A Brief History
with an Emphasis on the
Siege of 1746
Compiled and edited by
Halfway between Williamstown and North Adams, Massachusetts, there lies hidden and long forgotten, a vague marker on a small boulder, at the back end of a nearly vacant parking lot, commemorating a fort named Fort Massachusetts and its defenders. There is nothing there telling us what war this fort was built for. And nothing telling us what had actually taken place on this site––only that there must have been some conflict between the inhabitants of the fort and, presumably, their enemy: a “scene of their struggle in the wilderness,” as the plaque indicates. But nowhere does it tell us what that struggle was.
To the left of the commemorative boulder there is a fireplace and chimney. It is what remains from the replica fort that was built there in the 1930's, housing the first local history museum in the northern Berkshires, for the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society. On what would be the outside of it, there is a small sign that reads, “Fort Massachusetts 1745”––shedding some light on the fort's construction date.
What the boulder's plaque commemorates is the siege that took place there during the French and Indian Wars. On August 19, 1746, an army of 440 French soldiers and 300 of their Indian allies attacked the fort. But the fort of twenty-two soldiers held their ground. The next day, the French desired to parlay. They promised fair treatment of the captives if they were to surrender; otherwise, they'd be taken by force. The commanding officer of the fort, Sargent John Hawks, gave them his answer later that afternoon. Finding that they were low on ammunition, they surrendered––on the best terms that Hawks could get.
The history of the siege and burning of the old fort has been gathered from the pen of an eye-witness and active participant through his detailed account of the siege and capture of Fort Massachusetts, and of the captivity that followed it, in his book "The Redeemed Captive: Being a Narrative of the Taking and Carrying into Captivity," by the Reverend Mr. John Norton. And by an extraordinary book whose writer delved into its history and conducted some fieldwork of his own, and referenced state documents, letters, and private journals, "Origins in Williamstown," by Arthur Latham Perry––a professor of history and political economy at Williams College, and a local historian. It is this latter book that serves to help frame the entire picture of this memorable siege as completely as is possible. For those interested in learning more about Fort Massachusetts and its history in greater detail than is presented here, I highly recommend reading this book.
Fort Massachusetts was located in the western frontier of Massachusetts Bay, in the township of East Hoosac, upon a meadow of the Hoosac River, in current day North Adams. It was the westernmost bastion in the northern line of colonial forts, extending from the Connecticut River, over the Hoosac Mountain, to this western frontier during King George's War (1744-1748), in 1745, against the French and their Indian allies. It was also built to prevent Dutch settlers in New York from encroaching upon Massachusetts territory from the west. And it remained active throughout much of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), until 1759, when it was decommissioned following the Battle of Quebec.
Guardian of New England's Thermopylae
From the junction where the south branch of the Hoosac River meets the north, the resultant Hoosac pursues its course westerly, til it strikes a strong cliff of quartzite, which deflects it sharply to the south, to form in its return to the west a broad semicircular arc enclosing the meadow on which stood Fort Massachusetts. The famous Indian trail of the Five Nations between the Hudson and the Deerfield, crossed the Hoosac by a ford at the eastern end of this arc. The fort was so located as to command this ford, and also the old Mohawk war-path across the meadow; moreover, directly to the north and within long musket-shot range, jutted out the high and rough quartzite rocks, making it difficult to outflank the fort on that side, while the bending river strengthened the position on the south. To the west and northwest of the fort, there were stretches of low and swampy ground. Considering the methods of warfare then in vogue in the New World, the traits of the French and the habits of the Indians, and even the hostile tests to which the fort itself was actually subjected, it must be admitted that its postion was well chosen for the ends for which the work was built. Edward Everette, in an oration at William's College, aptly characterized this pass of the Hoosac between its cliffs on either side as a Thermopylae. Such indeed it proved to be. 
The French and Indian Wars The French and Indian Wars––King William's War (1688-1697), Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), King George's War (1744-1748), and The French and Indian War (1754-1763)––were the conflicts between England and France for North America. This intermittent series of conflicts pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, with both sides supported by military units from their parent countries of Great Britain and France, as well as by Native American allies.
Shortly after the outbreak of King George's War in 1744, the General Court of Massachusetts authorized the establishment of a line of forts––planned by the royal governor, William Shirley––between the Connecticut and the Hoosac rivers, from Colrain to the Dutch settlements, within three to four miles of the northern border of Massachusetts. It is hard to say precisely the number of forts there were in this line. For, many of the structures mentioned in the history books were mere palisaded garrison houses. The ones that we can be sure of, and that were actual forts, were Fort Pelham, in present day Rowe; Fort Shirley, in present day Heath; and Fort Massachusetts, in present day North Adams.
The site of Fort Massachusetts was admirably chosen. It was situated in a bend of the Hoosac River within musket shot of the "Trail of the Five Nations" which crosses the river at this point.
As to its structure, the first Fort Massachusetts (It was captured and burnt to the ground in 1746 by the French and their Indian allies, and rebuilt the following year––stronger than its former.) was very similar to Fort Shirley, built the previous year, and by some of the same men who helped to build Fort Shirley. According to this theory, the fort's exterior dimensions measured approximately 120 feet long by 80 feet wide.
The walls were
twelve feet high, by fourteen inches thick, constructed of pine logs
hewn down to six by fourteen-inch face, placed upon a stone
foundation, one log above another. The timbers of the corners and
side walls were dove-tailed and spiked together with dowel-pins of
red oak. The fort gate faced northward upon St. Francis Ledge. The
barracks, or rooms, were eleven feet wide, with sloping "salt-box"
roofs, built against the inside south wall, and perhaps also against
a part of the walls of the two ends. These rooms were continuous so
far as they went.
was a feature of all the blockhouses built in those times, and was a
sort of platform of boards or plank thrown across the upper tier of
hewn timbers at one of their four angles. On this was constructed a
rude watch-box, a place for a sentinel somewhat protected, as the
platform around it was the place to fire from and protect the fort.
There were no loopholes in the walls, which were six inches thick, of
hewed pines, so that the only places of offense were these mounts.
The blockhouses usually were furnished with two of such mounts, on
opposite angles, but the language [in John Norton's book] seems to
imply that the first Fort Massachusetts had but one; and in place of
the other, on the opposite angle, there was "the great house,"
the upper story of which rose above the walls and served the purpose
of both mount and watch-box. The lower story of the "great
house" was in all probability the officers' quarters, and
perhaps also the storehouse of provisions and ammunition, while above
it constituted a somewhat safer watch-box and place of offense than
The parade was on
the north side of the interior; the gate in the middle of the north
wall opened directly into it; the well, with its posts, in the
northeast corner; and the watch-box was over the other corner on that
side. The whole interior of the fort was floored over with pine
timbers similar to those in the walls.
The "River Gods"
During this time period in Massachusetts, the entire province west of the Connecticut River was in the hands of seven elite families collectively known as the “River Gods”: moderately well-off, but immoderately pretentious families that produced the western region's leading magistrates and military officers during the eighteenth century. These elite families were: Ashley, Dwight, Partridge, Porter, Pynchon, Stoddard, and Williams.
The Williams family were the creators and maintainers of the line of forts, with Ephraim Williams Jr. in command. Colonel John Stoddard, of Northampton, was charged with the general superintendence of the defense of the northwest frontiers of the province; and Major Israel Williams, of Hatfield, was appointed commissary of the department. The construction of Fort Massachusetts was under the supervision of Lieutenant John Catlin, Jr., and was completed in the autumn of
1745, and occupied that following winter by some
forty-three men under his command.
Early Ambushes and the First Casualty at Fort Massachusetts
On May 9, 1745, John Mighills, while riding near the fort with his sergeant, John Hawks, both on one horse, was fired upon by skulking Indians and was wounded, but made his escape to the fort. Sergeant Hawks was worse wounded than the soldier by the same volley, and fell from the horse. But as two Indians ran to scalp him, he recovered and presented his gun, which so scared the savages, that one jumped down the bank, and the other got behind a tree and called for quarter.
On May 25th, the vanguard of the escort arrived near the fort, and was suddenly attacked by the enemy that had been in ambush. The workmen on the fort, who always had their arms close by, immediately advanced on the enemy, putting him between two fires in the sharp skirmish that ensued, which resulted in driving him into the woods for good, so that the escort came up with the loss of only one Stockbridge Indian and two men wounded.
The first casualty at the fort was during its construction. On June 9, 1745, Elisha Nims, who is put down on the Fort Shirley muster roll as present to June 9th, was killed two days later at Fort Massachusetts. Some of the soldiers were at work near the fort on that day, when a party of Indians fell upon them, killed and scalped Nims, and wounded Gershom Hawks. A part of the Indians had laid an ambush to cut off the retreat of any of the soldiers who might attempt to regain the fort; and though the ambush rose to carry out their plan, a sharp fire from the fort prevented its execution. They took captive, however, Benjamin Taintor of Westboro. This party of Indians came and returned by St. Croix and the Hoosac River, and nearly 100 cattle belonging to the Dutch and English farmers of the valley were killed by them. The body of one of the Indians was found a few days after buried in the bank of the river not far from the fort, and some long cords were also found, supposed to have been brought along by which to lead their captives to Canada. Benjamin Taintor, and six others, were brought down from Montreal to Quebec on February 15, 1747. He afterward settled in Newfane, Vermont.
Scouting Parties and Bounties
Small scouting parties were kept continually ranging from fort to fort to keep communication open between them, and to discover the incursions of the enemy. These scouts were provided with Indian shoes, and in the winter, snow shoes at the public expense. The scouts were usually in little squads commanded by a corporal or sergeant, marched in a whole body or in two or three divisions, and upon several routes. Sometimes companies of dogs would accompany them. The officers on these expeditions were required to keep fair and correct journals of their marches, and other operations; and to return them to the government of the province.
The duty of the ranging corps was arduous, and required men inured to the greatest fatigue and danger. To induce scouts to such perilous services, a handsome bounty from the colony treasury was promised for Indian scalps.
Just to the west of the fort was God's Acre–the burial ground for the soldiers and their families who died while stationed there at Fort Massachusetts. This was the first cemetery in the northern Berkshires. However, by 1766, the site had become farmland. And over the next one hundred and thirty years, the labour of the land obliterated every vestige of this God's Acre.
The last rude headstone the remained standing, stood over the grave of Elisha Nims. One hundred years after his death, the students of Williams College obtained permission of Captain Harrison, the then owner of the meadow, to exhume the skeleton. The leaden ball that killed him was found embedded in one of the vertebrae of the back. That portion of the spinal column was brought to the College to be seen in the museum in Clark Hall. In the spring of 1852, Arthur Perry, then a student of Williams, obtained leave from Captain Harrison to bring the headstone itself to the College. It was then lying upon ploughed ground, and the inscription was fast becoming illegible. That too was preserved in the museum.
Nim’s spine and headstone were on display until about 1915, when Williams College turned the remains and marker over to the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society. However, with the close of the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society Museum, in the early 1940's, the fragment of Nims’ spine, along with all the other artifacts in the museum's collection, were transferred to the North Adams Public Library. In 2000, library officials had Elisha Nim's remains buried in Hillside Cemetery with full military honors, on Veterans Day in 2000. The headstone of Elisha Nims has not been located.
Those soldiers that are known to have been buried at God's Acre:
- Elisha Nims – June 11, 1746
- a Stockbridge Indian – May 25, 1747
- Thomas Knowlton – August 1747
- Samuel Abbott – August 2, 1748
- Benjamin King – June 7, 1756
- William Meacham – June 7, 1756
- Unknown soldier – June 16, 1756 (Shot by one of their own.)
- Eight Unknown Soldiers – July 5, 1756 (At night came in Capt. Butterfield from the Camps at the Half Moon with one hundred and forty men — found eight of their men killed by the Indians the 26th of June — coming to the Fort, they buried them. )
The Siege and Captivity of 1746
We are fortunate to possess, from the pen of an eye-witness and active participant, a detailed account of the siege and capture of Fort Massachusetts, and of the captivity that followed it. The ensuing events were strikingly narrated by the Reverend John Norton, in his book, "The Redeemed Captive : Being a Narrative of the Taking and Carrying Into Captivity." The main body of text accompanying Norton's narrative is taken from Professor Arthur Perry's book, “Origins in Williamstown,” for the purpose of presenting, in order, the essential parts of this account, with such additions as have been derived from other contemporaneous records, and with such comments as have been suggested by local investigations, to help frame the entire picture as completely as is possible at this late day. Additional quotes and material have been added, with their sources, by this writer.
John Norton, the author of the record now to be quoted, was born in Berlin, Connecticut, in 1716, was graduated at Yale College in 1737, and in November, 1741, was ordained in Deerfield to become the first minister in Falltown, a new township just then organized west of Northfield. A small church was formed at the same time and place with the ordination. But the times were unsettled. War with France soon became imminent. In about two years Fort Shirley was built a few miles to the westward. It was no use; church and congregation could not be kept together. Norton flung up in Falltown, and was appointed chaplain to the line of forts in 1745, with his spiritual headquarters at Shirley. He was two years' younger than Ephraim Williams, and the two probably took up their residence in Shirley at just about the same time. Norton took his family with him. Williams was a bachelor. Undoubtedly it was the plan of their superiors that both, in the exercise of their diverse functions, should pass occasionally from Shirley to Pelham and Massachusetts, and backwards to the less formal forts and garrisons nearer to and on the Connecticut River. The full title of Norton's pamphlet, printed in Boston in 1748, "and sold opposite the prison," is "The Redeemed Captive, being a narrative of the taking and carrying into captivity the Reverend Mr. John Norton, when Fort Massachusetts surrendered to a large body of French and Indians, August 20th, 1746. Written by himself." The title, "Redeemed Captive," was unfortunate, for it provoked comparison with a much more important narrative with the same heading of the sack of Deerfield in 1704, and of the captivity of Rev. John Williams, the first minister of Deerfield, and of his' family and flock, which soon became a famous book, and has remained so ever since. Mr. Norton had no literary ability at all, and apparently very little practice as a writer, though truthful and accurate in his statements to the last degree; while the printer, who refrained from putting his own name upon the performance, did his work in a very shabby manner, the pamphlet being full of typographical and other errors. There is no evidence that it ever had much, if any, circulation; and, at any rate, it had become extremely scarce and almost wholly unknown, when Drake reprinted it in his "French and Indian War," published by Munsell in 1870. We will now listen to the worthy chaplain telling his own story in his own way.
