In 1675, King Philip’s War raged in New England. On February 10th, 1675, Native Americans attacked the town of Lancaster, Massachusetts. As the Indians went from house to house slaughtering or capturing the colonial inhabitants, Mary Rowlandson recounted what she saw and experienced on that day, and her subsequent 11-week captivity, in her narrative, The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
On July 5th, 2014, – almost 340 years later, Loly and I visited the site where Mary Rowlandson’s nightmare journey began.
The site where the garrison house once stood is amazingly and thankfully still pristine. It is a recognized historic site and has never been developed, remaining a pastureland.
This marker briefly describes the events of that day at this site. As we entered the field, we were taken by how beautiful it was, and on this fantastic summer day it was hard to imagine the savagery and desperate fight to survive which took place here.
Though not obviously marked, I went by Mary Rowlandson’s description of where the garrison house was located, “The house stood upon the edge of a hill…”
Sure enough at the top of a small hill in the field, was the stump of an ancient oak tree which had at one time marked where the garrison house stood. A garrison house was specifically built to protect against Indian attacks and was a central gathering place for several families during such an event. This is what a garrison house from that era would have looked like:
It was from this spot which Mary witnessed a house across the way being attacked by the Indians, “There were five persons taken in one house; the father, and the mother and a sucking child, they knocked on the head(this is a 17th century way of saying they had their skulls crushed and brains dashed out by a tomahawk or stone hammer); the other two they took and carried away alive. “
She then witnessed this taking place at an adjoining garrison and people trying to escape to their garrison, “There were two others, who being out of their garrison upon some occasion were set upon; one was knocked on the head, the other escaped; another there was who running along was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them money but they would not hearken to him but knocked him in head, and stripped him naked, and split open his bowels. Another, seeing many of the Indians about his barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same garrison who were killed; the Indians getting up upon the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification.”
“…some of the Indians got behind the hill, others into the barn, and others behind anything that could shelter them; from all which places they shot against the house, so that the bullets seemed to fly like hail; and quickly they wounded one man among us, then another, and then a third.”
This is the view from the top of the hill where the garrison house stood; and the vantage point from which Mary Rowlandson saw the Indians begin their attack on their home.
“About two hours they had been about the house before they prevailed to fire it, and there being no defense about the house, only two flankers at two opposite corners; they fired it once and one ventured out and quenched it, but they quickly fired it again, and that took.
The Last Desperate Struggle
“Some in our house were fighting for their lives, others wallowing in their blood, the house on fire over our heads, and the bloody heathen ready to knock us on the head, if we stirred out. Now might we hear mothers and children crying out for themselves, and one another, “Lord, what shall we do?” Then I took my children (and one of my sisters’, hers) to go forth and leave the house: but as soon as we came to the door and appeared, the Indians shot so thick that the bullets rattled against the house, as if one had taken an handful of stones and threw them…”
“But out we must go, the fire increasing, and coming along behind us, roaring, and the Indians gaping before us with their guns, spears, and hatchets to devour us. No sooner were we out of the house, but my brother−in−law (being before wounded, in defending the house, in or near the throat) fell down dead, whereat the Indians scornfully shouted, and hallowed, and were presently upon him, stripping off his clothes, the bullets flying thick, one went through my side, and the same through the bowels and hand of my dear child in my arms.”
“One of my elder sisters’ children, named William, had then his leg broken, which the Indians perceiving, they knocked him on [his] head. Thus were we butchered by those merciless heathen, standing amazed, with the blood running down to our heels. My eldest sister being yet in the house, and seeing those woeful sights, the infidels hauling mothers one way, and children another, and some wallowing in their blood: and her elder son telling her that her son William was dead, and myself was wounded, she said, “And Lord, let me die with them,” which was no sooner said, but she was struck with a bullet, and fell down dead over the threshold.”
“…the Indians laid hold of us, pulling me one way, and the children another, and said, “Come go along with us”; I told them they would kill me: they answered, if I were willing to go along with them, they would not hurt me. Oh the doleful sight that now was to behold at this house! “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he has made in the earth.” Of thirty−seven persons who were in this one house, none escaped either present death, or a bitter captivity, save only one.”
“There were twelve killed, some shot, some stabbed with their spears, some knocked down with their hatchets. When we are in prosperity, Oh the little that we think of such dreadful sights, and to see our dear friends, and relations lie bleeding out their heart−blood upon the ground. There was one who was chopped into the head with a hatchet, and stripped naked, and yet was crawling up and down.”
“It is a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in their blood, some here, and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves, all of them stripped naked by a company of hell−hounds, roaring, singing, ranting, and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out; yet the Lord by His almighty power preserved a number of us from death, for there were twenty−four of us taken alive and carried captive.”
So this is where is happened…on this beautiful spot and the surrounding area, 12 people from this garrison and another 9 from another house and garrison were slaughtered, stripped and left amidst their burning homes. This is where her nephew William, with a broken leg, had his head bashed in, where her older sister was shot to death on the threshold, and where a wounded man begged for his life and was tomahawked, disemboweled and stripped.
Mary, shot in the side, was taken captive with her gravely wounded six-year-old daughter Sarah, and forced to march into the wilderness toward New Hampshire and the Connecticut River. Little Sarah suffered in agony for 9 days before dying from her wounds. She was buried on a lonely hilltop in the woods.
Mary was with the Indians for 11 weeks before they sold her back to her husband. Her surviving two children were also sold back to them not long after.
After her release Mary met her brother-in-law. He asked where her older sister was. He and a contingency of militia had gone to Lancaster after the attack. There he had helped bury the mutilated and charred bodies, never even knowing his wife had been one of those burned bodies.
As I stood on the site of the garrison, near the stump of the old oak, trying to imagine the house, and the attack, an item in the rotting remains of the stump caught Loly’s attention. It was a brick. She lifted it from the decomposing wood and dirt and held it up.
It was a hand-made brick, which would have been part of the center chimney of the garrison house. She replaced the brick where she found it and picked up another for inspection. These bricks are all that remain of the garrison house and a tangible reminder of that day. These bricks had been in place when those colonists fought for their lives, and here is where those bricks will remain.
It was an altogether far different time, one I can hardly fathom no matter how much as I study this era.
I am fully aware the slaughter of Native Americans and Colonists took place on both sides, with the Indians suffering far worse in the end, but this is not that whole story. This is just the story of a Puritan wife and mother, what she saw, and what she experienced. To get a full account of the entire experience just click the link to a PDF copy of Mary’s complete narrative: The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson