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Fall the towns settled by Englishmen in the midst of Indians, none was more thoroughly peaceful in its aims and origin than Deerfield, in the old Pocumtuck valley. Here under the giant trees of the primeval forest the whitehaired Eliot prayed, and beside the banks of the sluggish stream he gathered as nucleus for the town the roving savages upon whom his gospel message had made a deep impression. Quite naturally, therefore, the men of Pocumtuck were not disquieted by news of Indian troubles. With the natives about them they had lived on peaceful terms for many years, and it was almost impossible for them to believe that they would ever come to shudder at the mere presence of redskins. Yet history tells us, and Deerfield to-day bears witness to the fact, that no town in all the colonies suffered more at the hands of the Indians than did this peaceful village in Western Massachusetts.
In 1702 King William died, and "good" Queen Anne reigned in his stead. Following closely upon the latter event came another war between France and England, a conflict which, as in the reign of William and Mary, renewed the hostilities between the French and English colonies in America. At an early date, accordingly, the settlement of Deerfield discovered that it was to be attacked by the French. At once measures were taken to strengthen the fortifications of the town, and to prepare, so far as possible, for the dreaded event.
WILLIAMS HOUSE, DEERFIELD, MASS.
The blow fell on the night of the twenty-ninth of February, 1704, when Major Hertel de Rouville, with upwards of three hundred and forty French and Indians, arrived at a pine bluff overlooking Deerfield meadow, about two miles north of the village – a locality now known as Petty's Plain. Here he halted, to await the appropriate hour far an attack, and it was not until early morning that, leaving their packs upon the spot, his men started forward for their terrible work of destruction. Rouville took great pains not to alarm the sentinels in his approach, but the precaution was unnecessary, as the watch were unfaithful, and had retired to rest. Arriving at the fortifications, he found the snow drifted nearly to the top of the palisades, and his entire party entered the place undiscovered, while the whole population were in profound sleep. Quietly distributing themselves in parties, they broke in the doors of the houses dragged out the astonished inhabitants, killed such as resisted, and took prisoner the majority of the remainder, only a few escaping from their hands into the woods. The house of Reverend John Williams was assaulted at the beginning of the attack. Awakened from sleep, Mr. Williams leaped from his bed, and running to the door found the enemy entering. Calling to two soldiers who lodged in the house, he sprang back to his bedroom, seized a pistol, cocked it, and presented it at the breast of an Indian who had followed him. It missed fire, and it was well, for the room was thronged in an instant, and he was seized, bound without being allowed the privilege of dressing, and kept standing in the cold for an hour. Meanwhile, the savages amused themselves by taunting him, swinging their hatchets over him and threatening him. Two of his children and a negro woman were then taken to the door and butchered. Mrs. Williams was allowed to dress, and she and her five children were taken captives. Other houses in the village were likewise attacked, one of them being defended by seven men, for whom the women inside cast bullets while the fight was in progress. But the attacking force was an overpowering one, and De Rouville and his men had by sunrise done their work most successfully with torch and tomahawk. The blood of forty-nine murdered men, women and children reddened the snow. Twenty-nine men, twenty-four women, and fifty-eight children were made captive, and in a few hours the spoil-encumbered enemy were en route for Canada.
Through the midwinter snow which covered the fields the poor captives marched out on their terrible pilgrimage. Two of the prisoners succeeded in escaping, whereupon Mr. Williams was ordered to inform the others that if any more slipped away death by fire would be visited upon those who remained. The first night's lodgings were provided for as comfortably as circumstances would permit, and all the able-bodied among the prisoners were made to sleep in barns. On the second day's march Mr. Williams was permitted to speak with his poor wife, whose youngest child had been born only a few weeks before, and to assist her on her journey.
"On the way," says the pastor, in his famous book, "The Redeemed Captive," "we discoursed on the happiness of those who had a right to an house not made with hands eternal in the heavens; and God for a father and friend; as also it was our reasonable duty quietly to submit to the will of God, and to say, 'The will of the Lord be done.'" Thus imparting to one another their heroic courage and Christian strength and consolation, the captive couple pursued their painful way.
At last the poor woman announced the gradual failure of her strength, and during the short time she was allowed to remain with her husband, expressed good wishes and prayers for him and her children. The narrative proceeds: "She never spake any discontented word as to what had befallen her, but with suitable expressions justified God in what had happened. . . . We soon made a halt, in which time my chief surviving master came up, upon which I was put into marching with the foremost, and so made my last farewell of my dear wife, the desire of my eyes, and companion in many mercies and afflictions. Upon our separation from each other, we asked for each other grace sufficient for what God should call us to."
