TURNERS FALLS MASSACRE (1676)


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Peskeompscut, the Amerindian name for the great falls at present-day Turners Falls, had long been a favored site for fishing with the local tribes. Here the narrow river plunged over a 40-50 foot drop as it continued its route to the ocean. In May, 1676, groups of warriors, women, children and old people were gathered there to catch and cure fish. Months of war with the English had used up their limited food stores. While some people fished, others went down river to the abandoned fields at Deerfield where they planted seed. With luck they would be able to harvest a crop in the late summer. Warriors organized cattle raids on the nearby English settlements.

On the night of May 13, a group of warriors raided Hatfield and made off with cattle, driving them up to the campsite by the falls. The settlers were determined to recover their cattle. Word was sent out: who wants to join a force against the tribes at Peskeompscut. Local inhabitants, some from as far south as Springfield, and a few garrison soldiers responded to the call. By May 18, 150 men and boys assembled in Hatfield. Captain William Turner led the group past Bloody Brook and the edge of Deerfield, where they crossed the Deerfield River. Then they wound through about 2 miles of unbroken forest, crossed the Green River, and then pushed on to Mount Adams which was within a mile of the falls.

The next morning by daybreak, having left their horses behind, the colonials were in position on a slope overlooking the Amerindian encampment. As so often happens in battles, luck played a part in the unfolding drama.

SITE OF CAPTAIN TURNER'S ATTACK ON THE AMERINDIAN ENCAMPMENT. SUBMERGED TODAY BY THE WATER IMPOUNDED BY THE TURNERS FALLS DAM.

The assembled tribe had feasted well on fresh fish and stolen cattle. They had posted no sentinels, had sent no scouts out, and were still asleep as the Hatfield party crept closer and closer to the wigwams. When the 150 men and boys were pressed right up against the wigwams, Captain Turner gave a prearranged signal -- guns were thrust directly into the wigwams and fired! Many of the Amerindians were killed immediately, some leapt into the Connecticut River, to be swept over the falls and drowned. The colonials were ruthless in their attack, searching through the camp and killing women, children, old people. No one was spared. Two forges had been set up to repair guns and make ammunition. These were destroyed and two pigs of lead were thrown into the river. Maybe these pigs of lead are still there under the water.

The sounds of attack had alerted other Amerindian groups who were camped along the river. One of these groups crossed the river below the falls and took up a position across the track leading to Deerfield. Apparently Captain Turner had not thought much about securing his retreat. His attack had been successful -- perhaps several hundred Amerindians had been slain at the cost of only one English life. By this time the neighboring tribes were getting closer and closer. Time to retreat, but by which route? The Hatfield force broke into small groups, some insisting on one route, others equally insistent on taking a different path back to where the horses had been left. A few fortunate men managed to get to their horses just before the warriors got to them. Other settlers were forced to push homeward on foot. Warriors followed the panicking English, inflicting casualties whenever possible. Captain Turner was killed as he tried to cross the Green River. Of the 150 participants, at least 40 were killed on the retreat. Some got separated from the main body and had to find their way alone; a few were successful while others never returned.

Captain Turner's body was found about a month later and was buried on a bluff west of where he fell. A tablet marks the spot today. Peskeompscut (Great Falls) was renamed Turners Falls.

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