The Relationship Between the English, the French,
and the Native Peoples
The placid, well-kept New England town of Deerfield,
Massachusetts of today was, for one winter night in the early years
of the eighteenth century, the scene of violent clashing among European
colonial empires, diverse Native American Nations, and personal
visions and ambitions.
At 2:00 A.M. on February 29, 1704 - came the
flash of fire, the smell of gunpowder, the shouts of French, English,
and Natives. What brought this diverse group to the site of the
little village between the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers on this
snow-covered night? What caused the violence that raged through
the palisade and resulted in the death of 44 of the residents and
the capture of 109 more, more than half the total population?
The attack on Deerfield was a complicated event
that raises deep questions even today, nearly 300 years later. What
started as a European struggle spread to the colonies as England
and France vied for political and commercial control of North America.
Between 1689 and 1763, with a peaceful interlude 1714-1744, France
and England and their particular Native allies fought a series of
wars, known collectively as the French and Indian Wars or the Colonial
Wars. The 1704 attack on Deerfield was one of a series of battles
in what was known in Europe as the War of Spanish Succession. As
part of this conflict, England and France fought Queen Anne's War
(1703-1713), struggling for control of North America. The 1704 attack
was an effort by the French and their Indian allies to halt the
gradual expansion of English settlement up the Connecticut River
Valley. For the Indians, many of whom had their own agendas in addition
to supplying manpower to the French, an additional motive was to
regain their sovereignty by wresting their traditional homelands
from the English.
In the winter of 1704, Jean-Baptiste Hertel de
Rouville led a party of forty-seven French Canadians and two hundred
Abenaki, Pennacook, Kanien'kehaka [Mohawk], and Wyandot Huron allies
to Deerfield. This attack came to symbolize the English struggles
in the settling of America.
Although the French and the English shared certain
goals in the colonization of the "new" world, mainly the enrichment
of their respective mother countries, there were differences in
their methods. England was concerned with placement of its excess
population and in securing the flow of raw materials back to the
homeland. In addition they expected the colonists to bolster England's
economy with demands for manufactured goods. To meet these goals,
the colonists were encouraged to make permanent agricultural settlements.
The French, on the other hand, were more concerned with controlling
trade routes, with furs being the driving force. The English villages
spreading throughout the northeast threatened the beaver population,
which, in turn, impacted the French.
The lands contested by the French and the English
were not uninhabited, but were home to a complex web of people with
their own histories of both conflict and cooperation: Algonquian
speaking people living east of the Hudson River and Iroquoian people
to the west of that river. Many of the Native people, threatened
by the land-taking English, allied themselves with the fur-trading
French with whom they often shared political and religious beliefs.
As the upheaval of Native communities undermined their traditional
culture and religion, Christianity grew in importance and many Natives
were drawn to Catholicism.
All of these factors converged to result in the
pre-dawn attack by the French and Indians on the English settlement
of Deerfield on February 29, 1704.
top of page