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The Mischief at Deerfield

Letter from William Whiting to Fitz-John Winthrop, 4 March 1703/4 [1704]

Letter from William Whiting to Fitz-John Winthrop, 4 March 1703/4 [1704]

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  • In this detailed account written only a few days after the events described in it, William Whiting of the Connecticut colonial forces informs Governor John (commonly known as "Fitz-John") Winthrop of Connecticut of the devastating attack by French and Indian forces on the Massachusetts frontier settlement of Deerfield on the night of 29 February 1703/4.

    In the hours before dawn, traveling across a winter landscape covered by deep snow, a large and diverse force of French and Canadian soldiers, together with Native American allies drawn from many tribes, fell upon sleeping Deerfield. The attackers managed to enter the stockade that protected the settlement (here referred to as "the garrison") by the aid of snow drifted up against the wall and a wild and confused house-to-house battle followed. As Whiting informs Winthrop, reinforcements from Massachusetts settlements further south were ambushed when they came to the aid of the beleaguered town, and without snowshoes they were unable to pursue the retreating attackers through three feet of snow.

    Although often referred to by later generations as the "Deerfield Massacre," this term is not used in Whiting's account and apparently was not used to describe the raid until the 19th century. Of most concern to contemporaries who described the assault as "the destruction of Deerfield" or here as "the mischeif at Deerefield" was the very large number of captives taken--more than 100 men, women and children--of whom only about half ever returned to New England.

    In a postscript, Major Whiting notes: "Mr. Williams his wife and Sev[e]n children Carryd away." Here he refers to the Reverend John Williams, who after his return from captivity would write the most famous account of the attack, The Redeemed Captive Returned to Zion, published in 1707.

     

     

     



    Sources for Further Research

    Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney. Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.

    In addition to this new and detailed account of the attack, other interesting and informative sources include:

    "The Destruction at Deerfield, February 29, 1703-04." An anonymous account in Fitz-John Winthrop's papers, part of the Winthrop Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Published in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 9 (1866-1867), 478-482. Also published in George Sheldon. A History of Deerfield, Deerfield: Privately published, 1895-1896, vol. 1, 302-304.

    The website for Historic Deerfield, Inc. contains much useful information about early Deerfield and the 300th anniversary of the 1704 attack.

    John Demos. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story of Early America. New York: Knopf, 1994.

    John Williams. The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion. Boston: B. Green, 1707. There are many editions of this colonial bestseller. A modern transcription of The Redeemed Captive can be found in Puritans Among the Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724, edited by Alden T. Vaughan and Edward W. Clark, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981, 167-226. The full text of the 1774 fifth edition of The Redeemed Captive is available at the online museum of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association located at the Association's website.

    Dudley Woodbridge. "Diary of Dr. Dudley Woodbridge." An account of the Rev. Woodbridge's trip to Deerfield in October 1728 that includes his sketches of some of the buildings that survived the 1704 attack. Published in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 17 (1879-1880), 337-340. An electronic facsimile of the manuscript also is available; see: Dudley Woodbridge journal.

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