LEGEND OF THE CAPTIVE BELL

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The Deerfield Bell

 

Much has been written about the captives of Deerfield Massachusetts, so this is a story with a little different twist. I hope you find it as delightful as I did. This was taken from Chapter V. of History of the Connecticut River Valley by Louis Everts; 1879, and transcribed for us by Laurel O'Donnell.

 

QUEEN ANNE'S WAR

The accession of Queen Anne to the throne of England, like that of William and Mary, brought war between France and England, the consequences of which were a severe visitation upon the colonies. One of the first places to suffer in Massachusetts was Deerfield.

The Burning of Deerfield

On the old Indian hunting-ground called Pa-comp-tuck was planted the town of Deerfield, the richest of all the valley-towns in heroic historic memories. Many a page of her eventful story speaks of the blood of fair women and brave men, of the burning dwelling and ruined home, and is filled with piteous tales of captive children marching through the frozen wilderness, with touching stories of self-sacrifice and deeds of daring valor.

In the winter of 1704, Hertel de Rouville, with four brothers, led a party of French and Indians from Montreal, numbering two hundred and fifty, to the valley of the Connecticut in Massachusetts. The blow fell upon devoted Deerfield, hardly yet recovered from the devastating effects of Philip's war. De Rouville and his band approached the sleeping hamlet in the night, killed sixty of the inhabitants, and carried off hundred prisoners. Among the prisoners was the minister of the place, Mr. John Williams. A full account of this distressing affair will be found in the history of Deerfield, farther on in this work, contributed by George Sheldon.

The Deerfield Bell

The little Indian village of Caugh-na-waga is situated on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River opposite the village of Lachine, at the head of the Saut St Louis, nine miles above Montreal.

In the little mission church in Caughnawaga, it is believed still hangs the bell taken from Deerfield by the French and Indians on the 29th day of February, 1704.

This bell has been called the bell of St. Regis. It has been celebrated in song by Mrs. Sigourney, in her poem with that title:

	"The red men came in their pride and wrath, 
	    Deep vengeance fired their eye;
	 And the blood of the white was in their path, 
	    And the flame from his roof rose high.

	"Then down from the burning church they tore
 	    The bell of trumpet sound,
	 And on with their captive train they bore
	 That wonderful thing toward their native shore, 
	    The rude Canadian bound."

But says Dr. Hough: "That the Deerfield bell could not have been taken directly to St. Regis is evident from the fact that fifty-six years elapsed between its capture and the founding of St. Regis.

In fact, St. Regis was settled by emigrants from Caughnawaga in 1760, the main part remaining behind and doubtless retaining the bell brought from Deerfield, as the mission of the Saut St. Louis continued with no interruption.

While on a visit to Caughnawaga, in October, 1852, Dr. Hough found a small bell that once had an inscription, but was then effaced. He also found a direct tradition in connection with the bell, and in the hands of the priest a manuscript in French, of which he gives the following translation, which is inserted here for what it is worth:


 

"LEGEND OF THE BELL OF SAUT ST. LOUIS (CAUGHNAWAGA), NEAR MONTREAL.


 "Father Nicolas, having assembled a considerable number of Indians, who had been converted to the Catholic faith, had established them in the village which now bears the name of the Saut St. Louis, upon the River St. Lawrence. The situation of the village is one of the most magnificent which the banks of that noble river presents, and is among the most picturesque which the country contains.

"The church stands upon a point of land which juts into the river, and its bell sends its echoes over the waters with a clearness which forms a striking contrast with the iron bells which were formerly so common in Canada, while the tin-covered spire of the church, glittering in the sunlight, with the dense, gloomy forests which surround it, gives a character of romance to this little church and the legend of its celebrated bell.

"Father Nicolas, having, with the aid of the Indians, erected a church and a belfry, in one of his sermons explained to his humble auditors that a bell was as necessary to a belfry as a priest to a church, and exhorted them to lay aside a portion of the furs which they collected in hunting, until enough was accumulated to purchase a bell, which could only be procured by sending to France. The Indians exhibited an inconceivable ardor in performing this religious duty, and the packet of furs was promptly made out and forwarded to Havre, where an ecclesiastical personage was delegated to make the purchase. The bell was accordingly ordered, and in due time forwarded on board the 'Grande Monarque,' which was on the point of sailing for Quebec. It so happened that, after her departure, one of the wars which the French and English then so often waged sprung up, and in consequence the 'Grande Monarque' never attained her destined port, but was taken by a New England privateer, brought into the port of Salem, where she was condemned as a lawful prize, and sold for the benefit of her captors.

