Indian Wars of the Connecticut Valley
by Robert Magovern
former President of the DFA
Dickinson Family Association Talk
2014 Reunion, Agawam MA
June 21, 2014
As we begin our study of Nathaniel Dickinson, his coming to New England and his move to Hadley, we must first understand what brought our ancestor to New England in the first place. Nathaniel was very much a Puritan as were most of the founders of Hadley. I have enjoyed studying the development of Puritanism over the years and what made our ancestors think the way they did.
We heard last year about where Nathaniel came from and what his family was about but not what made him the way he was.
What made a Puritan? To answer that question could take all afternoon but I promise I will be as brief as possible. The protestant movement in England got its big push with Henry the VIII when he wanted to split from the Roman Church.
After Henry VIII and his son’s death Mary came to the throne and tried to turn the clock back. She wanted to reinstitute The Roman Church and the Pope’s control.
One of the first martyrs of her reign was John Rodgers who helped translate the Bible into English. For his efforts it earned him a place at the stake where he was burned to death. He accepted his fate and when told it was his time his only comment was “I need not tie my points.” Tying your points meant tighten your sleeves to your jacket.
Many of the leaders of the Protestant movement, rather than taking a chance that they would be next, fled to Europe. The effect that this had was that they studied with Calvin and other European theologians. Many of them when they returned to England were staunch Calvinist and dissenters from established religious thought.
The Calvinists were strict followers of the Bible and thought that the word of God as revealed through the scriptures was what mattered, not what church leaders were telling you. This was the birth of a religious revolution that would forever change England.
Perry Miller put it “The Puritan reformation was a concentrated deformation within the original reformation. Sincere in the belief that no mortal on earth could assist in salvation of another except that it is by the faith of the individual. The Puritans used the Bible as the sole reference for the church ritual. In this holy book they saw no mention of Gaudy vestments or ostentatious kneeling and genuflecting.”
English Puritanism was one of the most rigorous products of the reformation. Those who came to New England were the most logical and consistent of the Puritans. In America removed from mollifying influences of an old complex society beginning anew where all things could be ordered not as they might like them but as God demanded and Perception required, their rigor was proportionally intensified. They went as far as they could go in removing everything between god and man, the church, the priest, the magical sacraments, the saints and the virgin.
This attitude developed from the 16th century into the 17th century until finally it reached a point where those who didn’t share the same ideas started reacting strongly. Most real power in the land was controlled by those who didn’t share their views. On the top of the list unfortunately was the King.
Because so many of the early puritans were prominent not only in society but also a great many were a large part of the university structure and many served in the Parliament. When the Puritan migration happened it brought with it one of the best groups of highly educated individuals to ever settle in New England.
Bishop Laud finally tried to put a stop to the growth of the Puritan movement. He put in place harassments toward the leader of Puritans. They instituted the Star Chamber that was ruled by its own laws and not the English Common law. The Star Chamber led to the imprisonment and torture of many leading puritans including those who were members of parliament.
Couple Bishop Laud’s harassment, imprisonment and torture with the King’s new taxes on many of the wealthy puritans and the loss of religious freedom. Puritans started looking for a way out.
This brought about the great Puritan Migration and the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Company led by John Winthrop. Nathaniel Dickinson was part of this movement when he migrated first to Watertown then to Hartford and Wethersfield.
One of the early Puritans that wanted to come to New England was Oliver Cromwell. He was prevented from leaving and taken off a ship set to leave for New England. Can you imagine what English history would have been like if Cromwell had come to New England?
When Nathaniel settled in Wethersfield he became a leader of the colony. Not only the political part but also in the church. The church was the heart of the town. Nathaniel was town clerk in 1640 a selectman in 1646 and a representative to the house of Magistrates at Hartford until 1656.He helped survey Wethersfield Broad Street and lay out the home lots. Because of all his activities in town we know he was a very well educated man.
Now you ask, what did all this history of Puritanism have to do with our ancestors? When their Puritan philosophy was being threatened by Rev Stone, the new minister in the Hartford church after the death of Rev Hooker, it brought about a schism within the Harford Church. Many of the members of the Harford church left and joined the Wethersfield church. The attitudes however didn’t stop. The minister of the Wethersfield Church was Rev Russell. He was a strict Puritan as were the other members who disagreed with Rev Stone. The disagreement became strong enough that the Wethersfield town’s people siding with Hartford declared the pulpit vacant in Wethersfield. In other words they fired their minister.