For a short time Mrs. Williams remained where her husband had left her, occupying her leisure in reading her Bible. He, as was necessary, went on, and soon had to ford a small and rapid stream, and climb a high mountain on its other side. Reaching the top very much exhausted, he was unburdened of his pack. Then his heart went down the steep after his wife. He entreated his master to let him go down and help her, but his desire was refused. As the prisoners one after another came up he inquired for her, and at length the news of her death was told to him. In wading the river she had been thrown down by the water and entirely submerged.
Yet after great difficulty she had succeeded in reaching the bank, and had penetrated to the foot of the mountain. Here, however, her master had become discouraged with the idea of her maintaining the march, and burying his tomahawk in her head he left her dead. Mrs. Williams was the daughter of Reverend Eleazer Mather, the first minister of Northampton – an educated, refined, and noble woman. It is pleasant, while musing upon her sad fate, to recall that her body was found and brought back to Deerfield, where, long years after, her husband was laid by her side. And there to-day sleeps the dust of the pair beneath stones which inform the stranger of the interesting spot.
Others of the captives were killed upon the journey as convenience required. A journal kept by Stephen Williams, the pastor's son, who was only eleven years old when captured, reflects in an artless way every stage of the terrible journey:
"They travelled," he writes, "as if they meant to kill us all, for they travelled thirty-five or forty miles a day. . . . Their manner was, if any loitered, to kill them. My feet were very sore, so I thought they would kill me also."
When the first Sabbath arrived, Mr. Williams was allowed to preach. His text was taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the verse in which occurs the passage, "My virgins and my young men have gone into captivity."
Thus they progressed, the life of the captives dependent in every case upon their ability to keep up with the party. Here an innocent child would be knocked upon the head and left in the snow, and there some poor woman dropped by the way and killed by the tomahawk. Arriving at White River, De Rouville divided his forces, and the parties took separate routes to Canada. The group to which Mr. Williams was attached went up white River, and proceeded, with various adventures, to Sorel in Canada, to which place some of the captives had preceded him. In Canada, all who arrived were treated by the French with great humanity, and Mr. Williams with marked courtesy. He proceeded to Chambly, thence to St. Francis on the St. Lawrence, afterward to Quebec, and at last to Montreal, where Governor Vaudreuil accorded him much kindness, and eventually redeemed him from savage hands.
Mr. Williams's religious experiences in Canada were characteristic of the times. He was there thrown among Romanists, a sect against which he entertained the most profound dislike – profound to the degree of inflammatory, conscientiousness, not to say bigotry. His Indian master was determined he should go to church, but he would not, and was once dragged there, where, he says, he "saw a great confusion instead of any Gospel order." The Jesuits assailed him on every hand, and gave him but little peace. His master at one time tried to make him kiss a crucifix, under the threat that he would dash out his brains with a hatchet if he should refuse. But he did refuse, and had the good fortune to save his head as well as his conscience. Mr. Williams's own account of his stay in Canada is chiefly devoted to anecdotes of the temptations to Romanism with which he was beset by the Jesuits. His son Samuel was almost persuaded to embrace the faith of Rome, and his daughter Eunice was, to his great chagrin, forced to say prayers in Latin. But, for the most, the Deerfield captives proved intractable, and were still aggressively Protestant when, in 1706, Mr. Williams and all his children (except Eunice, of whom we shall say more anon), together with the other captives up to the number of fifty-seven, embarked on board a ship sent to Quebec by Governor Dudley, and sailed for Boston.
A committee of the pastor's people met their old clergyman upon his landing at Boston, and invited him to return to the charge from which he had, nearly three years before, been torn. And Mr. Williams had the courage to accept their offer, notwithstanding the fact that the war continued with unabated bitterness. In 1707 the town voted to build him a house "as big as Ensign Sheldon's, and a back room as big as may be thought convenient." This house is still standing (1902), though Ensign Sheldon's, the "Old Indian House in Deerfield," as it has been popularly called, was destroyed more than half a century ago. The Indian House stood at the northern end of Deerfield Common, and exhibited to its latest day the marks of the tomahawk left upon its front door in the attack of 1704, and the perforations made by the balls inside. The door is still preserved, and is one of the most interesting relics now to be seen in Memorial Hall, Deerfield.
