Chapter 25

Chapter XXV



Deerfield in its early days had the misfortune of being sixteen miles nearer Canada than Northampton and the other border settlements along the Connecticut; it was also situated at the mouth of a deep valley which was the great highway of the French and Indians in their incursions into New England; hence nearly all the watching and warding, the forays, massacres, burnings, and taking into captivity of those bloody colonial days occurred here. The valley to-day is the picture of peace and plenty. The Deerfield, after brawling for its entire course over a rocky bed between frowning mountain walls, here opens into a smiling valley at least three miles wide and six or eight in length, near the mouth of which is planted a village as pretty and interesting as the traveler can easily find. It contains perhaps fifty dwellings of all sorts, ranged on both sides of a wide elm-shaded street. The villagers are chiefly descendants of the early settlers, become well-to-do, in the course of years, from the increase of their fields.

That the town should remain so pastoral and simple




is surprising, for the valley is one of the great highways of travel. Yet the old place remains as the fathers left it, a repository for the memories of the past; indeed, retrospection is one of its chief features.

This spirit led the people of the valley some years ago to organize a Memorial Association, and in due time to procure a Memorial Hall and store it with an exceptionally complete and valuable collection of relics of the colonial and Revolutionary era. The hall is a large brick structure, standing well out of the village, near the railway station. Originally it served as the Deerfield Academy, and was a famous school in its day. But in 1877—8 the Academy Corporation secured a new and more elegant building in the village, and the old academy was wisely deeded to the Memorial Association for museum purposes. The work of removing the relies and heirlooms of the past from the valley homes where they had been carefully treasured was at once begun, and has since occupied the attention of the Association. This collection is certainly the most complete and interesting that has come under the writer’s notice. It is readily resolved into three classes: mementoes of the Valley Indians, colonial and Revolutionary relics. On the stout, oaken door is a placard informing the visitor that on Mondays, alternate days through the week an admission fee of twenty-five cents is charged, other days being free. We mention the fact, that the intending visitor may choose




a "pay day" for his visit, for the Association needs the admission fee and merits it.

We register in the visitors’ book in the hail and step into a large room on the right, devoted chiefly to the Indian remains. In the center of the room a huge oaken door, nail-studded, with sill and lintel, and heavy uprights complete, attracts the attention, and inspecting it closely one perceives that it is the outer door of an old colonial house, and discovers deep cuts in its upper surface, and in one place a large, ragged hole, evidently made by axe or tomahawk. This door belonged to the old "Indian house" erected by Ensign (afterward Captain) John Sheldon, who settled in Deerfield in 1684, and through this aperture one morning the Captain’s wife was shot and killed as she was rising from bed. On the other side, suspended by a small wire, we may find the round, battered ball that killed her. This door rightly viewed is rather a startling piece of furniture. It carries us back nearly two hundred years to that morning of February 29, 1704, when a band of French and Indians sprang out of the forest upon the little village. That was in the time of the bloody French and Indian wars. The village was surrounded by a stockade, with block-houses at intervals in which sentinels were posted on the lookout for an enemy. On the evening of the 28th that enemy, 840 strong, after a march of over two hundred miles from Canada through deep snows, slipped into hiding in a pine




forest about two miles north of the village. Soon after midnight, finding the crust hard enough to bear them, they began their descent on the village, advancing a few yards, then stopping, that the sentinels might mistake the noise of their approach for a wandering wind or the sighing of trees. On the southeast corner of the stockade the snow had banked as high as the top of the palisades, and over this the enemy rushed and were hurrying through the village, torch in hand, ere the sentinels could give the alarm. In most cases those who surrendered were taken captive, those who resisted or attempted escape were killed. Among the first houses attacked was this old house of Ensign Sheldon, the strongest in the village, but the barred oaken door resisted their attempts to force it. The Rev. John Williams, the village pastor, was awakened by the Indians bursting in the door of his house. He and his wife were seized; two of his children, with a negro servant, were killed before their eyes, and they, with the remaining five children, were added to the group of prisoners one hundred and twelve in all which the various detachments collected. When all were gathered the whole company moved off over the snowy meadows, leaving the village in flames, and forty-seven of its people dead in the streets. On the morning of the second day’s march, the band being only six or seven miles north of Deerfield, Mrs. Williams, weak from maternal pains, became ex-




hausted, and was slain at the foot of a little hill on Green River.

The summer the Memorial Association held its eighth field meeting on this spot it erected a granite monument to mark the scene of the tragedy. You may be interested by the inscription, which reads as follows:

"The cruel and Bloodthirsty savage who took her, slew her with his hatchet at one stroke."

"The Rev. John Williams, ‘the Redeemed Captive,’ so wrote of his wife, Mrs. Eunice Williams, who was killed at this place March 1, 1704.

"Erected by the Pocomtuck Valley Memorial Association."