The Siege and Captivity of 1746

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 having 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 cited, 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 "Narrative of the Capture and Burning of Fort Massachusetts by the French and Indians, in the Time of War of 1744-1749, and the Captivity of All Those Stationed There, to the Number of Thirty Persons," written at the time by one of the captives, the Reverend Mr. John Norton. 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 l5th, 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." ("Antiquarian Researches Comprising A History of The Indian Wars" by E. HOYT, Esq. Published 1824) 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

was troubled with the griping and flux.

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 [9]

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 Jr., 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 Francis Parkman 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

in him for some hours.

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."[7]

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

their captivity.

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 Deerfield, 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.

Continued: The Journey to Canada Begins

"A Brief History of Fort Massachusetts with an Emphasis on the Siege of 1746"

was compiled, edited, and with an introduction by C.A. Chicoine. June 2017


  1. "Origins in Williamstown," by Arthur Latham Perry -- Published 1894

  2. "Mansion People: Kinship, Class, and Architecture in Western Massachusetts in the Mid-Eighteenth Century," by Kevin M. Sweeney. Winterthur Portfolio Vol. 19, No. 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 231-255. Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc.

  3. "The Genealogy and History of the Taintor Family," by Taintor, Charles M. Published 1847 Publisher Greenfield [Mass.]: Merriam and Mirick.

  4. "Antiquarian Researches: A History of The Indian Wars," by E. Hoyt, Esq -- Greenfield, MA, Printed by Ansel Phelps, Published December 1824

    1. "English settler's remains buried 250 years after his death," November 12, 2000, North Adams, Massachusetts (AP)

    2. "Capt. Isaac Wyman's Journal of Operations at Fort Massachusetts, in 1756."

    3. "Journal of the Capitulation of Fort Massachusetts, Aug. 1745," by John Hawks [Manuscript transcript included in the body of a letter from Stephen W. Williams to Colonel William L. Stone of New York. Deerfield, MA, 22 September 1842]

  5. "A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts: The Times when the People by Whom it was Settled, Unsettled and Resettled, Volume 2," by George Sheldon -- Press of E.A. Hall & Company, 1896 - Deerfield (Mass.)

  6. "The History and Genealogy of the Knowltons of England and America," by Charles Henry Wright Stocking, Published 1897

  7. "France," Vol. V, by M. Guizot and Madame Guizot de Witt, pg. 95. Published 1900.

    1. "Williamstown and Williams College," by Arthur Latham Perry -- Published 1899

  8. "History of North Adams, Mass., 1749-1885," by W. F. Spear -- Published 1885

  9. "The Line of Forts: Historical Archaeology on the Colonial Frontier of Massachusetts," by Michael Coe -- University Press of New England, 2006

  10. "Colonel Ephraim Williams, a documentary life," by Wyllis E. Wright --1970

  11. "Williamstown: The First 250 Years 1753-2003," The First Fifty Years, by Robert R. R. Brooks -- 2005

    1. "Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts"|Pub. No. 8 -- 1906

  12. The "Bloody Morning Scout" references:

18. "Historical Sketch of the Life and Character of Colonel Ephraim Williams, and of Williams College, Founded in 1793, In Consequence of His Liberal Bequest," from "Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Volume VIII" -- Published 1802

19. "Antiquarian Researches Comprising A History of The Indian Wars", by E. Hoyt -- published 1824

20. "Interesting Facts in the Early History of North Adams," by A. H. Morris. The North Adams Transcript, North Adams, Massachusetts · October 17, 1896, page 2

21. U.S. News & World Report National Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings

All maps from Google Maps.