KING PHILIP'S WAR
Chapter 5, Part II
Such was the situation when, as we learn from Capt. Wheeler's narrative above mentioned, he, with about twenty of his troop, reported to the Council as commanded, and with Capt. Hutchinson marched, on July 28th, from Cambridge to Sudbury, and thence the next three days into the Nipmuck Country. They
marched to within two miles of New Norwich, and finding all the Indians had fled from their towns, and meeting with but a few stragglers here and there, who fled from them, they marched back to Brookfield, arriving there Sunday, August 1st, and hearing of Indians in great force about ten miles away, they sent out four men to treat with them. One of these was Ephraim Curtis (as I find by his testimony in the trial of the Wabaquassa Indian, Poquahow, for being engaged in the assault upon Capt. Hutchinson and the rest), two I think were Brookfield men, and the fourth was probably one of the Indian guides. They met the Indians about eight miles from Brookfield in a swamp, and after the young warriors had blustered and threatened a long time, their sachems agreed to meet Capt. Hutchinson and his party next day at 8 o'clock at a plain three miles from Brookfield. Capt. Hutchinson, accompanied by the troopers, scouts and three of the "chief men" of Brookfield went to the place appointed; but no Indians appeared. Whereupon the officers suspected treachery, and were earnestly warned by the Indian guides not to go on; but the Brookfield men were so confident of the good faith of the Nipmucks, and urged so hard, that at last they prevailed, and the party marched on.
As Capt. Wheeler relates the story: "The said Capt. Hutchinson, who was principally entrusted with the matter of Treaty with them, was thereby encouraged to proceed and march forward towards a swamp where the Indians then were. When we came near the said swamp, the way was so very bad that we could march only in a single file, there being a very rocky hill on the right hand, and a thick swamp on the left, in which there were many of those cruel blood-thirsty heathen, who there waylaid us, waiting an opportunity to cut us off; there being also much brush on the side of the said hill, where they lay in ambush to surprise us. When we had marched there about sixty or seventy rods, the said perfidious Indians sent out their shot upon us as a shower of hail, they being (as was supposed) about two hundred men or more. We seeing ourselves so beset, and not having room to fight, endeavored to fly for the safety of our lives. In which flight we were in no small danger to be all cut off, there being a very miry swamp, into which we could not enter with our horses to go forwards, and there being no safety the way we came, because many of their company, who lay behind the bushes, and had let us pass by them quietly; when others had shot, they came out and stopt our way back, so that we were forced as we could to get up the steep and rocky hill; but the greater our danger was, the greater was God's mercy in the preservation of so many of us from sudden destruction. Myself being gone up part of the hill without any hurt, and perceiving some of my men to be fallen by the enemies' shot, I wheeled about upon the Indians not calling on my menwho were left to accompany me, which they in all probability would have done had they known of my return upon the enemy. They fired violently from the swamp, and from behind the bushes on the hillside and wounded me sorely, and shot my horse under me, so that he faultering and falling, I was forced to leave him, divers of the Indians being then but a few rods distant from me. My son Thomas Wheeler flying with the rest of the company missed me amongst them, and fearing that I was either slain or much endangered, returned towards the swamp again, though he had then received a dangerous wound in the reins, where he saw me in the danger aforesaid. Whereupon he endeavoured to rescue me showing himself therein a loving and dutiful son, he adventuring himself into great peril of his life to help me in that distress, there being many of the enemies about me, my son set me on his own horse and so escaped awhile on foot himself, until he caught a horse whose rider was slain, on which he mounted, and so through God's great mercy we both escaped. But in this attempt at my deliverance he received another dangerous wound by their shot in his left arm. There were then slain to our great grief eight men, viz.: Zechariah Phillips, of Boston, Timothy Farlow, of Billericay, Edward Colborn, of Chelmsford, Samuel Smedly, of Concord, Sydrach Hapgood, of Sudbury, Serjeant Eyres, Serjeant Prichard, and Corporal Coy, the inhabitants of Brookfield, aforesaid. . . . There were also five persons wounded, viz.: Captain Hutchinson, myself and my son Thomas, as aforesaid; Corporal French, who having killed an Indian, was (as he was taking up his gun) shot, and part of his thumb taken off, and also dangerously wounded through the body near the shoulder; the fifth was John Waldoe, of Chelmsford, who was not so dangerously wounded as the rest. They also then killed five of our horses, and wounded some more, which soon died after they came to Brookfield."
