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Grant sought for Turners battlefield study

MONTAGUE — Having led a successful raid on a native fishing encampment on the banks of the Connecticut River and less successful retreat, Capt. William Turner left his body in Greenfield and his name to the Montague village of Turners Falls.

While the town’s most populous village is named in honor of the episode, once viewed as a glorious victory followed by a tragic defeat and later as a poorly planned atrocity, much or all of the action took place outside the borders of the as yet unfounded town.

If all goes according to plan, however, Montague will be at the center of an effort to document the raid.

The Montague Board of Selectmen last week approved a grant application for $40,000 in federal battlefield preservation money to research the bloody episode in the spring of 1676, one of many instigated by both sides during King Philip’s War but one proponents of the study argue is not sufficiently documented.

Accounts from local historians published in this paper over the years list the number killed from about 200 up to 360 Indians — the majority women, children and the elderly — in an attack by 140 or 160 English soldiers or settlers, who in turn lost dozens or about 40 in the fighting retreat.

Doug Harris, preservationist for ceremonial landscapes for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, and former Rhode Island state archeologist Paul Robinson brought the proposal to the Board of Selectmen in September, saying the move would require no money from the town but needed town approval in order to go forward.

Robinson said the battlefield mapping study would offer the town more of its history, while what the National Park Service wants in return for its money is to raise awareness.

Harris said the goal isn’t necessarily to answer all the questions about the battle’s history up front, but to encourage scholarly tourism by raising the area’s profile.

“A grant like this primes the scholarly pump,” Harris said.

Selectman Mark Fairbrother asked at the initial meeting why the proposal was appearing in 2012 and why in Montague, when the massacre occurred on the Gill side of the river.

Greenfield historian Peter Miller called the proposal changing history, saying the entire battle occurred on the Gill side of the river and as far as he knows none of the attackers crossed the river, although Indians from the opposite encampment on the Montague side crossed for the counterattack.

Harris said the Narragansett tribe has a commitment to Montague due to a 2004 reconciliation ceremony, but is not opposed to expanding the scope of research to the other towns, calling it historically appropriate.

“It was Turners Falls, it was Montague that called for the ceremony, that signed the document ... so our initial support, our initial honoring was to the people who signed this document,” Harris said.

This week, the selectmen approved the application 2-1, with Fairbrother opposed.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey said he has been asked to manage the grant, but the money would go to the consultant to be hired to conduct the study.

Ramsey said the study will involve research and gathering oral histories rather than digging and the project isn’t intended to protect or preserve land. Ramsey said one possible outcome would be that areas identified could become eligible for designation as a historic district, a designation he said brings only voluntary restrictions in exchange for tax credits.

Ramsey said the town has sent letters requesting support for the grant to the Gill, Greenfield and Deerfield town governments as well as to the Greenfield Historical Commission, the nonprofit Historic Deerfield and the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, a regional historical association based in Deerfield.

Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio has said the project could provide the catalyst for a Native American cultural center in town.

Harris brought forward the idea of making the town and region a tourism destination with a focus on American Indian heritage and preservation in 2008, and a preliminary plan in 2011 called for a Native American exhibit hall in the former Cumberland Farms building on Avenue A, now promised to Montague Community Cable Inc. and other local nonprofits.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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