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The Angel of Hadley: Extraordinary Events in the French and Indian Wars.

Craig Lancto is education editor of The World & I. He gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Abenaki historical consultant Marge Bruchac, Timothy Neumann, and the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.

On the morning of September 1, 1675, the villagers of Hadley, Massachusetts, were assembled for a prayer meeting. Suddenly the Reverend John Russell's sermon was interrupted by the arrival of "a grave, elderly person." The stranger warned the congregation to arm themselves, as Indians were stealthily approaching the meetinghouse. In his History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, published in 1760, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson reported of the stranger: "In his mien and dress he differed from the rest of the people."

The mysterious figure organized and directed the settlers in fending off the Indian attack. Then, Hutchinson reports, "the deliverer of Hadley disappeared," leaving the settlers "in consternation, utterly unable to account for this phenomenon."

In A History of Three of the Judges of King Charles I (1794), Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, reported that the inhabitants could "not account for the phenomenon, but by considering that person as an Angel sent of God" to deliver them. Fortunately, Stiles said, "It was the usage of the frontier towns in those Indian Wars, for a select number of the congregation to go armed to public worship."

This incident has become popularly known as the legend of the Angel of Hadley. Reflection suggests, however, that the peculiar figure was no unearthly manifestation. Indeed, it is likely that if Reverend Russell was astonished at the appearance, it was not because he did not recognize the mysterious stranger. Indeed, he knew that King Charles II considered the stranger to be significantly lower than the angels and had issued a warrant for the stranger's arrest because the "angel" had been among those who had condemned Charles' father, King Charles I, to death.

The "angel" was Maj. Gen. William Goffe, one of the fifty-nine judges who signed Charles I's death warrant on January 29, 1649. With his father-in-law, Lieut. Gen. Edward Whaley, another of the regicides and a cousin of Oliver Cromwell, Goffe had taken secret refuge in the basement of Russell's home in 1664. When the minister's house was destroyed years later, bones discovered in the basement contributed to the traditional belief that Russell's home was indeed the regicides' final resting place.

Hutchinson used Goffe's personal journals, letters, and other papers, which he had obtained from Increase Mather, a prominent Puritan minister and first president of Harvard University. In an introduction to the 1905 reprinting of Sylvester Judd's 1863 A History of Hadley, George Sheldon discounted stories of the Angel of Hadley as romantic anecdotes without historical basis. Sheldon referred to Russell as virtually a prisoner within his own hamlet. Under his very rooftree he was secreting Edward Whaley and William Goffe, two of the patriot judges who condemned to the scaffold that misguided and perfidious representative of the "divine right of kings," Charles I of England.

These two men were now proscribed; a price was set upon their heads, and a swift retribution awaited any who might relieve or conceal them. Any neglect of precaution, any unforeseen mishap to the premises, any single case of misplaced confidence, and both he and his guests were surely doomed to nameless torture and death.

Sheldon concludes that "Mr. Russell was in truth the real 'Guardian Angel of Hadley.' "

A place called Norwottuck

Whether the dramatic intervention of the Angel of Hadley was a startling phenomenon or apocryphal, the settlers in Hadley had good reason to be wary of Indian attack after several decades of occupying native lands. Native-American Indians called the area where Hadley is now located Norwottuck, an Algonquian term referring to the lands near the Quineticook (Connecticut) river. Here they had fished, farmed, and set up homes for as long as their extended memories could recall. But in the seventeenth century, English settlers pushed the Indians westward, christened their settlement Hadley (after a town in their native England), and erected a stockade to keep out the people they had dispossessed.

The Wampanoag sachem (chief), Massasoit, earned a place in the earliest history of the English settlements. He sent two warriors, Tisquantum (Squanto) and Hobbamock, to help the Pilgrims, whom they taught how to plant corn. In addition to providing food and aid to the struggling Pilgrims, Massasoit joined them in what would be mythologized as the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Earlier, in March 1621, Massasoit had signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims, giving permission for their small colony of fifty-two people to settle in the midst of Wampanoag land in what is now Plymouth and Cape Cod. It wasn't enough; English settlers increasingly and boldly encroached upon the Native American lands.

