Historic Deerfield to offer free winter series on 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 1704 raid will be the subject of a free, three-part winter lecture series starting Jan. 26. Staff FILE PHOTO/MATT BURKHARTT

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2020 5:45:58 PM

DEERFIELD — Leap day comes once every four years, and, with it, the exact anniversary of perhaps the most monumental occurrence in Deerfield’s history.

In the predawn hours of Feb. 29, 1704, roughly 300 French and native allies raided the English settlement of Deerfield, situated on contested land in the Pocumtuck homeland. Fifty-six settlers were killed and 112 men, women and children were captured and forced on a 300-mile march to Canada in brutal winter conditions. Those who survived the march were held for ransom or adopted.

To mark the raid’s 316th anniversary, Historic Deerfield has arranged a free, three-part winter series in which scholarly presenters will share insights into the role of regional inter-tribal alliances and intercultural encounters in the decades preceding the 1704 attack; the captives’ experiences; and the raid’s enduring relevance. The series, titled “Captivated: Histories and Legacies of the 1704 Raid on Deerfield,” will be held in Deerfield Academy’s Garonzik Auditorium. All lectures are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

The first lecture, “Before 1704: Wampum Traditions and Landscapes of Memory,” will be presented on Jan. 26 by Margaret Bruchac of the University of Pennsylvania. The second lecture, “Taken Away: The Captive Experience in the late 1600s and early 1700s,” will be delivered on March 1 by Kevin Sweeney, professor emeritus at Amherst College. The series will conclude with “Who cares about 1704?: The Relevance of the Deerfield Raid in 2020,” presented on March 29 by Alice Nash, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Barbara Mathews, public historian and director of academic programs at Historic Deerfield, said interest in the raid resurges every four years, when leap day rolls around.

“There is a resonance and a depth that go beyond those three hours on that morning. There’s a lot more to the story than those three hours,” she said, adding that the series will shine a light on the often-overlooked Native American perspective of the raid.

Mathews said 57 captives were eventually redeemed by ransom payment and returned to Deerfield; though 34 chose to remain with their captors. No two captives’ experiences were the same, she said, and there are various reasons some chose to stay in Canada. The majority wound up with the French, though some were adopted into Native American tribes, where they assimilated.

“We’re at an international crossroads here in Deerfield at that time, and it’s quite a fascinating story,” Mathews said.

Perhaps the most prominent captive was the Rev. John Williams, the minister of Deerfield. His house was one of the first ones attacked and most of his family was taken to Canada. He was eventually returned to Deerfield and wrote “The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion,” a narrative of his experience. However, his daughter, Eunice, was treated kindly by her captors and opted to stay. Her family members made several unsuccessful attempts to get her to return home to live with them.

Mathews said many descendants of the captives still live in the Pioneer Valley.

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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