Thursday, Aug. 14, 1746. — I left Fort Shirley in company with Dr. Williams, and about fourteen of the soldiers; we went to Pelham fort, and from thence to Capt. Rice's, where we lodged that night. Friday, the l0th, we went from thence to Fort Massachusetts, where I designed to have tarried about a month.
The Dr. Williams referred to here was Thomas, uterine brother of Captain Ephraim, and four years younger. The two were the only children of Ephraim Williams by his first wife, Elizabeth Jackson. There were other children, fruits of a second marriage. These two brothers, as is usual in such cases, seem to have been specially fond of each other; and it is an easy conjecture, for which there is some foundation, that the step-mother was a bad element in the early home life of these two boys, in Newton, where they were born, the one in February, 1714, and the other in February, 1718. Dr. Thomas was the surgeon in the line of forts, probably becoming such about the same time that Ephraim became the captain, and John Norton the chaplain. Pelham was about five miles west of Shirley, and Captain Rice's about four miles south of Pelham. The distance from Rice's to the fort, the second day's march, over the mountain by the old Indian trail, was not far from fourteen miles.
Saturday, 16th. — The doctor with fourteen men went off for Deerfield, and
left in the fort Sergeant John Hawks with twenty soldiers, about half of them
sick with bloody flux. Mr. Hawks sent a letter by the doctor to the captain,
supposing that he was then at Deerfield, desiring that he would speedily send
up some stores to the fort, being very short on it for ammunition, and having
discovered some signs of the enemy; but the letter did not get to the captain
seasonably. This day also, two of our men being out a few miles distant from
the fort discovered the tracks of some of the enemy.
Dr. Thomas Williams had received from Yale College a degree as Master of Arts in 1741, and Norton had received his second degree probably the year before; and it is diverting to think of these two men taking this two days' tramp together through the wilderness, followed by fourteen soldiers, or preceded, — it makes but little difference which, — passing but two human dwellings in the whole march, and perhaps relieving the tedium of the long path by college reminiscences, or speculations as to their own or other classmates' futures, as their successors at Yale of a hundred later classes have been doing at New Haven, on the occasion of their reunions, ever since. Beyond a doubt, the fourteen men from Shirley were brought down to reinforce the garrison of the western and more exposed work, but the Doctor took away with him, the next day, the same number that he brought, though undoubtedly not the same men. The need of ammunition and other supplies was very great, and the detachment that went off with the Doctor went doubtless as a military guard to bring back the stores. Sergeant Hawks sent also a letter to Captain Ephraim Williams, supposing that he was then at Deerfield, unfolding the low circumstances at the fort, and informing that some signs of the enemy had been discovered. These signs multiplied the next day. No wonder such signs were discovered! It has never been precisely cleared up, and never will be, why Captain Williams was absent from all his forts at this particular juncture, and why the most advanced one — the very outpost — was left with only a sergeant in command, and virtually with no means of offence or defence in case of attack, in men, or stores, or ammunition. It is certain that he was in unbroken command of the line of forts, twelve in all, including Deerfield, from Dec. 10, 1745, to Dec. 10, 1746, — "in which time he has had 350 men under his particular charge and government." All that can truthfully be said is, that the expedition to Canada was uppermost in the minds of the authorities of Massachusetts during that summer; that an entire regiment under Colonel Joseph Dwight and Lieutenant-Colonel William Williams was recruited for that service within hearing, as it were, of the tap of the drum of those forts; that 1500 Massachusetts levies were sent to Albany early in the season, and many others later, after the news of D'Anville's disasters had reached Boston; and that Captain Williams's absence from his post was somehow or other connected with these movements, proposed or actual, towards Albany, though there is no evidence known to the writer that Williams himself went to Albany in this campaign, either before or after the capture of Fort Massachusetts. It has often been stated and printed that he was absent at Albany when the siege took place. Sergeant Hawks "supposed that he was then at Deerfield." Hawks's letter reached him, indeed, but not "seasonably." Nevertheless, it was an unlucky miss for the Captain in a military point of view, that he happened to be absent from the post of danger at the head of a fair garrison, with fair supplies, in August, 1746. Such a chance to gain military reputation was never renewed to him afterwards.
As Dr. Williams filed out of the gate of Fort Massachusetts, with his fourteen men, for Deerfield, he and they fell immediately into an imminent hazard, of which they had at the time no intimation at all. The fort was already encircled by its enemies from Canada! Close by the road leading down to the ford of the Hoosac, a part of Vaudreuil's forces had secreted themselves in the brakes and bushes, and so near were they to the little detachment headed east, that they could actually have touched them with their guns; "but rather than attempt to seize them, which would have brought on a fire, and apprised the garrison of their proximity, they suffered the surgeon and his men to pass without interruption." After the surrender of the fort, this fact was communicated in detail to the garrison by the French themselves. This was Saturday, the 16th.
Lord's Day and Monday, 17th and 18th. — We met with no disturbance,
nor did we discover any enemy; but the sickness was very distressing; for
though some began to amend, yet there were more taken sick. Eleven of our
men were sick, and scarcely one of us in perfect health; almost every man
The meadow on which the fort stood was and is low ground; the river was then much larger than now, and time had not then worn its channel so deep as it is now; consequently, the drainage of the ox-bow must have been then very imperfect, and the swamp to the northwest must have been broader and wetter than it is at present. It was, therefore, an unwholesome place for garrisoned men to occupy in August, and we do not need to look further for causes of the distressing sickness of which the good chaplain complains; and though the fort stood on the highest ground enclosed in the bend of the river, that itself is but little lifted above the general level. In 1885 most of the meadow, including the site of the fort, was surveyed into streets and building lots; but the general impression of lowness and imperfect drainage in part prevented for several years the taking up of the lots by householders. An elevated railroad embankment also runs across the meadow from east to west on its northern side, and, of course, disfigures it.
Tuesday, 19th.-— Between eight and nine o'clock in the morning, when,
through the good providence of God, we were all in the fort, twenty-two men,
three women, and five children, there appeared an army of French and Indians,
eight or nine hundred in number, commanded by Monsieur Rigaud de Vaudreuil, who, having surrounded the fort on every side, began with hideous acclamations to rush forward upon the fort, firing incessantly upon us on every side.
Considering that the investment of the fort was really made on Saturday, the French concealed themselves remarkably well till Tuesday forenoon. The sickness within the fort accounts for the fact that the men were not stirring, and that new signs of an enemy were not discovered. So far as the present writer can help to secure that result, the names of the thirty persons within the fort during this memorable siege will not be forgotten by posterity.
Sergeant John Hawks, Deerfield.
Chaplain John Norton, Falltown.
John Aldridrich, Mendon.
Jonathan Bridgeman, Sunderland.
Nathaniel Eames, Marlborough
Phineas Forbush, Westboro.
Samuel Goodman, Hadley.
Nathaniel Hitchcock, Brimfleld.
Thomas Knowlton, Ipswich 
Samuel Lovatt, Mendon.
John Perry, Falltown.
Amos Pratt, Shrewsbury.
Josiah Reed, Rehoboth.
Joseph Scott, Hatfield.
Moses Scott, Falltown.
Stephen Scott, Sunderland.
Jacob Shepherd, Westboro.
Benjamin Simonds, Ware River.
John Smead, Athol.
John Smead, Jr., Athol.
Daniel Smead, Athol.
David Warren, Marlborough.
The women and children were: Mary, wife of John Smead Sr., and their children, Elihu, Simon, and Mary; Miriam, wife of Moses Scott, and their children, Ebenezer and Moses; and Rebecca, wife of John Perry. Last, but not least, an additional one, Captivity, daughter of John Smead, Sr., who was born along the way on their long journey to Canada.
Turning now from the mere handful of the defenders of the fort, half of them sick and none of them well, and eight of them women and children, to the "army of French and Indians eight or nine hundred in number," who attacked and reduced it, it is to be said in the first place, that we are not shut up to Norton's narrative and Hawks's journal and the other contemporary English accounts for our knowledge of the make-up of this army, but luckily we have also the contemporaneous and official French accounts, the originals preserved in the Archives of Paris. It is in itself a curious thing,
and it makes a curious phase of the semi-civilization of French America, that a careful record was made of the numbers and destination of even the smaller parties sent out into the English country for plunder and scalps before they started, as well as a summary of the results after the party had returned from its raid. So considerable a hostile incursion as that of Vaudreuil would, of course, under such a custom, find conspicuous antecedent and subsequent remembrancers; and from these and associated documents, we learn that not Canada Indians alone, but Indians from the upper lakes also, Ottawa's from Detroit, Sauteurs from Mackinaw, Hurons, and even Pottawatomies, were in Vaudreuil's detachment. We learn that seventeen Mississaguer from the head of Lake Ontario, who left Vaudreuil before the capture of the fort, went eighteen miles below Albany, struck a blow, and brought back four scalps. We find that Vaudreuil left Montreal on the 3d of August, and that his force consisted at the start of "2 captains, 1 lieutenant, 3 ensigns, 2 chaplains whereof one is for the Indians, 1 surgeon, 10 cadets of the regulars, 18 militia officers, 3 volunteers, and about 400 colonists and 300 Indians, including those domiciled and those from the Upper country." In another quarter of these documents we discover that Lieutenant Demuy left Montreal the 16th of July for Crown Point with a party of 470, mostly Indians, thence for Wood Creek, scouting and "felling the trees on both sides to render its navigation impracticable to our enemies." Demuy was ordered to wait at the "River au Chicot" [Wood Creek] for the party commanded by Vaudreuil, which he did, and whom he joined. Wood Creek flows from the south into the head of Lake Champlain at what is now Whitehall, and the Poultney River, or "East Bay," as it used to be called, in which the boats of Vaudreuil's detachment were left, finds its way into the lake from the northeast at almost the same point. The doubt as to the numbers with which Vaudreuil invested Fort Massachusetts hinges mainly on the doubt as to the number that Demuy contributed to the force at Wood Creek. Vaudreuil left Montreal with 740 men. In the detailed account of his expedition further on, seventeen Indians are mentioned as having left his party "before the capture of the fort." Demuy left Montreal a fortnight earlier with 470 men for preliminary operations on Wood Creek, but with special orders to wait for and join the later party, which he did. "Several of these Indians have formed parties and been out on excursions," reads the record. The more natural interpretation of this language is, that they had returned and rejoined Demuy before he joined the larger war-band for the South. If only half of Demuy's men came with him to the Hoosac, the whole party would have mounted up to 950. That is probably about the number. Norton's "eight or nine hundred" is a moderate and credible statement.
In still another part of these Paris documents is the following, which is quite truthful in the main, although shaky in spots: —
It having been deliberated, in a council held with the Canadians and Indians,
that an attack should be made on the fort called Massachuset, after the name
of that Province, Sieur de Rigaud [Vaudreuil] arrived after a march of ten days
in the neighborhood of this fort. He commenced the attack on it on the morning
of the 30th of August, keeping up an incessant fire from both sides until the
following day, when the garrison surrendered at discretion. Three women and
five children were found in it. The loss on the part of the English was not
ascertained, as they had buried all their dead, except one. The French loss
was one man killed and twelve wounded. Sieur Rigaud was among the latter.
The fort was burnt on the same day, and the prisoner having stated that a
reinforcement was to arrive from Dierfil, Sieur Rigaud detached sixty Iroquois and Abernakis on the route they were to come. These Indians having met this
reinforcement, which consisted only of nineteen men, defeated it and brought
in four prisoners only, all the remainder having been killed.
This last is a distortion of the "Bars Fight"
in Deerfield, which will presently be related as it was. The accuracy of Norton's words describing the Indian yell as "hideous acclamations," and their method of rushing forward towards an enemy and then instantly back again to cover, and of "firing incessantly upon us on every side" without aim or reference to the probability of doing execution, is confirmed by the accounts of other sieges and battles in the French wars and particularly by the scene at Braddock's Defeat.
Mr. Hawks, our officer, ordered that we should let them come without firing
at all at them, until they should approach within a suitable distance, that we
might have a good prospect of doing execution. We suffered them to come up
in a body till they were within twenty rods of us, and then we fired; upon which
the enemy soon betook themselves to trees, stumps, and logs, where they lay
and fired incessantly upon us; some taking opportunity to run from one tree
and stump to another, and so drew nearer to the fort. This they did in a very
subtle manner, running so crooked that it was very difficult to shoot at them
with any good prospect of success, until we observed that when they came to a
stump, they would fall down; which we observing, prepared to catch them
there as they fell down by the stumps; and this we did probably with success;
for they soon left off this method.
John Hawks was born in Deerfield, Dec. 5, 1707, and died there June 24, 1784; and the headstone above his grave was still standing legible more than a century after his death, in the old and abandoned God's Acre at Deerfield. His courage and conduct at the siege of his fort and afterwards, deeply impressed the susceptible French, and loaned him much influence at Montreal and Quebec.
