February 29 This day during the Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713)

February 29, 1704 –  The Raid on Deerfield occurred during Queen Anne’s War on February 29 when French and Native American forces under the command of Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville attacked the English frontier settlement at Deerfield, Massachusetts, just before dawn, burning part of the town, killing 56 villagers, and taking 109 settlers captive. Typical of the small scale frontier conflict in Queen Anne’s War, the French led raid relief on a coalition of French soldiers and a variety of Indian populations, including in the force of about 300 a number of Pocumtucs who had once lived in the Deerfield area. The diversity of personnel, motivations, and material objectives involved in the raid meant that it did not achieve full surprise when they entered the palisaded village. The defenders of some fortified houses in the village successfully held off the raiders until arriving reinforcements prompted their retreat. However, the raid was a clear victory for the French coalition that aimed to take captives and unsettle English colonial frontier society. More than 100 captives were taken, and about 40 percent of the village houses were destroyed. Although predicted, the raid shocked New England colonists, further antagonized relations with the French and their Native American allies, and led to more community war preparedness in frontier settlements. The raid has been immortalized as a part of the early American frontier story, principally due to the account of one of its captives, the Rev. John Williams. He and his family were forced to make the long overland journey to Canada. His young daughter Eunice was adopted by a Mohawk family; she became assimilated and married a Mohawk man. Williams’ account, The Redeemed Captive, was published in 1707 and was widely popular in the colonies. The raiders left most of their equipment and supplies 25 to 30 miles (40 to 48 kilometers) north of the village before establishing a cold camp about 2 miles (3.2 km) from Deerfield on February 28, 1704. From this vantage point, they observed the villagers as they prepared for the night. Since the villagers had been alerted to the possibility of a raid, they all took refuge within the palisade, and a guard was posted. The raiders had noticed that snow drifts extended to the top of the palisade; this greatly simplified their entry into the fortifications just before dawn on February 29. They carefully approached the village, stopping periodically so that the sentry might confuse the noises they made with more natural sounds. A few men climbed over the palisade via the snow drifts and then opened the north gate to admit the rest. Primary sources vary on the degree of alertness of the village guard that night; one account claims he fell asleep, while another claims that he discharged his weapon to raise the alarm when the attack began, but that it was not heard by many people. As the Reverend John Williams later recounted, “with horrid shouting and yelling”, the raiders launched their attack “like a flood upon us.” The raiders’ attack probably did not go exactly as they had intended. In attacks on Schenectady, New York and Durham, New Hampshire in the 1690s (both of which included Hertel de Rouville’s father), the raiders had simultaneously attacked all of the houses; at Deerfield, this did not happen. Historians Haefeli and Sweeney theorize that the failure to launch a coordinated assault was caused by the wide diversity within the attacking force. The raiders swept into the village, and began attacking individual houses. Reverend Williams’ house was among the first to be raided; Williams’ life was spared when his gunshot misfired, and he was taken prisoner. Two of his children and a servant were slain; the rest of his family and his other servant were also taken prisoner. Similar scenarios occurred in many of the other houses. The residents of Benoni Stebbins’ house, which was not among the ones attacked early, resisted the raiders’ attacks, which lasted until well after daylight. A second house, near the northwestern corner of the palisade, was also successfully defended. The raiders moved through the village, herding their prisoners to an area just north of the town, rifling houses for items of value, and setting a number of them on fire. As the morning progressed, some of the raiders began moving north with their prisoners, but paused about a mile north of the town to wait for those who had not yet finished in the village. The men in the Stebbins house kept the battle up for two hours; they were on the verge of surrendering when reinforcements arrived. Early in the raid, young John Sheldon managed to escape over the palisade and began making his way to nearby Hadley to raise the alarm. The fires from the burning houses had been spotted, and “thirty men from Hadley and Hatfield” rushed to Deerfield. Their arrival prompted the remaining raiders to flee; some of them abandoned their weapons and other supplies in a panic. The sudden departure of the raiders and the arrival of reinforcements raised the spirits of the beleaguered survivors, and about 20 Deerfield