On Leap Day in 1704, the Abenaki Indians attacked the settlement of Deerfield on the Massachusetts frontier, killing over 50 colonists, taking captive over a hundred others.
King Philip’s War of the previous century had lately evolved into a more peaceful state for the English settlers of New England. But the Abenaki made an impressive encore by their assault on the Connecticut River valley towns.
On the evening of February 28th, a group of about 40 Abenaki men, slipped into Deerfield and routed the villagers, smashing doors and windows, setting fire to homes, killing livestock. The call to alarm brought the sleeping colonists awake, and some managed to leap from windows and run into the fields and woods for cover, even escaping to other settlements. It was reported that Goodman Allison and his wife ran all the way to Hatfield.
Some hid in cellars. Others were killed, including two small children of minister John Williams, and a woman named Parthena, who was the family slave of Williams.
Williams, his wife, and surviving children were taken captive. His wife and others were killed on the forced march to Canada. Between the Indians and the French, and the English who negotiated for release, many captives were released over the next few years. John Williams and two of his children were released and returned by ship to Boston in November 1706. He eventually returned to Deerfield, and wrote an account of his captivity. His daughter Eunice, taken at 7 years old, settled with the Mohawk community at Kahnawake, married, and would not return to New England except for visits in the later years of her life.
Starting today and continuing on Saturday and Sunday, Historic Deerfield will host a weekend of commemorative activities, including a reenactment of the skirmish. There are 13 museum houses in Old Deerfield, built between 1730 and 1850, and objects on display from the two hundred years from 1650 to 1850 which illustrate the lives of the settlers on this frontier outpost.
Stop by if you can, and re-live this lightning rod event in New England history, and learn about the clash of the cultures between English, French, and native people which met at a crossroads with tragic results in the wee small hours of February 29, 1704.
For more information on Historic Deerfield and this weekend’s colonial encampment, have a look at this website.