The solution to the problem was for the minority of the church to find a new land to set their laws on what they believed to be the true word of God as they saw it when they first settled Wethersfield. This group included those disaffected members of not only Wethersfield but also Hartford and Windsor. One of the withdrawers was John Webster who was the Governor of Connecticut at the time. They applied to Boston to give them permission to found a new settlement north of Northampton. This became Hadley and Hatfield
Their new town was based on God’s Covenant. Again Perry Miller sums up what were the bases for a lot of these communities. “Bible commonwealths of New England the origins of New England were based on the fundamental logic of the word of God shown through the Bible.” If any one word could best sum up what their driving belief was. It was logic. Logic as it was shown through the word of God. Nathaniel Dickinson was a true believer. A result of this philosophy can be seen today through the Dickinson Family.
In order to understand the word of God you had to be able to read it. Is it any wonder than that as Hadley was being founded one of the first things Nathaniel did was to help found Hopkins Academy which is still graduating some of the top ranking students in the state of Massachusetts? It is also a credit to our ancestor’s philosophy that education has become a hallmark of our family. Many of the early Dickinsons were graduates of Harvard and Yale. Jonathan Dickinson a Yale graduate went on to found Princeton and many other family members founded other schools and universities included Deerfield academy, Williams College, Amherst College even one of the first great Presidents of Westfield State University, where I served on the Board of trustees, was a Dickinson.
In summing up what brought Nathaniel and his family to Hadley was his Puritan belief. The result of the Puritan religion in America is not to Black Clocked conservatives but a group of individuals who believed in logic, hard work and education. Their legacy should not just be the puritan hat you see on turnpike signs but the many great institutions of higher education you see throughout New England.
Now for the study of what it was like to live in 17th century New England as it relates to Native American conflicts. I tried to outline for you what the philosophy of our early ancestor was like now for their way of life.
It was not an easy way of life. As the old saying goes trust the lord but keep the powder dry. Even though the early settlers were invited by the native population to come to the Ct River valley to settle, there was constant fear of other not so friendly Indian attacks.
Small raiding parties were always a treat but events got out of hand however with the attack on John Oldham and his crew. Oldham was not only one of the founders of Wethersfield but also one of the leading citizens in all of New England. He was also a large trader so he was well known in other parts of the New England. Punishment for this transgression was demanded. This all happened about the time Springfield was being founded, on July 20, 1636.
John Oldham and crew was what brought the unrest to a boiling point. Between internal Indian politics which are very interesting. There was jealousy between the Pequot and the Mohegans; add the English attitudes after the raid on other settlers and the Pequot wars came about. Nathaniel would have been part of this conflict.
The destruction of the Pequot tribe by the English and their Indian allies was so great that there was relative peace in the valley between the English and the native population for over 40 years.
When Nathaniel and his family moved to Hadley and Hatfield in 1659 they were watchful for Indian conflicts. The Pynchon families, William and his son John, were on good terms with the Indians and were called upon several times to try and bring peace between various local tribes that were at war with each other. They earned the trust of the local tribes as they were the only community not to participate in the Pequot war.
Hatfield was just a few miles south of major Indian tribal headquarters.
The Mohawks from the Albany area were raiding the valley Indians. They needed to add to their tribe’s population because of disease and war. They would take captives to repopulate those that had died. By the 1660s things were getting hostile between the native tribes.
In 1662 the Sokoki tribe attacked a Mohawk village and in 1663 more Mohawks were killed by the Sokoki tribe. The Sokoki village was just north of the Pocumtucks on the Connecticut River. John Pynchon was called in to try and keep peace. He wrote a letter from the Agawam and Pocumtuck Indians plus many other local tribes to the Mohawks pleading no knowledge of the raids by the Sokokis and pleading for peace and to not be included in any retribution.
In December of 1663 the Mohawks took retribution and destroyed the Sokoki tribe and their village killing most of the inhabitants. The village was only 20 miles north of Pocumtucks.