Thus far Capt. Wheeler's account is quoted directly. He then tells of their retreat back to the town, "as fast as the badness of the way and the weakness of our wounded would permit, we being then ten miles from it." There is little doubt that in this retreat the surviving members of the company were saved by the sagacity and fidelity of the two Indian guides, Sampson and Joseph Robin, sons of old Robin Petuhanit, a faithful Christian Indian. These two led them around by a way they knew, but unknown to any of the English, all the Brookfield men being killed.
The popular prejudice against the Christian Indians is here illustrated, in the fact, that Capt. Wheeler was fully aware of the good service of these guides, and yet here gives them no credit for this nor for the urgent warning against entering the swamp. He afterwards gave them a certificate, testifying to this service. These two were afterwards so unjustly used by some of the people that they were driven to join the fortunes of the hostile Indians, to save their lives. Sampson was killed by some English scouts near Wachuset, and Joseph was captured and sold into slavery in the West Indies. George Memecho was the third Indian guide with Capts. Wheeler and Hutchinson at Brookfield, and he was captured and kept prisoner for some time but finally returned and gave intelligent information of the condition of affairs among the hostile Indians. From Capt. Wheeler's further narration and from other authentic sources, we learn that after a circuitous and difficult march of ten miles the company came into Brookfield town, spreading the alarm among the inhabitants. There they at once seized and hastily fortified one of the largest and strongest houses, said to have been the Inn of Sergt. John Ayres, just slain in the fight.
The alarm spread through the town, and the inhabitants immediately left their own houses and fled to the house held by the troopers; in their fear, bringing very little with them, either of food or clothing. Capt. Wheeler, finding himself, by reason of his wound, unable to conduct the defence of the garrison, appointed to that office Simon Davis, of Concord, James Richardson and John Fiske, of Chelmsford. Within two hours after they returned to the town, the Captains sent out Ephraim Curtis, and Henry Young of Concord, to carry news of the disaster to the Council at Boston, but in this time the Indians had crept warily about the town, and were found by the messengers pillaging the outlying houses. Finding the way encompassed and the whole force of the enemy closing in upon them, the messengers returned to warn the garrison. Immediately the Indians came swarming upon them with fierce volleys and loud shoutings, "sending in their shots amongst us like hail through the walls." But one man, Henry Young, above mentioned, was killed, and that in the evening while looking out from the garret window; and a son of William Pritchard (slain at the fight in the morning), who had ventured out of the garrison to fetch some things from his father's house still standing near by, was killed just as he was leaving the house to return, and his head was cut off and tossed about in view of the English, and then set upon a pole against the door of his father's house. All night they besieged the house fiercely, till about three o'clock in the morning August 3d, when they collected hay and other combustibles, and attempted to set the house on fire at the corner. Under cover of their comrades' muskets, a party promptly rushed out in the face of the enemies' bullets, and put it out. Only two of these were wounded.
At this time, at Capt. Wheeler's request, Ephraim Curtis made an attempt to get away through the lines to carry a message, but failed; but near morning he tried again and succeeded by creeping a long distance on his hands and knees to elude the Indians, and after a day and night, fainting with hunger and fatigue, reached Marlborough on August 4th. But the news of the destruction of Brookfield had preceded him, carried by some people who were travelling towards Connecticut, and coming to Brookfield and seeing the burning houses and the killing of some cattle, turned back and spread the alarm at Marlborough, and a post was immediately sent after Major Willard who was to march that day from Lancaster to Groton. The messengers overtook him already upon the march, and upon receipt of the message he promptly turned his force of forty-six soldiers and five Indians under Capt. James Parker of Groton, towards Brookfield.
