Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip's War

Ashpelon's Return

Long after the 1677 raid, Ashpelon continued to appear at Pocumtuck. In the spring and summer of 1693, he was encamped with a group of Native people from Schaghticoke who were living “ovr the River” and engaged in “trading” and subsistence. Although many people from Kwinitekw, like Ashpelon, sought refuge at Schaghticoke after the war, they continued to return to their homelands to hunt, fish, trade and plant. As Kevin Sweeney and Evan Haefeli have observed, Deerfield/Pocumtuck remained “a vital point in a zone of interaction involving the English, the French and various Native peoples that ran north to the Saint Lawrence River valley and stretched from the Hudson River Valley to the coast of Maine.” By 1691, more than one hundred people from Schaghticoke had returned to live in the Kwinitekw valley, partly motivated by the rising tensions, and related resource scarcity, of King William’s War, also called the second Anglo-Abenaki war.[1]

In June of 1693, a company of warriors came down from the north and struck two households on the northerly end of Deerfield, leaving as swiftly as they arrived. The next morning, two of the wounded accused “a Maquase,” or Mohawk man, “Chedaw,” and a “young captain” from Schaghticoke, both of whom were encamped with Ashpelon’s group, of participating in the assault, in which nine settlers were killed. As a diplomatic leader, Ashpelon tried to calm the rising vitriol and defend the accused men. According to an account later recorded by Stephen Williams, Ashpelon intervened, saying that Mary Wells, the young woman who accused Chedaw, “seemed distracted.” Her mind clouded by the trauma, she did not seem “fit to give evidence,” Ashpelon said. Still, the two men were taken to the Springfield prison.[2]

Shortly thereafter a Mohawk delegation arrived, with Albany leader Major Dirk Wessells. The delegation, headed by an noted elder and “chief among” the Mohawks, insisted that these two men were “not guilty,” and that the raid had been carried out by “French Maquas,” that is, Mohawk warriors from the St. Lawrence River (Kahnawake or nearby towns), who were allied with the French and politically distinct from the people of the Mohawk River valley. As John Pynchon wrote, this incident created a diplomatic crisis. “I am very aware of the dangers,” he wrote, “if we should come to a break with our Indians, especially the Maquas, with whom we have laid in peace for such a long time, following the agreements made which we will try to maintain.” During this time of war, the colonists of the Connecticut River were especially dependent on the Mohawks, as well as the neighbouring Schaghticoke Indians, for protection and “prosecution of the war against the French and French Indians.” Schaghticoke had become a hub for refugees from the Connecticut River Valley and surrounding territories, under the protection of both New York colony and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and allied politically with New England. Thus, at this juncture, the colonists held captive two men affiliated with the Mohawk nation, which the Mohawk delegation and Albany leaders insisted should be released. Pynchon remained convinced, however, that there were sufficient “declarations against” the “two Indians…now, under arrest” to warrant a trial.[3]

Pynchon’s correspondence shows significant questioning and confusion among New England settlers about the raid and its enactors, amid rising calls for prosecution of the two men; however, it also reveals that both Mohawk diplomats and Abenaki warriors had greater clarity about the circumstances of the raid and the potential diplomatic consequences of imprisoning Chedaw and “the young captain.” Writing to Massachusetts Governor William Phips in July 1693, Pynchon conveyed the gist of the Mohawk chief’s “great speech,” which Lieutenant John Schuyler, the son of Albany mayor Peter Schuyler, translated for Pynchon:

He said that we forgot our coat and seemed to snap it, or slip it, in that we would keep their men in hold under pretence of being guilty, who were no ways culpable; which they had sufficiently demonstrated, and did add with vehemency that the God of Heaven knew that they spake truth in saying that these Indians now in custody at the time of the mischief at Deerfield, and when the guns went off at the houses, were then at that time and had been that night with the rest of their Indians on the northwest side of Deerfield River. This (said he) the God of Heaven knows, and we might know it, that they could not possibly do that murder, and that they would have served us against the French Indians, but we were jealous of them without cause which made all the Indians draw off; and, said he further, no more Maquas would come here any more.[4]

In their speeches, the Mohawk delegation invoked the Covenant Chain with the English colonists, and desired that the settlers of New England would “hold the chain fast,” even as the Mohawks had pledged to “hold firm their friendship” during this war.