With all of this fighting going on, the French who were trading partners with many of the affected tribes were becoming concerned. The Mohawks sent a peace party to Canada but it was ambushed by Algonquians and Pocumtucks. Now the Dutch and the English as well as the French were all concerned that things were getting way out of hand and the fur trade was starting to suffer.
A Meeting was held at Pocumtuck in May of 1664 with the Dutch, Mohawks, Springfield, Northampton and Pocumtuck delegations all present to work things out and try to form a peace. It was agreed that the Pocumtucks would work out a peace treaty with the Mohawks. The Mohawks would send a delegation to the Pocumtucks.
On June 23 the Mohawks sent a peace party under the leadership of a much beloved Prince of their nation Saheda with 15 men all bearing gift for the Pocumtucks. The group left their fort near Fort Orange and a few days later arrived at the Pocumtucks’ fort. Once they entered the fort they never left. It is not known what happened but the entire party was killed along with their beloved prince.
When word reached Fort Orange about this treachery there was much grief. The Mohawks, needless to say, were on the verge of marching on to the Pocumtucks’ village. There were many changes taking place however, The English had just taken over New Amsterdam and with it Fort Orange. The dynamics of diplomacy were now in play. The English like the Dutch had been trading with the Iroquois and the Mohawks and wanted to keep peace with them at all cost. The French were always a threat. The English wanted to keep the balance of power in their favor.
To keep peace they promised not to interfere with internal Indian conflict. This sealed the fate of the Pocumtucks. The Mohawks launched a war party. They traveled over the Mohawk trail 50 miles to the Pocumtuck fort. They attacked and suffered many losses. The Pocumtucks, thinking they were weak, attacked them thinking they were retreating. This was a trap and the Mohawks closed in around the Pocumtucks destroying all the braves. They then went on to their village killing those left taking captives and destroying all crops and the village.
This attack lead to the destruction of the Pocumtucks as the Mystic attack in 1637 led to the destructions of the Pequots. The Pocumtucks’ lands were now open for colonization by the English.
A group from Dedham saw the empty land in 1665 and petitioned the general court for permission to settle on it. Terms were worked out. The land was purchased from a Pocumtuck Indian who most likely didn’t own it and the resettlement of it was started. The village was called Pocumtuck.
For the next 10 years Nathaniel and his family thrived in their new settlements. Hatfield was a few miles south of Pocumtuck or Deerfield as it became known. For 40 years other than small bands of Indians the English were at relative peace with the local tribes. There were Indian forts and several villages within close proximity to the English settlement. This would include the Agawam Indians who built a fort on what in now Longhill Street in Springfield.
Things were about to change. Metacom or Phillip as he would become known as the chief of the Wampanoags was about to go on the war path. The war broke quickly in the valley.
One of the Indian forts was a short distance from Hatfield. As the raids became more frequent with the death of many settlers’ it was deemed prudent to confiscate the fire arms from possibly unfriendly natives. The fort near Hatfield was sent word to turn in their weapons. Rather than give up their firearms the majority of the men decided to abandon the village.
Capt. Lathrop with a 100 men decided to locate the runaways and retrieves the weapons. This did not go well. As they were following their trail they found their chief. He was killed as he wanted peace with the English. They came upon the Indians at Hopewell swamp. A fierce battle ensued and Lathrop had to retreat. Azariah Dickinson born in 1648 at Wethersfield was the first Son of Nathaniel to be killed. Azariah became one of the first Ct Valley casualties of King Phillips War.
In Sep 1675 the Wampanoags and local Indians attacked Northfield. A soldier was killed but the inhabitants were able to take cover in two fortified houses.
On the 4th of September Capt Beers lead a relief column to bring the inhabitants of Northfield to safety. His troop of 36 men was attached from ambush. Capt Beers and over half of his forces were killed. Many were killed in a despicable manner. The method of killing that the Indians used was to put as much fear as possible into those who found the bodies of those killed and mutilated.