men joined the Hadley men in chasing after the fleeing raiders. The English and the raiders skirmished in the meadows just north of the village, where the English reported “killing and wounding many of them”. However, the pursuit was conducted rashly, and the English soon ran into an ambush prepared by the raiders who had left the village earlier. Of the 50 or so men that gave chase, nine were killed and several more were wounded. After the ambush they retreated back to the village, and the raiders headed north with their prisoners. As the alarm spread to the south, reinforcements continued to arrive in the village. By midnight, 80 men from Northampton and Springfield had arrived, and men from Connecticut swelled the force to 250 by the end of the next day. After debating over what action to take, they decided that the difficulties of pursuit were not worth the risks. Leaving a strong garrison in the village, most of the militia returned to their homes. The raiders destroyed 17 of the village’s 41 homes, and looted many of the others. Out of the 291 people in Deerfield on the night of the attack only 126 remained in town the next day. They killed 44 residents of Deerfield: 10 men, 9 women, and 25 children, five garrison soldiers, and seven Hadley men. Of those who died inside the village, 15 died of fire-related causes; most of the rest were killed by edged or blunt weapons. The raid’s casualties were dictated by the raider’s goals to intimidate the village and to take valuable captives to French Canada. A large portion of the slain were infant children who were not likely to survive the ensuing trip to Canada. They took 109 villagers captive; this represented forty per cent of the village population. They also took captive three Frenchmen who had been living among the villagers. The raiders also suffered losses, although reports vary. New France’s Governor-General Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil reported the expedition only lost 11 men, and 22 were wounded, including Hertel de Rouville and one of his brothers. John Williams heard from French soldiers during his captivity that more than 40 French and Indian soldiers were lost; Haefeli and Sweeney believe the lower French figures are more credible, especially when compared to casualties incurred in other raids. A majority of the captives taken were women are children who French and Indian captors viewed as being more likely than adult males to successfully integrate into native communities and a new life in French Canada. For the 109 English captives, the raid was only the beginning of their troubles. The raid’s significance for colonial New Englanders cannot be understood without considering the normalized culture and commoditization of captivity in frontier culture as well as the settler’s fear of captivity under either pagan or Catholic masters. The raiders intended to take them to Canada, a 300 mile (480 km) journey, in the middle of winter. Many of the captives were ill-prepared for this, and the raiders were short on provisions. The raiders consequently engaged in a common practice: they killed those captives when it was clear they were unable to keep up. While Williams comments on the savage cruelty of the Indian raiders, most killings were “not random or wanton.” Most of the slain were the slow and vulnerable who could not keep up with the party and would likely have died less quickly en route. Only 89 of the captives survived the ordeal. Survival chances correlated with age and gender. Infants and young children fared the worst. Older children and teenagers faired the best. Indeed, all 21 teenagers survived the trip to Canada. Adult men fared much better than adult women especially pregnant women and those with small children. In the first few days several of the captives escaped. Hertel de Rouville instructed Reverend Williams to inform the others that recaptured escapees would be tortured; there were no further escapes. (The threat was not an empty one — it was known to have happened on other raids.) The French leader’s troubles were not only with his captives. The Indians had some disagreements among themselves concerning the disposition of the captives, which at times threatened to come to blows. A council held on the third day resolved these disagreements sufficiently that the trek could continue. According to John Williams’ account of his captivity, most of the party traveled up the frozen Connecticut River, then up the Wells River and down the Winooski River to Lake Champlain. From there they made their way to Chambly, at which point most of the force dispersed. The captives accompanied their captors to their respective villages. Williams’ wife Eunice, weak after having given birth just six weeks earlier, was one of the first to be killed during the trek; her body was recovered and reburied in the Deerfield cemetery. Calls went out from the governors of the northern colonies for action against the French colonies. Governor Dudley wrote that “the destruction of Quebeck and Port Royal [would] put all the Navall stores into Her Majesty’s hands, and forever make an end of an Indian War”, the frontier between Deerfield and Wells was fortified by upwards of 2,000 