Settlement and Occupation of Deerfield,
Notes adapted by Susan McGowan from: Family
and Landscape: Deerfield Homelots from 1671, Introduction written
by J. Ritchie Garrison.
Deerfield began in 1663 as an 8000 acre grant
of land from the Massachusetts General Court to the proprietors
of the town of Dedham. The grant included land which would eventually
form five Massachusetts towns, but in the 1660s the area was remote
and still under the control of the Pocumtuck nation.
Although a man named Samuel Hinsdale (Hinsdell)
moved to the area in 1669, before the town was surveyed in 1671,
settlers did not begin moving to this portion of the Connecticut
River Valley in numbers until after the town was platted. A few
of the original Deerfield settlers came from Dedham, but most came
from towns farther down the Connecticut River Valley. Like many
other towns in the Connecticut River Valley, the community was designed
as a linear, nucleated village surrounded by open fields.
The main street was slightly less than a mile
in length, conforming to the natural plateau, and the land on either
side was divided into 43 homelots. The Dedham "artiste,"
or surveyor, Joshua Fisher, numbered the lots, starting at Lot 1
on the northwest corner of the street, then down the west side of
the street and up the east side, ending on 43, across from the first
Although the village was well situated on high
ground above the flood plain's rich silty soil, it was isolated
and vulnerable to attack in the early years. During Metacom's (King
Philip's) War, on September 12, 1675, the town was attacked by hostile
Indians who set fire to houses, killed a number of horses, and carted
away "horse-loads of beef and pork" to their rendezvous
spot on Pine Hill.
In 1671 one young Indian chief betrayed
his deep-seated anger when he spoke of his father, the great Indian
chief and friend of the English, Massasoit:
When the English came, [my] father was as a great man and the
English as a litell Child, he constraened other indians from ranging
the English and gave them coren and shewed them how to plant and
was free to do them ani good and had let them have a hundred times
more land, than now the King had for his own people.
New England Outpost, Richard I. Melvoin
After this attack, townspeople took refuge in settlements to the
south, particularly Hadley and Northampton. On September 18, under
Captain Lathrop, soldiers and townsmen returned to Deerfield to
retrieve "wheat in the straw" [and the corn crop so vital
to feeding the Valley people in what was expected to be a long seige]
and were attacked by Indians while passing over Muddy Brook several
miles south of the village. Of the Deerfield men, only John Stebbins
escaped unhurt. The remaining buildings, including the meeting house,
in the village of Deerfield, were burned.
A resettlement was attempted in 1677, but the
English were driven away by Indians, and not until 1682 was a permanent
settlement established. There were several violent encounters with
Indians in the 1680s and the 1690s. The stockade, 202 rods in the
middle of the town surrounding Meeting House Hill was erected in
the winter of 1690 in anticipation of an attack by Mohawks who had
raided Schenectady. The hardest blow landed on the night of February
29, 1704, when approximately 250 men, 200 Indians and 48 French,
assaulted the town. The assailants breached the palisade without
detection and stormed the houses. Some occupants resisted but most
were overpowered. The attack was just one battle in a broader conflict
between France and Britain, but the local consequences were profound.
After killing 42 residents and 5 garrisoned militiamen
and capturing 109 persons, the raiders withdrew, leaving the southern
end of the village (outside the palisade) untouched. Seven of the
eleven houses within the stockade were burned. Eleven of the attackers
died and a score were wounded. Reinforcements from towns downriver
joined men of the village in counterattacking the retreating party.
The raiders beat them back, killing nine and wounding others.
During the next several years, the majority of
the captives were returned, although 29 remained in Canada. 26 of
the 29 were children, aged 3 to 17, and 16 of the 26 were female.
Many of the captives who were redeemed returned to Deerfield, but
some who had survived the attack never resettled permanently, selling
their property or rights, and moving to safer havens, usually to
established towns further south in the Valley.