On September 5 1675 the commander of the Connecticut regiment Major Trent lead 100 soldiers to the relief of Northfield. Once he arrived he was able to secure the town but abandoned it and retreated with the settlers of Northfield to Hadley. On the trail back to Hadley they came across the mutilated bodies of Capt. Beers. Many of the killed soldiers had their heads put on poles stuck in the ground. This sent the message the Indians wanted. They were to be feared. Joseph Dickinson was killed with Capt Beers. He was the second son of Nathaniel to be killed. Joseph was baptized in Billingborough in 1630.
On Sep 12 Indians attacked Pawcatuck and drove the defenders into fortified homes. Again outnumbered they had to stay protected while the Indians burned Pocumtuck to the ground. When the natives left they took with them much beef and pork. The decisions were made to abandon the town and send the women and children to Hatfield and Hadley. They could only take with them what they could carry. The newly harvested grain and other winter supplies however of Pocumtuck had to be saved in order to feed all the increasing refuges in Hadley and Hatfield.
The military and civilian population of Hadley was growing every day. Captain Lathrop and 80 men had gone back to Deerfield to bring the winter supplies to Hadley. On September 19, 1675 he left with his 80 men and about 20 teamsters and wagons left Deerfield to return to Hadley. With a troop of soldiers and teamsters that large Capt. Lathrop didn’t see the need to send out a scouting party to check the way. No group of natives would dare to attach them.
You have to stop and think what the terrain was like in early New England. The woods were dense but clear. Indians would set fires and let them burn all the way to the sea coast. The results was a natural forest of large trees with little undergrowth because the fast hot fire would burn most of the underbrush. The forest that was left was like a park.
Swamps were a different story. The water and marsh land in the swamp kept the fires from burning the underbrush and left the vines growing up into the trees. As the convoy of wagons emerged from the forest into the swampy area the convoy came to a stop. The soldiers took a break as the wagons had to cross the brook one by one. Many of the soldiers put their guns aside so they could pick grapes growing on the vines up into the trees and along the bank of the brook. At a given signal, hundreds of warriors, who were lying concealed all around this spot, opened fire on the convoy. Chaos followed; bullets and arrows flew from every direction. Captain Lathrop immediately fell. Of the 80 soldiers, only 7 or 8 escaped; none of the Deerfield men who were driving the carts survived.
Captain Moseley and a troop of 60 soldiers who were in the area heard the sounds of the ambush and hurried to the scene. For approximately 6 hours, a battle was fought with neither side gaining the upper hand. Each soldier fought in the Amerindian style: conceal yourself, select a target and shoot. Finally a troop of 100 Connecticut soldiers with a band of Mohegan and Pequot arrived. Realizing they could not win now, the warriors disappeared into the forest. The surviving soldiers straggled back to Deerfield for the night. They returned the next day to bury the dead in a mass grave. The sluggish little brook was re-named Bloody Brook. Deerfield was abandoned shortly afterward and later the village was destroyed by King Philip’s warriors.
To date no war fought by this country has come anywhere near the destruction done during King Philips War. In terms of loss of life and property in comparison to equivalent measures it was without question the most costly ever fought.
You have no idea the effect this had on the rest of not only New England but back in England itself. To have lost the number of soldiers in one battle was like us losing a regiment in Afghanistan. The fear up and down the Valley was total. Even with all the Indian destruction Pynchon was sure that the Agawam Indians were still friendly. Their fort was right in Springfield and they had been friends for 40 years. Pynchon who was the overall commander of all the troops in the Valley was so sure of the nonviolence of the Agawam Indians that he moved all his fighting men north to Hadley. All the northern towns were wiped out and the fear was that Hadley, Hatfield or Northampton would be next.
The Indian strategy was not haphazard. They knew what they were doing. They used their braves wisely. The English didn’t have enough troops to garrison every town so they anticipated what they would do. When Pynchon moved his troops to the north, Phillip’s braves knew what to do. They sent several hundred warriors into the fort in Springfield.
Their plan would have been a complete disaster for Springfield if not for an Indian by the name of Toto. John Pynchon, although believing his Indians would not cause problems, was not going to take chances. He took hostages from the Agawam Indians and sent them to Hartford. The Agawam tribe would not take part in the raid unless the hostages were freed.
King Philip’s men told Toto of their plan on the way to Hartford to free the hostages. Because he was so nervous, under questioning he told the people he was living with about the plan. Word was sent to Springfield and Hartford about the upcoming attack.