In February, 1748, he had occasion to go to Canada with a flag of truce for an exchange of prisoners, and was treated very handsomely there. His young nephew, Samuel Allen, captured at the Bars Fight, had become so attached in two years to the Indian mode of life in Canada, that he would not voluntarily return with his uncle, and the latter was suffered to use force to compel him; and besides, the Governor of Canada sent six Frenchmen and two or three Indians as a guard of honor to accompany the Sergeant home, and they came with him as far (almost) as No. 4. Hawks continued useful in the service until the conquest of Canada, and was conspicuous on the right side at the opening of the Revolution, while his pastor and more influential neighbors on both sides the Connecticut were Tories. "In Memory of Col. Hawks," etc., runs his epitaph. The reference in Norton's text to trees, stumps, and logs, gives a vivid picture of the ground around the fort in August, 1746. These were the stumps of the pines, whose hewn trunks pinned together and locked at the corners formed the walls of the fort; others were stumps of trees cut down in order to let the sun in on ground where corn could be planted and grown; deciduous trees were doubtless mingled in with the pines, and had been cut down for fuel and other purposes, and the trunks and branches would naturally more or less strew the ground; and, unless later indications along the Hoosac interval are deceptive, spruces were the trees growing in the swamp to the west and northwest. Remarkably cool and level-headed under the circumstances were the Sergeant and the Chaplain and the Sharpshooters, that they should calculate by inference to fire where the Indians would probably be in an instant, rather than where they actually were at the instant.
About this time we saw several of the enemy fall and rise no more; among which was the captain of the St. Francis Indians, who was one of the foremost, and called upon the rest to press on upon the fort. Sergeant Hawks got an opportunity to shoot him into the breast, which ended his days. At the beginning of the engagement, the General sent his ensign with his standard (which he, standing behind a tree about thirty rods distant from the fort, displayed), the General also walked up the hill within about forty rods of the fort, where he stood and gave his orders; but being discovered he had a shot or two fired at him; upon which he moved off; but presently after comes to his ensign, where being discovered, he received a shot in his arm, which made him
retreat with his ensign to their camp.
The St. Francis Indians, the pride and courage of whose captain was thus brought low by the skilled aim of Sergeant Hawks, were Mission Indians, as they were called, — that is, heathen who had been baptized, in contradistinction from the unmitigated heathen, in whose company they fought and scalped in all their incursions. These particular Indians were Abenakis from the region of our Maine, who had been domiciliated by the French missionaries of the order of St. Francis for more than half a century on the river named after their saint a few miles above its opening into the Lake St. Peter, which is an immense broadening-out of the St. Lawrence about halfway between Quebec and Montreal. The river St. Francis rises very near the source of the Connecticut, in the Height of Land between New Hampshire and Canada. The village of that name, where these Indians lived, which was destroyed in 1759 by Robert Rogers, the famous partisan ranger, in one of the most daring and successful raids ever made on this continent, had been the pride of the French Jesuits, and was perhaps the most influential of their stations in New France. Says Farkman of these Indians: "They were nominal Christians, and had been under the control of their missionaries for three generations; but though zealous and sometimes fanatical in their devotion to the forms of Romanism, they remained thorough savages in dress, habits, and character. They were the scourge of the New England borders, where they surprised and burned farmhouses and small hamlets, killed men, women and children without distinction, carried others prisoners to their village, subjected them to the torture of running the gantlet, and compelled them to witness dances of triumph around the scalps of parents, children and friends." To any one familiar with the lay of the land around Fort Massachusetts, there is very little difficulty in determining with exactness the local movements of General Vaudreuil and his ensign, as they are graphically described at this stage of the siege by the keen-eyed Chaplain. The investing force had formed two camps, one to the northwest of the fort, where the General had his headquarters, and the other to the southeast, on the bank of the Hoosac, where its course is southwest. The carriage road [Massachusetts Avenue] on the north of the fort, which probably follows very nearly the line of the old Indian trail, hugs the edge of the quartzite hill just within the ordinary range of the old "queen's arm" of those days; and to one passing east from the site of the French camp there was then and is now a shoulder of the hill jutting down to the swamp, and when the General "walked up the hill within about forty rods of the fort, where he stood and gave his orders," he was walking up on this shoulder, and the place where he stood may be pointed out to-day, certainly within a rod or two. Presently venturing down on the low ground, where his ensign stood with the lilied banner of France, he received a shot in his arm, the scar of which the Chaplain had a chance to see afterwards upon a nearer view.
The enemy still continued to fire almost incessantly upon us, and many of
them crept up within a dozen rods of the fort. We were straitened for want
of shot. Several of our men being newly come into the service, and for want of
bullet moulds, had not prepared for any long engagement, and therefore the
sergeant ordered some of our sick men to make bullets, another to run some
shot, having shot-moulds. This put him upon taking particular notice of the
ammunition, and he found it to be very short, and therefore gave orders that we
should not fire any more than we thought necessary to hold the enemy back,
unless when we had a very good opportunity and fair prospect of doing
execution; so that we fired but little. We had sometimes very fair shot, and had
success. We saw several fall, who, we are persuaded, never rose again. We
might have shot at the enemy almost any time in the day, who were in open
view of the fort, within fifty or sixty rods of the same, and sometimes within
forty and less; the officers sometimes walking about, sword in hand, viewing of
us, and others walking back and forth as they had occasion, without molestation, for we dare not spend our ammunition upon them that were at such a distance.
The men characterized by Mr. Norton as having "newly come into the service," were beyond question some or all of the fourteen who came in with Dr. Williams the Friday night before; and the Chaplain's language seems to imply that it was the business of the men to run bullets, each for himself, and so be "prepared for any long engagement"; but as the sentence is not grammatical, so neither is it quite intelligible. Only eight of the men were in health, fourteen were sick, and the good policy of the French officers in letting the fourteen stout hearts pass by on the road to Deerfield the Saturday previous now vindicated itself; they had no interest to prevent the depletion of the fort, but every motive to further it; still, some of the sick were not so sick but they could use the bullet moulds, and others run some buckshot, having moulds for that purpose, though it appears in the sequel that it was not in accordance with the unwritten military law of the wilderness to make use of shot in such warfare. Sergeant Hawks then first became fully aware how short were his stores of ammunition. It was to replenish these that he had sent out the fourteen men. No doubt he wished them back; but in any case he must have realized that all that could now be done was to prolong the siege as much as possible before the inevitable surrender of the fort. The orders that he gave to spare the ammunition were cool and prudent. So were the lessened shots, that were "very fair and had success." "We saw several fall who never rose again." Our brave narrator belonged to an orthodox church militant. To him the only good Indian (on the French side) was a dead Indian. The French officers seen "walking about sword in hand, viewing of us," were already noted men, and destined to become exceedingly noteworthy on both sides the ocean before the surrender of Quebec in the next decade. Besides Vaudreuil, of whom we shall learn something significant later, there were Demuy and La Corne: each of these, and especially the last, had before him a conspicuous career until the downfall of New France.
Towards evening the enemy began to use their axes and hatchets. Some
were thoughtful that they were preparing ladders in order to storm the fort
in the night; but afterward we found our mistake, for they were preparing fag
gots in order to burn it. This day they wounded two of our men, viz., John
Aldrich they shot through the foot, and Jonathan Bridgman with a flesh wound
the back side of the hip. When the evening came on the sergeant gave orders
that all the tubs, pails, and vessels of every sort, in every room, should be filled
with water, and went himself to see it done; he also looked to the doors, that
they were made as fast as possible. He likewise cut a passage from one room
to another, that he might put the fort into as good a posture of defence as might
be, in case they should attempt to storm it. He distributed the men into the
several rooms. While he was thus preparing, he kept two men in the northwest
mount, and some in the great house, the southeast corner of the fort, to watch
the enemy and keep them back.
I was in the mount all the evening; it was cloudy and very dark the beginning
of the evening. The enemy kept a constant fire upon us, and, as I thought,
approached nearer and in greater numbers than they had in the daytime. We
had but little encouragement to fire upon the enemy, having but the light of
their fire to direct us, yet we dared not wholly omit it, lest they should be
emboldened to storm the fort. We fired buckshot at them, and have reason
to hope we did some execution, for the enemy complained of our shooting buck
shot at that time, which they could not have known had they not felt some of
them. They continued thus to fire upon us until between eight and nine at night,
then the whole army (as we supposed) surrounded the fort, and shouted, or
rather yelled, with the most hideous outcries, all around the fort. This they
repeated three or four times. We expected they would have followed this with
a storm, but were mistaken, for they directly set their watch all around the
fort; and besides their watch they sent some to creep up as near the fort as they could, to observe whether any persons attempted to make their escape, to carry tidings to New England.
It seems odd, that the good Chaplain should have located the fort in his mind as outside of New England, especially as its very name had been given to emphasize the fact that it was within the jurisdiction of the colony of Massachusetts, and, as Sir William Johnson said afterwards of Lake George, "to ascertain its undoubted
dominion here." But his passing over by the old Indian path of the Hoosac Mountain, that gigantic water-shed between the valleys of the Deerfield and the Hoosac, and his being immediately plunged into the confusing scenes of a siege by 800 French and Indians, more or less, may well excuse this single perturbation in his geography; and we shall see in the sequel, that in his journey to Canada he manifested an uncommonly correct topographical sense, though he was in all probability wrong in the instance when he differed from Sergeant Hawks as to the location of a petty stream affluent to Wood Creek. The Chaplain stood in his lot, and shirked
no military duty; he was in the mount in the early evening when it was very cloudy and dark, and the latter part of the night he kept the regular watch there. What was he thinking about during that, to him, momentous night before the surrender of the fort ? The conjecture may safely be hazarded, that one topic of his thoughts was his wife and two little girls left behind in Fort Shirley. He had intended to tarry in Fort Massachusetts about a month, but in less than a week there was no Fort Massachusetts to tarry in; as a matter of fact he saw neither wife nor child for more than a year; as a matter of prospect during that cloudy night on watch, the chances of life at all were scarcely worth looking at. But he did not bate a jot of heart or hope. His was the true New England grit. Hawks and Norton bore off most of the honors that Fort Massachusetts ever yielded to mortal men.
The body of the army then drew back to their camps; some in the swamp
west of the fort, the other part to the southeast, by the river side. We then
considered what was best to be done: whether to send a post down to Deerfield
or not. We looked upon it very improbable, if not morally impossible, for any
men to get off undiscovered, and therefore the Sergeant would not lay his com
mand upon any to go; but he proposed it to several, desired and encouraged
them as far as he thought convenient; but there was not a man willing to
venture out. So the Sergeant having placed the men in every part of the fort, he
ordered all the sick and feeble men to get what rest they could, and not regard
the enemy's acclamations; but to lie still all night unless he should call for
them. Of those that were in health, some were ordered to keep the watch, and
some lay down and endeavored to get some rest; lying down in our clothes, with our arms by us. I lay down the fore part of the night. We got little or no
rest. The enemy frequently raised us by their hideous outcries, as though they
were about to attack us. The latter part of the night I kept the watch.
Deerfield was the nearest town of any size to the line of forts, the home of many of the officers and men in garrison, the source of most of their commissary supply, and the only hope for reinforcements in case of exigency; accordingly, it is no wonder that the sergeant and the chaplain thought of Deerfield, when they found that the fort was thoroughly invested. Indeed, the Sergeant, in co-operation with the Surgeon, had already sent fourteen men to Deerfield to act as convoy to stores and ammunition, before he knew the fort was to be invested, though he had "discovered some signs
of the enemy"; an urgent letter was at the same time sent to Captain Williams at Deerfield, that he "would speedily send up some stores to the fort"; and now the question was between sergeant and chaplain, whether in their now weakened and besieged state, other messengers should be sent after the former, — whether such messengers would be likely to "get off undiscovered," that is, to get through the close lines of the besiegers, — and, if so, whether they would be likely to fetch back succor in season to prevent, if that were possible, the surrender of the fort. The long stretches over the Hoosac Mountain were a minor element in the question, but the chief thing was the hostile camps on either side of the fort, the night watch of the French set all round the fort, and besides "they sent some to creep up as near the fort as they could, to observe whether any persons attempted to make their escape, to carry tidings to New England." It was madness, under the circumstances, to send anybody out; whoever went would by so much lessen the eight men, who alone of the twenty-two, were in tolerable health. The Sergeant, therefore, would not lay his command upon any to go; but he evidently desired that one or more should make the attempt, for he proposed it to several, and encouraged them as far as he thought convenient; but it was in every respect fortunate, that no one could be persuaded to go.
Wednesday 20. — As soon as it began to be light, the enemy shouted, and
began to fire upon for a few minutes, and then ceased for a little time. The
Sergeant ordered every man to his place, and sent two men up into the watch
box. The enemy came into the field of corn to the south and southeast of the
fort, and fought against that side of the fort harder than they did the day
before; but unto the northwest side they did not approach so near as they had
the first day, yet they kept a continual fire on that side. A number went up
also into the mountain north of the fort, where they could shoot over the north
side of the fort into the middle of the parade. A considerable number of the
enemy also kept their axes and hatchets continually at work, preparing faggots,
and their stubbing hoes and spades, etc., in order to burn the fort. About
eleven o'clock, Thomas Knowlton, one of our men, being in the watch-box, was
shot through the head, so that some of his brains came out, yet life remained
Knowlton was the only one of the defenders of the fort who was killed outright during the siege. That the body was not removed from the watch-box and buried, before the surrender of the fort and the consequent mutilation of the remains by the savages and the semi-savage Frenchmen, was owing to the appearance of life still remaining in him till the catastrophe occurred. Why the besiegers should use their stubbing hoes and spades, as well as their axes and hatchets, in preparing faggots, is not quite clear, unless the reason be that the stubs and roots of bushes cut the year before were drier, and so more suitable to their purpose of burning the fort. The reference to the field of corn to the south and southeast of the fort is interesting; for the planting of it, and the hoeing, must have been prosecuted under difficulties, since it is certain that no trees had been felled on that meadow prior to the spring of 1745, and since Norton's description of the Indians dodging round between
the stumps within gunshot of the fort, proves that the planting there did not differ much from that upon many another "burnt piece" in New England before and since. Yet soldiers in garrison, when no enemy is near, find life tedious to the last degree under the most favorable circumstances. The young farmers and mechanics in Fort Massachusetts, in May, 1746, even if they were not put upon it by their officers, would rather work out of doors a part of the time than not. The prospect of a few ears apiece of "roasted" green corn in September may have still further stimulated their zeal, and they were all used to such work at home. It was this tedium, doubtless, as well as a desire to found for himself a home, that led one of the soldiers, John Perry, to fence in a few acres of wild land a mile west of the fort, and build him a loghouse thereon; and perhaps to plant around it a few hills of beans and corn, which he might harvest in the fall, without the leave of the commander at the fort; and, at any rate, conjecture would be vain as to what hands harvested the corn at the fort, in the autumn of 1746. That place was then utterly deserted of men, and continued so for six months, — no human habitation nearer than the house of Eleazar Hawks in Charlemont.
