Chronicles of America 

Deerfield Massacre 1704

The Peace of Ryswick in 1697 had settled nothing finally. France was still strong enough to aim at the mastery of Europe and America. England was torn by internal faction and would not prepare to face her menacing enemy. Always the English have disliked a great standing army. Now, despite the entreaties of a king who knew the real danger, they reduced the army to the pitiable number of seven thousand men. Louis XIV grew ever more confident. In 1700 he was able to put his own grandson on the throne of Spain and to dominate Europe from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Netherlands. Another event showing his resolve soon startled the world. In 1701 died James II, the dethroned King of England, and Louis went out of his way to insult the English people. William III was King by the will of Parliament. Louis had recognized him as such. Yet, on the death of James, Louis declared that James's son was now the true King of England. This impudent defiance meant, and Louis intended that it should mean, renewed war. England had invited it by making her forces weak. William III died in 1702 and the war went on under his successor, Queen Anne.

Thus it happened that once more war-parties began to prowl on the Canadian frontier, and women and children in remote clearings in the forest shivered at the prospect of the savage scourge. The English colonies suffered terribly. Everywhere France was aggressive. The warlike Iroquois were now so alarmed by the French menace that, to secure protection, they ceded their territory to Queen Anne and became British subjects, a humiliating step indeed for a people who had once thought themselves the most important in all the world. By 1703 the butchery on the frontier was in full operation. The Jesuit historian Charlevoix, with complacent exaggeration, says that in that year alone three hundred men were killed on the New England frontier by the Abenaki Indians incited by the French. The numbers slain were in fact fewer and the slain were not always men but sometimes old women and young babies. The policy of France was to make the war so ruthless that a gulf of hatred should keep their Indian allies from ever making friends and resuming trade with the English, whose hatchets, blankets, and other supplies were, as the French well knew, better and cheaper than their own. The French hoped to seize Boston, to destroy its industries and sink its ships, then to advance beyond Boston and deal out to other places the same fate. The rivalry of New England was to be ended by making that region a desert.

For more information on the early New England history as affected by the Native American tribes, see The Indian Races of North and South America by Charles De Wolf Brownell.

The first fury of the war raged on the frontier of Maine, which was an outpost of Massachusetts. On an August day in 1703 the people of the rugged little settlement of Wells were at their usual tasks when they heard gunshots and war-whoops. Indians had crept up to attack the place. They set the village on fire and killed or carried off some two-score prisoners, chiefly women and children. The village of Deerfield, on the northwestern frontier of Massachusetts, consisted of a wooden meeting-house and a number of rough cabins which lodged the two or three hundred inhabitants. On a February night in 1704 savages led by a young member of the Canadian noblesse, Hertel de Rouville, approached the village silently on snowshoes, waited on the outskirts during the dead of night, and then just before dawn burst in upon the sleeping people. The work was done quickly. Within an hour after dawn the place had been plundered and set on fire, forty or fifty dead bodies of men and women and children lay in the village, and a hundred and eleven miserable prisoners were following their captors on snowshoes through the forest, each prisoner well knowing that to fall by the way meant to have his head split by a tomahawk and the scalp torn off. When on the first night one of them slipped away, Rouville told the others that, should a further escape occur, he would burn alive all those remaining in his hands. The minister of the church at Deerfield, the Reverend John Williams, was a captive, together with his wife and five children. The wife, falling by the way, was killed by a stroke of a tomahawk and the body was left lying on the snow. The children were taken from their father and scattered among different bands. After a tramp of two hundred miles through the wilderness to the outlying Canadian settlements, the minister in the end reached Quebec. Every effort was made, even by his Indian guard, to make him accept the Roman Catholic faith, but the stern Puritan was obdurate. His daughter, Eunice, on the other hand, caught young, became a Catholic so devoted that later she would not return to New England lest the contact with Protestants should injure her faith. She married a Caughnawaga Indian and became to all outward appearance a squaw. Williams himself lived to resume his career in New England and to write the story of the raid at Deerfield.

It may be that there were men in New England and New York capable of similar barbarities. It is true that the Indian allies of the English, when at their worst, knew no restraint. There is nothing in the French raids on a scale as great as that of the murderous raid by the Iroquois on the French village of Lachine. But the Puritans of New England, while they were ready to hew down Indians, did not like and rarely took part in the massacre of Europeans.

As the outrages went on year after year the temper of New England towards the savages grew more ruthless. The General Court, the Legislature of Massachusetts, offered forty pounds for every Indian scalp brought in. Indians, like wolves, were vermin to be destroyed. The anger of New England was further kindled by what was happening on the sea. Privateers from Port Royal, in Acadia, attacked New England commerce and New England fishermen and made unsafe the approaches to Boston. This was to touch a commercial community on its most tender spot; and a deep resolve was formed that Canada should be conquered and the menace ended once for all.

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