Saturday, August 20, 2016

On This Day -- The Siege of Fort Massachusetts: Day Two

On this day, August 20, 1746, the attack made on Fort Massachusetts the previous morning continued. At dawn, the army of 440 French soldiers and 300 of their Indian allies resumed shooting. And the fort of twenty-two soldiers continued their defense. 

We are fortunate to possess, from the pen of an eye-witness and active participant, a detailed account of the siege and capture of Fort Massachusetts, and of the captivity that followed it. The ensuing events were strikingly narrated by the Reverend John Norton, in his book, "The Redeemed Captive : Being a Narrative of the Taking and Carrying Into Captivity."

The Reverend Norton wrote of this day:

Wednesday 20. — As soon as it began to be light, the enemy shouted, and began to fire upon for a few minutes, and then ceased for a little time. The Sergeant ordered every man to his place, and sent two men up into the watch-box. The enemy came into the field of corn to the south and southeast of the fort, and fought against that side of the fort harder than they did the day before; but unto the northwest side they did not approach so near as they had the first day, yet they kept a continual fire on that side. A number went up also into the mountain north of the fort, where they could shoot over the north side of the fort into the middle of the parade. A considerable number of the enemy also kept their axes and hatchets continually at work, preparing faggots, and their stubbing hoes and spades, etc., in order to burn the fort. About eleven o'clock, Thomas Knowlton, one of our men, being in the watch-box, was shot through the head, so that some of his brains came out, yet life remained in him for some hours.
Knowlton was the only one of the defenders of the fort who was killed outright during the siege. That the body was not removed from the watch-box and buried, before the surrender of the fort and the consequent mutilation of the remains by the savages and the semi-savage Frenchmen, was owing to the appearance of life still remaining in him till the catastrophe occurred.

John Hawks would later write in his journal;
That night they surrounded the fort & kept a shout, Indians & singers & all sorts of noises, until the morning & then as soon as that daylight they renewed their attack, which continued until 12 o'clock, then an Indian called to us & told us that the General had a mind to talk with us. . . . Having but eight well men in the fort, I told the Indian that we would parley.
We continue now with Norton's narrative.
About twelve o'clock the enemy desired to parley. We agreed to it, and when we came to General Vaudreuil, he promised us good quarter if we would surrender; otherwise, he should endeavor to take us by force. The Sergeant told him he should have an answer within two hours. We came into the fort and examined the state of it. The whole of our ammunition we did not judge to be above three or four pounds of powder and not more lead; and, after prayers unto God for wisdom and direction, we considered our case, whether there was any probability of our being able to withstand the enemy, for we supposed that they would not leave us till they had made a vigorous attempt upon us, and, if they did, we knew our ammunition would be spent in a few minutes' time, and then we should be obliged to lay at their mercy. Had we all been in health, or had there been only those eight of us that were in health, I believe every man would willingly have stood it out to the last. For my part I should; but we heard that if we were taken by violence the sick, the wounded, and the women would most, if not all of them, die by the hands of the savages; therefore our officer concluded to surrender on the best terms he
could get, which were — 
I. That we should be all prisoners to the French; the General promising
that the savages should have nothing to do with any of us.
II. That the children should all live with their parents during the time of
their captivity.
III. That we should all have the privileges of being exchanged the first
opportunity that presented. 
Besides these particulars, the General promised that all the prisoners should have all Christian care and charity exercised towards them; that those who were weak and unable to travel should be carried in their journey; that we should all be allowed to keep our clothing; and that we might leave a few lines to inform our friends what was become of us.
In accordance with this last permission, Norton wrote a letter the next day, though he dated it Aug. 20, 1746, and nailed it on the west post of the well-sweep, the fort having been burned in the meantime by Vaudreuil's orders. Norton does not anywhere give the text of the letter, for the reason doubtless that he kept no copy of it; but it was found a few days afterward and carried to Deerfield, and it ran as follows : —
These are to inform you that yesterday, about nine of the clock, we were besieged by, as they say, seven hundred French and Indians. They have wounded two men and killed one Knowlton. The General De Vaudreuil desired capitulations, and we were so distressed that we complied with his terms. We are the French's prisoners, and have it under the General's hand, that every man, woman, and child shall be exchanged for French prisoners.
The good Chaplain is careful in this letter to give his authority for the statement that the besieging army consisted of "seven hundred": "as they say," that is, the French officers; his own opinion, given much later, after he had marched to Canada in company with this army was, that there were eight or nine hundred; however, documented evidence have been gathered from the contemporary French documents for believing that this was an underestimate. When the French officers saw the poverty of the fort and the paucity of its defenders, and realized that they had been held at bay for thirty hours, it was naturally enough their care to belittle their own force.
About three of the clock we admitted the General and a number of his officers into the fort. Upon which he set up his standard. The gate was not opened to the rest. The gentlemen spake comfortably to our people; and on our petition that the dead corpse might not be abused, but buried, they said that it should be buried. But the Indians, seeing that they were shut out, soon fell to pulling out the underpinning of the fort, and crept into it and opened the gates, so that the parade was quickly full. They shouted as soon as they saw the blood of the dead corpse under the watch-box; but the French kept them down for some time and did not suffer them to meddle with it. After some time the Indians seemed to be in a ruffle; and presently rushed up into the watch-box, brought down the dead corpse, carried it out of the fort, scalped it, and cut off the head and arms. A young French cut off one of the arms and flayed it, roasted the flesh, and offered some of it to Daniel Smead, one of the prisoners, to eat, but he refused it. The Frenchman dressed the skin of the arm (as we afterwards heard) and made a tobacco pouch of it. After they had plundered the fort, they set it on fire, and led us out to their camp.
After the fort was plundered, it was set on fire and the captives were led to the enemy's camp. There, the French general's interpreter called Reveredn Norton aside and asked him to speak with the captive militia men. The interpreter suggested that he should try to persuade the militia men to go with the Natives, who also wanted some of the prisioners. Reverend Norton told him this was contrary to their agreement and expressed his own concerns as to what would happen to those who were sick and wounded. Norton was assured the Natives would not abuse them for they were all prisoners of the French.

Then the interpreter spoke with Setgent Hawks and urged him to send his men with the Natives. After much discussion, the sergent would not consent to any of his men going with the Natives. The interpreter went back to the general and delivered Sergent Hawks' decision. Soon after, French officers returned and took some of the captives away. The remainder of the prisoners were distributed among the Natives. 

The twenty-nine captives were taken to Quebec to be later exchanged as prisoners of war; only fourteen, ten men and four children, lived to be traded back to the British a year later. 

The names of the thirty persons within the fort during this memorable siege will not be forgotten by posterity.

Sergeant John Hawks, Chaplain John Norton, John Aldridrich, Jonathan Bridgeman, Nathaniel Eames, Phineas Forbush, Samuel Goodman, Nathaniel Hitchcock, Thomas Knowlton, Samuel Lovatt, John Perry, Amos Pratt, Josiah Reed, Joseph Scott, Moses Scott, Stephen Scott, Jacob Shepherd, Benjamin Simonds, John Smead, John Smead, Jr., Daniel Smead, and David Warren, 

The women and children were: Mary, wife of John Smead Sr., and their children, Elihu, Simon, and Mary; Miriam, wife of Moses Scott, and their children, Ebenezer and Moses; and Rebecca, wife of John Perry. Last, but not least, an additional one, Captivity, daughter of John Smead, Sr., who was born along the way on their long journey to Canada.  


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