John Hawks would later write in his journal;
"That night they surrounded the fort & kept a shout, Indians & singers & all sorts of noises, until the morning & then as soon as that daylight they renewed their attack, which continued until 12 o'clock, then an Indian called to us & told us that the General had a mind to talk with us. . . . Having but eight well men in the fort, I told the Indian that we would parley."
We continue now with Norton's narrative.
About twelve o'clock the enemy desired to parley. We agreed to it, and
when we came to General Vaudreuil, he promised us good quarter if we would
surrender; otherwise, he should endeavor to take us by force. The Sergeant
told him he should have an answer within two hours. We came into the fort
and examined the state of it. The whole of our ammunition we did not judge
to be above three or four pounds of powder and not more lead; and, after
prayers unto God for wisdom and direction, we considered our case, whether
there was any probability of our being able to withstand the enemy, for we
supposed that they would not leave us till they had made a vigorous attempt upon us, and, if they did, we knew our ammunition would be spent in a few minutes' time, and then we should be obliged to lay at their mercy.
Had we all been in health, or had there been only those eight of us that
were in health, I believe every man would willingly have stood it out to the last.
For my part I should; but we heard that if we were taken by violence the sick,
the wounded, and the women would most, if not all of them, die by the hands
of the savages; therefore our officer concluded to surrender on the best terms he could get, which were —
I. That we should be all prisoners to the French; the General promising
that the savages should have nothing to do with any of us.
II. That the children should all live with their parents during the time of
III. That we should all have the privileges of being exchanged the first
opportunity that presented.
Besides these particulars, the General promised that all the prisoners should
have all Christian care and charity exercised towards them; that those who
were weak and unable to travel should be carried in their journey; that we
should all be allowed to keep our clothing; and that we might leave a few lines
to inform our friends what was become of us.
In accordance with this last permission, Norton wrote a letter the next day, though he dated it Aug. 20, 1746, and nailed it on the west post of the well-sweep, the fort having been burned in the meantime by Vaudreuil's orders. Norton does not anywhere give the text of the letter, for the reason doubtless that he kept no copy of it; but it was found a few days afterward and carried to Deer
field, and it ran as follows : —
These are to inform you that yesterday, about nine of the clock, we were
besieged by, as they say, seven hundred French and Indians. They have
wounded two men and killed one Knowlton. The General De Vaudreuil desired
capitulations, and we were so distressed that we complied with his terms. We
are the French's prisoners, and have it under the General's hand, that every
man, woman, and child shall be exchanged for French prisoners.
The good Chaplain is careful in this letter to give his authority for the statement that the besieging army consisted of "seven hundred": "as they say," that is, the French officers; his own opinion, given much later, after he had marched to Canada in company with this army was, that there were eight or nine hundred; and we have already gathered reasons from the contemporary French documents for believing that even this was an underestimate. When the French officers saw the poverty of the fort and the paucity of its defenders, and realized that they had been held at bay for thirty hours, it was naturally enough their care to belittle their own force. Although Norton does not mention it in connection with the parley, it has come down to us on the authority of Hawks, that the enemy then displayed their own means of capturing the fort, such as axes, hoes, spades, a quantity of fascines ready cut, and a number of grenades.
About three of the clock we admitted the General and a number of his
officers into the fort. Upon which he set up his standard. The gate was not
opened to the rest. The gentlemen spake comfortably to our people; and on
our petition that the dead corpse might not be abused, but buried, they said
that it should be buried. But the Indians, seeing that they were shut out, soon
fell to pulling out the underpinning of the fort, and crept into it and opened the
gates, so that the parade was quickly full. They shouted as soon as they saw
the blood of the dead corpse under the watch-box; but the French kept them
down for some time and did not suffer them to meddle with it. After some
time the Indians seemed to be in a ruffle; and presently rushed up into the
watch-box, brought down the dead corpse, carried it out of the fort, scalped it,
and cut off the head and arms. A young French cut off one of the arms and
flayed it, roasted the flesh, and offered some of it to Daniel Smead, one of the
prisoners, to eat, but he refused it. The Frenchman dressed the skin of the
arm (as we afterwards heard) and made a tobacco pouch of it. After they had
plundered the fort, they set it on fire, and led us out to their camp.
This Daniel Smead, who refused to become a cannibal at the dictation of a semi-savage, or rather double-savage, was one of a family of seven (increased the next day to eight), all taken in the fort and all carried captive to Quebec. They were from Pequaog, what is now Athol. The father, John Smead, this son Daniel, and John Smead, Jr., were paid soldiers. The mother, Mary, and three young children were in the fort in a position of dependence. John Jr., died a captive in Quebec the next April. "He was taken with me at Fort Massachusetts. He was seized with the distemper in
October last, and was bad for a time, and then recovered in some good measure, and after a little time relapsed, and as he did several times, till at last he fell into a consumption, of which he died." This Daniel died also at Quebec a little more than a month later than his brother. "Died Daniel Smead, a young man. He was taken with me, and was son to John Smead. He was first taken sick in November, and by frequent relapses was worn out, and fell into a purging, by which he wasted away and died." The father, John Smead, returned home from his captivity Aug. 31, 1747, probably bringing with him his three younger children; but about six weeks after his return he was travelling from Northfield to Sunderland, when he was killed by an ambush of Indians and scalped.
Vaudreuil had the satisfaction of raising the lilied banner of France —fleur-de-lis — on the top of the fort for an hour or two before it was burned. Undoubtedly it was hoisted at the summit of the "great house" in the southeast corner of the fort. It seems queer to present denizens along the Hoosac, that the French flag should ever have floated even for an hour over its waters!
The contrast between the French officers, who spoke pleasantly and kindly to the prisoners, and the young Frenchman, whether native or Canadian, who practised the barbarities on the body of the dead Knowlton, is one that French society in Canada perpetually presented until its downfall. The exquisite manners of Paris, all the proverbial politeness of France, pitched its tent in and near the residences of the governors of Canada and of such courtly gentlemen as Montcalm, whether in Quebec or Three Rivers or Montreal, while close alongside this refinement, speaking the patois of the country, were the cruelty and falsity and barbarism of the habitans and fur-traders, surpassing, if possible, in degradation even the Indians themselves. The sight of Knowlton's blood dripping down from the watch-box to the ground, roused the Indians to a fierce desire to scalp and mutilate the body; and the same sight roused the young Frenchman to flay the arm, and roast and eat the flesh of the dead man.
We had been at their camp but a little time, when Mons. Doty, the General's
interpreter, called me aside, and desired me to speak to our soldiers, and
persuade them to go with the Indians; for he said that the Indians were
desirous that some of them should go with them; and said that Sergeant Hawks, myself, and the families, should go with the French officers. I answered him that it was contrary to our agreement, and the General's promise; and would be to throw away the lives of some of our sick and wounded. He said, no;
but the Indians would be kind to them; and though they were all prisoners to
the French, yet he hoped some of them would be willing to go with the Indians.
The French were in close alliance for peace and war with the Indian tribes of Canada and the West, but they were troublesome allies at the best, and in moments of excitement were utterly uncontrollable. Montcalm writes: "You would take them for so many masqueraders or devils. One needs the patience of an angel to get on with them." They could not be made to understand, still less to respect, the obligation of pledges. Vaudreuil had promised more than he could perform; he had bitten off more than he could chew. The Indians insisted on their claim to escort the bulk of the prisoners to Canada, to present them to the Governor-General themselves, and so be able the better to claim an expected reward. The spirit, if not the letter, of the capitulation put all the prisoners into the care of the French officers and men; and this was fully recognized by Vaudreuil in his sending his interpreter to Norton, and asking him to persuade the soldiers to go with the Indians voluntarily. Why did the General send Monsieur Doty to Norton rather than to Hawks, the proper officer? If an innocent conjecture may be hazarded, it may have been a religious scruple on the part of Vaudreuil, a sense at least of the sanctity of a promise, that would be violated if he sent the prisoners among the Indians; and so, if their religious leader would consent to it and get the consent of some of the soldiers, his own conscience would be the better satisfied. It was a compliment to the Chaplain at any rate, and no disrespect to the Sergeant; but the scheme, whatever its motive, did not work, and the General was left to settle it with his conscience the best he could; the Indians must be placated in any event and so the terms of the surrender were strained, even if not broken.
We spoke to Sergeant Hawks, and he [Doty] urged it upon him. We proposed
it to some of our men who were in health, whether they were willing to go
or not, but they were utterly unwilling. I returned to Doty, and told him we
should by no means consent that any of our men should go with the Indians.
We took the General to be a man of honor, and hoped to find him so. We
knew that it was the manner of the Indians to abuse their prisoners, and some
times to kill those that failed in traveling and carrying packs, which we knew
that some of our men could not do; and we thought it little better for the
General to deliver them to the Indians than it would be to abuse them himself,
and had I thought that the General would have delivered any of our men to the
savages, I should have strenuously opposed the surrender of the fort, for I had
rather have died in fight, than to see any of our men killed while we had no
opportunity to resist. He said that the General would see that they should not
be abused; and he did not like it that I was so jealous and afraid. I told him I
was not the officer, but as he spake to me, so I had freely spoken my mind, and
discharged my duty in it, and he had no reason to be offended, and I hoped the
General would not insist on this thing, but would make good his promise to all
These were no fancied fears of Norton's in respect to the sick and wounded among the prisoners, for he was familiar with the story of the captivities to Canada that had taken place in Queen Anne's War, and particularly with the " Redeemed Captive," Rev. John Williams's account of the sack of Deerfield in 1704. Of the 112 captives taken from Deerfield at that time, seventeen were killed or died on the march to Canada, and among these was Mrs. Williams, wife of the minister, who was tomahawked at the foot of a hill in what is now Greenfield. Everybody in New England in 1746 was familiar with these facts from the popularity of Williams's little book with the above title, published in 1707, in which he gave an interesting narrative of the adventures of the captives, and which was soon in everybody's hands. Still, it must be owned, that in the present instance these vigorously expressed fears for the feeble captives proved in the issue to be groundless. These captives were extraordinarily well treated, as we shall see. Perhaps Vaudreuil's qualms of conscience, if he had any, over the terms of capitulation, made him all the more scrupulous that no harm should come to the surrendered from the Indians.
He [Doty] went to the General, and after a little time the officers came and
took away John Perry and his wife, and all the soldiers but Sergeant Hawks,
John Smead and Moses Scott and their families, and distributed them among
the Indians. Some French officers took the care of the families, namely,
Smead's and Scott's, and Mons. Demuy took me with him, and M. St. Luc
Lacorn took Sergeant Hawks with him, and so we reposed that night, having a
strong guard set over us.
The reason why Rebecca Perry and her husband were placed in the care of the Indians, while the other two women with their husbands and the five children were taken charge of by the French officers, seems to have been that they had no children as impediments. The Indians were to go ahead in the march, and the French to bring up the rear. Eleven in all were put with the French, and nineteen were given over to the Indians. The Sergeant and the Chaplain were very honorably treated, for the two highest officers in command, next to the General, took these with them respectively, namely, La Corne took Hawks, and Demuy, Norton.
Thursday, 21. — In the morning I obtained liberty to go to the place of the
fort, and set up a letter, which I did, with a Frenchman and some Indians in
company. I nailed the letter on the west post. This morning I saw Josiah
Reed, who was very weak and feeble by reason of his long and tedious sickness. I interceded with the General for him, that he would not send him with the Indians, bat could not prevail. I also interceded with the General for John.
Aldrich, who, being wounded in the foot, was not able to travel; but the
interpreter told me they must go with the Indians, but they should not be hurt; and they had canoes a little down the river, in which the weak and feeble should be carried. We then put up our things and set on our march for Crown Point,
going down the river in Hoosuck road. I was toward the front, and within
about a half a mile I overtook John Perry's wife; I passed her, M. Demuy
traveling apace. I spoke with her, and asked her how she did? She told me
that her strength failed her in traveling so fast. I told her God was able to
strengthen her. In him she must put her trust, and I hoped she was ready for
whatever God had to call her to. I had opportunity to say no more. We went
about four miles to the place where the army encamped the night before they
came upon us. Here I overtook neighbor Perry, which surprised me, for I
thought he had been behind me with the French, but he was with the Indians.
I asked him after his health. He said he was better than he had been. I
inquired after his wife. He said he did not know where she was, but was some
where with the Indians, which surprised me very much, for I thought till then
As the morning of the 21st of August, 1746, dawned upon western Massachusetts, gradually lighting up the gloom of the forests, and dispelling the mists that rolled up the mountain sides, the smoke from the fire still smoldering among the logs and debris which but a few hours before had constituted the defense known as Fort Massachusetts, curled sluggishly upward until wafted away above the desolate scene. Securely nailed to a charred post which still remained erect upon the western boundary, was a letter which contained the following words written in a bold determined hand: "These are to inform you that yesterday about nine of the clock, we were besieged by, as they say, seven hundred French and Indians. They have wounded two men and killed one Knowlton. The general, De Vaudreuil, desired capitulation, and we were so distressed that we complied with his terms. We are the French's prisoners, and have it under the General's hand, that every man, woman and child, shall be exchanged for French prisoners."
