Uniquely Medfield: "Once Upon a Town: Medfield Under Attack"
On Monday, the Medfield Historical Society will debut a retrospective about the Native American assault on Medfield during the King Philip War. Admission is free.
The Medfield Historical Society will kick off its 2012-2013 program season with the première showing of “Once Upon a Town; Medfield Under Attack,” a brand new retrospective about the Native American assault on Medfield on February 21, 1676, during the King Philip War.
The public is invited to the viewing on Monday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the T. A. Blake Middle School Auditorium on 24 Pound Street. Admission is free.
Filmed on location at each of the battle sites, the movie takes you step by step through Medfield, recounting the events of that fateful day. Hear the stories behind the lives lost, the homes torched and the flight of Native Americans over the burning Charles River bridges, told on the spot where they occurred.
The one-hour movie, produced by curator Richard DeSorgher and filmed by Medfield TV, makes its debut on the big screen at the Middle School, the site of the original Thurston Homestead, which was destroyed in the attack and which saw one Thurston child taken hostage and two killed.
The King Philip War first broke out between the English settlers and the Native population in New England in June of 1675 with an attack on Swansea. The war spread rapidly through eastern Massachusetts and the Connecticut River Valley with many towns burnt and abandoned.
After the attack on Lancaster on Feb. 10, 1676, those in Medfield began to fear an imminent attack on this town. Rev. Wilson perceiving this danger wrote an urgent letter to Governor Leverett requesting troops be sent to protect the town. The letter was sent on Monday, Feb. 14. Governor Leverett responded at once by sending Captain Jacobs and a company of 80 men, who arrived in Medfield about the middle of the week.
Captain Oakes, in command of a company of 20 horsemen, also arrived in town before the end of the week and Captain Gibbs of Watertown, with about 25 men, also arrived in town before weeks end, bringing the total to about 125 soldiers stationed here.
The soldiers were housed in homes throughout the town, therefore having a scattered force rather than one strong military unit. There were also about 75 men in Medfield with weapons, bring the armed total to about 200.
With this large a force in town many seemed to develop a false sense of security. Many, however, were quite frightened. Throughout that week, men slept with their weapons by their side and carried them to work with them in the fields and even prayed holding on to their muskets. Many began to stay in one of the five garrisons located throughout the town, including at the Stonehouse, located near the present Millis-Sherborn town line off Rt. 115 and near Southend Pond.
Sometime before daybreak on Monday, Feb. 21, 1676, while the townspeople slept in their beds or on the floors of the garrisons, several hundred Indians crept silently into the town and dispersed to various hiding places under fences and behind barns.
The Indians, having traveled from their strong hold of Wenemesset in Central Massachusetts, crept stealthily among the trees and bushes growing upon the unimproved land adjoining the homesteads and secreting themselves, were in readiness to attack. They then waited for the guards to turn in at daybreak. The silent Indians were well equipped with guns, ammunitions and combustible materials.
Isaac Chenery lived at the end of Foundry Street just over the town line of Dedham and Medfield. At the time of the attack, the Chenerys had eight children. Tradition says that, having seen the Indians lurking about his place, he took his wife and children and secreted them under a great rock at some distance from his house. Coming back alone as the attack was beginning, he saw the Indians preparing to burn his buildings. By himself, he ran toward the Indians beckoning to imaginary soldiers behind him, "Come on boys, there they are." The Indians, figuring no one would run at the Indians without troops behind him, fled and his house and barn were saved.
The first fire broke forth from the house of Samuel Morse, who lived near the present corner of Main and Pound Streets. The attack on Morse’s house seems to be the signal for the burning of Medfield for flames then sprang up all over town.
Flames soon roared through the Thomas Thurston Homestead. This homestead was located in the area of where today’s high school baseball field stands off Pound Street. Thurston and his wife suffered an additional grave loss, for two of their seven children were killed; Margaret age 7 and Samuel age 18 months. Ten year old Mary Thurston was taken hostage the day of the attack and was brought with the natives to their stronghold in Central Massachusetts. She was never heard from again.
In this same area, the Benjamin Clark house was also burnt. Benjamin and his wife Dorcas were able to flee and safely make it to the garrison along with their children (twins Hannah and Benjamin age 10; Theophilus age 6, Tabitha age 4, and Timothy age 2) before their house also went up in flames. Clark’s house was the original Peak House.
The following homes were also burnt within a short time after Morse’s house first went up in flames:
- The Samuel Bullen house, located near the present corner of Philip and South Streets
- The James Allen Homestead, located on South Street near the present Westview Road
- The Robert Mason house, located near the present Green Street
- The Nathaniel Whiting House, located near the present corner of North and Pine Streets
- Thomas Wight lost his house and barn located on Green Street.
