Reenactment recalls leap year raid on Deerfield settlement

  • A reenactment of the raid of 1704, on the exact date of its anniversary, was held on Saturday at the soccer fields at Deerfield Academy. Staff photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Reenactors portraying indigenous people that allied with the French Canadians to raid Deerfield in 1704 shoot rifles at the English during the event commemorating the battle on Saturday.  Staff photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • The English reenactors, fighting in a line-style formation, shoot rifles during the half-hour-long reenactment of the Deerfield raid that occurred on leap day in 1704.  Staff photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Following the reenactment, people walked through the cemetery in Deerfield where those that died in the Deerfield raid in 1704 were buried in a mass grave. Staff photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Following the reenactment, people could visit the Indian House Children’s Museum for hands-on activities for families, demonstrations including hearth cookery and items for sale. Above, 2-year-old Louise Russett tried on English period garb.  Staff photo/Melina Bourdeau

Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2020 4:55:04 PM

DEERFIELD — The sounds of gunfire reverberated throughout fields as they did in 1704.

Saturday, leap day, marked the exact anniversary of the infamous 1704 raid on Deerfield, the story of which served as the foundation for the incorporation of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, celebrating its 150th year.

The non-profit, membership-based cultural and historical organization decided to mark the occasion with yet another commemoration weekend, funded in part by the Deerfield Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Education Director for PVMA, Lynne Manring, said one of the significant aspects of commemorating the anniversary, aside from the event being on the exact date, was the ability to “provide perspectives.

“It’s significant for us to be able to provide a variety of viewpoints,” said Manring. “We have people of different descendants and viewpoints. We want the public to understand the full story. It’s about listening and keep in mind that this is a big story and has a variety of view and reasons.”

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.

Then on the same date, 316 years later, by the Deerfield Academy soccer fields, about two dozen reenactors shot blank rounds of gun powder rifles at one another, showing the rear attack of the English as the French and native allies began to trek through the field and north — while a crowd of people watched from the hillside.

Reenactor Ken Hamilton, announced the scene over the microphone for the audience. 

“The idea was to come for the northernmost English settlement in the colony — therefore vulnerable,” Hamilton said. “These indigenous people and these French Canadians knew wilderness warfare and winter warfare very well... The English had been slowly moving into the Pioneer Valley, it’s growing region for corn and tobacco, it’s an excellent area for settlement and is home of the Pocumtuck.”

He said the battle took place in the town, but the reenactment represented the north meadow fight, after the raid.

David Ledoyen, of Montreal, Quebec, said he’s been coming to the reenactments since 2004.

“These stories are intertwined and there are many people who moved here and moved back and forth between different groups,” said Ledoyen. “Over the past 16 years, I’ve been able to witness different perspectives and it’s funny because we came to play ‘the bad guys.’”

He explained that the history of the raid is complicated — where were various factors that led each group to Deerfield on that fateful morning.

“There were global aspects at play,” Ledoyen said. “The French wanted to spread terror and keep New England busy.”

Reenactors Cody Van Buren and Drew Shuptar, both of whom are of indigenous descent, said they were proud to be at the event.

Van Buren said this was only his second reenactment.

“I know a lot about the history in New York, but not the eastern side,” he said. “We’ve gotten to see different aspects of this battle.”

Shuptar said he has the freedom to wear traditional Native American clothing, jewelry and make up — something which was discouraged for his grandparents or great grandparents, who were encouraged, or sometimes forced, to assimilate into American culture.

“We are lucky to be able to do this, that we live in a country and a time where this is acceptable and people want to take photos with us and learn from us — our ancestors did not have that luxury,” said Shuptar. “We encourage people to ask questions, you don’t learn unless you ask.”

Van Buren added that some of the information people can learn about indigenous people cannot be found online.

“We have old traditions and stores that our ancestors passed down to us and we get to pass on to others,” Van Buren said. “You otherwise couldn’t find it just by googling it.”

Rob Hodgkins, who grew up in Deerfield but moved to New Hampshire, said the last time he came to the reenactment it was 1980s. 

“We have a lot of reenactors who grew up in the area and I grew up here. ‘The Boy Captive of Old Deerfield’ was required reading in school,” said Hodgkins. “It’s important for me to bring my kids back here and have them see it.”

The commemoration included two days of re-enactors and demonstrations of Native and Early American life.

Following the reenactment, people were invited to come to the Indian House Children’s Museum for hands-on activities for families, demonstrations including hearth cookery and conversations with reenactors.

Reach Melina Bourdeau at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

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