December 10, 2012
Clash of Cultures: The Deerfield Massacre
It was a cold winter of 1704 and an English settlement that was in the mid Connecticut River valley, became a place for a great intercultural, international conflict. Deerfield was raided by French and Native forces in an ongoing struggle with the English for control of native lands and resources. Native American peoples; French, English, and Africans; soldiers, ministers, farmers and traders; men, women, and children; they were all affected by these conflicts. Deerfield had been prepared for this attack as they had gotten word that it might happen. They had soldiers and a fortress ready, although it would appear to not be enough. Deerfield was ready and had protected itself inside a high fence, many hired soldiers to patrol and be lookout in the streets at night. Also to be scouts to prowl in the woods, all making the citizens of this town feel safer as there were many families living inside this stockade. The minister of the town, Rev. John Williams was known to be a target and also a leader in this community. In the days before the raid, Rev. Williams wrote that they had days of fasting and prayer in the local church and he thought “that the town would in little time be destroyed.” The French led the attack and set out that early February night moving south from Canada (New France) on rivers that were frozen and over the Green Mountains. This was a hard journey; they had snowshoes and dogs to pull their sleds. The sunrise would be an enemy to them as they needed the cover of darkness. The town knowing nothing of when the attack might come went to sleep on that February 28th night as usual. As the attackers made their final preparations, Deerfield was known by the Indian hunters as they had made visits previously for trading. A scout is sent to see the observation of the town and returns to say the village lies “all … still and quiet”; apparently the watch had fallen asleep as it is now 4:00 in the morning, just the right time to launch the attack. The snow had piled so high that the drifts made good walkways for the attackers to walk right over the fences. Quickly they climbed over and dropped inside. As it awakens the watch, it is too late as they immediately started breaking open windows and doors. Deerfield came to life rather quickly. Some of the townsmen escaped to go and find help in neighboring villages, leaving their wives and children behind. Other just made a frantic attempt to hide from all the attacks. Reverend John Williams’ house was a main and special target, being singled out at the beginning of the attack. Rev. Williams would later write about his experience in detail. “Roused out of sleep … by their violent endeavors to break open doors and windows with axes and hatchets,” Rev. Williams immediately calls to wake the soldiers upstairs. Rev. Williams’ wife Eunice Williams was awakened with a loud sound which she thinks is her newborn daughter crying and soon find out someone is in her home. She immediately reaches for her daughter and worries about her other children praying that God will keep them safe. John reached for his gun that he had hidden above the bed just as an Indian man came into the bedroom where they were. He fired at the warrior and he just laughed as the gun had misfired and took it away. After John had been tied up the warrior took the crying baby from Mrs. Williams’ arms and left. The attackers then had the family dress and prepare for a long journey. She found her children, all but one, John her six year old and their slave Parthena. She prayed that God would watch over them and keep them in her care. They were held for about an hour and the captors took them out stealing as many of their possessions as they could carry. At this time the Williams learned the fate of their baby and slave woman, as they...