When the raid first began, Elizabeth Smith grabbed her 18-month old son Samuel and raced out of the house and towards the garrison as fast as she possibly could. She, however, was overtaken by the Indians, who tomahawked her and threw Samuel to the ground. The Indians left both of them there to die. A short time after the smoke of the battle had cleared, several neighbors found Samuel, who was evidently just stunned, clinging to the body of his dead mother.
It was also early in the morning when two brothers, Jonathan and Eleazer Wood (ages 25 and 14, respectively), left their Sherborn home and traveled into Medfield to get a couple of oxen.
Crossing the Charles River near the present Route 27, they went into the barn. Once inside the barn, they heard some noises which they mistook for some of the barn animals and they began to take the oxen out of the barn. While in the act of yoking them, they were assailed by a party of Indians who were hiding in the barn. Both of them were scalped and left for dead. Their bodies were discovered after the Indians had left the town. Jonathan was dead but Eleazer was still alive and survived for some 28 years, although he lived the rest of his life in a state of depression.
Jonathan’s pregnant wife was staying in the Stonehouse and,, when the tragic news was finally brought to those staying there, his wife was immediately seized with pains of labor and soon afterwards gave birth to a daughter named Silence. Mrs. Wood, however died a few hours later and Silence became an orphan.
Henry Adams built a house across the street from the brook on Elm Street, where the grist mill was located. Henry was the Lieutenant or principal military officer of the town. Because of the pending crisis and the remoteness of their homestead, Henry’s wife Elizabeth had gone earlier in the week to stay for safety at the home of Rev. Wilson.
When the attack began, Henry heard the alarm and opened his front door to see what the commotion was about. He had only time to see his mill go up into flames before he was struck in the neck by a bullet and fell dead in his doorway. His children Henry Jr. and Samuel managed to escape by running into the woods and hiding before the house, like the mill, was totally inflamed.
Elizabeth, who was staying at the home of Rev. Wilson, was lying on the floor with exhaustion and fear. The room she was in was directly over the soldiers who were in town from Boston. A gun in the hands of one of Captain Jacob’s soldiers was accidentally fired, and the ball penetrating the floor of the room, mortally wounded Mrs. Adams. She died the following night, in this case of friendly fire.
Timothy Dwight came to Medfield from Dedham as one of the first 13 settlers. He drew his 12-acre house lot along North Street from Frairy Street to Dale Street. His house today is part of the Dwight-Derby. At Dwight’s house, the Indians bounced rocks and other objects against his building. When the wondering Dwight peered out to learn what was going on, they shot him through the shoulder. He died a few weeks later.
Thomas Mason built his homestead at the intersection of Harding and North Streets. On the morning of the attack, Thomas took his two oldest sons and went across the street to a spring to stock up on water. It was here, near the spring on North Street, that all three were overtaken by the Indians and killed. Mrs. Mason, running with the other children (Mary, Mehitable and Ebenezer) fled and made it safely to the garrison.
Smoke also billowed from the Castle Hill section of North Street as the Samuel Wight, John Fisher, and Joseph Warren homesteads all went up in flames.
The one house in the north end of town to survive was the Joseph Allen house located today at 260 North Street. When the attack began the Allens fled to the garrison leaving the homestead vacant. Indians, taking wood shavings from the copper shop, piled the shavings on the floor in the house and set them on fire. The Indians then fled. The fire, however, was started over a trap door and the flames burnt through the door falling to the dirt basement below, extinguishing the flames. The Allen homestead thus survived the attack.
The Bridge Street section was totally destroyed. It was here on Bridge Street, made up of former Braintree and Weymouth families, that the Indians left a most severe mark, leaving all 10 homesteads in ashes.
At the time of the attack, John Fussell was 99 years-old and had left his Bridge Street home to live with his daughter and son-in-law on the west side of the Charles River on what is today Bridge Street, Millis. As the Indians approached their house, John’s daughter and son-in–law made the decision to flee themselves rather than try to take the slow-moving Fussell along with them. The 99-year-old Fussell was then burnt alive inside the house.
Also to be burnt on the west side of the river were the homes of Joseph Daniell, William Allen and Peter Calley.
Town leaders were trying to organize a defense and bring the troops that had been sent here from Boston and Cambridge in to some kind of order. This was most difficult as the troops were so scattered throughout the town. An account written shortly after the battle said, “Some were killed as they attempted to fly to their neighbors for shelter. Some were only wounded and some were taken alive and carried off captive. In some houses, the husbands running away with one child in one direction, the wife with another, of whom the one was killed, the other escaped.”
Gradually, the town began to come together, the cannon or “great gun” was fired, and the Native-Americans began retreating across the Charles River, burning the bridges behind them. In total, 14 settlers were killed along with two Boston soldiers, one Cambridge soldier, and an unknown number of Native Americans.
The war continued until the death of King Philip in August of 1676. In proportion to population, the King Philip War produced greater casualties than any other war in American history. It would take Medfield and the rest of New England years before they fully recovered.