In 1676, during King Philip’s War, a number of Natives fleeing from the Massachusetts Bay colony militia received shelter among the Pennacook tribe living around Dover. The refugees were part of what’s called a rebellion that began the previous year, the first in a series of armed campaigns between the colonists and the Indigenous peoples in and around Dover and beyond.
The existing accounts, of course, are one-sided, but the devastation afflicted innocent non-combatants on both sides.
Up to this point, most of the fighting was to the south, though there were fatal attacks in Oyster River, still part of Dover, among others.
Not all of the tribes aligned with the rebellion. The Narragansetts, for one, were neutral, yet more than 600 were killed by the colonists in revenge.
Dover’s Richard Waldron and Maine’s Charles Frost led colonial forces in an incursion on the Mi’kmaq in French-held Acadia – today’s Downeast Maine.
In the midst of this, two events in Dover added fuel to the conflagration. Until now, Dover had largely mutually positive relations with the Natives, Waldron aside.
Waldron was ordered to attack the Natives who had found refuge nearby and turn any combatants over to the Massachusetts militia. He instead invited about 400 Natives to participate in a mock battle against the New Hampshire militia. After the guests had fired their guns, Waldron took them prisoner and sent them to Boston, where the leaders were executed. Others were sold into slavery in “foreign parts,” mostly Barbados.
The usual take on the “mock battle” comes from Waldron’s account and often has most of the captives being returned peacefully. In contrast, the Indigenous version handed down orally has the event being an invitation to a feast. Only twenty of the Natives were armed, and at least 350, mostly women and children, were taken, sold, and never returned. Among the consequences was the fall of the peaceful, Christian Wonalancet as sachem and the rise of the warlike Kankamagus.
Quakers were no doubt appalled by Waldron’s dishonesty and physical violence as well as the enslavement – New England Friends, including children, had faced being sold into slavery by Puritan authorities at the height of the persecutions. Moreover, Friends cherished good relationships with the Natives.
They were not alone.
“The local Indians were released but never forgave Waldron for the deception, which violated all the rules of honor and hospitality valued by both sides,” as one version, drawing on the colonial record, relates.
Despite its brevity, King Philip’s War is considered the greatest calamity in 17th-century New England and the deadliest war in Colonial American history. Within a year, many of the towns had been destroyed or damaged, and the economy of Plymouth and Rhode Island colonies was all but ruined. Hundreds of Wampanoags and their allies were publicly executed or enslaved, and the Wampanoags were left effectively landless.
For northern New England, it was only the beginning of a series of wars connected to European conflicts that would devastate the frontier until 1763, when New France was surrendered to Britain.
Along the Piscataqua, the Natives were patient, waiting 13 years for revenge. As historian Jeremy Belknap related: “Friday the 28th June, 1689, was the fatal day in the morning of which Major Richard Waldron was murdered and the destruction of Cochecho perpatrated by the Indians of Pennycook and Saco. This caused the absence of Mr. Pike for some years.”
Was the town’s minister permanently injured in the attack? Or suffer mental illness as a consequence?
The Reverend John Pike noted “the eastern Ind joyning with those of Pennicook (thro the Instigation of Hawkins & a Sagamore) suddenly seized on Cochecho, about break of day, wn all things were silent & secure. Killed 23 persons … and carried captive 29.”
This was the beginning of King William’s War, a series of massacres orchestrated by Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin and Father Louis-Pierre Thury.
In New England, the conflict originated in the failure of the settlers to adhere to the treaties and agreements made at the end of King Philip’s War, but the renewed outbreak of hostilities was also the North American theater of hostilities originating when King James II, the last of England’s suspected secretly Roman Catholic kings, was deposed and replaced by Protestants William and Mary. Hence, the “William” in what was also known as Father Baudin’s War and Castin’s War. Baudin was a French Sulpician priest who had trained to become a musketeer and later ministered in Acadia. This segment would continue for nine years, ending in 1697.
Waldron had dismissed concerns about renewed hostilities, telling residents to go and plant their pumpkins, and he would take care of the Natives.
Instead, in the attack, the sword-wielding elderly Waldron was cut across his belly with knives, with each warrior saying “I cross out my account.” Five or six dwelling houses were burned, along with the mills. Fifty-two colonists, a full quarter of the entire population, were captured and carried off to Quebec or slain.
The Indigenous account of 80-year-old Waldron’s demise is more detailed. His nose and ears were cut off and stuffed in his mouth, as were his thumbs. To the Natives, he had turned his nose to injustice, refused to hear all sides, and cheated on weights in trade – placing his thumb on the scale. He also avoided trading them useful goods they desired and instead paid them in rum or trinkets.
The garrisons were houses that had been fortified from 1675 and on, set within palisades and designated as places of shelter in the event of attack. At the time of the 1689 attack, there were an estimated fifty such sites within and around the sprawling town.
The most extensive toll came at Richard Otis’s garrison, where the 64-year-old blacksmith, his son Stephen, and daughter Hannah were killed. His third wife, Grizel, three-month-old daughter Margaret, three daughters from his first marriage, Judith, Rose, and Experience, and at least two grandchildren were taken captive. One adult son, Richard Jr., escaped. The garrison was burned.
The Otis family was Quaker.
Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.