
frontier. With the return of the minister, the Reverend John Williams,
in 1707, the town began once again to be peopled by families, perhaps
given courage by the return of their pastor. Some of the original
families returned, many did not and were replaced by newcomers.
In addition to newcomers from south in the Connecticut River Valley,
the presence of Indians is noted - if not as permanent residents
like Andrew Stevens, as occasional visitors. On May 24, 1718, Rev.
Williams wrote a letter to his son Stephen in Longmeadow to tell
him that "My Indian Master has been to visit several times." Fourteen
years after taking Williams prisoner and marching him to Canada,
one of Williams's two captors had returned to Deerfield on a peaceful
mission. While staying in the area, the warrior visited the minister
several times before returning to Canada. The Indian captor was
English-speaking, as were others in the warring party, indicating
extended, close association with English colonists.
Jonathan Hoyt (1688-1779), captured in 1704,
was visited in Deerfield by his Huron master after the war ended
and travel between New England and New France was no longer hazardous.
The Huron sometimes brought along his sister, and Hoyt was said
to have treated both with kindness and respect. Jonathan Hoyt had
learned the Huron language during his stay in Canada. The two men
apparently enjoyed each other's company and after several visits,
Hoyt petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for reimbursement
for expenses incurred during the visit of his Huron "master."
During the years of peace between 1710 and the
early 1720s, Natives often visited Deerfield. [p.59 Haefeli and
Sweeney] The first party came in 1714 and one of the party was ten-year-old
Aaron Denio. Young Aaron was grandson to John Stebbins whose daughter
Abigail had married one of "three Frenchmen" living in Deerfield,
James Denio (Deniuer, Denyo, Denayon) February 3, 1704. Both Abigail
and James were taken to Canada where their son, Aaron was born December
14, 1704. The parents never returned to live in Deerfield but Aaron's
visit to his grandfather resulted in permanent residence. Eunice
Williams, daughter of the Reverend John, visited Deerfield as an
adult, but never returned to live there. At age sixteen in 1713,
Eunice married Arosen, a Kanien'kehaka from Kahnawake.
In 1716, the Five Nations Iroquois used the village
site as a gathering place for Algonquian speaking and possibly French
Iroquoian recruits to fight against the Catawbas in the Carolinas.
[Haefeli and Sweeney]
The two cultures - Indian and English - were
disparate, it is true, in religion, language, use of the land, law,
and social mores, but caring friendships had been formed in spite
of the differences. A poignant sentence in a letter Rev. Williams
wrote to his son Stephen and recorded in Stephen's diary on August
10, 1722 expressed concern about the hostilities resumed between
New Englanders and the Eastern Indians as the minister confessed
he was "Greatly concerned because of the war - he is fearful whether
it is just on our side."
The visits did not stop during Dummer's War of
1722-1727. The Huron captor of Jonathan Hoyt and the Kahnawake captors
of Ebenezer Sheldon and his sister Mary (Sheldon) Clapp came to
visit. In the 1730s, other Deerfield residents petitioned for reimbursement
for time and money spent caring for sick Five Nations Iroquois.
Councils were held in Deerfield in 1723 to negotiate with Mohawk
representatives of the Five Nations and in 1735 with Kahnawakes,
Schaghticokes, and St. Francis Abenakis. Incredibly, this 1735 meeting
undoubtedly included Natives who had participated in the 1704 attack.
Although the Native American presence in Deerfield
rarely included permanent residents after the time of the English
when Indians were all too familiar as adversaries, sometimes their
presence was as friendly, English-speaking visitors to neighbors
up and down the street who had formed a bond of commonality, even
as they were engaged in conflict.
Haefeli, Evan and Kevin Sweeney, "Revisiting
the Redeemed Captive: New Perspectives on the 1704 Attack on Deerfield,"
in After King Philip's War, Presence and Persistence in Indian
New England. Colin G. Calloway, editor, . Hanover: University
Press of New England, 1977, pp. 28-71.
Jennings, Francis, The Invasion of America,
Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. New York: W.W.
Norton and Company, 1976.
Lepore, Jill, The Name of War, King Philip's
War and the Origins of American Identity. New York: Alfred A.
Melvoin, Richard I., New England Outpost,
War and Society in Colonial Deerfield. New York: W.W. Norton
and Company, 1989.
Williams, John, edited by Edward W. Clark, The
Redeemed Captive. Amherst, Massachusetts: The University of
Massachusetts Press, 1976.