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

Benoni Stebbins' Account: "a forte a greate way up the River"

Sixteen days after Ashpelon’s raid, in a letter dated October 5, 1677, Major John Pynchon of Springfield requested assistance from Captain Sylvester Salisbury at Albany to solicit the aid of Mohawk sachems to intercept the party and return its English captives to safety.[1] His detailed account of the party’s whereabouts came from the account of captive Benoni Stebbins, who had been captured at Deerfield. Ashpelon’s party carried Stebbins with them upriver to Ktsi Mskodak, a fertile Sokoki intervale on the upper Kwinitekw, a refuge nearly unknown to English colonists. Stebbins was then taken with part of Ashpelon’s party, as the group split and headed east from Ktsi Mskodak to retrieve relations near Wachusett and Wamesit. Stebbins stole a horse somewhere near Nashaway, escaped and ran toward Hadley. Back in the colonial settlements, Stebbins relayed his story to the Northampton postmaster, Samuel Ells, who passed it on to Pynchon, a prominent local trader and military leader.[2]

As missionary Daniel Gookin later reported, at Wamesit, Wannalancet, a Penacook sachem, and “about fifty” of his people, being mostly “women and children,” were induced “either by force or persuasion” by “Indians that come from the French” to head north to Canada. The Indians that came for Wannalancet were “his kindred and relations” who told him that “the war” with the English “was not yet at an end,” that he would find “more safety among the French.” [3] Safer as it was for Indians in New France than in Puritan New England, inland spaces sometimes offered a better alternative to established, domesticated settlements—personal and political autonomy, game-filled hunting grounds, unmolested forests, and, above all, evasion from colonial oversight.  In his letter Pynchon relayed to Salisbury that a “counsellor,” who came from “about Nashaway Ponds” (possibly referring to Wannalancet, en route from Wamesit, or one of the Nashaway/“Wachusett sachems”), “talkt of making a forte a greate way up the River & abiding there this winter.” [4] What would make the upper Kwinitekw an appealing place to seek refuge?

The counsellor could have been referring to either Ktsi Mskodak, where Ashpelon’s main party was encamped; Koasek, another Abenaki intervale further upriver, which had provided refuge to peoples during the summer of 1676; or the Kwinitekw headwaters, where Wannalancet and the Penacooks had spent the winter of 1675.[5] Koasek was an “advantageous strategic location” easily accessible to trails and waterways, French allies in Canada, mission villages at Odanak and the Sillery and “inhospitable” to English intrusion.[6] The central location of Koasek allowed for easy navigation to Canada and the Ktsitekw (St. Lawrence River), as well as many inland territories in Wabanaki.  French missions and refugee hubs at Sorel, Schaghticoke, and even Koasek were not the only places that offered refuge to displaced Native peoples. There was constant movement through vast territory and into lands that were, up to this point, out of colonial purview.
[1] “Letter from Major John Pynchon,” 53.
[2] “Narrative of Benoni Stebbins,” 57.
[3] Gookin, “Christian Indians”, 520-1.
[4] “Letter from Major John Pynchon,” 54.
[5] In June 1676, Governor Leverett reported that “the greatest number of the enemy are gone up towards the head of Connecticut River, where they have planted much corn on the interval lands and seated three forts very advantageously in respect of the difficulty of coming at them.” Noel Sainsbury ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and West Indies, 1669-1674, preserved in the Public Record Office, (New York: Kraus Reprint Ltd., 1964), 406.  Gookin, “Christian Indians,” 462.
[6] Colin Calloway, Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800: War, Migration, and the Survival of an Indian People (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 85.

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