SIEGE AT QUABOG PLANTATION



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"...We had little time for refreshment of our selves either by food or sleep."(1)

Early on the morning of August 2, 1675, Captain Edward Hutchinson and his troop had a decision to make -- should they return to Quabog Plantation [Brookfield] without a signed treaty or should they push on farther, hoping to find the Nipmucks. Their Praying Indian guides, Joseph, Sampson and Memecho, advised the English not to trust the Nipmucks and suggested a return. This advice was counteracted by three men from Brookfield who insisted the local tribe was friendly. Sergeants Ayres and Pritchard and Corporal Coy were so secure in their relationship with the local tribe, they had left their guns at home.(2) What to do -- go forward or return. In a matter of minutes a life and death decision was made. The group went forward toward the Nipmuck village.

As the mounted troop moved along the trail, they saw no signs of the Nipmucks. In the words of Thomas Wheeler, a captain in the English troop,

"When we came near the said Swampe, the way was so very bad that we could march only in a single File, there being a Rocky Hill on the right hand, and a thick Swampe on the left".(3)

Suddenly shots rang out, the air was full of bullets as the Nipmucks rose up out of the swamp. There was nowhere for the English troops to go; they were cut off to the rear and could only force their horses onto the steep slope of the rocky hill where more warriors lay concealed. In the pandemonium, eight of the English died, including the men from Brookfield. Captain Wheeler rushed to the aid of his fallen men and was shot through the side. His horse was shot out from under him, leaving him vulnerable on the hillside as his troopers fought their way out of the ambush. Fortunately for Captain Wheeler, his son realized he was missing, turned around and, despite a wound in his lower back, managed to get to his father, put him up on the horse, and catch another horse for himself.(4)

Relying on their guides to lead them back to Brookfield, the troopers, with their wounded, fled the area. There was no time to bury their dead,

"... those dead bodies were left as meat for the Fowls of Heaven, and their Flesh unto the Beasts of the Earth, and there was none to bury them."(5)

The beleaguered English had to reach Brookfield and warn the settlers before the Nipmucks could reach the unsuspecting town.

The serenity of the August morning shattered when the survivors poured into the village, shouting about the Nipmuck ambush. Men and women ran toward the safety of Ayres' tavern, searching frantically for children as they ran. Could they reach the heavily fortified tavern in time? Would it be strong enough to withstand an attack? Were all the children safe? Amidst all the shouting and running to and fro, men hastily tried to fortify the tavern with whatever was closest at hand. Logs were pushed against the outside of the building while featherbeds were draped over windows and walls inside, anything to absorb the force of bullets and arrows! Twenty-six able bodied men with 50 women and children crowded inside. In the frantic attempt to fortify the building, one aspect of survival was forgotten, provision to sustain so many people and to tend the 6 wounded men. With lookouts posted, the people of Brookfield waited in stygian gloom for the attack to begin.

The wait was not long. Within two hours, the enemy appeared at the edge of town. Two men, hoping to spread the news of the impending attack, never made it out of town. The Nipmuck's arrival forced them back to the fortified garrison. Suddenly the attackers were everywhere, plundering all the deserted houses and buildings and then setting them on fire. As the smoke swirled through the hot August air, the Nipmucks turned from the burning buildings to stare at the hastily fortified tavern. War whoops echoed through the village as the warriors began to fire on the building,

"... sending in their Shot amongst us like haile through the walls, and shouting as if they would have swallowed us up alive."(6)

Ephraim Curtis tried a second time to escape, no luck. Yet again he went, this time creeping on hands and knees through the enemy lines. At last there was a ray of hope in the garrison house. Maybe Curtis would spread the word of their desperate plight. Toward three o'clock in the morning, with the moon risen,

"they attempted to fire our house by Hay and other Combustible matter which they brought to one Corner of the house, and set it on fire."(7)

Realizing that the tavern was in imminent danger of burning, several men ventured out under a fusillade of covering shot and beat out the fire. As the siege continued on August 3, the villagers had new worries. How long would their ammunition last? Did they have enough provision and what about water? Much of their supply had been used to douse fires. The well just outside the tavern was so tempting. Could someone possibly get more water? Thomas Wilson, chosen for the task, was shot in the upper jaw and the neck. The attackers continued relentlessly through the day, using

"... several stratagems to Fire us, namely by wild fire in Cotton and Linnen Rags with Brimstone in them, which Rags they tyed to the Piles of their Arrows sharp for the purpose, and shot them to the Roof of our house, after they had set them on Fire, which would have much endangered the burning thereof, had we not used means by cutting holes through the Roof, and otherwise, to beat the said Arrows down ...."(8)

Life became a routine of tending the wounded, putting out fires, soothing the children, and constantly waiting for the next attack. Stress mounted: would the noise and ferocity of attack never end? how would it end? would help reach them in time? would there be any help? As fears mounted inside the tavern during August 4, Nipmuck warriors were working on a special device.

