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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview > Lesson 6

Lesson 6
Settlement and Occupation of Deerfield, Massachusetts

Notes adapted by Susan McGowan from: Family and Landscape: Deerfield Homelots from 1671, Introduction written by J. Ritchie Garrison.

1670-1704: Settlement

Deerfield began in 1663 as an 8000 acre grant of land from the Massachusetts General Court to the proprietors of the town of Dedham. The grant included land which would eventually form five Massachusetts towns, but in the 1660s the area was remote and still under the control of the Pocumtuck nation.

Although a man named Samuel Hinsdale (Hinsdell) moved to the area in 1669, before the town was surveyed in 1671, settlers did not begin moving to this portion of the Connecticut River Valley in numbers until after the town was platted. A few of the original Deerfield settlers came from Dedham, but most came from towns farther down the Connecticut River Valley. Like many other towns in the Connecticut River Valley, the community was designed as a linear, nucleated village surrounded by open fields.

The main street was slightly less than a mile in length, conforming to the natural plateau, and the land on either side was divided into 43 homelots. The Dedham "artiste," or surveyor, Joshua Fisher, numbered the lots, starting at Lot 1 on the northwest corner of the street, then down the west side of the street and up the east side, ending on 43, across from the first lot.

Although the village was well situated on high ground above the flood plain's rich silty soil, it was isolated and vulnerable to attack in the early years. During Metacom's (King Philip's) War, on September 12, 1675, the town was attacked by hostile Indians who set fire to houses, killed a number of horses, and carted away "horse-loads of beef and pork" to their rendezvous spot on Pine Hill.

In 1671 one young Indian chief betrayed his deep-seated anger when he spoke of his father, the great Indian chief and friend of the English, Massasoit:
When the English came, [my] father was as a great man and the English as a litell Child, he constraened other indians from ranging the English and gave them coren and shewed them how to plant and was free to do them ani good and had let them have a hundred times more land, than now the King had for his own people.

New England Outpost, Richard I. Melvoin

After this attack, townspeople took refuge in settlements to the south, particularly Hadley and Northampton. On September 18, under Captain Lathrop, soldiers and townsmen returned to Deerfield to retrieve "wheat in the straw" [and the corn crop so vital to feeding the Valley people in what was expected to be a long seige] and were attacked by Indians while passing over Muddy Brook several miles south of the village. Of the Deerfield men, only John Stebbins escaped unhurt. The remaining buildings, including the meeting house, in the village of Deerfield, were burned.

A resettlement was attempted in 1677, but the English were driven away by Indians, and not until 1682 was a permanent settlement established. There were several violent encounters with Indians in the 1680s and the 1690s. The stockade, 202 rods in the middle of the town surrounding Meeting House Hill was erected in the winter of 1690 in anticipation of an attack by Mohawks who had raided Schenectady. The hardest blow landed on the night of February 29, 1704, when approximately 250 men, 200 Indians and 48 French, assaulted the town. The assailants breached the palisade without detection and stormed the houses. Some occupants resisted but most were overpowered. The attack was just one battle in a broader conflict between France and Britain, but the local consequences were profound.

After killing 42 residents and 5 garrisoned militiamen and capturing 109 persons, the raiders withdrew, leaving the southern end of the village (outside the palisade) untouched. Seven of the eleven houses within the stockade were burned. Eleven of the attackers died and a score were wounded. Reinforcements from towns downriver joined men of the village in counterattacking the retreating party. The raiders beat them back, killing nine and wounding others.

During the next several years, the majority of the captives were returned, although 29 remained in Canada. 26 of the 29 were children, aged 3 to 17, and 16 of the 26 were female. Many of the captives who were redeemed returned to Deerfield, but some who had survived the attack never resettled permanently, selling their property or rights, and moving to safer havens, usually to established towns further south in the Valley.

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