Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29, 1704- The Raid on Deerfield

The Raid on Deerfield occurred during Queen Anne's War on February 29, 1704, when French and Native American forces under the command of Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville attacked the English settlement at Deerfield, Massachusetts just before dawn, burning part of the town and killing 56 villagers.

French organizers of the raid drew on a variety of Indian populations, including in the force of about 300 a number of Pocumtucs who had once lived in the Deerfield area. The diversity of personnel involved in the raid meant that it did not achieve full surprise when they entered the palisaded village. The defenders of some fortified houses in the village successfully held off the raiders until arriving reinforcements prompted their retreat. More than 100 captives were taken, and about 40 percent of the village houses were destroyed.

The raid has been immortalized as a part of the early American frontier story, principally due to the account of one of its captives, the Rev. John Williams. He and his family were forced to make the long overland journey to Canada. His young daughter Eunice was adopted by a Mohawk family; she became assimilated and married a Mohawk man. Williams' account, The Redeemed Captive, was published in 1707 and was widely popular in the colonies.

The raiders left most of their equipment and supplies 25 to 30 miles (40 to 48 kilometers) north of the village before establishing a cold camp about 2 miles (3.2 km) from Deerfield on February 28, 1704. From this vantage point, they observed the villagers as they prepared for the night. Since the villagers had been alerted to the possibility of a raid, they all took refuge within the palisade, and a guard was posted.

The raiders had noticed that snow drifts extended to the top of the palisade; this greatly simplified their entry into the fortifications just before dawn on February 29. They carefully approached the village, stopping periodically so that the sentry might confuse the noises they made with more natural sounds. A few men climbed over the palisade via the snow drifts and then opened the north gate to admit the rest. Primary sources vary on the degree of alertness of the village guard that night; one account claims he fell asleep, while another claims that he discharged his weapon to raise the alarm when the attack began, but that it was not heard by many people. As the Reverend John Williams later recounted, "with horrid shouting and yelling", the raiders launched their attack "like a flood upon us."

The raiders' attack probably did not go exactly as they had intended. In attacks on Schenectady, New York and Durham, New Hampshire in the 1690s (both of which included Hertel de Rouville's father), the raiders had simultaneously attacked all of the houses; at Deerfield, this did not happen. Historians Haefeli and Sweeney theorize that the failure to launch a coordinated assault was caused by the wide diversity within the attacking force.

The raiders swept into the village, and began attacking individual houses. Reverend Williams' house was among the first to be raided; Williams' life was spared when his gunshot misfired, and he was taken prisoner. Two of his children and a servant were slain; the rest of his family and his other servant were also taken prisoner.Similar scenarios occurred in many of the other houses. The residents of Benoni Stebbins' house, which was not among the early ones attacked, resisted the raiders' attacks, which lasted until well after daylight. A second house, near the northwestern corner of the palisade, was also successfully defended. The raiders moved through the village, herding their prisoners to an area just north of the town, rifling houses for items of value, and setting a number of them on fire.

As the morning progressed, some of the raiders began moving north with their prisoners, but paused about a mile north of the town to wait for those who had not yet finished in the village. The men in the Stebbins house kept the battle up for two hours; they were on the verge of surrendering when reinforcements arrived. Early in the raid, young John Sheldon managed to escape over the palisade and began making his way to nearby Hadley to raise the alarm. The fires from the burning houses had been spotted, and "thirty men from Hadley and Hatfield" rushed to Deerfield. Their arrival prompted the remaining raiders to flee, some of whom abandoned their weapons and other supplies in a panic.

The sudden departure of the raiders and the arrival of reinforcements raised the spirits of the beleaguered survivors, and about 20 Deerfield men joined the Hadley men in chasing after the fleeing raiders. The English and the raiders skirmished in the meadows just north of the village, where the English reported "killing and wounding many of them". However, the pursuit was conducted rashly, and the English soon ran into an ambush prepared by the raiders who had left the village earlier. Of the 50 or so men that gave chase, nine were killed and several more were wounded. After the ambush they retreated back to the village, and the raiders headed north with their prisoners.

As the alarm spread to the south, reinforcements continued to arrive in the village. By midnight, 80 men from Northampton and Springfield had arrived, and men from Connecticut swelled the force to 250 by the end of the next day. After debating over what action to take, they decided that the difficulties of pursuit were not worth the risks. Leaving a strong garrison in the village, most of the militia returned to their homes.

The raiders destroyed 17 of the village's 41 homes, and looted many of the others. They killed 44 residents of Deerfield: 10 men, 9 women, and 25 children, five garrison soldiers, and seven Hadley men. Of those who died inside the village, 15 died of fire-related causes; most of the rest were killed by edged or blunt weapons. They took 109 villagers captives; this represented 40 per cent of the village population. They also took captive three Frenchmen who had been living among the villagers. The raiders also suffered losses, although reports vary. New France's Governor-General Philippe de Rigaud Vaudreuil reported the expedition only lost 11 men, and 22 were wounded, including Hertel de Rouville and one of his brothers. John Williams heard from French soldiers during his captivity that more than 40 French and Indian soldiers were lost; Haefeli and Sweeney believe the lower French figures are more credible, especially when compared to casualties incurred in other raids.

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