The bell was purchased by the village of Deerfield, upon the Connecticut River, for a church then about being erected by the congregation of the celebrated Rev. John Williams.

"When Father Nicolas received news of the misfortune, he assembled his Indians, related to them the miserable condition of the bell retained in purgatory in the hands of heretics, and concluded by saying that it would be a most praise worthy enterprise to go and recover it.

"This appeal had in it as it were a kind of inspiration, and fell upon its hearers with all the force of the eloquence of Peter the Hermit in preaching the Crusades.

"The Indians deplored together the misfortune of their bell, which had not hitherto received the rite of baptism. They had not the slightest idea of a bell, but it was enough for them that Father Nicolas, who preached and said mass for them in their church, said that it had some indispensable use in the service of the church.

"Their eagerness for the chase was in a moment suspended, and they assembled together in groups, and, seated on the banks of the river, conversed on the unhappy captivity of their bell, and each brought forward his plan, which he deemed most likely to succeed in effecting its recovery. Some of their number, who had heard a bell, said it could be heard beyond the murmur of the rapid, and that its voice was more harmonious than that of the sweetest songster of the grove heard in the quiet stillness of evening, when all nature was hushed in repose.

"All were melancholy and inspired with a holy enthusiasm; many fasted, and others performed severe penances to obtain the deliverance of the bell, or the palliation of its sufferings.

"At length the day of its deliverance approached. The Marquis de Vaudreull, Governor of Canada, resolved to send an expedition against the British colonies of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The command of this expedition was given to Major Hertel de Rouville, and one of the friends of the Jesuit college at Quebec was sent to procure the services of Father Nicolas to accompany the expedition.

"The Indians were immediately assembled in the church. The messenger was presented to the congregation, and Father Nicolas, in a solemn discourse, pointed to him as worthy of their veneration, from his being the bearer of glad tidings, who was about departing for his return to Quebec to join the war. At the end of the discourse the whole audience raised with one voice the cry of war, and demanded to be led to the place where their bell was detained by the heretics.

"The savages immediately began to paint themselves in the most hideous colors, and were animated with a wild enthusiasm to join the expedition.

"It was in the depth of winter when they departed to join the army of M. de Rouville, at Fort Chambly. Father Nicolas marched at their head with a large banner surmounted by a cross, and, as they departed from their village, their wives and little ones, in imitation of women of the crusades, who animated the warriors of Godfrey of Bouillon, they sang a sacred hymn which their venerated priest had selected for the occasion. They arrived at Chambly, after a march of great hardship, at the moment the French soldiers were preparing to start on their march up Lake Champlain.

"The Indians followed in their rear with that perseverance peculiar to their character. In this order the Indians remained, following in silence until they reached Lake Champlain, where all the army had been ordered to rendezvous. This lake was then frozen and less covered by snow than the shores, and was taken as a more convenient route for the army. With their thoughts wrapped up in the single contemplation of the unhappy captivity of their bell, the Indians remained taciturn during this pensive march, exhibiting no symptoms of fatigue or of fear; no regret for their families or homes; and they regarded with equal indifference on the one hand the interminable line of forest, sometimes black from dense evergreens and in others white with loads of snow, and on the other the black lines of rocks and deserts of snow and ice, which bordered their path. The French soldiers, who suffered dreadfully from fatigue and cold, regarded with admiration the agility and cheerfulness with which the Indians seemed to glide over the yielding surface of the snow on their snow-shoes. The great endurance of the proselytes of Father Nicolas formed a striking contrast with the excitability and impatience of the French soldiers.

"When they arrived at the point where now stands the city of Burlington, the order was given for a general halt to make more efficient arrangements for penetrating through the forests to Massachusetts. In leaving this point, De Rouville gave to Father Nicolas the command of his Indian warriors and took the lead of his own himself, with compass in hand, to make the most direct course for Deerfield. Nothing which the troops had thus far suffered could compare with what they now endured on this march through a wild country, in the midst of deep snow, and with no supplies beyond what they could carry.

"The French soldiers became impatient, and wasted their breath in curses and complaints at the hardships they suffered; but the Indians, animated by a zeal which sustained them above the sense of hardships, remained steadfast in the midst of fatigue which increased with the severity of their sufferings.