During the 1650s, the native peoples of Norwottuck participated in lively trade with European settlers. Maj. John Pynchon in nearby Springfield traded guns and cloth for beaver furs, persuading the Indians to sign promissory notes for their debts. Converting these notes to deeds, Pynchon worked to obtain the Native Americans' land. The Indians, apparently believing that these agreements allowed the whites to share their land, built new fortified villages close to English settlements. The settlers soon made clear that their concept of land ownership was unlike the understanding of the indigenous peoples. Conflict inevitably would ensue.

Massasoit faithfully honored the treaty he had signed until his death in 1661, but his sons were ill-used. When Massasoit's elder son, Wamsutta (the English dubbed him Alexander), objected to the encroachment of the settlers, he was accused of conspiring with his enemies the Narragansets to attack the colonists. Wamsutta was hauled before the colonial court in Boston, where he became suddenly and gravely ill. Though he was released to return home, Wamsutta died within a few days, resulting in widespread belief that he had been poisoned by his captors.

Metacom replaced his elder brother as chief of the Wampanoags. Dubbed Philip by the English, Metacom raised a rebellion against the treacherous whites. In spring 1675 a local Indian named Wappage warned that war against the English would soon begin. In July it erupted, when Metacom joined forces with the French against the English interlopers. Metacom's Rebellion is more commonly known as King Philip's War. At the end of the war, the defeated Metacom's severed head was displayed on the village green at Plymouth. The day of his death was celebrated throughout the colonies as a day of thanksgiving.

In the early days of the war, the Wampanoag leader attacked the town of Mendon. Hadley's settlers had actually grown close to the friendly Indians in their midst, but when a Norwottuck man bragged that he had participated in the raid, Major Pynchon demanded that the local natives submit to English rule. When Capt. Thomas Lathrop, who was headquartered in Hadley, went to the Indian village to confiscate their guns, he found the native fort deserted--its inhabitants had fled to Pocumtuck, some ten or twelve miles north.

September 1675 saw a wave of Indian raids in the valley. On September 19 Captain Lathrop was with about seventy troops escorting a cart laden with goods and provisions from the small settlement of Deerfield to the mill owned by Hopkins School in North Hadley. Near a place then called Muddy Brook, about five miles south of Deerfield, hundreds of warriors attacked the soldiers. Increase Mather reported that many of the troopers had been "so foolish and secure as to put their arms in the cart," while they picked grapes. The attackers killed Lathrop and more than sixty soldiers; they stripped their victims and "left them to lie weltering in their own blood." The massacre, in which fourteen native warriors died, is now known as the Battle of Bloody Brook, one of a series of battles in which the Indians attempted to reclaim their homelands.

A place called Pocumtuck

Pocumtuck, where Hadley's natives sought refuge, was a fertile tract of land about twelve or fourteen miles from Hadley. Native peoples originally inhabited it as part of their seasonal cycle of planting, fishing at Peskeompskut (now Turner's Falls), and hunting at Sokoki (now Northfield).

When the Reverend John Eliot converted many Nipmuc Indians to Christianity, he convinced them to set up an English-style town. When these "praying Indians" established such a community near Dedham, the English settlers in that town demanded equivalent land elsewhere. In 1665, white men from Dedham obtained a charter to settle on a one- square-mile plateau of Pocumtuck lands near the confluence of the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers in what would become the northernmost frontier of English settlement in the Connecticut River Valley. They called the settlement Deerfield.

On September 1, 1675, the same day that the Angel of Hadley helped repulse the attack on the Hadley congregation and seventeen days before Bloody Brook, the men of Norwottuck and other valley tribes attacked Deerfield village, burning several houses and killing one of the settlers. After it was burned to the ground in a second attack later that year, the English settlers abandoned the settlement.

