July 27, 1694

Abenaki Warriors Attack Groton

On this day in 1694, Abenaki warriors raided the frontier town of Groton, on the western edge of Middlesex County. Striking at daybreak, they killed 20 people and took 12 captives, most of them children. More than 1,600 New Englanders were "carried off" by Native Americans between 1677 and 1763, when the Treaty of Paris brought the French and Indian wars to a close. Some captives were freed or exchanged; some were compelled or chose to remain with the Indians. One survivor of the Groton raid, John Shepley, spent four years as a captive in Canada before returning home. A second, Lydia Longley, chose to stay in French Canada, converted to Catholicism and became a nun.

The possibility that English men, women, and children might be instructed in Catholicism filled Puritans with dread.

By the end of the seventeenth century, European colonists had essentially settled two regions of what is now Massachusetts. A string of English towns ran up the Connecticut River Valley from Springfield north to Deerfield. The rest of the white colonial population was clustered within 40 miles of the coast. This put Lancaster, Groton, and Haverhill on the frontier between the coastal settlements, which the English secured as a result of King Philip's War, and territory the colonists had largely ignored. 

Although not settled by Europeans, this land was not the “virgin land” that many white settlers described. This region had long been home to Native people who cleared and cultivated the land and managed its natural resources. Between coastal New England, claimed by the English beginning in the 1620s, and the St. Lawrence River Valley, claimed by the French, lay a vast, vaguely defined area inhabited for more than 10,000 years by Abenakis, whose lives were greatly disrupted by the new arrivals. 

Both the French and the English traded with the Native Americans, and often vied for Abenaki help in their conflicts with each other. At other times, Abenakis sought European aid to subdue their own enemies. The alliances were complex and unstable, but the most common pattern was for Abenaki warriors, who had closer ties to the French than the English, to raid English settlements on the Massachusetts frontier.

Both the French and the English traded with the Native Americans, and often vied for Abenaki help in their conflicts with each other.

Groton had been badly damaged during King Philip's War. In March 1676, Nipmucs had burned the meetinghouse and 40 homes to the ground; residents fled to Concord. Two years later, they returned and rebuilt their dwellings, including a number of garrison houses for protection against the Indians. An uneasy peace prevailed for the next 16 years.

On July 27, 1694, the town’s peace ended when Abenaki warriors raided Groton. Striking at daybreak, they killed 20 people and took 12 captives, most of them children. One survivor of the Groton raid, John Shepley, spent four years as a captive in Canada before returning home. He survived a second Abenaki attack on the town in the summer of 1704.

More than 1,600 New Englanders were "carried off" by Native Americans between 1677 and 1763, when the Treaty of Paris brought the French and Indian wars to a close. Some captives were freed or exchanged; some were compelled or chose to remain with the Indians.

Captured individuals were often adopted into Native families to take the place of deceased relatives.

The taking of captives during conflicts played an important cultural role in many Native American tribes. Captured individuals were often adopted into Native families to take the place of deceased relatives. In one of the captivity narratives that were popular in colonial Massachusetts, Joseph Bartlett described how, after he was captured in a raid on Haverhill, he was handed over to "an old squaw" and told that he "need not fear for [he] was given to the squaw in lieu of one of her sons, whom the English had slain." Native people also sold captives to the French, who either ransomed them or exchanged them for French prisoners held by the English.

Although many native tribes treated their English captives well, Massachusetts Puritans claimed to prefer instant death to capture. Not only did they envision a gruesome death at the hands of people they regarded as "savages," but an even worse fate might befall them if they ended up in one of the Abenaki villages where a Jesuit missionary lived. The possibility that English men, women, and children might be instructed in Catholicism filled Puritans with dread. Such as the choice made by twenty-year-old Lydia Longley, one of the Groton captives, who converted to Catholicism and became a nun in French Canada.

When Queen Anne's War ended in 1713, Groton had 18 garrisons in town in which 58 families could find refuge. More than 25 years of peace followed before King George's War broke out in the 1740s and the Seven-Year War (known to Americans as the French and Indian War) in the 1750s. The bloody struggle between the English and French over who would dominate the North American continent finally ended when France surrendered Canada to the British in 1763.

Location

This Mass Moment occurred in the Central region of Massachusetts.

Sources

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story From Early America, by John Demos (Vintage Books, 1994).

Groton During the Indian Wars, by Samuel A. Green, MD (University Press, 1883).

Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754–1763, by William M. Fowler Jr. (Walker & Company, 2005).

Downland Encounters: Indians & Europeans in Northern New England, ed. by Colin G. Calloway (University Press of New England, 1991).

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