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In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 6

Lesson 6
Student Essay: 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.


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