-- From “The Site of Old Fort Massachusetts,” by D.D. Slade, featured in “The American: Journal of Literature, Science, the Arts, and Public Affairs” – October 27, 1888
Josiah Read was from Rehoboth in the Old Colony. He was sick of the prevailing distemper before the fort was besieged, and was doubtless treated by the Indians after the surrender with all the consideration that was possible, an Indian carrying him on his back. He died at the place of the first encampment during this (Thursday) night; and though Norton suggests a little later a fear that he may have been murdered, it became perfectly clear after the return of the surviving captives that the man died of his malady. John Aldrich was of Mendon in Worcester County, and was one of the two wounded in the watch-box on the first day of the siege. When the rest of his surviving companions in captivity returned to their several homes the next year, John Aldrich and one other were left sick in Quebec, but these two also returned afterwards, and were paid their wages, twenty-five shillings a month, for the year and more, by the Treasurer of the Colony. The captives started Thursday morning for Crown Point from Vaudreuil's camp near the fort, the Indians in general in front and the French in the rear, though soon more or less commingled on the march, making their way as best they could "down the river in Hoosuck road" towards the first resting-place four miles to the west where there is a decided bend of the river to the north. Norton's use of the term, "road," here, shows that the immemorial Mohawk trail was even then much travelled back and forth. It was a road. After crossing the stream at Fort Massachusetts, it ran thenceforth along its northern bank
and usually near to the water, unless the interval were low and wet, in which case the Indians always hugged the edge of the higherland, or unless there were a considerable bend in the stream, in which case the Indians made the short cut as unerringly as a modern engineer. The place where Norton overtook John Perry's wife was near or at the place where her husband had built their house a short time before, and stocked it with the goods to which reference has been had already, and which the struggling Indians bringing up the rear burned in passing. The considerable confusion into which Norton falls in this paragraph concerning the Perrys, betrays the fact that he wrote out his narrative some time after the events, from notes taken at the time; for he tells us expressly a little way back that Perry and his wife, with the bulk of the soldiers, were distributed among the Indians, while here he twice expresses much surprise to find them in the company of the Indians — "for I thought till then she was with the French."
The Hoosac meadow in Williamstown, on which the band of captives rested for a while about noon of the first day's march, has been from that day to this an interesting place. "We went about four miles to the place where the army encamped the night before they came upon us." [The place was called the River Bend Farm in the 1890's, when Professor Arthur Perry's book was written.] There has been for many years a steam saw-mill where the river begins to bend northward, which has more or less disfigured the meadow, and the tracks of the Fitchburg railroad curving round the bend and requiring considerable cutting and filling, to say nothing of a deposit of gravel which has been carried off in large quantities for ballasting, have still further disfigured and transformed it; but when perhaps for centuries the Indians used to make a sort of camp and stopping-place upon this curve covered with primeval forests, of which enormous pines formed a part, it was one of the loveliest places in all New England; and when about twenty-five years after the present passage, the farm was fairly cleared up, it became, perhaps, the most fertile farm in Williamstown, and certainly the residence and tavern-stand of its most prominent and patriotic citizen. Indian arrow-heads and other Indian relics have always been found in its ploughed fields, and even so late as 1887. And notwithstanding the cut-up and demoralized surface, Samuel Abbott, a graduate of the College of that year, found several valuable relics of Indian occupation on the place. Next to Josiah Read, who died a few miles down the river a few hours later, the sickest of the captives was a lad named Benjamin Simonds, of Ware River, then twenty years old, who lived to own the broad meadow, and to build upon it the stately house still standing, of which, as well as of him, we shall be likely to learn more in the sequel.
Here we sat down for a considerable time. My heart was filled with sorrow,
expecting that many of our weak and feeble people would fall by the merciless
hands of the enemy. And as I frequently heard the savages shouting and yelling, trembled, concluding that they then murdered some of our people. And
this was my only comfort, that they could do nothing against us, but what God
in his holy Providence permitted them; but was filled with admiration when I
saw all the prisoners come up with us, and John Aldrich carried upon the back
of his Indian master. We set out again, and had gone but a little way before
we came up with Josiah Read, who gave out. I expected they would have
knocked him on the head and killed him, but an Indian carried him on his back.
We made several stops, and after we had traveled about eight miles we made a
considerable stay, where we refreshed ourselves, and I had an opportunity to
speak to several of the prisoners; especially John Smead, and his wife, who
being near her time, was filled with admiration at the goodness of God in
strengthening her to travel so far.
The cause of the shouting and yelling of the savages, here referred to by Norton, may very probably have been the burning of John Perry's premises, at that time the only house in the Hoosac valley till they came down to Dutch Hoosac, where they burned, the next day, seven houses and fourteen barns, and a large quantity of wheat, and slaughtered many hogs and cattle, doubtless accompanying the devastation with similar whooping and outcry. Every vestige of this already thriving settlement at the junction of the Little Hoosac with the Hoosac went up in flames; one of the proprietors named Samuel Bowen was killed, and the loss in that single neighborhood was estimated, at the time, as £50,000 New York currency. The French account of the doings of this party returning from the sack of Fort Massachusetts is not exaggerated as much as usual: "Barns, mills, churches, and tanneries were destroyed, and the harvest laid waste for a distance of thirty or forty miles." Indeed, the small party of French and Indians returning from the attack on Fort Massachusetts two months before, when Elisha Nims was killed, and Gershom Hawks wounded there, slaughtered, in Dutch Hoosac, nearly one hundred animals belonging to the Dutch and English farmers. The valley is this time trod by an army that leaves nothing of value movable or burnable behind it. But we are getting a little ahead of Norton's narrative.
I saw John Perry's wife. She complained that she was almost ready to give
out. She complained also of the Indian that she went with, that he threatened
her. I talked with a French officer, and he said that she need not fear, for he
would not be allowed to hurt her. Mons. Demuy, with a number of men, set
out before the army, so I took my leave of her, fearing I should never see her
more. After this Sergeant Hawks went to the General and represented her
case to him. So he went and talked to the Indians, and he [her master] was
kind to her after that. After we had traveled round the fields, I thought he
was about to leave the river, which increased my fears. But I found out the
reason; for they only went to look some buildings to plunder, and burn them.
Vaudreuil was true to his after promise, even if he had proved false to the exact terms of surrender. No captives in like circumstances ever had less cause to complain of their treatment on the whole. These conferences were had, and this result was reached, while the slow march was progressing through the present town of Pownal, Vermont, and approaching and passing the present line of the state of New York. The valley of the Hoosac narrows decidedly after passing into Petersburg, and the river turns sharply to the west, till the valley suddenly broadens to receive into itself the valley of the Little Hoosac at the junction of the two streams. These united valleys, at their place of union, are now called, for railway reasons, Petersburg Junction. They were formerly called, from the prevailing nationality of the farmers there, Dutch Hoosac. The meadows here are very broad, and have always been very productive. Here located himself in 1735, Bernardus Bratt, a Dutchman, who married in that year, Catharine Van Vechten, and who built his house very near the present railway station. He built the first saw-mill and the first grist-mill in this district. These mills, and a large quantity of grain, lumber, and other property, both his and his neighbors', were burned by our Indians at this time. "They went to look some buildings to plunder, and burn them." They went up the Little Hoosac and burned every farm-house and barn in what is now North Petersburg. They performed the same pleasing service for the Bovies and Brimmers and Bowens and Van Der
Vericks, on whose meadow, directly to the south of Bratt's, the whole army encamped for the night. Dec. 1, of this year, Norton notes in his diary the death at Quebec of Gratis Van Der Verick, who had been a captive for a year, and had been taken at Saratoga, and who may have belonged to the family then occupying what has since been called the "Joseph Case farm," and is now called (1887) from its present owner, the "Edward Green" farm, on which Vaudreuil, with his motley force and his prisoners, made their first night's encampment, after leaving the fort for good.
Also, on their first night's encampment, Mary Smead, the daughter of John Smead Sr. and Mary Smead, had a little adventure of her own, as is told below.
A little before sunset we arrived at Van Der Verick's place, where we found
some of the army, who had arrived before us, but most of them were still
behind; and I had the comfort of seeing the greatest part of the prisoners come
up: God having wonderfully strengthened many who were weak; the French
carrying the women. There were some few that tarried behind about two
miles, where Mrs. Smead was taken in travail: And some of the French made
a seat for her to sit upon, and brought her to the camp, where about ten o'clock,
she was graciously delivered of a daughter, and was remarkably well. The child
also was well. But this night Josiah Read, being very ill, either died of his ill
ness, or else was killed by the enemy; which, I could never certainly know, but
The first night after the capture, Mary was wrapped in a blanket by a
French Soldier and soon fell asleep by his side. During the night, she awoke
and crept out into the dark in search of her friends whom she expected to
recognize by feeling the hair of the sleeper; after some searching she found
return to the tent.
two men lying together whom she took to be her brothers, John and Daniel, and
she closely nestled down between them and was soon asleep again. The
Frenchmen, missing her, went out with a blazing torch to find her. Who can
picture the dismay of the child, when by its light she saw her companions to be two
hideous Indian warriors instead of her brothers. She was quite willing to
From Fort Massachusetts to Van Der Verick's place, the first day's journey towards Canada, was not far from fourteen miles as the river runs. Nature put her seal of beauty and bounty upon the spot, and Providence marked it with displays of graciousness, that doubtless came in answer to prayer; the French showed unwonted kindness to the sick women, bringing Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Perry to
the camp, carrying them; and when Mrs. Smead was taken in travail some two miles back from the camp, it was French officers and soldiers who tenderly tarried for her, made a seat for her to sit upon, and carried her in their arms to the camp on the meadow, which was then made memorable forever by the birth and baptism of a Christian child.
Friday, 22. — This morning I baptised John Smead's child. He called its
name Captivity. The French then made a frame like a bier, and laid a buck
skin and bear skin upon it, and laid Mrs. Smead, with her infant, thereon; and
so two men at a time carried them. They also carried Moses Scott's wife and
two children, and another of Smead's children. The Indians also carried in
their canoes, Benjamin Simonds and John Aldrich and Perry's wife, down the
John Hawks found little cause for complaint at the hands of his captors: "The French & Indians were very careful of the sick & wounded & kind to all of us. The gentleman that I went with was as kind to me as if I had been his brother." 
At least two canoes had been brought by the Indians from the head of Lake Champlain, where most of their boats were left to await their return, up to the junction of the Hoosacs, and here they took into these for the next stage of their journey homeward, the sick man, and the wounded man, and the invalid woman, all of whom had been in Indian charge from the start. Their birch-bark canoes and paddles were extremely light, and were easily borne over the shorter or longer carrying-places, which intermitted the waterways between Canada and the Colonies, by whichever of the usual routes these ways were attempted. There was less land-carriage by Lake George or Wood Creek to the Hudson, or by any one of the three routes over the Green Mountains to the Connecticut, than by the route chosen on this occasion by Owl Kill to the Hoosac.
We had remarkable smiles of Providence. Our men that had been sick, grew
better and recovered strength. The enemy killed some cattle which they found
in the meadow; so that we had plenty of fresh provisions and broth, which was
very beneficial to the sick. I then expressed a concern for the feeble people,
understanding that we were to leave the river, and travel through the wilderness
near sixty miles; but Mons. Demuy told me I need not fear, for the General
had promised those Indians a reward who had the care of the feeble persons,
if they would be kind and carry them through the journey. This night I visited
most of the prisoners. This night, also, died two Indians of their wounds. The
enemy had got four horses.
Scarcely less picturesque than the first was this second night's encampment at St. Croix, the junction of the Walloomsac with the Hoosac. The encampment was on the land of Garret Van Ness, whose acquaintance we have already made in connection with supplies for Fort Massachusetts. The horses obtained for the couriers to carry the good news to Canada, undoubtedly belonged to Van Ness, for he owned two miles or more of the land between the mouth of the Walloomsac and the mouth of Owl Kill, where is now the hamlet of Eagle Bridge. From Van Der Verick's to Eagle Bridge, the second day's more comfortable journey, is pretty nearly ten miles. Here all hands were to leave the line of the Hoosac, and push on nearly due north, into the then unsettled wilderness, now Washington County, to the head of Lake Champlain, where is now the town of Whitehall. The canoes, with the two or three sick ones, might, perhaps, be pushed up the Owl Kill a few miles above its mouth, and then all the rest would be land journey to the lake.
Saturday, 23. — This morning the General sent off an officer with some men
to carry news to Canada. This day we left the river and traveled in the wilderness, in something of a path, and good traveling for the wilderness, something east of north, about fifteen miles; the French still carrying Smead's and Scott's wives and children; the Indians finding horses for Benjamin Simonds and John Aldrich. Perry being released from his pack, was allowed to help his wife, and carry her when she was weary. About three in the afternoon they were alarmed by discovering the tracks of a scout from Saratoga. This put them into a considerable ruffle, fearing that there might be an army after them. But I presumed that they need not be concerned about it. The body of the army lodged between two ponds, but part, with a number of the prisoners, were sent forward about two miles, till they crossed Sarratago river; it is there twenty rods
wide, but shallow water. This night also died two more Indians of their wounds.
(Click to enlarge images)
This paragraph is one of extreme importance both historically and geographically, and has been often heretofore, if not always, wholly misinterpreted. It is, in fact, no other than the Batten Kill. The proof of this, and the reason why Norton, following the usage of the time, called the stream "Sarratago River" will come forth into clear light as we go on. Once and again and again the present writer has gone carefully over every foot of ground covered by this passage, which was the third day's march of the captives, and satisfied himself by personal inspection, not only as to the exact spot of the lodging-place "between two ponds," which is the water-shed between the Hoosac and the Batten Kill, but also as to the exact place of their crossing the river, which is called to this day "the ford." Their route lay directly up Owl Kill on the west side of it, just as the public road now runs from Eagle Bridge to Cambridge, and thence north along the present road to Salem, through what is now Jackson Center, and then, after bending a little to the right between Long Pond and McLean Pond, found the "divide," and there was their camp for the night. Dead Pond, apparently without inlet or outlet, lies just upon the water-shed. Then from Big Pond (just north) there flows a tiny stream through Little Pond to reach the kill below. These are the so-called Jackson Ponds. The ground is low and swampy along this little tributary of the kill, and so the Indian path turned to the left, keeping the higher ground, and then went through a little pass between high hills, and came directly down to the present ford over the Batten Kill at East Greenwich. A substantial farmhouse now flanks the old Indian trail on the west just before the ford is reached. Much narrower now are mountain streams than they were 140 years ago, and Norton's "twenty rods" have shrunk to less than half that width.
