January 23, 1800

Indian Boys Arrive in Longmeadow

On this day in 1800, Thomas Thorakwaneken Williams arrived in Longmeadow with his two young sons, Eleazer and John. Thomas was the grandson of Eunice Williams, captured as a child during the 1704 raid on Deerfield. Adopted into a Kanienkehaka family, Eunice chose to remain with them for the rest of her life despite vigorous attempts to "redeem" her. When her great-grandsons were brought to Massachusetts to attend school, they wore blankets and moccasins and feathers in their hair and spoke no English. Gradually they shed their Native dress and language. After five years, John returned to Canada but Eleazer spent the rest of his life moving back and forth between his Native American and white identities.

It was common practice for parents to send their children to live in the homes of friends and relatives for a few years.

On January 23, 1800, a man named Thomas Thorakwaneken Williams arrived in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, after a long journey from his home near Montreal. His hosts were his third cousin and her husband Nathaniel Ely. Thomas had brought his two sons, 11-year-old Eleazer and seven-year-old John, to live with the Ely family while attending the local school.

This was not an unusual arrangement for the time; it was common practice for parents to send their children to live in the homes of friends and relatives for a few years. There was, however, something very unusual about this particular situation. Thomas Williams and his sons were members of the Kanienkehaka Mohawk tribe.

The story begins in the winter of 1704 in Deerfield, Massachusetts, an outpost on the Massachusetts frontier. For nearly 30 years, this small Connecticut River Valley village had endured intermittent attacks by the French and their Native American allies who had joined forces to resist the spread of English settlement. Deerfield was attacked seven times during King Philip's War. When a new war broke out between France and Britain in the fall of 1700, the village was an obvious target.

In the pre-dawn hours, as the watchman slept, a party of 50 French soldiers and about 200 Iroquois, Abenaki, Huron, and Mohawk warriors, staged a raid on Deerfield.

Disaster struck on February 29, 1704. In the pre-dawn hours, as the watchman slept, a party of 50 French soldiers and about 200 Iroquois, Abenaki, Huron, and Mohawk warriors, staged a raid on Deerfield. The French goal was to devastate the village, and they succeeded. Seventeen houses were burned to the ground. Barns were also torched, with a heavy loss of livestock, tools, and provisions.

There were heavy casualties on all sides. Two Frenchmen were killed, another 22 wounded. Eight Indians died and about 20 were wounded. Some of the wounded did not survive the rigors of the return march. Forty-eight Deerfield residents were slain in the raid; 112 were taken captive and force-marched to Canada. Over 20 of the captives — mostly young children and women weakened by pregnancy and childbirth — perished on the journey north.

The Indian fighters were primarily interested in taking prisoners and getting them safely back to Canada where they could be ransomed. Ransoming captives was one way to bolster an economy weakened by the collapse of the beaver trade. Other captives would be adopted into Native American families, thus helping to replace members of the tribe who had been lost to war and disease.

The French generally measured victory in terms of property destroyed and enemy killed, but at Deerfield, they, too, were seeking prisoners of war — one in particular, the town's respected minister, John Williams. The French believed that if they could take Williams captive, they could exchange him for an important French prisoner the English were holding.

In spite of pressure from French officials, the Mohawks of Kahnawake refused to give her up, claiming they "would as soon part with their hearts."

The Williams home was one of the first attacked. It was ransacked and the family seized; two of the children and an enslaved woman were killed at once. Mrs. Williams, only recently delivered of her eighth child, died on the second day of the march. But the minister and five of his children reached French Canada in safety. After prolonged diplomatic negotiations, Reverend Williams and four of the children returned to Massachusetts.

One of the Williams children, seven-year-old Eunice, could not be "redeemed." In spite of pressure from French officials, the Mohawks of Kahnawake refused to give her up, claiming they "would as soon part with their hearts."

The Kahnawake were known to treat adopted members of the tribe with love and devotion. Eunice no doubt enjoyed the same nurturing and gentle discipline as children born into Mohawk culture. Within two years she had forgotten how to speak English; she lived the life of any Kahnawake girl.

In 1707 the Williams family received word that "she is in good health but seems unwilling to return." By 1713 she had married an Native American. When an agent hired by her father arranged to meet with Eunice, she refused to speak to him. He reported that her Indian relatives "leave her to act her liberty respecting her return."

When they arrived, the boys could not speak a word of English; they were wearing Native dress, and their manner and behaviors were described as "wild" and "curious."

It was nearly a decade after the Deerfield raid before John Williams himself traveled to Canada to see his daughter. He was heartbroken that "she is yet obstinately resolved to live and dye here, and will not so much as give me one pleasant look. . . After John Williams's death, his sons continued to make overtures to their "captive" sister but got no response. Finally, in 1740, 36 years after her capture, they met with Eunice and her husband in Albany. Several visits to Massachusetts followed.

The Williamses tried in vain to persuade Eunice to settle among them in Massachusetts — to finally be "redeemed." Although she felt affection for her English siblings, she had no desire to return to her childhood home. She died in the Mohawk village of Kahnawake, surrounded by her Indian family, at the age of 89. Her descendants live there still.

Thomas Williams, the man who traveled to Longmeadow in January 1800, did not share his grandmother's feelings. He arranged for his sons to be educated in Massachusetts. When they arrived, the boys could not speak a word of English; they were wearing Native dress, and their manner and behaviors were described as "wild" and "curious." The boys gradually adopted the dress, language, and manners of their new community. John returned to Canada, while Eleazer remained in the United States.

If You Go

There are two history museums in Deerfield:

Memorial Hall Museum, run by the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, displays crafts, textiles, and artwork from Deerfield and the surrounding area.

Historic Deerfield Foundation features nationally a recognized collection of furniture, silver, ceramics, needlework, and costumes.

Location

This Mass Moment occurred in the Western region of Massachusetts.

Sources

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America, by John Demos (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).

Captors and Captives: the 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield, by Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).

Related Moments