Deerfield Raid

The small community of Deerfield was located in the remote frontier of northwest Massachusetts. Settlers there in early 1704 were wary because a state of war existed between Britain and France; many sought refuge behind the town’s stockade walls. Nevertheless, few expected that a major attack would occur during the depths of winter. On February 29, 1704, a force of several hundred French soldiers and their Native American allies staged a surprise attack on the unprepared community. Defeat was complete and almost immediate. Fifty-six settlers — men, women and children — were killed in the fighting. More than 100 of the survivors were rounded up and forced to begin a march into captivity in Canada. Over the next seven weeks, 21 prisoners died or were killed on the trail. The others were held as hostages at various locations throughout New France and were the subject of intense bargaining between the two great powers. Repeated efforts were made to induce the captives into accepting Roman Catholicism. After more than two and one-half years in captivity, a deal was struck for their release. Sixty prisoners were returned to Boston in November 1706 amid a great celebration. A handful of the captives voluntarily remained in Canada with French or native families. The experience of the Rev. John Williams family was especially harrowing. Williams, a Harvard graduate, was a minister and community leader in Deerfield. Two of his eight children were killed in the initial attack. One child was away at school, but the other five, along with both parents, were taken captive for the march northward to Montreal. Mrs. Williams, weak from recently giving birth, lost her balance crossing a stream and plunged into the frigid water. She was unable to keep up with the group, no doubt suffering from hypothermia, and was killed by a native guard with a blow to the head with a tomahawk. Williams and the children completed the trek to Canada where they remained until 1706. When the prisoner release was arranged, daughter Eunice (who was 7 years old at the time of capture) chose to remain behind despite the pleas of her father. She later married into a prominent native family, took the Mohawk name of Kanenstehawi and reared several children. Williams tried repeatedly over the years to induce his daughter to return, but she remained with her adoptive family. On several occasions she made trips to Massachusetts to visit her siblings and astounded the English colonists there by always returning to Canada, where she lived to the age of 90. Williams detailed his ordeal in a frequently reprinted book, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion (1707).

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