"They got many Poles of a Considerable length and bigness, and spliced them together at the Ends one of another, and made a Carriage of them about Fourteen Rods long, setting the Poles in two Rows with peils laid cross over them at the Front End, and dividing the said Poles about three foot asunder, and in the said Front of this their Carriage they set a Barrel, having made an hole through both Heads, and put an Axle-Tree through them, to which they fastened the said Poles, and under every joynt of the Poles where they were spliced, they set up a pair of Truckle wheeles to bear up the said Carriages, and they loaded the Front or fore-end thereof with matter fit for firing, as Hay, and Flax, and Chips, etc."(9)

In this way the warriors could push the flammable materials right up to the garrison house while staying out of gun shot range. Fortunately for the trapped English, a shower of rain fell, wetting the combustibles and making them ineffective as siege tools. Just as the colonists' hope of survival had reached its nadir, a rescue party, under the command of Major Simon Willard, arrived on the scene,

"... albeit the Indians had ordered Scouts to lye in the way, and to give notice by firing three Guns, if any English came to the relief of the Distressed; yet although the Scouts fired when Major Willard and his Souldiers were past them, the Indians were so busie and made such a noise about the House, that they heard not the report of those Guns ...."(10)

By what a slender thread hung the outcome of three days of conflict. As Major Willard and his company approached the garrisoned tavern in the darkness, they had no idea who was inside. Were the colonists there or were more warriors lying in wait? Should he order an attack? All at once a trumpet sounded, signaling to Major Willard that there were indeed English inside. Scrambling to avoid the Nipmuck bullets, the troopers joined the besieged. The Nipmucks quickly realized that these newcomers changed the balance of power. As a final gesture, the warriors burned the Meeting House and the barn of the tavern. Then toward daybreak of August 5, they disappeared into the forest, leaving Brookfield in a state of desolation.

"... they burnt all the Town except the house we kept in ... made great spoyle of the Cattle ... killed or drove away almost all the horses of our Company".(11)

In the midst of such desolation, there was proof of the old adage, life goes on.

"During the Time these People kept themselves in that House, two Women were safely delivered of two Sons apiece ...."(12)

Today as you stand on Foster Hill Road in West Brookfield at the site of the siege, you look out over a pastoral scene dotted with wild flowers.

Behind you in an open field is a rock labeled "Indian Rock." According to tradition, warriors took refuge here while they besieged Ayres' tavern. There is a plaque in the stone wall along the road marking the first Meeting House, the one which the Nipmucks burned as their Parthian shot. The site of the well that stood outside the tavern can still be seen.

In the stillness of an August day, you can mentally strip away the few trappings of the 20th century that surround you and re-live those four hectic days of 1675. You can hear the screams, the gunshots, and the war whoops. You can see the buildings burning, the smoke swirling upward. You can almost feel the despair. If you walk across the open field behind the site of the first Meeting House, you can trace a faint path to the original burying ground.

Today the spot is marked by two majestic oak trees. As you stand there, you are surrounded by silence, far removed from the everyday world of today.

NOTES

1 Wheeler, Thomas. 1676. A Thankefull Remembrance of Gods Mercy to Several Persons at Quabog or Brookfield. IN Slotkin, Richard and James K. Folsom (eds). 1978. So Dreadfull a Judgment. p. 251. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut.

2. As tensions increased between the colonials and King Philip's forces in the spring of 1675, the government of the Bay Colony sent out troops to secure peace treaties with various tribes. Captain Hutchinson and his troops came to Quabog Plantation to make sure that the local tribe would remain neutral in any clashes between King Philip and the Massachusetts colony. The Nipmucks had promised to meet Hutchinson on August 2 and had even specified the exact tree for the meeting; Gookin, D. An Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England in the Years 1675, 1676, 1677. p. 448. Reprinted in Arno Press Inc., New York, 1972; Temple, J. H. 1887. History of North Brookfield, Massachusetts. p. 89. Town of North Brookfield, Massachusetts.

3. Wheeler, p. 244.

4. Hubbard, W. The History of the Indian Wars in New England. p. 99. Kraus Reprint Co., New York, 1969; Wheeler, pp. 81-82.

5. Mather, I. 1676. A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New England. p. 91. IN Slotkin, Richard and James K. Folsom (eds). 1978. So Dreadfull a Judgment. p. 251. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut.

6. Wheeler, p. 247.

7. Wheeler, p. 247.

8. Wheeler, p. 249.

9. Wheeler, p. 250.

10.Wheeler, p. 248; Mather, p. 92.

11.Wheeler, p. 254.

12.Drake, S. G. 1867. The Old Indian Chronicle. p. 145. Boston, Massachusetts.