Raid on Deerfield - Conflict & Date:
The Raid on Deerfield took place February 29, 1704, during Queen Anne's War (1702-1713).
Forces & Commanders
French & Native Americans
Raid on Deerfield - Background:
Situated near the junction of the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers, Deerfield, MA was founded in 1673. Built on land taken from the Pocomtuc tribe, the English residents in the new village existed on the fringe of the New England settlements and were relatively isolated. As a result, Deerfield was targeted by Native American forces during the early days of King Philip's War in 1675. Following a colonial defeat at the Battle of Bloody Brook on September 12, the village was evacuated. With successful conclusion of the conflict the next year, Deerfield was reoccupied. Despite additional English conflicts with the Native Americans and French, Deerfield passed the remainder of the 17th century in relative peace. This came to an end shortly after the turn of the century and the beginning of Queen Anne's War.
Pitting the French, Spanish, and allied Native Americans against the English and their Native American allies, the conflict was the North American extension of the War of the Spanish Succession. Unlike in Europe where the war saw leaders like the Duke of Marlborough fight large battles such as Blenheim and Ramillies, fighting on the New England frontier was characterized by raids and small unit actions. These began in earnest in mid-1703 as the French and their allies began attacking towns in present-day southern Maine. As the summer progressed, colonial authorities began to receive reports of possible French raids into the Connecticut Valley. In response to these and the earlier attacks, Deerfield worked to improve its defenses and enlarged the palisade around the village.
Raid on Deerfield - Planning the Attack:
Having completed the raids against southern Maine, the French began turning their attention to the Connecticut Valley late in 1703. Assembling a force of Native Americans and French troops at Chambly, command was given to Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville. Though a veteran of previous raids, the strike against Deerfield was de Rouville's first major independent operation. Departing, the combined force numbered around 250 men. Moving south, de Rouville added another thirty to forty Pennacook warriors to his command. Word of de Rouville's departure from Chambly soon spread through the region. Alerted to the French advance, New York's Indian agent, Pieter Schuyler, quickly notified the governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts, Fitz-John Winthrop and Joseph Dudley. Concerned about the safety of Deerfield, Dudley dispatched a force of twenty militia to the town. These men arrived on February 24, 1704.
Raid on Deerfield - de Rouville Strikes:
Moving through the frozen wilderness, de Rouville's command left bulk of their supplies approximately thirty miles north of Deerfield before establishing a camp closer to the village on February 28. As the French and Native Americans scouted the village, its inhabitants prepared for the night. Due to the pending threat of attack, all of the residents were residing within the protection of the palisade. This brought Deerfield's total population, including the militia reinforcements, to 291 people. Assessing the town's defenses, de Rouville's men noticed that the snow had drifted against the palisade allowing for the raiders to easily scale it. Pressing forward shortly before dawn, a group of raiders crossed over the palisade before moving to open the town's north gate.
Swarming into Deerfield, the French and Native Americans began attacking houses and buildings. As the inhabitants had been taken by surprise, fighting degenerated into a series of individual battles as the residents struggled to defend their homes. With the enemy swarming through the streets, John Sheldon was able to climb over the palisade and rushed to Hadley, MA to raise the alarm. One of the first houses to fall was that of Reverend John Williams. Though members of his family were killed, he was taken prisoner. Making progress through the village, de Rouville's men gathered prisoners outside the palisade before looting and burning many of the houses. While many houses were overrun, some, such as that of Benoni Stebbins, successfully held out against the onslaught.
With fighting winding down, some of the French and Native Americans began withdrawing north. Those who remained retreated when a force of around thirty militia from Hadley and Hatfield arrived on the scene. These men were joined by around twenty survivors from Deerfield. Chasing the remaining raiders from the town, they began pursuing de Rouville's column. This proved a poor decision as the French and Native Americans turned and set an ambush. Striking the advancing militia, they killed nine and wounded several more. Bloodied, the militia retreated to Deerfield. As word of the attack spread, additional colonial forces converged on the town and by the next day over 250 militia were present. Assessing the situation, it was determined that a pursuit of the enemy was not feasible. Leaving a garrison at Deerfield, the remainder of the militia departed.
Raid on Deerfield - Aftermath:
In the raid on Deerfield, de Rouville's forces suffered between 10 and 40 casualties while the town's residents incurred 56 killed, including 9 women and 25 children, and 109 captured. Of those taken prisoner, only 89 survived the march north to Canada. Over the next two years, many of the captives were freed after extensive negotiations. Others elected to remain in Canada or had become assimilated into the Native American cultures of their captors. In retaliation for the raid on Deerfield, Dudley organized strikes north into present-day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In sending forces north, he also hoped to capture prisoners who could be exchanged for Deerfield's residents. Fighting continued until the war's end in 1713. As in the past, the peace proved brief and combat resumed three decades later with King George's War/War of Jenkins' Ear. The French threat to the frontier remained until the British conquest of Canada during the French & Indian War.