April 21, 1676 – This Day During The King Philip’s War – The Attack on Sudbury

April 21, 1676 – The Attack on Sudbury was a raid and battle of King Philip’s War, fought in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The town was surprised by Indian raiders at dawn.
The “Sudbury Fight” Late in the war on 21 April 1676 the original Town of Sudbury was attacked by hostile Native American forces who came from the west through the recently destroyed original Town of Marborough (which then included the present Town of Hudson).
Attacks took place on both sides of the Sudbury River, but the major battles in the “Sudbury Fight” took place west of the river. Almost all deaths (English Colonial plus Native American) are thought to have taken place west of the river. The hostile Native Americans destroyed almost everything west of the river (i. e., in the area of the present Towns of Sudbury and Maynard).
The destruction on the eastern side of the river (i. e., in the area covering much of the present Town of Wayland) was less severe.
The attacks on both sides of the river involved a very large force (estimates range from 700 to over 1500) of hostile Native American braves probably personally led by Metacom and under the military command of Muttawmp. The probable personal involvement of Metacom, the military command of Muttawmp, and the very large number of braves indicated that the attack on Sudbury might have been part of a larger war plan. Metacom did not usually take part in attacks on English Colonial Towns. Muttawmp was a Nipmuc sachem and was thought to be the finest hostile Native American military commander in this war.
If 1000 hostile braves were involved, they would have numbered about one-third of the adult male hostile Native American forces in all of New England.
A possible larger war plan would have been to attack and destroy all of Sudbury (on both sides of the river) and then use it as a base from which to attack a number of other Towns to acquire DESPERATELY NEEDED supplies of food, weapons, ammunition, and gunpowder.
As the alarm of the attack spread, most Sudbury English Colonial civilians WEST of the river were able to flee to specially fortified houses which had been stocked with stores of food, water, and weapons. Sudbury English Colonial civilians who were not able to flee to a fortified house were killed.
These fortified “Garrison” houses were defended by the people in them plus a few members of the Sudbury militia. These fortified houses remained under their control despite hours of intensive attacks and attempts to burn them down.
The most intense attacks were on the Haynes Garrison House on Water Row Road just north of today’s Old Sudbury Road (Route 27) near the Sudbury River.
The cellar hole and remnants of the foundations of the Haynes Garrison House remain; the house itself was torn down about a century ago.
The grounds of the former Haynes Garrison House are now protected as part of the King Philip Woods Conservation Land of the Town of Sudbury.
The location of the former House is shown on the Map of this Conservation Land on the Town web site.
The people in the fortified houses were probably saved from certain death by the arrival of several groups of English Colonial soldiers from other Towns.
The Native American attackers had to divert their attention from attacking the fortified houses to engaging the groups of soldiers. For example, twelve English Colonial soldiers from Concord attempted to render aid to those in the Haynes Garrison House, but ten of this group of soldiers were killed in an ambush near the House (the other two escaped to the House). However, the homes, barns, etc., of these English Colonial civilians were burned while they were huddled inside the fortified houses. Many of the English Colonial civilians EAST of the river were able to reach a large protective stockade located near the river some distance south of the present Wayland Town Center where they were relatively safe from attack.
The Sudbury River of that era was much more difficult to cross than today’s placid river. Today’s river has been pacified by dams both upstream and downstream. In 1676 the river had a well defined central channel that carried most of the water flow. In 1676 there were not extensive wetlands surrounding the river such as exist today. In fact, maps of that era show that the best farming and grazing lands were located in the area of today’s wetlands.
Both the flow rate and the water level in the river at this time of year were high due to spring flooding.
In 1676 the only easy way to reach the eastern part of Sudbury from the west was over a single bridge called the “Town Bridge”. This bridge was located a short distance north of the present bridge carrying Old Sudbury Road (Route 27) over the Sudbury River.
The Native American attackers used this bridge to attack the east side of Sudbury (the present Town of Wayland). The more heavily populated eastern part of Sudbury was defended by the bulk of the eighty-man Sudbury militia. The militia would have been active in protecting the fortified church/meeting house near the bridge since it was the principal Town storehouse for emergency supplies of guns, shot, and gunpowder, and it also served as a place of refuge for civilians at times of attack. The militia was able to protect the east-side civilians and some of their property, but they did not have sufficient manpower to force the Native American attackers back across the bridge.
The roughly 200 hostile Native Americans did not go long distances from the bridge during their destructive raids on the eastern side of the river, since they needed to be able to retreat quickly back to the western part of Town if major military assistance from other Towns arrived. However, some structures in the far western part of what is now the Town of Weston were burned by the hostile Native Americans.
A group of soldiers from Watertown did arrive in the middle of the day, and the combined force of these soldiers and the Sudbury militia was able to drive the hostile Native Americans back across the bridge into the western part of the Town.
This combined force was too small to advance west very far from the western end of the bridge over the river, since they were opposed by many hundreds of Native American warriors in the western part of Town.
A number of homes, barns, etc., on the eastern side of the river were plundered and/or burned, but the scope of destruction was much less than on the western side of the river.
The largest battle of the “Sudbury Fight” took place when hundreds of Native American warriors ambushed a combined force of roughly fifty English Colonial soldiers from the Boston area under the command of Captain Samuel Wadsworth plus roughly twenty soldiers from the Marlborough garrison under the command of Captain Samuel Brocklebank in the valley between two hills now called Green Hill and Goodman’s Hill. It is surprising that the combined force of Colonial soldiers would be easily ambushed, since both Captains were highly experienced and used to the ambush tactics of their enemy. The Colonial soldiers fought their way to a more defensible position at the top of Green Hill, but they remained completely surrounded by large numbers of Native American warriors.
The Native American commanders dislodged the Colonial soldiers from their defensive position at the top of Green Hill by setting fire to a line of dry brush and trees upwind of them on the side of the hill. The wind-driven flames and smoke from this forest fire forced the Colonial soldiers into a hasty and uncoordinated retreat down the hill toward a mill building in what is now the Mill Village shopping center south-west of the top of Green Hill.
Captains Wadsworth and Brocklebank and most of their soldiers who had survived the earlier phase of the battle were killed during this hasty retreat; some of their bodies were later recovered on the western side of Green Hill. A few soldiers were captured, tortured, and then killed by Native American warriors. A few Colonial soldiers made it to the mill building and were rescued that night by other Colonial soldiers most of whom were with the Watertown Company. It is surprising that the Native American forces did not attack the mill building and kill the Colonial soldiers huddled there. The mill building is thought to have had strong walls and probably provided some natural protection, but the Native American forces had complete control of the battlefield and could have easily burned the mill building and forced out and killed the Colonial soldiers who took shelter there.
Since the hostile Native American forces had burned or destroyed all other undefended structures in Sudbury west of the river, it is also surprising that they had not bothered to burn down the mill building earlier in the day. Green Hill was later given its present name on account of the dense forest of evergreen trees on it, and a similar forest of trees plus their accompanying undergrowth would have provided ample fuel for a major forest fire in 1676.

Attack on Sudbury

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