"Their custom of traveling in the forest had qualified them for these hardships, which elicited the curses and execrations of their not less brave but more irritable companions. Some time before the expedition arrived at its destination the priest, Nicolas, fell sick from over-exertion. His feet were worn by the labor of traveling, and his face torn by the branches which he neglected to watch in his eagerness to follow the troops.

"He felt that he was engaged in a holy expedition, and recalling to mind the martyrdom of the saints and the persecutions which they endured, he looked forward to the glory reserved for his reward for the sufferings which he might encounter in recovering the bell.

"On the evening of February 20th, 1704, the expedition arrived within two miles of Deerfield without being discovered.

"Do Rouville here ordered his men to rest and refresh themselves a short time, and he here issued his orders for attacking the town.

"The surface of the snow was frozen and cracked under their feet, but De Rouville, with a remarkable sagacity, adopted a stratagem to deceive the inhabitants and the garrison.

"He gave orders that in advancing to the assault the troops should make frequent pauses and then rush forward with rapidity, thus imitating the noise, made in the forest by the irregular blowing of the wind among branches laden with ice.

"The alarm was at length given, and a severe combat ensued, which resulted in the capture of the town and the slaughter or dispersion of the inhabitants and the garrison.

"This occurred in the night, and at daybreak the Indians, who had been exhausted by the labors of the night, presented themselves before Father Nicolas in a body and begged to be led to the bell, that they might by their homage prove their veneration for it. Their priest was greatly affected by this earnest request, and De Rouville and others of the French laughed immoderately at it; but the priest wished not to discourage them in their wishes, and he obtained of the French chief permission to send one of his soldiers to ring it in the hearing of the Indians.

The sound of the bell in the stillness of the cold morning, and in the midst of the calmness of the forest, echoed clear and far, and fell upon the ears of the simple Indians like the voice of an oracle. They trembled, and were filled with fear and wonder.

"The bell was taken from the belfry, and attached to a pole in such a manner that four men could carry it, and in this way it was borne off with their plunder in triumph, the Indians glorying in the deliverance of this miraculous wonder.

"But they shortly perceived it was too heavy a burden for the rugged route they pursued and the yielding nature of the snows over which they traveled. Accordingly, upon arriving at the point on the lake where they had left it, they buried their cherished treasure, with many benedictions of Father Nicholas, until the period should arrive when they could transport it with more convenience.

"As soon as the ice had disappeared, and the bland air of spring had returned, giving foliage to the trees and the fragrance and beauty of flowers to the forest, Father Nicolas again assembled at the church his Indian converts to select a certain number of the tribe, who, with the assistance of a yoke of oxen, should go and bring in the dearly-prized bell.

"During the interval all the women and children of the Indian village, having been informed of the wonderful qualities of the bell, awaited its arrival with eagerness and impatience, and regarded its advent as one of those events which but rarely mark the progress of ages. As the time approached when the curious object should arrive, they were assembled on the bank of the river, and discoursing upon the subject, when far off in the stillness of the twilight there was heard from the depths of the forest a sound which, from being feeble and scarcely audible, became every moment louder. Every one listened when presently the cry arose 'It is the bell! 'It is the bell!' and in a moment after the oxen were seen emerging from the wood surrounded by a group of Indians, and hearing the precious burden on a pole between them. They had hung upon the beam and around the bell clusters of wild-flowers and leaves, and the oxen were adorned with garlands of flowers. Thus marching in triumph, Father Nicolas entered his village more proud of his success and received with more heartfelt joy than a Roman general returning in triumph from the conquest of nations.

"From this triumphal march in the midst of the quiet of the evening, which was broken only by the murmur of the rapid softened by the distance, arose the shouts of rejoicing as the cortege entered the village and the idol bell was deposited in the church. Every one gratified his eager curiosity by examining the strange musical metal, and the crusade had been crowned with unqualified success.

"In due time it was raised to its place in the belfry, and has ever since, at the accustomed hours, sent its clear tones over the broad bosom of the St. Lawrence to announce the hour of prayer and lapse of time; and although its tones are shrill and feeble beside its modern companion, they possess a music and call up an association which will long give an interest to the church of the Saut St. Louis, at the Indian village of Cough-na-wa-ga."

 

 

More excerpts from this book, as well as other interesting articles involving the Connecticut River Valley can be found at the following websites hosted by Laurel O'Donnell:

Holyoke, Hampden County, MA
Hampden County
Berkshire County

 

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