In the mean time the Indians kept up their furious assault upon the garrison, trying by every art to fire the house through all the day and night, August 3d, which the English succeeded in preventing, without injury, except to one Thomas Wilson, who was wounded while venturing into the yard outside to draw water. On August 4th, the enemy having received large reinforcements, proceeded to fortify the meeting-house near by, and also the barn belonging to the besieged house, to protect themselves from the watchful aim of the English muskets. They filled a cart "with flax, hay and candlewood, and set up planks fastened to the cart against our shot." This they designed to wheel against the house, under cover for the night. And later, they invented a machine-of-war, of a style unheard of before or since in warfare. It was a sort of trundling wheel-barrow fourteen rods long, a pole thrust through the heads of a barrel for a front wheel, and for a body long poles spliced together at the ends and laid upon short cross-poles, and lashed to the fore axle and truckle wheels placed under at intervals. They constructed two of these centipede-like carriages and loaded the fronts with quantities of combustibles, such as hay, flax and "candle wood." These were scarcely completed, however, when a heavy shower fell and wet down their combustibles, so that they would not readily burn, and in the mean time Major Willard and his force arrived, and so intent were the Indians about the machines, that his company, coming about an hour after dark, gained the yard of the garrisoned house before the enemy perceived them. There was a large body of Indians posted about two miles away, on the road by which the Major's company had come, and another party of over one hundred in a house nearer the garrison.
The outpost had let the company pass unharmed, depending upon those nearer to strike the blow; and these latter depending upon the others for an alarm, which either was not given, or else, in the excitement of building the machines, they did not hear, both missed the opportunity of attack. As soon as they saw their mistake they attacked the Major's party with fury, but without much avail, and all were soon safely within the house. The Indians seeing their devices defeated and the garrison reinforced, set fire to the barn and meeting-house, and in the early morning of August 5th, withdrew.Such is Capt. Wheeler's account, in brief, of the famous encounter at the Quabaug Swamp, and the subsequent defence of Brookfield. And I have followed his account thus fuliy and at some length, because most of the published accounts that I have seen have either conflicted with his or have been otherwise misleading.
As to the locality where the above surprise, and almost massacre, took place, there has been much interesting discussion within the last ten years. Two places seem to answer very closely the conditions of the account of Capt. Wheeler and the others, whose testimony has been used in the matter. One of these places is situated in the north-westerly part of New Braintree, where was an ancient Indian town called Meminimisset, afterwards Wenimisset. Dr. L. R. Paige, D.D., of Cambridge, advocates this location, and by an able and convincing array of facts and arguments, in the "New England Historical and Genealogical Register" of October, 1884, leads to the conclusion that the scene of the tragic affair was just east of Wenimisset Meadows, near what is now known as "Brookside Farm." The other location mentioned, is the ravine near the New Braintree and Brookfield line, some two and a half miles from Wickabaug Pond.
This location is advocated by the Rev. J. H. Temple, late of Framingham, author of the History of North Brookfield, above mentioned. In his volume he brings forward equally strong and convincing proofs and arguments in favor of his location. Both these gentlemen are eminent authorities in antiquarian research; both are equally earnest in their convictions; both reason from the same evidences in general, viz. "Wheeler's Narrative," the testimony of the various reports of Ephraim Curtis, Mrs. Rowlandson, the Indian guide, George Memicho, and others, but each interprets these witnesses as proving his own theory. I am free to say that reading the arguments of both again and again, I am unable to decide which is the most probable site of the encounter.
But fortunately there has been new light shed upon the affair from an unexpected quarter. In 1893, an ancient map of a tract of country, covering this very territory, was brought to light from the unpublished manuscript treasures of the Massachusetts Historical Society, by Dr. Samuel A. Green, and published in facsimile in the "Proceedings" of the Society for that year.
This map is entitled "A New Plan of Several Towns in the County of Worcester," and bears date of March 30, 1785. It was the work of General Rufus Putnam, at that time of Rutland, but formerly of New Braintree, a distinguished surveyor, a skilful and painstaking artist, as this plan proves. The feature about this map of special interest to us here is the fact that it locates "Meminimisset," and the swamp to the east, and here is found the inscription, "Hutchinson & Troop Ambushed between Swamp & Hill."
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