When word reached Springfield, the residents went to Pynchon’s home which was called the Fort to await the attack. In the morning with no attack, some of the settlers returned to their homes.
Lt Cooper of Agawam who had traded with the Indians for many years was one of those who could not believe that his friends of 40 years would attack them. Along with Thomas Miller they rode out to see what was happening at the Fort. As he approached the Fort he found out to his regret. The Indians fired on them, killing Thomas Miller and wounding Lt Cooper. He managed to make it back to the first house in the south end of town and fell off his horse and died.
As the war hoops rang through the town the settlers all raced back to Pynchon’s barricaded house. Philip’s men had free reign of the town and burned whatever they could. It amounted to almost total destruction of Springfield: 30 homes, 30 barns, the mills and store houses. The Connecticut troops were in Westfield protecting them from attack when the word reached them. They were the first to try to relieve Springfield but couldn’t cross the river because of the Indians on the banks on the east side.
Pynchon received word of the attack in Hadley and marched his troop back. You can imagine what must have been going through the minds of the returning troops when they saw the smoke bellowing above Springfield. Too many of these men had seen the atrocities of this war not to be fearful of what they might find.
When the braves saw Pynchon’s returning troops, they fled the area. They took with them the entire population of the Agawam Indians living in their fort. This was the last of the local tribes. After this battle, whatever was left of the Agawam Indians was assimilated into other tribes.
John Pynchon was a great man. He lost more than anyone else in Springfield or the Valley yet he never gave up. The following is a letter written by him at the time.
John Pynchon’s letter to the Governor:
“Our people are under great discouragement talk of disserting the place…. If it be deserted how woefully do we yield to and encourage our insolent enemy. And how doth it make way for giving up of all the towns above. If it be held it must be by strength and many soldiers, and how to have provisions, I mean bread. For want of a mill, is difficult. The soldiers here already complain on that account, although we have flesh enough and this I mean very straight. I mean no meal; will drive many of our inhabitants away. Especially those that have no corn, and many of them no houses…. which fills and throngs up every room of those that do have, together with the soldiers now increasing our numbers so indeed it is very uncomfortable living here, and for my own particular it would be better for me to go away, because here I have not anything left. I mean neither Indian nor English corn, and no means to keep one beast here, nor can I have release in this town because so many are destitute.”
This next section points out that the Puritan faith and spirit which built the foundations for this great country was very sound. “But I resolve to attend to what God calls me to and to stick to it as long as I can. And though I have great loss of my creature comforts yet to do what I can for defending the place, I have hope God will make up in himself what is wanting in the creature to me and to us all.”
John’s Letter to his son:
“I would not have you troubled at these sad losses which I have met with. There is no reason for a child to be troubled when his father calls in that which was lent him. It was the lord that lent it to me, and he that gave it hath taken it away and blessed be the name of the Lord. He hath done very for me, and I acknowledge his goodness, and desire the trust in him, and submit to him forever, and do you, with me, acknowledge and justify him.”
The fighting never seemed to end. The families in Longmeadow never went out during that winter. Although church was mandatory they stayed home for fear of an Indian attack. Finally in March of 1676 with a guard of soldiers they decided to make their first attempt ant attending church.
The group made it as far as the narrow strip of land between Springfield and Longmeadow when they were attacked by Indians. Several were killed and others taken prisoner. John Leonard from Agawam was crossing the river most likely to attend church as his daughter was John Keeps wife. He was killed with an arrow to the head. John Leonard was not only the founder of all the Leonards in Agawam but also my 10th generation grandfather.
The winter of 1675-1676 was a hard winter. Philip’s forces, although victorious in many battles, still had not reached all of its goal. Philip’s troops moved west to set up a winter camp. They had hoped to get relief and provisions from the Mohawks but they were still pro English and killed many of Philip’s forces.
The spring of 1676 was still a dangerous time for the settlement of the Connecticut River valley. Even though the winter was a hard time the enemy still felt confident that they could push the English out of the valley. They needed more provisions. Part of their plan was to raid the settlement and take the provisions from the English. This did not work as planned. Their attack strategy was not working. The defenses of the English were much stronger than in the fall. They were able to ward off the attacks on Northampton, Hatfield and Hadley. There was loss of life and some livestock but not the booty that Philip needed to keep his army well fed.