Those settlers were dependent upon warriors from the Mohawk Valley, and the Confederacy as a whole, in their war against the French in Quebec and the “French Indians.” Haudenosaunee towns on the Mohawk River had been hit the previous year and the colonial towns in the Connecticut River Valley, like Deerfield, were on guard against the French and French-allied Indians, including Mohawks from Kahnawake as well as “Eastern Indians,” or Wabanaki people from northern territories. Thus, the Mohawk delegation’s explanations fit more squarely with the context of war in which they were embroiled. Yet, as in King Philip’s War, local settlers often feared, and accused, the Native people who were in closest proximity, particularly when the actual raiders were far beyond their reach and their view. In the same letter, Pynchon told Governor Phips that although “many of our people have been zealous for prosecution of these two Indians,” they had begun to admit that “the evidence against them” was “very doubtful” and the two witnesses were “much distempered in their heads,” including Thomas Broughton, who was “so extremely cut and wounded” that “he died within an hour or two” after making his accusation.”[5]

Another account from Pynchon’s correspondence demonstrates that Wabanaki people also understood this scenario, observing that the settlers of the Connecticut River Valley had entirely missed those who struck Deerfield, and instead imprisoned their own allies. At the end of July, another war party from the north came down and struck the settlement of Brookfield, or Quaboag. A captive taken by the Wabanaki party, known as “Mason’s wife,” conveyed, upon her escape, the Wabanaki people’s understanding of what had taken place at Deerfield, and their concern for the men who were held captive:

They told her that the Canada Indians had been at Deerfield above two months since and done mischief there, when they see the English there go against their own Indians, and the English suspected their Indians, and had imprisoned two of them, though the mischief done there was by Indians that came from Canada, who presently returned after they had done that mischief at Deerfield and were all got safe home to Canada. They inquired of her what was become of the Indians in prison; she answered them she knew not (for indeed that day they were in prison).

This Wabanaki party included warriors from as far away as Pemaquid, demonstrating the wide network of communication, alliance and exchange among Native people in the north. Like the Mohawk delegation, they fully understood that the raid had been carried out by warriors from the St. Lawrence, not the two men accused.

The Wabanaki party’s trail home, in 1693, also paralleled Ashpelon’s 1677 journey. One of their original targets had been Nashaway and, further, as they told Mrs. Mason, upon leaving Quaboag, their goal was to paddle toward “a great lake like the sea,” Betobakw (Lake Champlain). “They cared not if 200 English came after them in that place,” she reported, “it was such a place that they should there kill them all, that came to them; and indeed,” Pynchon confirmed, “it was a dangerous place for our men.” Places like Missisquoi and Winoskik on Betobakw emerged as key gathering places for families displaced by war, from which warriors would continue to launch strikes on settlements like Deerfield, Brookfield and Nashaway during the subsequent Anglo-Abenaki wars.[6]

Perhaps coincidentally, on the very same day as the Wabanaki raid on Brookfield, Chedaw and the Schaghticoke “captain” took their fate into their own hands. On July 27, Pynchon reported to Phips,” the two Indians in custody upon the account of the murder at Deerfield escaped out of prison.” The men cut the shackles that bound them using “some sharp thin file,” which was apparently smuggled in, then “pulled out some stones and got to the foundation and so crept out and are gone, probably irrecoverably,” Pynchon observed. Once in Mohawk territory and New York colony, the men would be protected and would have their own stories to pass on, which would travel through Native networks from the Mohawk Valley to the St. Lawrence River and down inland waterways to the Wabanaki coast.[7]

One of the reasons why the colonists of Kwinitekw were so suspicious of their Native neighbours was the ties Schaghticoke people maintained with their Wabanaki relations to the north. Yet, these kinship ties often provided refuge, allowing mobility in times of conflict and chaos. Moreover, such acts of colonial containment, like the imprisonment of Chedaw and “the young captain,” sometimes made enemies of allies, sending them toward kin in Wabanaki enclaves, who often returned to the Connecticut River valley not only to strike enemy settlements in war, as the “French Maquas” did, but to reclaim Indigenous homelands.

[1] Pynchon Papers 1:269- 272. George Sheldon, A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts: The Times When the People by Whom it was Settled, Unsettled and Resettled (Deerfield, MA: 1895), 1:231-2. John Pynchon, The Pynchon Papers, ed. Carl Bridenbaugh (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1982), 1:271. Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, eds. Captive Histories: English, French and Native Narratives of the 1704 Deerfield Raid (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), 49-50. Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, Captors and Captives: the 1704 Raid on Deerfield (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 28030. Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, "Revisiting the Redeemed Captive: New Perspectives on the 1704 Attack on Deerfield" in After King Philip's War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England, ed. Colin G. Calloway (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College : University Press of New England, 1997), 44. Colin G. Calloway, The Western Abenakis of Vermont (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 90-99.
[2] Sheldon, History of Deerfield, 1:231. Pynchon Papers, 1: 269-75. Note that Stephen Williams’ account was not eyewitness testimony, as he was born during the same year as the raid, but rather formed from the stories he heard about the raid, from the both Deerfield residents and his “Indian mistress,” the Abenaki woman with whom he lived and travelled during his captivity.
[3] Pynchon Papers, 1:268-70.
[4] Pynchon Papers, 1:274.
[5] Pynchon Papers, 1:270-5
[6] Pynchon Papers, 1:276-83.
[7] Pynchon Papers, 1:276.

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