The year is 1675. It is the beginning of King Philip’s War, and the English colonists are losing…BADLY. The natives have free reign of the countryside, attacking every town, every farm, and every traveler at will. The English had the distinction of being one of the greatest powers of the time in Europe. Even though the pilgrims and puritans left England due to religious differences as separatists, they were still…English. Some of these Englishmen had military experience, having served during the civil war on the side of either the royalists or the forces of Oliver Cromwell.
The colonists did not consider the natives to be their equals. There was racism. This is very relevant to events that are occurring in current events. The majority of English viewed these “rebels” to be more like spoiled children that needed to be brought to justice, and the leaders lawfully punished. And the hand of justice handed out but two sentences. Death or slavery. As a culture, the Natives were considered to be an inferior race. The English believed that God had created New England for their taking. They believed that this “New World” was the New Israel…the New Jerusalem, and the indigenous people who had pre-lived in the area for thousands of years were in the way.
But, the natives were wining, battle after battle. Somehow, they were able to undermine European strategies. The natives were quick to take advantage of English mistakes. They knew the layout of the land better. They knew how to hunt and track better. They knew how to live off the land better. They could vanish into the surroundings as quickly as they appeared. They took the European muskets and became much better marksmen because they took the white man’s weapon and used it not just for war and protection, but to hunt a variety of animals. As well as maintaining the weapons under harsh conditions. It was their feelings of self-superiority over the “heathens” that proved to be their weakness. This tremendous underestimation of their enemy created many costly mistakes. One of these blunders would come to be called, ‘Bloody Brook’.
In the month of September 1675, the settlements in western Massachusetts were being attacked with much loss of life and property. Troops would be sent out, unable to track down the attackers. Their refusal to use Indian guides because of their racist views and mistrust was a great disadvantage to them.
After the destruction of a number of communities, the major seats of power such as Springfield and Boston began to order the settlers and farmers to abandon their smaller villages and move closer to safety. Although some chose to stay, many chose to abandon their homes. Before long, only a few frontier towns that acted as garrisons for the militia troops remained open. The rest of the frontier remained vacant for decades after the war.
The town of Deerfield, Massachusetts had been attacked twice and burned. The town of Hadley had also been attacked, burned, and then abandoned. The issue with Hadley was that the town still had its harvest. The natives had cut off their access to safe routes to obtain food and supplies. Hadley’s harvest needed to be collected from various farms and warehouses and distributed to towns along the Connecticut valley before winter.
The decision was made to march out and obtain those supplies. On September 18, 1675, a troop of eighty men under the command of Captain Thomas Lathrop set out with a train of wagons. Although it was mid-September, the weather was hot and humid.
The wagons were filled to compacity with bags of grain and other supplies. Progress slow-going due to the heat and the denseness of the forest. On the return trip, a few miles from Deerfield, the wagon train came to a crossroad through which ran a shallow brook. Due to the weight of their load, the teamsters were having a hard time navigating through the soft, muddy bottom of the brook. The troops were becoming impatient with the delay and discomfort of the unseasonable heat. They had achieved their mission of departing Deerfield before dawn, and marched to Hadley without any sign or contact of the enemy. The column had already passed through this very spot earlier in the morning. Another company under the command of Captain Samuel Mosely was flanking them to sniff out any possible threat. Now they were nearly home.
In one of the greatest blunders in history, the men began to put their rifles on top of the bags of grain in the wagons to keep them dry, as well as help the teamsters. Some of the soldiers had begun picking wild grapes. Others had sat down and were leaning up against some of the trees and dozed off.
Unbeknownst to them, the English were being shadowed by a large Indian force for much of their return trip to Deerfield. By the time they reached what the locals had named the brook at which they sat as Muddy Brook, a full Indian force led by the Nipmuc sachem Muttawmp lay in ambush amongst the trees, rocks, and brush. As the teamsters were having difficulty dealing with a wheel that had come loose from one of the heavy-laden wagons, a signal was given. Hundreds of native warriors simultaneously unleashed a volley upon the convoy. Shot and arrows came from every direction. Thick black-powder smoke covered the area, making it difficult to see. The English panicked. As they ran for their weapons, the enemy swarmed around them in close combat.
The force under the command of Captain Mosely was about a half-mile away when the sound of musketry thundered through the forest. They arrived in time only to find the victims in Lathrop’s command being stripped and slaughtered. Mosely immediately engaged. After six hours, neither side seemed to be pushing the other back. Mosley himself was nearly overtaken. Miraculously, the day was saved by the arrival of a Connecticut force under the command of Captain Treat. His company happened to be en route to Deerfield from Hartford. His combined force of one hundred horses and Mohegan warrior allies slammed into the Muttawmp’s exposed rear. The sudden reversal caused the natives to lose their momentum and withdraw.
English casualties were high. Of Lathrop’s command of eighty men, it is reported that only eight survived. My seventh-great-grandfather, Moses Pengry, was one of these survivors. Lathrop himself lost his life. From Mosely’s command, of sixty men, eleven lives were lost.
All over a bunch of grapes…I hope that they were good.
It said that the brook ran with the blood of so many men, it was from that day forward renamed “Bloody Brook”.
The fallen men were buried by the folk of Deerfield in a mass grave a short distance from the brook. Landscapes change over the centuries. The grave of the men who died three hundred forty-eight years ago can be seen today. A memorial had been erected in 1838 to commemorate the battle and the lives lost.
The gravesite itself was marked with a flagstone that bore Lathrop’s name and a brief description of the event. As the community of Deerfield has grown up around the area of the battle site, when hunting this historical marker, you will find it in someone’s front yard. So, if you do decide to go on a historical “pilgrimage” (excuse the pun) of this site, please be respectful of their property.