Lord's day, 24. — This day we set out in the morning and came to Sarratago
river, crossed it, and came to our company, which had been before us. Here
we came to a rich piece of meadow ground and travelled in it about five miles.
We had good travelling this day. We crossed several pieces of good meadow
land. We went about eighteen miles. John Perry's wife performed this day's
journey without help from any. Our sick and feeble persons were remarkably
preserved to-day; for about two o'clock in the afternoon there fell a very heavy
shower of rain, which wet us through all our clothes. Mrs. Smead was as wet
as any of us, and it being the third day after her delivery, we were concerned
about the event; but through the good Providence of God she never perceived
any harm by it, nor did any other person but Miriam, the wife of Moses Scott,
who hereby catched a grievous cold. This night we lodged in a meadow, where
was a run of water, which makes a part of Wood Creek.
Mr. Norton kept a good eye on all the members of his peeled and scattered flock, but he did not know all that was going on among the French and Indians, his companions. He reports when they all were south of the Batten Kill, that there was a considerable ruffle among them, on discovering the tracks of a scout from Saratoga, as if there might be an army after them. On the other hand, Vaudreuil reports to his superiors in Quebec, that he detached a party of Abenakis to proceed towards Fort Saratoga, that they met seventeen soldiers belonging to the fort, took four of them and scalped four others, and that the rest, pursued by the Indians, who killed some of them, threw themselves precipitately into the fort. Vaudreuil also reported in the same connection the success of about thirty Abenakis, detached by him immediately after the taking of Fort Massachusetts to go to Deerfield, who took, he said, five or six scalps. This was the Bars Fight in Deerfield, in which five persons were killed, one wounded, and one taken captive; two of the Indians were killed also. The fourth day's journey of the captives was the longest yet made by them, — eighteen miles. It is easy to trace the path on the spot, or even by a good map, such as Fitch's map of Washington County. It ran nearly due north from the Batten Kill up on the west side of McNob's Lake [Editor's Note: Now called Carter's Pond], where the present road runs to the little hamlet of Lakeville, and then up on the west side of the large and beautiful Cossayuna Lake, where there is no road at present, but are still "the several pieces of good meadow land," and thence between the hills of the present town of Argyle up into the more open land of the town of Hartford, and still up to the lodging-place for the night "where was a run of water which makes a part of Wood Creek," that is to say, Mud Creek, so-called, which is a branch of East Creek, which itself falls into Wood Creek, near Smith's Basin, on the present Champlain Canal.
(Click to enlarge images)
Monday, 25. — This morning we set out and travelled about eleven miles.
We had something rough travelling to-day. We quickly left the small stream we
lodged by at our right hand to the east of us, and travelling a few miles over
some small hills and ledges, came to a stream running from east to west, about
two or three rods in width, and about two feet deep. We crossed it our general
course being north. We travelled about two or three miles farther and came to
a stream running from southwest to northeast, about six rods in width, which
we crossed. And this stream (which we suppose to be Wood Creek) according
to the best of my remembrance, and according to the short minute that I made
of this day's travel, we left at the right hand to the east of us; but Sergeant
Hawks thinks I am mistaken, and that we crossed it again, and left it at the left
hand west of us. I won't be certain, but I cannot persuade myself that I am
mistaken. The French and Indians helping our feeble people, we all arrived
well at our camp, which was by a couple of ponds. Some few who were
before us went to the drowned land.
This day's journey was the fifth from Fort Massachusetts, and the last performed wholly by land. Its topographical notices are extremely interesting, and enable one to follow the path with absolute certainty. Norton was mistaken, and Hawks was certainly right, in the little matter of geography in dispute between them. In the morning's start they left Mud Creek to the right, and still bearing northeast, they passed over some small slate hills and ledges in the modern town of Granville, and soon struck the Pawlet River in the present village of North Granville. The river runs here from east to west just as the Chaplain describes it, and they crossed it in a due northerly course. Two or three miles further they came to the same stream again in Guilder's Hollow, where it was then, and is still, nearly double the width it has at North Granville, partly because it was lower down in its course, and partly because it was shallower there. It has a course there from southwest to northeast. But the straight and best way to their night's camping-place at what is now East Whitehall, led them to cross the same stream the third time, and then to leave it on the west, just as Hawks said they did. The good Chaplain made his "minute" too soon, or else a bit carelessly, for after the second crossing it would have been simply impossible for him to reach his night's lodging on the hillside without crossing the third time also. Hawks, too, kept a careful journal of the captivity, which was extant well into this century, but never printed, and long ago disappeared. Both journalists alike supposed
the stream they crossed to be Wood Creek, while it was in reality the east branch of that historic stream, uniting with it a mile or so south of the head of Lake Champlain, and contributing, perhaps, as much water to that short stretch of stream as its far more famous fellow of the west. The Indians called the Pawlet River, "Mettowee", a beautiful name, which ought forever to supersede the more prosaic one, especially as it takes its rise in Dorset and not in Pawlet, through which indeed it flows. [Editor's Note: The name of the river, Pawlet River, has been reverted back to Mettawee River.]
The camp at the close of the last day's march was near to what is now East Whitehall, and "Herbert's Pond" [Editor's Note: Now called Dunbar Pond], so-named, is with very little question one of the "couple of ponds" by which they slept, and there is at the present time a considerable peat bog close by Herbert's, which may well have been the other of the two ponds. If any wonder why Vaudreuil led his force so far to the eastward of his objective, namely, the place where his boats had been left two weeks before in the mouth of the Poultney River, or East Bay, as it used to be called, just before its junction with Wood Creek and the united entrance into Lake Champlain, the ready answer is found in Norton's repeated reference to the "drowned lands." All around the head of Lake Champlain, both up the East Bay and also up Wood Creek for considerable distances, were low and swampy lands, liable to be overflowed, and such as the old Indian trails were always sure to avoid, when possible; by leaving the Mettowee at the west, and skirting along the highlands to the east, they found dry ground at all seasons of the year, and though the distance was decidedly greater, the going was decidedly better.
Tuesday, 26. — This day we took our journey. Our course in the morning
something west of north. In travelling about three or four miles we came to a
mountain, a steep ascent about eighty or one hundred rods, but not rocky.
After we passed this mountain our course was about west, five or six miles, till
we came to the drowned lands. When we came to the canoes, the stream ran
from northeast to southwest. We embarked about two o'clock; the stream
quickly turned and ran to the north. We sailed about eighteen or twenty miles
that night, and encamped on the east side of the water.
The writer has twice been over on foot the ground of this last morning's tramp of the captives. The present public road from East Whitehall to Whitehall undoubtedly follows in general the footsteps of General Vaudreuil. The old path, however, turned to the right from the present lay of that road a mile or more from the town, along a little lift of higher ground down to the place (or near it) where there is now a bridge over the Poultney River, or East Bay, and where "the stream ran from northeast to southwest." There most of the canoes had been deposited a fortnight before. The crowd embarked without ceremony, the stream quickly turned to the north, they rowed with the current the afternoon and evening, and encamped that night in what is now Benson, Vermont, and, perhaps, at what is now Benson Landing.
Wednesday, 27. — We embarked about nine o'clock, and sailed to Crown
Point, something better than twenty miles. Some of the army went in the
night before, and some before the body of the army. The sails were pulled
down, and the canoes brought up abreast, and passed by the fort over to the
northeast point, saluting the fort with three volleys, as we passed by it, the
fort returning the salute by the discharge of the cannon. This was about twelve
o'clock. Here we tarried till the 4th of September. I lodged in an house on
the northeast point. We all arrived better in health than when we were first
Lakes George and Champlain with their inlets are, of course, within the basin of the St. Lawrence, and formed the only natural route between the colonies and Canada for all their traffic in time of peace, and their military expeditions back and forth in war-time.
At the time of this enforced visit to Crown Point by Chaplain Norton in 1746, Fort St. Frederic was at the height of its military strength and political domination. Next to Quebec, it was the strongest post in New France. It had grown from a wooden stockade, authorized to be erected by the French king on the 8th of May, 1731, capable of accommodating a garrison of thirty men only, to a strong fortress built of limestone, with a tower of three stories, bomb-proof, capable in 1734 of holding 120 men in garrison, and subsequently strengthened and enlarged, containing within its walls a small chapel, whose vesper bell called to their evening prayers the scarred veteran of France, and the voluble Canadian, and the rude husbandman whose hut stood outside the fort. The very northern most point of the cape was occupied by this impressive fortification, from which the shore falls back a little on both sides, eastward to the deep channel of the lake, and westward to a broad bay of back
water constituting the cape on that side. This position explains the ceremony of the salute described by the good Chaplain here. Vaudreuil's boats had already passed in the channel of the lake the northeast point, where stood a stone windmill, serving also the purposes of a redoubt, and where there were also one or more good houses; but the main fort must be first saluted, and so "the sails were pulled down, and the canoes brought up abreast, and passed by the fort over to the northeast point, saluting the fort with three volleys as we passed by it, the fort returning the salute by the discharge of the cannon." The Chaplain was lodged with his custodian, M. Demuy, "in a house on the northeast point," where, evidently, the best quarters were in the neighborhood of the fort. The land is high and dry there.
Thursday, 28. — This day I was invited by Monsieur Demuy to go over and
see the fort, which I did. It is something an irregular form, having five sides
to it; the ramparts twenty feet thick, the breastwork two feet and a half, the
whole about twenty feet high. There were twenty-one or twenty-two guns
upon the wall, some four and six pounders, and there may be some as large as
nine pounders. The citadel, an octagon, built three stories high, fifty or sixty
feet diameter, built with stone laid in lime, the wall six or seven feet thick,
arched over the second and third stories for bomb-proof. In the chambers nine
or ten guns; some of them may be nine pounders, and I believe none less than
six, and near twenty patararoes.
But as my time was short, I cannot be very
particular. They have stores of small arms, as blunderbusses, pistols, and
muskets. This night proved very cold and stormy.
This detailed description of Fort St. Frederic is the earliest in point of time that has come down to us from any quarter. The French officers were doubtless very glad to exhibit the great strength of the work to Norton and Hawks, in order that they might report the same to their constituent, the colony of Massachusetts, which then and afterwards had a deep interest in its construction and
Friday, 29. — This morning Smead's and Scott's families were brought out of
their tents into the house, that they might be more comfortable. It rained and
was very cold all the day, and at night the wind was very high.
Captivity Smead, the baby born at the first encampment at the junction of the Little Hoosac with the Hoosac, was now just one week old, and the mother had with her three other children, all young; and Mrs. Moses Scott had two young children also; no wonder these were taken out of their tents into the house, that they might be more comfortable. The south and east winds have a fair sweep over northeast point, where the windmill was and the lighthouse is, and the cry of a new-born child appeals to the humanity of man always and everywhere.
Lord's Day, 31. — We had the liberty of worshipping God together in a room
by ourselves. This day about twelve o'clock, the enemy who went off from us
from Hoosuck the morning after we were taken, returned, and brought in six
scalps, viz., Samuel Allen, Eleazar Hawks, Jun., two Amsdels, all of Deerfield;
Adonijah Gillet of Colchester, Constant Bliss of Hebron, and one captive, viz.,
Samuel Allen, son to him who was killed. He was taken with his father and
Eleazar Hawks. The Amsdels and Gillet were killed in Deerfield South Meadow, August 25th. The Indians also acknowledged they lost one man there. This lad told us they had not then heard in Deerfield of their taking Fort Massachusetts.
A young Hatacook Indian was his master, and carried him to St. Francois.
This is an indirect but accurate account of the "Bars Fight," so-called, in the southwest Meadow of Deerfield, five days after the taking of Fort Massachusetts.
Sept. 1-3. — We tarried still at Crown Point. The weather was something
lowry, but warm. I lived with the General and about half a dozen more officers,
who lodged in the same house. Our diet was very good, it being chiefly fresh
meat and broth, which was a great benefit to me. We had also plenty of Bordeaux wine, which being of an astringent nature, was a great kindness to me (having at that time something of the griping and bloody flux). While we lay
here, we wrote a letter to the Hon. John Stoddard, Esq., at Northampton, to
give him a particular account of our fight and surrender; as also some other
private letters; the French gentlemen giving us encouragement that they would
send them down by some of their scouts to some part of our frontiers, and leave them so that they should be found; but I have not heard of them since, and conclude that they destroyed them.
It is not certain whether any of these letters ever reached the English "frontiers".
We shall now no longer follow, in order and in detail, the copious diary of the Chaplain's journey to Quebec, and of what happened to him and his fellow-captives on the way thither, and after they arrived there; not because the entries are not interesting and instructive, but because comparatively few of them bear directly on Fort Massachusetts and the straight course of our story. The captives embarked with their victors at Crown Point, for Canada, on Thursday, the 4th of September, which was the sixteenth day from their capture. They encamped the first night on the New York side of the lake, in a cave so clearly described, that it might, doubtless, be easily identified at this day; and the next time on the Vermont side, at a place afterwards called Windmill Point by the English, a few miles below Burlington. In this voyage down the lake, they did not see an inhabited house on either side, or meet a living person, till on Sunday they entered the Richelieu River, and met a boat with
three men in it, who brought a packet of letters for the French officers, containing what the latter called "news," very favorable to the French cause in Europe, the accuracy of which, the bold Chaplain disputed to their faces, which led to a warm political debate between them, over the battle of Culloden Moor the preceding April, and over the House of Stuart and the Catholic religion in general. It seems odd enough in our time, to think of Celt and Briton hotly disputing in September, whether the Duke of Cumberland were killed at Culloden in April, and whether the House of Hanover — "Cromwell's faction'' — were about to yield to the young Pretender. The place, too, of the debate in the uninhabited wilds of Canada, and the uncertainty of both parties to it, as to the facts alleged, in which both were afterwards proven to be largely wrong and slightly right, add to the queerness of the scene.
