Grab your muskets: Deerfield Raid reenactment a labor of love

  • The rifles of English militia reenactors are inspected prior to a reenactment of the 1704 Deerfield raid with reenactors representing Frenchmen and Native Americans at Deerfield Academy's athletic fields Saturday, February 27. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt 

Published: 2/29/2016 6:00:50 PM

DEERFIELD — The English militiamen sprang into action Saturday.

They took formation and stared down the barrels of French and Native American guns in a failed attempt to fend off the raiders, who captured villagers and dragged them to Canada. Armed with muskets and the best of intentions, the Englishmen looked death in the face and fought back.

After making their way past the goalposts, that is.

The event was a re-enactment of the 1704 raid in which roughly 300 French and Native American allies attacked the English settlement of Deerfield, situated on contested land in the Pocumtuck homeland. It was part of a two-day series of festivities at Old Deerfield aimed at giving locals a peek at yesteryear. The re-enactment played out on Deerfield Academy’s athletic fields.

Performing in front of dozens of spectators, re-enactors from nearby and others from as far away as Quebec, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maine, portrayed a skirmish that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the raid. Over a hundred Deerfield men, women, and children were captured and taken on a 300-mile forced march to Canada in harsh winter conditions.

Those who survived the march were held for ransom or adopted. Sixty-two captives were later redeemed and returned to Deerfield, but another 26 opted to remain among their French and Native captors.

Ted Shaffer and Al Keller, of Kutztown, Penn., portrayed English militiamen. They are passionate re-enactors who enjoy sharing their interest in history with others in an educational setting.

“This is volunteer. We pay for all this stuff, we build all this stuff,” Keller said, referring to the colonial-era clothing and weaponry he sported, “and nobody pays us to do this. So you have to love it.”

The men said they go to re-enactments all over the East Coast.

“We consider this a short drive for us,” he said.

The hoard of English militiamen began to fire at the French and Native American raiders — who stayed behind to thwart any resistance — and managed to push them back, closer to a wooded area. They were careful not to get too close to their enemies and discharged their muskets from a safe distance across the field. The French could be heard communicating in their native tongue and often took cover behind trees. Many spectators watched from afar and several filmed the re-enactment, merging the cultures of two different eras.

Spectators Ellen Finkelstein and Larry Jefferis said it was interesting to hear the sounds of the 1704 raid. They said the shouting and gunfire from the battlefield painted a powerful image of what happened that fateful day. Jefferis said it is incredible to think about the brutal conditions and constant fear the English settlers lived with.

Ken Hamilton, dressed as a Mohawk, served as a master of ceremonies to the event and narrated the re-enactment via microphone. He gave spectators a brief background of the 1704 raid and provided commentary during the re-enactment.

You can reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257.


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