Pocumtuck and Norwottuck peoples returned to the town and planted their corn. When they moved on to their fishing village at Peskeompskut in May 1676, however, settlers killed hundreds of natives in a devastating attack. The English resettled in Deerfield in 1682. After hearing of an Indian attack on Schenectady, New York, in 1690, the villagers erected ten-foot palisades around eleven of the homes. In the first fifty years, Deerfield was attacked more than times.

In the early hours of February 19, 1704, during the period now known as Queen Anne's War, the settlement suffered its most devastating attack, in what has become known as the Deerfield Massacre. While accounts vary, it appears that about 200 Indians, including Algonkians (Pocumtuck, Norwottuck, Pennacook, and others), Iroquoians (Kanienkehaka Mohawks), and Wendat Hurons, accompanied by French soldiers, climbed on top of a deep accumulation of snow to breach the palisades. The attack left 48 settlers, including 5 soldiers, dead. Another 111 men, women, and children were taken captive.

On a 300-mile trek to Canada over the course of eight weeks, more than a score of the captives died, many of them women and children who were injured in the attack and killed along the way. Those who reached Montreal were divided among the Indians and French. To one side of the Old Burying Ground, between Deerfield Academy's playing fields and the current campus, a shaded mass burial holds the remains of the 48 men, women, and children who died in the 1704 assault.

After the attack, many of the surviving English women and children were sent to safety in settlements farther south. Only a cadre of about two dozen men remained in the frontier outpost.

Among the captives who went to Montreal was the Reverend John Williams, who would later write The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, a book about his capture and redemption. Williams' wife and two of his children died in the raid or on the trail. Williams believed that the attack was divine punishment for his flock's weak faith. Curiously, the English considered these attacks mere assaults by savages. They missed the political ramifications of the French participation. King William's War, Queen Anne's War, and the other conflicts that collectively came to be called the French and Indian Wars grew from tensions between the French and English, as well as between the settlers and the Indians. The French and Indians collaborated in a series of raids intended to discourage further English expansion, limit English dominance, and secure French relationships with their native trading partners.

The story of the raid on Deerfield has been preserved among the Kanienkehaka Mohawks. Two of the Mohawk raiders were women, sent along specifically to identify captives to adopt as family members. (In the Iroquois tradition, the practice of taking replacement relatives from the families of their enemies served to blunt the grief of mothers who had lost children.)

Gov. Joseph Dudley ransomed the sixty remaining captives in 1707, Eunice Williams, daughter of John Williams, was among those who chose to stay with their Indian families. Eunice's Mohawk mother, who had taken Eunice to replace a daughter who had died of smallpox, treated Eunice as a cherished daughter. Eunice married a Native American, named Arosen, in 1713.

Reverend Williams' return to Deerfield after his redemption seemed to hearten other settlers, and the village was rebuilt. Letters and journals make clear that between 1710 and the early 1720s, a number of the former Indian captors were received as honored guests when they visited their erstwhile captives; Williams reported that his Indian master visited several times. When he died in 1729, Williams left more than 190 books in his private library, now among the thousands of books, journals, and papers of more than 150 families stored in the library of Memorial Hall.

In 1870, historian George Sheldon and some fellow townsmen founded the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association to preserve and display the relics of the Deerfield settlers and of the race that vanished before them. They housed their collection in Memorial Hall, built in 1798 for Deerfield Academy.

On February 29, 2004, Deerfield will observe the tercentennial (or seventy-fifth anniversary, depending on how one calculates leap years) of that attack. A first edition of Williams' book, printed in 1707, will be displayed at Deerfield Flynt Center of Early New England Life (where more than thirty thousand objects from 1650 to 1850 are in the permanent collection) throughout 2004.

On the Internet

An exceptional collection of lessons and artifacts is available at

Additional Reading

Colin G. Calloway, After King Philip's War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, 1997.

John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America, Knopf, New York, 1994.

Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney, Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2003.

John Williams, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, 1707, Hessinger, Montana, 2003.
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Author:Lancto, Craig
Publication:World and I
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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