With leap year comes commemoration of 1704 Deerfield raid

  • The rifles of English militia re-enactors are “inspected” prior to a re-enactment of the 1704 Deerfield raid, with re-enactors representing Frenchmen and Native Americans at Deerfield Academy’s athletic fields on Feb. 27, 2016. The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association will hold a commemoration of the raid on Feb. 29 (the 316th anniversary), and March 1. Staff File Photo/Matt Burkhartt

  • Memorial Hall Museum curator Ray Radigan holds up part of the display next to the Sheldon House door, which survived the 1704 raid on Deerfield. The door is one of the artifacts that will be on display during a weekend commemorating the raid on Feb. 29 and March 1. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Memorial Hall Museum curator Ray Radigan holds up part of the display next to the Sheldon House door, which survived the 1704 raid on Deerfield. The door is one of the artifacts that will be on display during a weekend commemorating the raid on Feb. 29 and March 1. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Details of the Sheldon House door, which survived the 1704 raid on Deerfield, at Memorial Hall Museum. The door is one of the artifacts that will be on display during a weekend commemorating the raid on Feb. 29 and March 1. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Sheldon House door, which survived the 1704 raid on Deerfield, at Memorial Hall Museum. The door is one of the artifacts that will be on display during a weekend commemorating the raid on Feb. 29 and March 1. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2020 5:25:21 PM

DEERFIELD — The year 2020 has been one of serendipity for the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA).

The leap year provides a rare Feb. 29, the exact anniversary of the infamous 1704 raid on Deerfield, the story of which served as the foundation for the incorporation of PVMA, now celebrating its 150th year. The non-profit, membership-based cultural and historical organization has decided to mark the occasion with yet another commemoration weekend, funded in part by the Deerfield Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The commemoration will include two days of re-enactors and demonstrations of Native and early American life. A battle re-enactment is scheduled for 2 to 3 p.m. on Feb. 29.

In the predawn hours of Feb. 29, 1704, roughly 300 French and native allies raided Deerfield, an English settlement on contested land in the Pocumtuck homeland. Fifty-six settlers were killed and 112 men, women and children were captured and taken on a 300-mile forced march to Canada in unforgiving winter conditions. Those who survived the march were held for ransom or adopted. The story inspired Deerfield, Greenfield, Northfield, Shelburne Falls, Gill, Conway and other towns to incorporate PVMA.

“The significance is pretty big,” said PVMA Executive Director Timothy Neumann.

The Indian House Children’s Museum at 107 Old Main St. will be the site of hands-on activities for families, demonstrations such as open hearth cooking and items for sale.

The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 29 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 1. The Memorial and Native American rooms at Memorial Hall Museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on both days. All commemoration weekend festivities are free, though donations are welcome.

“The public gets a good understanding of the various perspectives and viewpoints of the people involved in the raid — the French, at least three Native American nations and the English,” Neumann said. “Enslaved people, too.”

One of the artifacts to see is the Sheldon House door that survived the raid. According to a website maintained by PVMA, the 94.5-by-84-inch door once opened into the house John Sheldon built in 1699. Hatchet marks made during the raid are still visible on it. Sheldon was conscious of a possible attack and fortified and strengthened the door. The house was dismantled by its owners in 1848.

Neumann said an antique collector in Boston bought the door in 1861, though a committee of Deerfield residents formed a committee to have it returned to Deerfield seven years later. Neumann said the treasured door then became the first in history to have its own board of trustees — made up of retired politician and lawyer George Sheldon, the Rev. Robert Crawford, Nathaniel Hitchcock, Luke Wright and Samuel F. Wells. Neumann said the men were in charge of inspecting the door’s condition each year and of ensuring that it did not get sold again.

The door was kept in the Pocumtuck House, and the five trustees rushed in to save it when the house caught fire in 1872. The door now rests peacefully on the Memorial Hall Museum’s second floor.

Meanwhile, the PVMA’s sister museum, Historic Deerfield Inc., has arranged a free, three-part winter series pertaining to the 1704 raid. The remaining two dates are March 1 and March 29. All lectures are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

More information about the raid can be found at 1704.deerfield.history.museum.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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