For more than twenty years after his return from captivity, Mr. Williams served his parish faithfully. He took into his new house a new wife, by wham he had several children; and in this same house he passed peacefully away June 12, 1729, in the sixty-fifth year of his age, and the forty-fifth of his ministry.
Stephen williams, who had been taken captive when a lad of eleven, was redeemed in 1705 with his father. In spite of the hardships to which he had been so early exposed, he was a fine strong boy when he returned to Deerfield, and he went on with his rudely interrupted education to such good. effect that he graduated from Harvard in 1713 at the age of twenty. In 1716 he settled as minister at Longmeadow, in which place he died in 1872. Yet, his manhood was not passed without share in the wars of the time, for he was chaplain in the Louisburg expedition in 1745, and in the regiment of Colonel Ephraim Williams in his fatal campaign in 1755, and again in the Canadian campaign of 1756. The portrait of him which is here given was painted about 1748, and is now to be seen in the hall of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, within fourscore rods of the place where the boy captive was born, and from which he was carried as a tender child into captivity.
It has been said that one of the greatest trials of Mr. Williams's stay in Canada was the discovery that his little daughter, Eunice, had been taught by her Canadian captors to say prayers in Latin. But this was only the beginning of the sorrow of the good man's life. Eunice was a plastic little creature, and she soon adopted not only the religion, but also the manners and customs of the Indians among whom she had fallen. In fact and feeling she became a daughter of the Indians, and there among them she married, on arriving at womanhood, an Indian by whom she had a family of children. A few years after the war she made her first visit to her Deerfield relatives, and subsequently she came twice to Massachusetts dressed in Indian costume. But all the inducements held out to her to remain there were in vain. During her last visit she was the subject of many prayers and lengthy sermonising on the part of her clerical relatives, an address delivered at Mansfield August 1, 1741, by Solomon Williams, A. M., being frankly in her behalf. A portion of this sermon has come down to us, and offers a curious example of the eloquence of the time: "It has pleased God," says the worthy minister, "to incline her, the last summer and now again of her own accord, to make a visit to her friends; and this seems to encourage us to hope that He designs to answer the many prayers which have been put up for her."
But in spite of these many prayers, and in spite, too, of the fact that the General Court of Massachusetts granted Eunice and her family a piece of land on condition that they would remain in New England, she refused on the ground that it would endanger her soul. She lived and died in savage life, though nominally a convert to Romanism. Out of her singular fate has grown another romance, the marvel of later times. For from her descended Reverend Eleazer Williams, missionary to the Indians at Green Bay, Wisconsin, who was in 1851 visited by the Due de Joinville, and told that he was that Dauphin (son of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette), who, according to history, died in prison June 9, 1795. In spite of the fact that the evidence of this little prince's death was as strong as any which can be found in history in relation to the death of Louis, his father, or of Marie Antoinette, his mother, the strange story – first published in Putnam's Magazine for February, 1853 gained general credence, even Mr. Williams himself coming gradually to believe it. As a matter of fact, however, there was proved to be a discrepancy of eight years between the dates of Williams's and the Dauphin's birth, and nearly every part of the clergyman's life was found to have been spent in quite, a commonplace way. For as a boy, Eleazer Williams lived with Reverend Mr. Ely, on the Connecticut River, and his kinsman, Doctor Williams, of Deerfield, at once asserted that he remembered him very well at all stages of his boyhood.
Governor Charles K. Williams, of Vermont, writing from Rutland under date February 26, 1853, said of the Reverend Eleazer and his "claims" to the throne of France, "I never had any doubt that Williams was of Indian extraction, and a descendant of Eunice Williams. His father and mother were both of them at my father's house, although I cannot ascertain definitely the year. I consider the whole story a humbug, and believe that it will be exploded in the course of a few months." As a matter of fact, the story has been exploded, – though the features of the Reverend Eleazer Williams, when in the full flush of manhood, certainly bore a remarkable resemblance to those of the French kings from whom his descent was claimed. His mixed blood might account for this, however. Williams's paternal grandfather was an English physician, – not of the Deerfield family at all, – and his grandmother the daughter of Eunice Williams and her redskin mate. His father was Thomas Williams, captain in the British service during the American Revolution, and his mother a Frenchwoman. Thus the Reverend Eleazer was part English, part Yankee, part Indian, and part French, a combination sufficiently complex to account, perhaps, even for an unmistakably Bourbon chin.
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