men, and the bounty for Indian scalps was more than doubled, from £40 to £100. Dudley promptly organized a retaliatory raid against Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia). In the summer of 1704, New Englanders under the leadership of Benjamin Church raided Acadian villages at Pentagouet (present-day Castine, Maine), Passamaquoddy Bay (present-day St. Stephen, New Brunswick), Grand Pré, Pisiquid, and Beaubassin (all in present-day Nova Scotia). Church’s instructions included the taking of prisoners to exchange for those taken at Deerfield, and specifically forbade him to attack the fortified capital, Port Royal. Deerfield and other communities collected funds to ransom the captives. French authorities and colonists also worked to extricate the captives from their Indian masters. Within a year’s time, most of the captives were in French hands, a product of frontier commerce in humans that was fairly common at the time on both sides. The French and converted Indians worked to convert their captives to Roman Catholicism, with modest success. While adult captives proved fairly resistant to proseltizing, children were more receptive or likely to accept conversion under duress. Some of the younger captives, however, were not ransomed, as they were adopted into the tribes. Such was the case with Williams’ daughter Eunice, who was eight years old when captured. She became thoroughly assimilated, and married a Mohawk man when she was 16. Other captives also remained by choice in Canadian and Native communities such as Kahnawake for the rest of their lives. Negotiations for the release and exchange of captives began in late 1704, and continued until late 1706. They became entangled in unrelated issues (like the English capture of French privateer Pierre Maisonnat dit Baptiste), and larger concerns, including the possibility of a wider-ranging treaty of neutrality between the French and English colonies. Mediated in part by Deerfield residents John Sheldon and John Wells, some captives (including Noel Doiron) were returned to Boston in August 1706. Governor Dudley, who needed the successful return of the captives for political reason, then released the French captives, including Baptiste; the remaining captives who chose to return were back in Boston by November 1706. Some of the younger captives, however, were not ransomed, as they were adopted into the Indian tribes or French Canadian society. Thirty six Deerfield captives, mostly children and teenagers at the time of the raid, remained permanently. Those who stayed were not compelled by force, but rather by newly formed religious ties and family bonds.[59] Captive experience was largely dictated by gender as well as age. Young women most easily and readily assimilated into Indian and French Canadian societies. Nine girls remained as opposed to only five boys. These choices reflect the larger frontier pattern of incorporation of young women into Indian and Canadian society. These young women remained, not because of compulsion, fascination with the outdoor adventure, or the strangeness of life in a foreign society, but because they transitioned into established lives in new communities and formed bonds of family, religion, and language. In fact, more than half of young female captives who remained settled in Montreal where “the lives of these former Deerfield residents differed very little in their broad outlines from their former neighbors.” Whether in New France or in Deerfield these women generally were part of frontier agricultural communities where they tended to marry in their early twenties and have six or seven children. Other female captives remained in Native communities such as Kahnawake. Again, these women remained because of bonds of religion and family. While European males castigated the “slavery” of Indian women, captive women from this time commonly chose to remain in Native society rather than return to colonial English settlements. Such was the case with Williams’ daughter Eunice, who was eight years old when captured. She became thoroughly assimilated even forgetting the English language, and married a Mohawk man when she was 16. John Williams wrote a captivity narrative, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, about his experience, which was published in 1707. Williams’ narrative was published during ongoing ransom negotiations and pressed for greater activity to return the Deerfield captives. Written with assistance from prominent Boston Puritan minister Reverend Cotton Mather, the book framed the raid, captivity, and border relations with the French and Indians in terms of providential history and God’s purpose for Puritans. The work was widely distributed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and continues to be published today (see Further Reading below). Williams’ work was one of the reasons this raid, unlike similar others of the time, was remembered and became an element in the American frontier story. William’s archeype changing work transformed the captivity narrative into a celebration of individual heroism and the triumph of Protestant values against savage and Popish enemies. 

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