Before night of this Sunday they reached the village and fort of Chambly, which is thirty-seven miles below the present boundary line of British America. The French officers were in high spirits. M. Demuy told Norton the next day another piece of news, namely, "that one of their men-of-war had taken an English man-of-war near Louisburg, after a whole day's engagement; that the blood was mid-leg deep upon the Englishman's deck when he surrendered." "They fought courageously," retorted Norton. "rue, but they were taken notwithstanding." "Moreover, they have taken three
hundred and twenty men out of her, who are coming up to Quebec,where you shall see them. "They got to Montreal two days later, where the Town Major and many former captives from New England came to visit the Chaplain. He was courteously entertained while there at the house of M. Demuy, who took him to see the Governor. The Governor said little to him, but told him that after a few days, he must send him with the rest of the prisoners to Quebec. The "few days" proved to be but two, when they embarked in boats, all but six men, who were yet with the Indians, and John Perry's wife, who had already gone on to Three Rivers, for Quebec.
Saturday 13. — This day we had a fair wind, and sailed down the river
twenty -five leagues, when we arrived at the Three Rivers. We went into an
inn. The General [Vaudreuil] and some others of the gentlemen which went
down with us presently went out to the Governor's, leaving only their soldiers
to guard us. And after a little time the Governor sent for Sergeant Hawks and
me to come and sup with him. Accordingly we went, and were courteously and
sumptuously entertained by him; and while we sat at supper the gentlemen fell
into discourse about the wars, and about the wounds they had received. The
General's wound was discoursed upon, and the Governor desired Sergeant Hawks to show his scars, which he did. The Governor then informed us of a fight he had been in at sea in former wars in which he received fifteen wounds, and he showed us several scars. This I thought was a very remarkable thing, that he should receive so many wounds, and yet have his life spared. This night John Perry's wife was also brought to us, and added to our number.
Navigate with this interactive map to explore their journey from Fort Massachusetts to Canada.
Monday, 15. — This day we sailed seven leagues and came to Quebec. We
were landed at the east point of the town where St. Lawrence meets with Loretto, and were conducted up by a number of soldiers through the lower town to the Governor-General's, where I was taken into his private room, and he desired me to tell what news we had in New England. I told him of considerable news we had from Europe concerning the Duke of Cumberland's victory over the rebels. He seemed to have a great mind to persuade me that the Duke was killed, but I told him he was alive and well. I told him of several other pieces of news, but none very good for the French. He told me he had heard that we designed an expedition against Canada. He asked what there was in it. I told him that I lived at a great distance from Boston, and could say but little about it. I had heard that his majesty had sent over to some of the governors in America, that he had thoughts of an expedition against Canada, and would have them in readiness to assist him, in case he should send a fleet over. He inquired what it was that had put it by. Something, he said, was the matter. I told him I could not tell; so he seemed to be pretty easy.
Marquis de la Galissoniere was the Governor-General of Canada, with whom this interesting conversation was had. He was a hunchback; but his deformed person was animated by a bold spirit and a penetrating intellect. He was a devoted student of natural science, and a very distinguished naval officer of France. He had but recently come to Quebec as Governor-General, and was only destined to remain less than three years; but he stayed long enough to give his King most excellent advice, as to the matter of increasing the population of Canada by new colonists, as to a plan of uniting Canada and Louisiana by chains of forts strong enough to hold back the British colonists, and as to the management and Christianization of the Indians. In short, he was one of the ablest and best of a long line of French governors of Canada, closed in 1759 by Pierre Vaudreuil, the best of all, son of Philippe de Vaudreuil, Governor from 1703 till liis death in 1725, and brother of Rigaud de Vaudreuil, captor of Fort Massachusetts. The two brothers returned to France on the downfall of French Canada, the late Governor to be imprisoned in the Bastille on charges preferred by the friends of Montcalm, and stripped of most of his possessions, though exonerated and released, and the brave soldier was still living at St. Germaine in 1770.
After this I was conducted to the Lord Intendant's, who inquired also after
news, both of me and Sergeant Hawks; after which he gave us a glass of wine;
then we were conducted to the prisoners' house, which is a guard-house standing by a battery towards the southwest end of the town, about one hundred and fifty feet in length, and twenty in width, and two stories high; and we made to the number of one hundred and five prisoners. Here we had the free liberty of the exercise of our religion together, which was matter of comfort to us in our affliction. Sergeant Hawks and myself were put into the Captain's room.
The Governor-General and the Intendant of Canada answered to those officials in a French province at home. The Governor was usually a military noble, and the Intendant drawn from the legal class. The Governor was superior in rank to the Intendant, since he commanded the troops, conducted relations with foreign colonies and Indian tribes, and took precedence on all occasions of ceremony. Unlike the provincial Governor in France, he had great and substantial power. As we have already seen, there were local governors at Montreal and Three Rivers; but their power was carefully curbed, and they were forbidden to fine or imprison any person, without authority from Quebec. The Intendant, on the other hand, was a sort of official spy on the Governor-General, of whose proceedings and of everything else that took place, he was required to make report to the home government. The Governor, too, wrote long letters to the Minister of State; and each of the two colleagues was jealous of the letters of the other. Indeed, the French Court did not desire the perfect accord of the two officials; nor, on the other hand, did it desire them to quarrel; while it aimed to keep them on such terms, as, without disturbing the machinery of administration, should make each of them a fair check on the other.
Tuesday, 16. — This day there came some gentlemen to see me, among whom was Mr. Joseph Portois, who understands the English tongue, and Mr. Pais, who, Mr. Portois told me, was his kinsman, and that he was a Protestant, and came on purpose to see me, and to show me a kindness. He gave me twenty-four livres in cash. From this time to the 23d there was nothing remarkable happened only this, — that the Jesuits and some unknown gentlemen, understanding I was short on it for clothing, sent me several shirts, a good winter coat, some caps, a pair of stockings, and a few handkerchiefs, which were very acceptable.
About a week after this, David Warren and Phinehas Forbush, two of the captured garrison, who had been behind with the Indians, came into the prison at Quebec, and reported that John Aldrich was still in the hospital at Montreal. A few days later, Jacob Shepherd, of Westboro, another of the fort-captives who had been behind with the Indians, was brought into the common prison-house; and on Sunday, October 5, the remaining three of the enforced stragglers came in, namely, Nathaniel Hitchcock, Stephen Scott, and John Aldrich. The entire number captured at Fort Massachusetts were now together in the prison, except Josiah Reed, who had died at Dutch Hoosac (now Petersburg Junction) two days after the surrender; but his place had been taken, so to speak, by Captivity
Smead, the infant born the same night that he died and at the same place, but the full ranks of the thirty were soon to be thinned by death, as we shall see.
Wednesday, 22. — I sent a petition to his lordship, the General of Canada or
New France, to permit me to go home to New England, upon a parole of honor,
setting me a suitable time, and I would return again to him; but I could not
The good Chaplain does not obtrude his private griefs even upon the pages of his private journal; but he was doubtless thinking, when he sent in his petition, of his young wife and two little girls left in the garrison at Fort Shirley two months before, when he expected to return to them from Fort Massachusetts in "about a month." One of the little girls he was never destined to see alive. Captain Ephraim Williams, the founder of the College, commanded Fort Shirley that autumn and winter, and doubtless ministered as best he could to the wants of this poor woman.
Friday, 31. — Here I shall speak of the sickness that prevailed among the
prisoners. It had generally been very healthy in the prison before this fall;
for though there had been some prisoners there sixteen months, and about fifty
nine months, yet there had but two died. But our people who were taken at
sea by the two French men-of-war, viz., the Lazora and Le Castore, found a
very mortal epidemical fever raged among the French on board their ships, of
which many of them died. The prisoners took the infection, and a greater part
of them were sick while they lay in Jebucta [Chebucto] harbor; yet but one or
two of them died of it. Some of them were taken with the distemper upon their
passage to Canada, and so brought the infection into the prison; and the fever
being epidemical, soon spread itself into the prisons, to our great distress. Those who brought it into the prison most recovered, and so there were many others that had it and recovered; but the recovery of some was but for a time, — many of them relapsed and died.
Nov. 17. — Died Nathan Fames. He belonged to Marlborough in the prov-
ince of the Massachusetts Bay; was taken with me at Fort Massachusetts,
August 20, 1746.
The sickness increasing and spreading itself so greatly, we sent a very humble petition to his lordship, the Governor-General, entreating that the sick might be removed out of the hospital, lest the whole prison should- be infected; but he refused to send our people to the hospital, for they told us that their hospital was full of their own sick ; yet he did not wholly neglect our petition, but ordered that one of the most convenient rooms in the prison should be assigned for the sick, where they should all be carried, and have their attendance, and this was directly done, and the sick were all brought in.
Dec. 11. — Died Miriam, the wife of Moses Scott. She was taken with me
at Fort Massachusetts. She got a cold in her journey, which proved fatal, her
circumstances being peculiar. She was never well after our arrival at Canada,
but wasted away to a mere skeleton, and lost the use of her limbs.
Dec. 23. — Died Rebecca, the wife of John Perry. She was taken with me
at Fort Massachusetts, August 20th, 1746. Her illness was different from all the
rest. She had little or no fever; had a cold, and was exercised with wrecking
pains until she died.
Dec. 24. — I was taken with the distemper; was seized with a very grievous
pain in the head and back and a fever; but I let blood in the morning, and took
a good potion of physic, and in a few days another; so that I soon recovered
The sickness thus increasing, there were many taken sick [in the prison], which I don't pretend to mention. The sickness also got into the prison-keeper's family. He lost a daughter by it, the 4th instant [January]. Upon this the Governor ordered a house to be provided for the sick, where they were all carried the 12th instant, about twenty in number, with three men to attend them; and after this when any were taken sick, they were carried out to this house.
The Chaplain did not forget, in the prison-house of his foes and amid personal sicknesses, that he was a minister of the glad tidings. On this 4th of January, the day the prison-keeper's daughter died, as we learn from another source than his own journal, he preached two discourses from Psalm 60 : 11, — "Give us help from trouble; for vain is the help of man." He had quoted, however, in his diary, when the sickness first began, several passages of Scripture from both the Testaments, of which these two may serve as samples: "My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity."
"Abroad the sword devoureth, at home there is death."
Jan. 23. — Died Samuel Lovet, after near a month's sickness. He was taken
with me. He was the son of Major Lovet of Mendon.
Feb. 11. — Died in the morning, Moses Scot, son to Moses Scot. He was a
child of about two years old, and died with the consumption.
March 21. — This day died Samuel Goodman of South Hadley. He was
taken with me at Fort Massachusetts, and died of the scurvy.
March 29. — Died Mary, the wife of John Smeed, after a tedious sickness
of about eight weeks; was taken with me.
This was the brave woman who was delivered of a child about thirty-six hours after the surrender of the fort, at the junction of the Little Hoosac with the Hoosac River.
April 7. — Died John Smeed Jun. He was taken with me at Fort Massa-
chusetts. He was seized with the distemper in October last, and was bad for a
time, and then recovered in some good measure, and after a little time relapsed, and as he did several times, till at last he fell into a consumption, of which he
April 12. — Died Amos Pratt. He was taken with me. He had a hard turn
of the fever in November and December, but recovered; was taken again the
latter end of March, and so continued till he died. The 28th of this instant, when the prisoners were all confined in their rooms, but one or two in the lower room cooking the pot, the prison-house took fire. It began on the ridge. We supposed that it catched by sparks lighting upon it. It being very dry, and something windy, it soon spread upon the house, and we could not come at it, having no ladder, to quench it. There were no lives lost, but many lost their bedding and clothing. We were conducted by a strong guard to the governor's yard, where we were kept till near night, when we were conducted to the back of the town to the old wall, in the bow of which they had set up some plank tents something like sheep's pens. We had boards flung down to lay our beds upon, but the tenUs generally leaked so much in wet weather, that none of us could lie dry, and had much wet weather this month. The gentlemen of our room sent in a petition the beginning of May, that they might be removed to some more convenient place. Upon which we had a house built for us in the prisoners' yard, about twenty feet square, into which we removed the 23d instant [May]. This was something more comfortable than the tents. In this yard we were confined, having the wall behind it and at each end, and the fort side picketed in, and a guard of about twenty men to keep us day and night.
May 13. — Died Daniel Smeed, a young man. He was taken with me, and
was son to John Smeed. He was first taken sick in November, and by frequent
relapses was worn out, and fell into a purging, by which he wasted away and
May 17. — Died Captivity Smeed, an infant about nine months old, daughter
to John Smeed.
May 20. — I was taken ill with a grievous pain in my head, and a sore eye,
that I was almost blind with it. The 21st I yielded to be sick. Capt. Roberts
and Capt. Williams were also both of them very sick, being taken a few days
before me. This day I was blooded, having something of the fever. The 23d
I was blooded again; the doctor also gave me a bottle of eye-water, and advised me not to be concerned about the fever. I was sensible they did not apprehend how ill I was. I entreated of him to give me a potion of physic, which he did, the 25th, and it worked very well. In the night I fell into a sweat, and was in hopes it would go off, but I was sadly disappointed, for I grew worse the next
day. My reason departed from me and returned not, until the 14th of June.
Part of this time I was given over by every one that saw me. I had the nervous
fever, and was very much convulsed. I was exceeding low and weak when I
first came to myself, but I recovered strength as soon as could be expected; for, by the 24th of June, I got out and went into the chamber.
In this three weeks' interval of delirium, someone must have made brief entries in the Chaplain's journal for him, at least of the deaths occurring almost daily; or else he afterwards copied these from the synchronous diary of Sergeant Hawks, which may be still in existence, although this is not likely, since nothing has been publicly heard of it for three-quarters of a century, or since General Hoyt used it in the preparation of his "Antiquarian Researches," published in 1824. Hoyt died at Deerfield in 1850. Rumors have been current that this diary was brought into Berkshire County
from Hampshire by the Pomeroy family, when they migrated to Pittsfield, but nothing definite has ever been ascertained in relation to it. Its probable destruction makes all the more precious for preservation the Chaplain's entries, which he evidently recast and expanded somewhat after his return from captivity, and in preparation for the printing of it in Boston in 1748, where it "was sold opposite the prison." As the prison at that time was in Queen Street, where the court-house now is, and as Daniel Fowle is known to have kept in Queen Street at that time, he may probably be supposed to be the printer. Whoever he was, he did not perform his share of the work with much credit to himself, which may be the reason for withholding the printer's name from the pamphlet.