The natives were confident enough that they replanted some of their old field in Pocumtuck and further north thinking they would be able to harvest in the fall. They set up a village at the falls on the Ct River to catch the abundant shad and salmon to restock their forces. They did all this without any fear that the English would attack. In the fall the English had never launched offensive attack against a large Indian troop. They were always responding to direct attacks by the Indians.
In May the Indians were busy fishing and resupplying their food supplies. As I said, they were confident that no English would attack them. That was a fool’s confidence. On May 18, 1676 Capt William Turner assembled 150 volunteers and regular solders for an attack on their newly discovered village. They marched north that night and on May 19 in the early morning they attacked their camp. The Indians were so sure that it wasn’t the English that at first they started hollering that the Mohawks were attaching them.
The attack was successful, with the destruction of the village and its inhabitants. The village was not only the center for food preservation but also military arsenal. The English found and destroyed forged and iron supply for the repair of firearms and manufacture of weapons.
The battle was not over however because a party of braves returned to their village and found it under attack. On their retreat from the battle Capt Turner was killed along with many of his soldiers. This was a very decisive battle however. With the loss of the fish and other stores in the village, most of the local tribes that had united with Philip’s Wampanoag’s lost heart for this battle to drive the English out of the Valley.
We all had several of our ancestral grandparents at that battle. Some of mine were Samuel Bodurtha, Nehemiah and his brother John Dickinson, Samuel Boltwood. And others.
John Dickinson was killed at Turners falls, Samuel Boltwood and Benjamin Waite would be killed during the Deerfield raids I, 1704. John was the third son of Nathaniel to be killed. He was baptized 22 Aug 1624 at Billingborough.
Nathaniel brought his family to New England for his puritan beliefs and wanted to raise a family in a new land with free thought and religion. I don’t think he realized he was going to pay such a high price for this freedom. He lived to see the death of his three sons at the hands of the Indians.
The war was not over however. Philip lost his alliances and other than making small raids he didn’t have the number of warriors to carry on the war he wanted. His options were limited. He couldn’t take his forces west because the Mohawks and Iroquois were at war with him as well. He couldn’t go north for the same reason. He chose to go back to the Wampanoag base in Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
He was eventually betrayed by one of his own and his head ended up on a pike above the walls of Plymouth. The rest of his family and tribe were sold into slavery in the Caribbean with other local tribes taking some captives for them. Philip’s end was not just because of the English but the animosity of other Indian tribes such as the Mohawks. The English would not have survived had it not been for their Indian allies.
After King Philip’s war just about all local Indians were gone from the valley. Most were absorbed into other tribes much like the Pequot were. The Indian battles going on in the valley were mostly Indian against Indian. The Mohawks were still traveling along their path dominating other Indians left in the region.
As life was returning to normal however on September 19, 1677 Indians struck Hatfield. It was a lightning strike done while most of the men were in the meadows. 12 townspeople were killed, 17 taken captive. As they were going north they hooked up with another raiding party that had attacked Deerfield taking more captives. One of those taken captive was a veteran of the Indian wars Sgt Plimpton.
These Indians were not the saintly type that you see portrayed in some movies. They were typical of those that had been raiding and killing all through the war. For entertainment one night they took Sgt Plimpton and burned him alive and laughed as he danced around. This story was related by one of the captives that were returned.
Along with Sgt Plimpton, Obadiah Dickinson was also taken prisoner. As the story goes when the Indians decided to burn Sgt Plimpton they thought it would be fun to have Obadiah light him on fire. The account I read said that they put a stray vest on the Sgt and lit it.
Obadiah was born in Wethersfield in April of 1641. Once he returned from Canada it is no wonder that he decided to say good bye to the frontier and move back to Wethersfield. Many here today are descended from Obadiah and came from the Connecticut area. Now you know why your family is from Ct and not the upper Ct valley.
There is so much more that can be said about the Indian conflicts. The French and Indian wars come later in the 18th century but I think that I have taken enough time this afternoon. I hope some of you have found this interesting as to how the Dickinson family has lived and died in the Ct River Valley trying to make a future for their family.