May 22. — Died Nathaniel Hitchcock of Brimfield. He was taken with me.
May 30. — Died Jacob Shepherd, a pious young man, well-beloved and much
lamented. He was taken with me.
The same day (July 16) died Phinehas Forbush of Westboro', taken at Fort
Massachusetts with me. He was a very likely man.
July 21. — Died Jonathan Bridgeman of Sunderland. He was taken with me
at Fort Massachusetts.
July 25. — We came on board the ship Vierge-de-Grace [Handsome Virgin],
which the governor of Canada sent with a flag of truce to Boston. The 27th we
set sail for New England, at ten in the morning. August 1st we came in sight
of Cape Breton Island.
August 16. — We arrived at Boston. The sick and infirm were taken to the
hospital. Col. Winslow sent to me and desired me to come and tarry with him
while I continued in Boston. I thankfully accepted it, and was courteously
entertained. This was a day of great joy and gladness to me. May I never for-
get the many great and repeated mercies of God towards me.
The twenty-nine captives were taken to Quebec to be later exchanged as prisoners of war; only fourteen, ten men and four children, lived to be traded back to the British a year later. To learn of what became of the surviving captives, click HERE to read on.
Fort Massachusetts had been rebuilt in the spring of 1747. The General Court had resolved to garrison 100 men in Fort Massachusetts so soon as it should be completed. Israel Williams was experienced enough to know that a very considerable base of supplies would be needed to maintain such a garrison in such a place, nothing short of Albany; accordingly, Captain Ephraim Williams was sent from the fort to Albany with an escort of 100 soldiers to guard provisions purchased there on their way thence to the fort, as he himself expressed it in a memorial dated November, 1747: "That in the month of May last I went from Fort Massachusetts to Albany to bring out stores for the use of the Government at that Fort," etc., etc.
Before the return of this escort from Albany, and while the workmen were still employed on the construction of the fort, a body of the French and Indian enemy approached the fort with the double intent of interrupting the work upon it and cutting off the escort of the provisions, and lay concealed for some time in the circum adjacent woods. On the 25th of May, the vanguard of the escort arrived near the fort, and was suddenly attacked by the enemy that had been in ambush. The workmen on the fort, who always had their arms close by, immediately advanced on the enemy, putting him between two fires in the sharp skirmish that ensued, which resulted in driving him into the woods for good, so that the escort came up with the loss of only one Stockbridge Indian and two men wounded.
Just a week later than this skirmish, the fort being now completed and provisioned, the command over it was transferred by the following written order, Colonel William Williams: —
Fort Massachusetts, June 2, 1747.
Sir, — Intending by the leave of Providence to depart this fort to-morrow,
which, through the goodness of God towards us is now finished, I must desire
you to take the charge of it ; and shall, for the present, leave with you eighty
men, which I would have you detain here till the barracks are erected, which I
would have you build in the following manner, viz., seventy feet in length,
thirty in breadth, seven-feet post, with a low roof. Let it be placed within five
feet of the north side of the fort, and at equal distances from the east and west
Let it be divided in the middle with a tier of timber ; place a chimney in the
centre of the east part, with two fire-places to accommodate those rooms. In
the west part, place the chimney so as to accommodate the two rooms on that
part, as if the house was but twenty feet wide from the south ; making a parti-
tion of plank, ten feet distance from the north side of the barrack, for a store-
room for the provisions, &c.
The timber, stone, clay, lath, and all materials, being under the command of
your guns, I can't but look upon you safe in your business, and desire you to
see everything finished workmanlike ; and when you have so done, you'll be
pleased to dismiss Capt. Ephraim Williams, with his men, and what of my com-
pany I leave. You'll not forget to keep a scout east and west, which the men
of your company are so well adapted for, and can be of very little service to you
Sir, I shall not give you any particular directions about maintaining the
strong fortress or governing your men, but, in general, advise you always to be
on your guard, nor suffer any idle fellows to stroll about. Sir, I heartily wish
you health, the protection and smiles of Heaven on all accounts, and am, with
Your most humble servant,
The barracks were to be placed "within five feet of the north side of the fort, and at equal distances from the east and west ends.'' As the barracks were to be seventy feet long, if the fort were 100 feet, there would have been fifteen feet free at both ends of the north side, and if 120 feet, twenty-five feet free. There was to be, some years later, a mount for observation over the northwest corner of the fort, as there was to the old one; and we may be sure that the cannon were mostly ranged to the west or north, because the enemy would surely approach and probably attack on those sides. The sole entrance to the fort (always on the north side) was flanked at five feet distance by the barracks. The alley-way between the two was convenient for the ingress and egress of officers and soldiers without going through the barracks. The officers' quarters were undoubtedly within the main enclosure, as was also the well, and there must have been at least one chimney within for the accommodation of those quarters, which would still leave an ample parade. And so William Williams doubtless left the fort June 3d in the hands of the two Ephraim's, father and son, expecting that the father, so soon as the barracks were finished, would dismiss the son to the care and control of his mountain forts to the eastward.
The war was carried on in a desultory way through that summer and autumn, in various parts of New England; Peter Bovee, one of the soldiers of Fort Massachusetts, was captured near the fort on October 1st. It was from August to August two years between the first general attack upon and the consequent surrender of the first Fort Massachusetts in 1746, and the second and only other general assault upon the fort after its rebuilding. The second fort was much the stronger, as we have already seen; but the cannon were undoubtedly mounted so as to sweep the north and west, on which sides the French and Indians would naturally appear, both from the point of their general approach and especially from the lay of the land there, and on which sides in the main the attack of 1746 was made; while the attack of 1748 was very shrewdly planned on the part of the French, was made from the east and south sides, — on which the fort was less formidable, — and came very near being successful on account of what one cannot help regarding as rashness on the part of Captain Williams. We shall let him tell his own story in a moment, but an outline of the main facts will prepare us the better to judge of that and of him.
In the late afternoon of the 1st of August, the garrison (then full) had good reason to believe that an ambush of French and Indians had been laid in the woods that skirted the river on the side next the fort. The ford where the Indian trail — Trail of the Five Nations — crossed the Hoosac — was due east of the fort about fifty rods. Just a little below the fording-place, the stream, which here falls southerly, turns westerly, and keeps that course at about the same distance to the south of the fort as to the east of it. Dense woods skirted the stream on those sides of the fort. At six o'clock on the morning of the 2nd, Captain Williams went out at the gate to observe the motions of the fort dogs, and satisfied himself that the ambush was about forty rods to the east of the fort, between it and the fording-place; and going back into the fort, where all was commotion, a few men were eager to go out and reconnoitre. He refused to let them go because they were too few, and, getting ready fifty men for a sally, he found that four men had gone out without his permission, and were standing their ground against twelve or fifteen who had come out into the open; whereupon, Williams hastily sallied with thirty men, and drove these back into the woods near the fording-place, when fifty Indians in ambuscade on his right (southeast of the fort) rose and gave him a general discharge of their guns and then tried to get in between him and the fort, that is, to cut off his communications; but by a quick movement in retreat, the Captain and his party regained the gate just in time to have it shut in the face of the enemy. Lieutenant Hawley and Ezekiel Wells were wounded (the last mortally) in the sally. A large body of the enemy, probably their whole force, estimated as between two and three hundred Indians and thirty Frenchmen, then came out from their cover and opened fire on the fort, which they continued nearly two hours under a spirited response from the fort. One of the garrison, Samuel Abbott, was killed. The enemy then drew off down the Hoosac by the trail, carrying their killed and wounded.
The Captain's own letter addressed to Colonel Israel Williams, his immediate military superior, written on the day of the fight, is crowded with interest in every line, makes the best explanation of his conduct possible to be had, unfolds his own personal traits in several lines, and gives precious glimpses of the conditions and circumstances of the time.
Fort Massachusetts, Aug't 2, 1748.
Sir, — You may remember in my last I informed you that our scout to Scatticook was discovered July 23 by the enemy and followed in, and that they had observed the motion of the garrison night and day ever since — and that the guards I had sent to Deerfield to bring stores I feared would be ambusht by an army in your return. But to my great joy yesterday at 2 o'clock post m. ye 2 Lieutenants Severance and Hawley with 40 of the guard arrived safe at the fort. Had not made any discovery of an enemy in their march from Deerfield here. But in less than two hours after their arrival the dogs began to bark, run back on their track some distance — were exceeding fierce. We all then determined the enemy had followed them in. Kept a good look out, last night. This morning at 6 o'clock being out at ye gate and observing the motion of the dogs I determined their was an ambush laid about 40 rods from ye fort, between the fort and where we crossed the river to go to Deerfield. Some of the men were desirous to go see if it were so. I told them they should not go out so few. But we would send out 50 men, (supposing we could have given them a welcome reception) (by taking ye advantage of the ground, with the assistance of our cannon). I went into the fort to consult my Lieutenants; ordered them to git ready. Had no sooner got into the fort but one of the enemy fir'd at our dogs, which I suppose would have seized him immediately had he not. Upon that there went of a volley of 12 or 15 guns at several men which had got out unbeknownst to me, who returned their fire & stood their ground. Finding our scheme was at an end, we made a sally with about 35 men (in order to save those that were out, & must in a few minutes have fallen into their hands). Engaged the enemy about 10 minutes & drove them off the ground. Upon which, an ambush of 50 men about 10 rod off arose on our right wing, & partly between us and ye fort, & discharged a volley upon us, at which we were obliged to retreat. Fought upon a retreat until we got into the fort, which they attacked immediately upon our shutting the gate. Upon this I ordered the men to their posts, (it being our turn now) & play'd away with our cannon and small arms, for the space of an hour and 3 quarters by the glass. They then retreated by degrees at a considerable distance, & so drew off. We had some fair shots in the fort. As to what number we killed & wounded of the enemy is uncertain. We saw them carry off but two, that was just as the fight was over. But this is certain a great many of the men fired 4, 5, or 0 round apiece in fair sight, & at no greater distance than 15 rods — a great many shots not above 7. On our side we had not one killed on the spot & but 3 wounded, though I fear 2 are mortally so. The men which are wounded are Lieut. Hawley, Samuel Abbott, Eze Wells. Lt. Hawley is shot through the calf of his leg with a large buck shot. Not hurt the bone. Abbott is shot in below his navel. The bullet cut out at his buttock. Wells is shot in at his hip. The bullet is lodged in his groin. (The reason I write so particular is on account of their friends. ) One thing is very remarkable (never to be forgot by us) that we should receive 200 shot at least in the open field, not anything to git behind, and make a retreat of 40 rods, and but 2 men wounded (for Abbott was not out with us).
We have been out some distance [west] in order to judge better of their number. Ye army consisted of at least between two and 300 men, which was chiefly of Indians, though I believe there was 30 French with a Commander in Chief. Some of them talked good English, whether Indians or French I know not.
I conclude by adding one thing more (viz.) ye officers and men behaved like good soldiers. Not one man flincht in the wetting that was perceiv'd. Thus Sr. I have given you an account of the whole affair as near as I can.
Blessed be God we have cause to sing of mercy as well as judgment.
I am Sr. Your Most Obedient
Maj. Israel Williams, Esqr.
P.S. We have received one gun 2 hatchet & divers other small things. E. W.
At the time when this interesting letter was written from Fort Massachusetts, public affairs in Europe were converging towards the Peace of Aix la Chapelle, which was duly signed on the 18th of October, 1748, and which terminated for a time the war between England and France; but international news travelled but slowly in those days, and colonial hostilities were kept up, more or less until the outbreak of the next war, partly on account of ignorance of the Peace, and partly in consequence of colonial dissatisfaction with the retrocession at Aix, of Louisburg to France. The garrisons, however, were gradually reduced, as the true state of things became better known; from Sept. 10, 1748, to December following, there were eighty men at Fort Massachusetts; from December to June, 1749, fifty men; and from June to Dec. 10, 1749, but twenty men. "Williams continued in command there during the entire interval, though he was but rarely personally present. Shirley and Pelham soon fell into relative insignificance even as compared with the more western fort; and on July 15, 1749, Lieutenant-Governor Spencer Phips (Governor Shirley being then, and for a long time, in England) sent orders to Colonel Israel Williams, "that the forces within ye County of Hampshire be doomed to the number of fifteen men only, including officers, and them to be posted at the Fort called Massachusetts Fort, and to be continued in pay till the first of May next, the rest of the men to be forthwith discharged."
Peace was thinning out the ranks of the garrisons; but there were numbers of men in Western Massachusetts and elsewhere, and Israel Williams was among them, who already clearly perceived that the "Peace" was to be only a "Truce," and that preparations were only in order for what was felt would be a decisive struggle
between England and France for the possession of North America. It was planned during the winter of 1749 to build a "mount" upon one of the comers of the Fort Massachusetts, which should be forty feet high, and also to strengthen the fort on the outside by a strong line of high pickets, similar to those that constituted the fort called "Pelham" to the eastward; both of which plans were accomplished in the sequel by the agency of Ephraim Williams. [Editor's Note: Also listed on the bill for sundries necessary for the fort at this time were a flag and halyard. The fort apparently hadn't had one since it was built.] Israel Williams was already studying on that detailed plan of offense and defense for the next war, which he communicated in form, not very long afterwards, to his superiors at Boston, parts of which were ultimately adopted by Governor Shirley and the officers summoned into council with him. Forts Shirley and Pelham, upon their distant hilltops, had proven themselves to be nearly useless in the late war, and Colonel Williams advised their abandonment, and the fortifying of Fort Massachusetts, and the using of the Hoosac Route as the way of offense against the French.
More Coming soon!
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